Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post with Author Kate M. Colby #Desertera

My best writing tip? Give all your characters (major and minor) motivations. Read more on author Helen Jones’ blog!

Helen Glynn Jones

perf5.250x8.000.inddToday I’m very pleased to welcome author (and author-y friend!) Kate M. Colby to my blog. Kate has just released The Courtesan’s Avenger, the second book in her Desertera series (and if you haven’t read her first book, The Cogmsith’s Daughter, get yourselves a copy now!). Set in the steampunk world of Desertera, The Courtesan’s Avenger is a tale of murder, intrigue and justice – I can’t wait to read it 🙂

Today, Kate’s written an excellent post about character motivation, something she feels is key to good story-telling. There’s a lot of useful information here, so read through and let us know what you think in the comments. Take it away, Kate!

As an author, the question I get asked more than any other is: “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?” or some variation of it. With the release of my second novel, The Courtesan’s…

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Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Handle Writer Jealousy

envyWe’ve all been there.

Your classmate’s story is praised in workshop, while yours is torn apart.

“Poorly written” romances dominate best-seller lists, while your science fiction novel languishes in Amazon’s 2,000,000 ranking spot.

The author you follow on Instagram posts their third cover reveal this year, while you struggle to finish your manuscript.

There’s a thousand ways that we writers experience jealousy of other authors. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers in writing groups, our Internet friends, or the hallowed greats like Stephen King. We long for the secret to their success. How do they write a first draft so quickly? How do they have so many Pinterest followers? Where do they find time to publish and write a daily blog?

We take other writers’ successes as inherent failures in ourselves as creatives. Newsflash: art isn’t a zero-sum game.

Let me get personal for a minute. Throughout high school and university, I longed to be a writer, but I hardly ever wrote. I seethed with self-loathing and jealousy in equal amounts. As I became more entwined in the literary community, I saw myself in competition with other aspiring writers. With each person’s success, I thought one more seat on the bus to authordom had been snatched from me. Around senior year of college, I finally wised up.

But others I know didn’t. I’ve lost friends over jealousy and unnecessary feelings of competition. I’ve had close friends flat-out ignore my writing career. I’ve had acquaintances insult or downplay my abilities in order to praise their own. It sucks. It hurts. And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

Why do we feel jealousy?

spillEasy: because other writers have what we want. Be it a publishing contract, a movie deal, or even just a finished manuscript, if you want it, some writer has already accomplished it. When I used to see a more successful writer, I would instantly translate that into: “Well, shit. I’m so far behind. I’m never going to amount to anything.” OR “They don’t deserve X. They just got lucky. Why can’t anyone see what a talentless hack they are?”

The good news? I don’t ride either of those thought trains anymore. In fact, the moment I feel a twinge of jealousy, I actually get really excited. Why?

Because when channeled properly, jealousy can be a force for good.

The positive side of jealousy

Jealousy and competition are natural human feelings. If you acknowledge them and channel their energy into something positive, it can be motivating for you. The next time you feel jealous, take a moment to deconstruct your emotions and get down to what’s really bothering you. But don’t stop there: make a plan to fix the real issue so that this doesn’t happen again.

Here is how my jealous moments play out now:

  1. Address the feeling: Okay, Kate. You’re feeling jealous.
  2. Forgive yourself: That’s okay! You’re human. It happens.
  3. Find the “what:” Let’s see. I’m jealous that this author started writing a book after me, but is publishing it before I publish mine.
  4. Find the “why:” I wish my book were ready to publish.
  5. Take responsibility and make a plan: Well, what can you do to make that happen? How about we turn off Netflix and do some revising? Let’s eat out one less night a week so we can afford an editor. Let’s stop being nervous and contact the cover designer.
  6. Ride the high: Awesome, I know exactly what to do! I just have to be patient and work hard. I’m going to write right now.

Ways to handle jealousy

accomplishmentNotice this section is not titled “ways to quit being jealous.” That’s probably never going to happen. There will always be someone more successful than you. There will always be something you want that someone else has already achieved. But, there are ways to handle your jealousy in a healthy manner.

Act in opposition to your feelings. A writer friend on Facebook posts that they’ve signed with an agent? Like the post or write a supportive comment. At first, you can console yourself with the smug satisfaction that you were “the bigger person” in the competition your mind constructed. Eventually, your gut reaction will change to genuine excitement for them. I promise.

Figure out how they did it. I want to be Joanna Penn so bad it hurts. She writes kick-ass fiction books, super-helpful nonfiction books, and is a beloved authority figure in the self-publishing community. But instead of hating her and avoiding her, I follow her progress. I read her books. I read the articles she posts. And you know what? I’m learning how to create a career like hers, one step at a time.

Do something about it. If you have a moment of jealousy, then you know what you want. It frustrates you that your writer friend has a finished book and you don’t? Go write your damn book. That Twitter author has better sales than you? Read up on book marketing and business strategy, arrange advertising or book reviews, or publish more books. Outside circumstances may prevent you from achieving 100% of your goals, but if you’re not putting 100% of possible effort in, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Remember that someone out there is jealous of you. If there is someone ahead of you, then there must be someone behind you. Maybe you don’t make enough money to write full-time yet, but there is a writer out there who has only one book published who envies your five-book series. Moreover, the person of whom you are jealous was once in your position. Keep it all in perspective.

Be kind to yourself. Often, jealousy goes hand-in-hand with feelings of inadequacy. If you are nicer to yourself throughout the entire creative process (keeping your inner critic quiet during drafting, forgiving yourself for missing your word count goal on a busy day, etc.), your self-respect will grow. When it is healthy and happy, you are less likely to be dragged down by bitterness.

And if all else fails? Step away from the situation and eat some ice cream. It really does make everything better.

How do you deal with feelings of writer jealousy? What do your moments of jealousy reveal about your goals? Share your experiences in the comments.

Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Why I Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

scifi syllabusIf you follow me on social media, you may have seen this month’s exciting announcement: for the second semester, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) will be taught in a university classroom.

This time, TCD features in a Science Fiction & Fantasy literature class. When I saw the syllabus, I nearly cried. To have my book read alongside such legends is an incredible honor — and one I do not take lightly.

In fact, it got me thinking…what is it about Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (and TV shows, movies, video games, etc.) that I love so much?

Why, out of all the genres, have I chosen to commit my creativity to Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

Well, I think the answers are one in the same.

First, I’ve never had a good story idea that doesn’t fall under one of these two genres. Yes, I’ve got a contemporary romance bumbling about my brain. Yes, I’ve conceived of a historical fiction tale, and even a crime novel or two. However, again, I don’t think these ideas are worth pursuing, and more importantly, they don’t really excite me.

But the apocalypse? Steampunk gadgets? Fantastical lands with mythical creatures? Now they rev my motor.

So why do Sci-Fi and Fantasy appeal to me so strongly? It’s how I was raised. A few flips through the family photo album and it becomes pretty obvious: young Kate dressed as Xena the Warrior Princess for Halloween, college Kate getting the Supernatural tattoo, present-day Kate rocking out to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

contaiment zoneUpbringing aside — the best part about Sci-Fi and Fantasy? There are no real rules. The only rules are the ones you create for yourself. This character has X-ray vision? Sure. The fuel source on this planet is a primordial sludge? Heck yes. A giant steamship is moored in the middle of a desert? Obviously.

As a writer, I can do whatever I want. My only limits are my imagination and the prescribed order of the universe I create. Beyond that, the novel is my oyster (or alien or demon or talking hedgehog).

And as a reader or viewer? Sci-Fi and Fantasy offer the ultimate escape. What can take you away from your everyday troubles more than a trip to Rivendell? What can make that exam or that work drama seem less significant than the Mad Max apocalypse? And what’s more fun than dressing up as a comic book character of your invention and attending a rock concert? But that’s another story…

So, yeah, sign me up for a lifetime of engineering new worlds, weaving complex systems of magic or religion, and creating lovable (or hateable) inhuman characters. I’m on it. And if I’m ever tempted to stray over to romance or thriller, maybe I’ll just slap some fangs on my brooding heart throb. I hear that works well.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How Copywriting Has Helped My Fiction

wine corksAs you may know, by day I am a copywriter at a wine marketing company. Essentially, I write product descriptions, tasting notes, and catalog spreads about wine. Oh, and I do get to sample my fair share, too!

Now, a lot of writers say that, if you must have a day job, it shouldn’t be related to writing. I get that. Mentally, there are some days where I feel as if I have no more words to give the world. Physically — now this is where the real toll hits. Some days, I’m so sore from sitting at a desk for hours, and my fingers are so tired that they barely want to move (I’m just counting down the days until carpal tunnel syndrome really hits. I know it’s coming.). On those days, writing fiction after work is literally painful.

But, despite those few negatives, I’ve actually found that copywriting has greatly benefited my fiction. In case you’re thinking about doing double duty in the writing field (I’m looking at you, fellow English majors!), here are some ways that being a professional writer may help you with your creative writing.

Learning how to handle criticism

Nearly every word I write must be reviewed by someone else in my department — at the very least just to check for typos. After receiving daily critiques on my copywriting, it’s been much easier to handle my editor’s feedback on my fiction.

Separating myself from my writing

Along those same lines, being a copywriter has helped me separate myself from my writing. At my day job, everything I write is owned by the company. Since nothing is mine, it’s simple to detach myself from the work emotionally. I’ve been able to apply this skill to my fiction, and it’s helped me view my work more objectively at an earlier stage in the writing process (though, fiction is still my baby!).

copyBasic grammar

Even the most seasoned writer can use the occasional brush up on grammar. As a copywriter, I’m constantly learning (or relearning) the rules of writing and practicing my editing skills on my and my coworkers’ pieces. I’ve also had to learn AP (Associated Press) style, which has broadened my technical knowledge, too.

Better copywriting for my fiction business

I’m still no expert copywriter — not by a long shot! But the basic skills of the trade have helped me write better blog posts, emails, and even book reviews. I’m learning, one step at a time, how to sell wine, and in the process, I’m gaining valuable strategies for how to sell more books. It’s a win-win!


At work, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the mood to write or not. If there’s a deadline, I have to meet it. This self-discipline has carried over to my fiction writing. Now, instead of allowing myself to ignore my self-imposed deadlines, I’m regularly keeping them.

travelExploring new topics and cultures

Right now, I can’t travel around the world. But every day, as I write about new wines, I also get to research their countries of origin, the local cuisine, the climate, etc. Exposing myself to a whole new aspect of my culture and seeing how it translates in other nations has been incredibly inspiring and often generates fun fiction ideas.

Refining my passions and goals

I love my job. I work with wonderful, talented people, am able to sample some of the best wines in the world, and genuinely enjoy going to work everyday. Being a professional writer is a great source of pride for me, and has reaffirmed that writing is my calling in life. That being said, it has also reaffirmed that fiction is my true love and that going independent was the right choice for me and the author side of my career. Sometimes it takes doing something almost perfect to realize what is truly perfect for you.

As you can see, being a professional writer won’t destroy your fiction writing ambitions. In fact, it can often be a huge benefit to them. That being said, I’ll leave you with a few words of advice.

If you are a writer by day and an author by night, I recommend:

A) making time for your health and breaking the sedentary cycle whenever possible

B) keeping the two forms of writing entirely separate in your life

C) making sure that you have other hobbies or opportunities that allow you to take a break from writing and go out and live a little!

How does your “day job” help with your author work? What questions do you have about being a professional writer? What advice do you have for writers with duel careers? Leave it all in the comments!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Be Taken Seriously as a Writer

writerSo writing is your creative calling, your life’s purpose, your ultimate joy. Congratulations! You’re part of (in my totally unbiased opinion) one of the best groups of people in the world. You know it, I know it — and yet, your friends and family don’t.

After all, what’s so special about being a writer? Literally billions of people on the planet write every day. It’s a basic life skill, one of the first we learn. And as a career? Psh! You might as well steal a cardboard box from behind your local grocery store and get comfy on the street.

Let’s get this out of the way: writing is a viable career and meaningful task. Whether you do it professionally or for pleasure, you deserve to be taken seriously and to receive the same respect that other professionals or dedicated hobbyists receive.

That being said, there are ways to make it easier for your friends and family to take your writing seriously. Here are a few:

Write (and write regularly)

This may seem obvious, but you would not believe how many people I knew in college (myself included), who did more talking about writing than actual writing. That doesn’t work. You have to write to be a writer. Period. I know how to dive, and I enjoy doing so when the mood strikes and I happen to be at the pool. But I don’t go diving regularly. And I would never call myself a diver.

Once writing, call yourself a writer

Often, “aspiring” writers feel like imposters for calling themselves writers. Don’t. If you write regularly, enjoy writing, and intend to make writing a part of your professional or personal life, you are a writer. The sooner you embrace and use the label, the sooner your friends and family will, too.

Treat writing like a job

In order to finish a writing piece, you’re going to have to put in a lot of work. This means protecting your writing time. If you’re stuck at the office with a huge deadline and your friend asks you out to lunch, what do you do? Hint: you stay and get your work done, lest your boss fire you. If you want to make writing a career, you must be equally vigilant. When you make your writing a priority, others will see that it is, too.

clicheDon’t play into “writer” cliches

There is this insane idea floating around the internet that writers are miserable. Like, we don our berets, pour a glass of whiskey, and slit our wrists over the keyboard. Is writing always fun? No. It’s actually pretty difficult work. But it also shouldn’t be torturous (if it is, you might look at a different field). There is no nobility in self-induced suffering. And if you exude misery to your friends and family, they’re not going to view you as “authentic.” If they care for your happiness, they’re probably going to encourage you to quit.

Don’t downplay your accomplishments

When a lawyer wins a trial, she doesn’t say, “Oh, yeah, I said some stuff and the bad guy went away.” When you finish a book, publish it, or receive a publishing contract, don’t be self-deprecating (but don’t be an asshole, either). Own up to your success, thank those who have supported you, and reach for an even bigger goal.

Be clear about your goals

If writing is a dedicated hobby, that’s fine. Call it that, and inform your loved ones exactly what you get out of it (satisfaction, stress relief, joy, etc.). If writing is your chosen career, explain your plans. Describe what kinds of books you intend to write, your publication plans, and where you see your writing business in five to ten years. If you are driven, logical, and enthusiastic (and can back up your dreams with action plans, facts, and figures), the people in your life will realize that you have thought this through and that writing is a viable life choice.

And if all else fails…let people think what they want. In the end, what matters most is how you view yourself. If you are happy and fulfilled as writer, if you know that your hobby or career is right for you, and you just plain love writing — that’s all you need.

How do you people in your life view your writing? How did you convince naysayers to take you seriously? Share your tips in the comments.