The Rules

Cate Russell-Cole:

Common sense for your writer’s survival kit. We all need to hear this message from Jo Robinson. Thanks Jo!


Originally posted on Lit World Interviews:

Jo Robinson
Jo Robinson

A lot of indie authors are pretty rigid with their writing rules. There’s nothing wrong with this when it’s your style, and self-imposed. You’ll have problems though if rigid rules don’t fit well with your character, and you’ve only inflicted them on yourself because a successful and well known writer said that that’s what you should be doing if you ever want to succeed. “Must” is often the word lurking behind procrastination in any field, and when it comes to creative souls, I believe it could shut down production pretty well.

The minute we’re told we must do something, our subconscious goes into overdrive, bombarding us with all the ways we could fail, and settles like a lump in your mind, effectively blocking all those wonderful sentences that had been champing at the bit to leap onto your pages. This fear can be good in small doses. When…

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Are Writers Poisoning Their Future? Tough Love On Bad News Overloads

The online writing community has it’s positive and negative aspects, one negative being that tightly packed communities can pass along nasty diseases. As seemingly protected as we are behind our individual monitors, we are still subject to catching poisonous attitudes and becoming dis-abled, dis-empowered and dis-enchanted by what ails others.

For the past eight weeks, I’ve been having a ball writing “The Dragon Tree.” Sure it’s tricky and I am an old dog that’s a little blurred with painkillers; but it’s been a voyage of discovery and I’ve only thrown hissy fits at typos I have missed for the fifteenth time! However, every time I read up on something I need to know, for example, first drafts, most of what I find is a mind-bending, hdededefheifuhq3118047108ehoowling chorus of negativity against putting pen to paper, or keyboard to pixel. First drafts are supposed to be the scourge of the writer, the substance of hell itself! I had fun. Is something wrong with me?

Writing is fulfilling. That is why we do it. We profess our love, yet, we sink into the negative aspects of the craft too easily.

Ask yourself this: are we putting ourselves and other writers off the craft of writing, by generating excessive clouds of negativity?

How many great books won’t be finished or published, as someone/s have shrunk back under the perceived external pressures of too hard? Why? Because the Internet has become overloaded with bad news about how terrible the life of the writer is. We are sneezing the plague over each other.

There is a difference between, “does anyone know how to handle this? and “I can’t cope, it’s awful…” I know it’s tough being an author, my sales stink too. There are some aspects to life which are a love/hate relationship. I know I fall into the same traps you all do and  I’d love to write posts that would make it all better; but at this point I am standing back and asking, has needing constant support and broadcasting our creative issues become a way of life that is pulling us all down? Is my negativity feeding yours, then do you pass it on?

Are we in a needless negativity trap out of habit?

So I made a creative decision for the sake of my sanity. I stayed offline. In other words, I put on my gas mask and got fresh air into my lungs. There is a lot to be said for writing alone. I have 69,000+ words and my work is growing in a healthy environment of, “yes, I can!” It may be awhile before I decide to come back online properly.

I am not alone in being sick of all this. The Indie Writers Monthly blog has started an interesting series on lies writers tell each other. It’s intriguing, a little complex, but worth reading and evaluating if you are falling into some of these traps of thought such as, “your first book will be unsellable.” Why do we tell each other things like that? Do we believe them ourselves as we’ve read the same thing in so many places, erroneously?

The repetition of the negative needs to stop. We can do better than this!


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

#Search Engine Optimisation for #Indie Authors: How Far Should You Go?

Sculpture by Jeremy Mayer. Source:
Sculpture by Jeremy Mayer. Source: Click to access web site.

There are many bloggers out there who still don’t know what SEO is. That is and isn’t a good thing. SEO is Search Engine Optimisation and for best practice, it is supposed to have a very large say in how you write book titles, web pages and blog posts. (There is an infographic explaining it at the base of this page.) A great idea? Yes, if kept in balance. There is one major worry with getting too carried away with it: you stop writing as yourself and allow yourself to be told what to do by a robot. Think about it…

Digital computations determine how easy it is for us to have our books found on Amazon, our Page posts read on Facebook, our web site or blog found on Google… They are awfully frustrating and if you want to claw your way to the top of the pile, you have to work – hard! You must sprinkle your keywords through your post, use meta tags on web pages, sprinkle matching keywords through your web pages, tweet, status update, Like, Plus 1, retweet, share and comment until your fingers fall off and your brain goes numb.

I did this asiduously throughout 2013 and got to the end of September and simply burnt out! I wasn’t tired of blogging, writing and people. It was those robotic demands that did me in. So I spent far less time on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. After reading a massive, endless stream of SEO and social media how-to posts, I came to the conclusion that as writers, we are possibly far better off writing in the attic, away from the computer and all this “wonderfully good advice.” Any available time I had in my week, was spent assuaging the gods of rank. So I quit! I’ve noticed that since I began to pull back in September, my visit stats and book sales didn’t drop much. They are growing.

1238999_450639671718505_835016741_nSo here is how I am now surviving online. I hope it inspires you and if you have further suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  1. I will automate as many blog posts and shares as I can, so I can take time to see the sunshine and not be spending hours manually on social media. “I’m sorry Hal, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
  2. I will not read any more SEO and social media how-to posts or books: instead I will be myself and stay tapped into my innate creativity identity.
  3. I will not get trapped in worrying about my statistics. If I get 2 Likes on a post and someone was inspired: I aced it! That is my main goal: encourage, equip, empower. Not rack up fat numbers.
  4. I will write the blog posts which are close to my heart, regardless of what posts pull in the greatest number of readers.
  5. I will market my books with titles that make sense to the content of the book and are not used elsewhere. I will not calculate words on what sells.

In business, if something does not pull in sales, you stop doing it. Yet online, many of us tend to jump feet first into the latest and greatest next thing, perhaps in the hope it will propel us to stardom? That doesn’t work. It simply chews away more of our time and sanity.

It is all about sanity. If I have to mutiny against binary calculations, the numbers game and everyone’s marvellous advice, then I will. Join me… your creative soul is worth more than this.

If you want to know more about SEO, check this infographic from



This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013 and adapted in 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Is Your Blog Trapping You or Helping You Fly?

BlogTamingMonthCommuniCATE2I’ve been looking at this debate for some time, as I see more and more bloggers talking of burnout and writers starting to rebel against the endless demands of what you must do to succeed! To settle the matter, I took a few hours out to read and properly absorb both sides of the argument. It is complex when it comes to the publishing industry. At the end, all I could do was make up my own mind about what was right for me. I have placed as many of the arguments here as I can (without this post being novel sized) so you can also make up your own mind. Don’t follow the herd: do what works for you!

  • When you find yourself filling in posts with anything, as you just want it done and are tired, drained and over it!
  • Having no direction: which is sometimes apparent in writers with multiple blogs, unless they are for multiple purposes… but watch how much time that takes up!
  • Letting your self-esteem be dictated by reader statistics.
  • If it is an excuse for social media interaction which may be a sign you need to find a better answer to loneliness, or other tasks you are avoiding.
  • When you are investing too much time, and other higher priority tasks are going begging as a result.
  • Getting involved in blog challenges which run you into the ground with time demands and leave you wrecked.
  • When you have made such a hash of a blog that is screams lack of quality, poor commitment to your writing, or stands as testimony to an attitude that makes you cringe!
  • When your content is too personal and can do you damage in the future with potential relationships, employers or contacts in publishing and promotion.
  • Taking on guest bloggers, cover reveals and other sharing initiatives where you are used and not supported or thanked.
  • When the amount of effort invested is not getting you the results you need long term. If you are losing followers, not growing and this has been going on for at least six months, maybe it’s just not the medium for you…

… and you know something? That’s alright: you don’t H.A.V.E. to be a blogger. Do what is right for you. Write what you have in your heart and be true to yourself. Follower numbers aren’t everything.

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Getting Real About Writer’s Burn Out and Social Media Demands

The Scream by Munch
The Scream by Munch

I was going through my Triberr stream today and someone had blogged on people who are too “big for their britches” to say thank you for retweets, comments etc. I shared the post as they do have a point. However, there can more behind this issue than mere rude behaviour: it may be overwhelm and silently suffering burn out.

Lack of response can come down to time availability, overload, required response numbers… and the need for a balanced life which includes family, recreation and rest. Those of us who have the sense to balance our time, or step away from “must-do to succeed” tasks, can pay a price in public criticism and the god called search engine rankings. It’s time for technology and all writers to stop cracking the whip and set better standards. Our online culture needs to allow people to lead balanced lives! We are creating our own hell… but we can create a way out of it, by changing our expectations and what we pressure other writers to do.

As my blog and business have grown, I have had increasing issues with time. I cannot comment on all the visited blog posts I would dearly love to respond to, which makes me feel very guilty. Thanks to Triberr, I have more RTs than I can keep up with. Add on the demands of marketing, networking, supporting other writers, time for writing, home life, book keeping, bills, health challenges and the many, many social media must-dos which I am supposed to follow… it all becomes physically and mentally impossible to keep up with.

For the last few years, I have worked my butt off trying to do it all the right way and it has slowly and surely led to me balancing on the edge of total burn out. So I chosen to step back from much of my prior workload for a time. Does that mean you will judge me as “too big for my britches,” as I need to switch comments off for a time, or because I am not on Twitter saying thanks every day?

I see so many writers say every week. “I am out of ideas.” “I want forget all the social media: I am forcing myself, as I am told I have to.” “My book isn’t working any more, I am going to ditch it. I don’t know what to do.” Guess what, like me, you’re over-tired. If you’re stats are low on blog visits or followers, maybe your content is bad as you’re too tired to think straight and good ideas have stopped flowing. If you’re stuck on a plot problem, maybe you need to let your mental muscles rest and regenerate.

Rfc1394_Danger_-_High_Voltage_(Alt_1)Technically burn out is: “the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time.” There is a fallacy that if you are doing what you love, you can’t burn out. Yes, you can. Burn out advances faster when you feel trapped, stuck, frustrated or are doing a task you don’t enjoy: but it can still quietly sneak up on you when you are doing what you love. It comes from being out of balance.

It comes from not getting away from your desk and taking “you” time; from giving into the online peer pressure to be so involved in everything, you are too busy for your creative brain to rest and for your stress level to reduce. Long term, those two don’t just lead to writer’s block, increased stress hormones will make your body sick. If you over-rev a car, the motor will burn out. We are no different.

There is an answer: rest, reduce your workload and balance out your time.

Until I feel better, my Triberr shares will automatically appear on Twitter, but I will rarely be doing my usual sharing; I won’t be on Facebook much; my time on Pinterest and Google Plus will be the barest minimum if at all; and I will be rarely reading blog posts I have subscribed to. I am not going to be stupid with my mental and physical health. I have to take time out, now.

According to SEO and all the good advice on success, this is suicide. According to Jeff Goins and his Slow Down Challenge, it is wisdom. For me, it is necessity. I am going to stop and quietly repair.

I challenge you to join me in re-assessing what you’re doing:

  • Look at your stats and see what social media/promotion doesn’t work, and have the courage to radically reduce your time on it, or stop using it.
  • Limit the number of days a week you post so you don’t run out of ideas, energy or overload your audience.
  • Get out of Facebook and Google communities and groups that are unresponsive, spam attractors or criticism ridden. (I exited 17 last week to pull my work load down to a controllable level.)
  • Stay away from Blogging challenges that are demanding more than 3-4 posts a week, or modify your involvement to what you can handle without stress, regardless of the rules. (I dropped out of two last week. I feel free! I’ll stash away the prompts I like and do them in my own time, for me, when I am ready.)
  • If you know NaNoWriMo and challenges like it are unrealistic and will scorch your sanity and stress you, don’t do it! Give yourself a longer time frame.
  • Reduce word counts to a level you know you can achieve and be patience. Just because it takes longer to get there, doesn’t mean you won’t!
  • Reduce extensive goal lists to the most important and work on no more than three at a time.
  • Stop being a type A and enjoy your family, friends, fresh air, fun and the good parts of life which involve no computer connection.

Take very good care of yourselves.

blog sig

Coping with a Cynical Critique, by Sandra Nikolai

Equator-1-Gallery-300x225Like any writer who wants to succeed, I spent years learning about the profession and refining my skills. I attended writers’ conferences, studied how-to books on writing and publishing, and read piles of novels in a variety of genres.

Armed with a draft of my first mystery novel, I took the next step in the process: I found a mentor through a writers’ group I’d joined. My mentor offered to review the first and last thirty pages of my novel and email her comments to me after a month’s time.

At the end of the session, her email arrived and I was eager to read it. As my eyes flew over the words, disbelief stifled enthusiasm. Her remarks were sarcastic and stung as much on screen as if she’d read them out loud in a room full of people. She proposed drastic changes to the characters, settings, and plot. She even advised me to re-write the entire story in the third person. (I’d written it in the first person.) In closing, she defended her position as a “tough editor” and hoped her comments would help me write a better book.

You’ve got to be kidding!

My next reaction was to send “Miss Sarcastic” a nasty email but I decided against it. It wasn’t worth the time or energy to respond to someone who was inconsiderate and rude. I’d just file a complaint against her on the evaluation form I had to complete and send it off to the writers’ group headquarters. And yet…

Available from Amazon Kindle

I read Miss Sarcastic’s comments again. Her mocking attitude had dealt a serious blow to my ego, but what if she was right and my story did need a revamp? After all, she had a handful of published mystery novels under her belt and had mentored other writers. I was…well…green. Surely she must know what she’s talking about. And so I conceded, knowing that the revisions to my manuscript would entail a major upheaval. In fact, the task proved a lot more difficult than writing the book in the first place and took months out of my life. After I’d finished, I put it aside. When I read it a week later, I was disheartened. It was no longer my story. The changes I’d made had sucked the life right out of it. I hated it.

Not one to accept defeat, I reviewed Miss Sarcastic’s comments again—this time from an unbiased perspective. I dug out my original manuscript and integrated the changes that I felt would benefit the story and ignored the rest. After I finished, I had to admit it was a stronger novel.

I recently heard that my mentor has abandoned her writing career. Her book sales weren’t doing well, so she accepted a job with a media firm. If anything, I owe her a modicum of gratitude. The experience inspired me to set up guidelines that I’ve since followed when reviewing critiques of my work. I’d like to share them with other writers in the hope they might find them useful too:

1. Take the time to review a critique. Let it ferment. You might interpret it differently later on.

2. Try not to take a negative critique as a personal insult but consider it with an open mind.

3. A negative critique gives you a choice: either fix the problem or ignore it. Consider how any change will affect your story. Will it strengthen or weaken it?

4. No one knows your characters or plot as well as you do. If a suggestion for a change doesn’t fit— no matter how good it might sound, don’t force it into the story.

5. Growing as a writer means heeding your inner voice or gut feelings. Trust your writer’s instincts more often. If you believe that a change will improve the story, do it. If not, move on.

Happy writing!


Meet Sandra Nikolai

Bio-234x300Sandra was raised in Montreal, Québec, and graduated from McGill University. As a young girl, she loved reading the Nancy Drew mystery series and was determined to write her own stories one day. Her career choices didn’t exactly lead her along the “yellow brick road” to writing mystery novels—though working in a bank and experiencing a string of armed robberies did ingrain terrifying memories worthy of a story!

In 2002, Sandra won an Honorable Mention in Canadian Writer’s Journal short fiction competition. She has since published a dozen short stories online and in print. False Impressions is her first mystery novel in a series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. She is currently working on Fatal Whispers, book two in the series.

Sandra is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and Capital Crime Writers.

You can catch up with Sandra at her beautiful website and blog:

This blog post is Copyright Sandra Nikolai 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.

Getting to the Heart of Your Story, by Rossandra White

Jans-house-9-20-121At 49 I felt compelled to write a book. Not something I’d always wanted to do. I figured maybe it was just time to finally record all those stories about my ancestors who had been in South Africa since the 1800s, as well as my own stories about growing up in a small Zambian copper mining town; plus a two-year stint on a sisal plantation in Zimbabwe. This was before the two countries were independent, when colonial power held sway, when the bush was full of animals. And then there were all those road trips my family took to the Congo, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania. The time an elephant chased our car for over five miles, forcing my dad to reverse down an excuse for a dirt road before the elephant gave up. The time we spent in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro with a crazy Belgian who kept wild animals for film-makers’ use; as well as that episode in Kenya when the Mau Maus attacked the cattle ranch where we were staying with a family my dad had befriended along the way. I had a lot to write about. What I didn’t know was that I intuitively chose writing “to take fuller possession of the reality of my life,” to paraphrase Ted Hughes.

Mau Mau

So I started writing, most days after work and on weekends. I agree with Kurt Vonnegut who said writing made him “feel like an armless and legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” Three years later I ended up with a 500 page memoir of flashbacks. The poor volunteer reviewer from the National Writer’s Association I joined penciled these little round faces with downturned mouths in the margins, complete with dialogue: “Oh nooo, not another flashback.” The other reviews I received convinced me just how much I had to learn about writing. Starting over, I bought and read a library of how-to books and took classes; I learnt about structure, plot, conflict, pacing, and theme. I joined critique groups and re-wrote.

This time I started with an incident when I was poisoned by rebels as a six-year old in Zimbabwe and turned my messy tome into a young adult novel and sequel, with two teenage protagonists, a black boy and a white girl. The story had political and spiritual overtones, lots of action, but the white girl and her family were essentially me and my family. The black protagonist represented Africa and her people.

An interested agent told me that the story was a good one, except that it lacked a unifying purpose; I hadn’t found the heart of the story. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how to pull it all together, how to find that elusive heart. I kept writing. Only now I began to realize that I hadn’t connected in any meaningful way to my characters. I had plumbed the depths of the story’s message and meaning, I had plot points and a climax; I had my people say words that revealed character and furthered the plot, but I didn’t know how they felt about all the conflicts they were going through, how they felt about each other – not in any meaningful way. That was because I had avoided my own feelings from the past. It was too painful. But in order to find the heart of my story I had to do so.

africaI immersed myself in the past and all those feelings I had suppressed. The white girl became more vulnerable, a little less reactive and rebellious; her mother more loving and sympathetic than my own distant mother had ever been; the father more fallible than I’d always believed my own father to be. Overall every character grew, including Africa, a country with which I’ve always had a love-hate relationship. In the end, what I managed to produce was a fully realized coming-of-age story. Both for the protagonists, but especially for me. Through the power of words, I had set down roots in time and explored my own personal myths, uncovered their purpose and grounded myself in a way I might not have been able to do otherwise.

You can follow Rossandra’s blog: “A former bushbaby’s take on writing, appreciating life and everything in between” at

Rossandra lives in a Hobbit house, along with her two Staffordshire bull terriers, Fergie and Jake, where she writes about them, her life in Laguna Beach and her African past.

This blog post is Copyright Rossandra White 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.