The first page of my novel — Care to critique?

I was having a hard time coming up with a blog post for today, then I remembered that I haven’t posted any of my personal fiction or poetry here in a long time. I debated sharing some of the background work I’ve done for the novel I’m editing right now, Moonshadow’s Guardian–I’ve actually shared some of the work done on my main character–but then I had a brilliant thought:

Every writer needs critique, preferably from writers with varying skills and experience. And my readers happen to be writers, all with different skills and experience levels.

So today I’d like to ask you, my loyal readers, to critique the first page of the YA fantasy novel I’m editing right now in the comments below. If you want, I’ll even critique the first page of your current WIP–details below.

And without further ado, here’s the first page of my novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian:

Chapter One

Riana

Loki’s dungeon stank of urine and sweat. The toilet in my cell was just a bucket which gremlins—short, green creatures with screwed up faces and pointy ears—came to dump and replace every once in a while. There were no windows. No chairs. No bed. Just a small room made up of four stone walls that didn’t care.

Still, Loki saved me from a worse fate. Nobody escaped the wrath of the demons’ Head Family physically or mentally intact. The smallest crimes were punished as brutally as the worst. I had avoided my fate for almost a thousand years, and they would torture me for an equal number of years. Demons didn’t believe in simply killing traitors the way humans did.

Loki stole me from their court room and brought me here. He seemed to be punishing me with boredom. Time spent braiding my long, black hair—my shape shifting ability didn’t work here—or pacing around the room. Pacing kept the silence at bay. In silence my mind went wild, imagining every possible punishment Loki could inflict. After what felt like several days of contemplation, I had concluded the worst punishment would be sitting in this dull room for another thousand years. My kind couldn’t exactly kill themselves easily. It would be the worst kind of existence.

Footsteps. I stared hopefully at the door. The footsteps didn’t sound like gremlins. They sounded heavier, like a person’s, a genuine person, the lady with wings who came in occasionally to offer me scraps of food, or Loki himself. I hoped it would be Loki. The woman with the wings who fed me was silent and stone faced and the gremlins just giggled to each other, as though I didn’t exist.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Any and all advice is appreciated. I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

If you’re interested in having me critique the first page of your novel–or critiquing all of Moonshadow’s Guardian–email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com. I’m always on the lookout for new critique partners.

What Nanowrimo 2014 will look like on The Dabbler

As you might have guessed from Tuesday’s post, I’ve got some pretty big plans this Nanowrimo–for both myself and this blog. My goal for this blog is simple: I want to create the ultimate resource for anyone participating in Nanowrimo who needs some help along the way.

I haven’t chosen an actual word goal yet–I’m working on some outlines right now and I want to finish them before deciding how far I want to push myself–but I promise you, it will be massive. This is a big year for me, and I’m determined to make this Nanowrimo suitably grand. It might also be my last time aiming for a massive word count, at least for a few years. I really need to focus on editing, and it’s hard to edit a book while also trying to write over 100, 000 words in a month.

I’m sure my ridiculous word count will entertain you at the end of November, but here’s what’s going on between now and then:

The Schedule

October: Planning

The right amount of planning is important if you actually want to complete Nanowrimo. How much is the right amount? Well, that depends on the novelist and the novel in question, but no matter how much planning you need to do, I guarantee you’ll find some useful advice and exercises here next month.

You’ll also find three posts a week: an exercise each Tuesday, advice from a published Nanowrimo author every Thursday and a resource list on Sundays. Planning a novel is hard work, and I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.

November: Writing

In November I’ll be going back to posting twice a week because I’m going for a massive word count. There should be a couple guest posts to help you stay inspired, just in case the weekly pep talks Nanowrimo sends you aren’t enough to satisfy.

This November you’ll get some inspiration, tips and tricks every Tuesday and a word count update every Thursday. The word count updates will be brief but keep you informed and keep me accountable.

If you’re not interested in hearing about my Nanowrimo adventures or writing a novel, sign up for my newsletter to be reminded when I return to discussing freelance writing.

Otherwise, let’s have a fantastic fall together!

Getting your first guest post published

If you’ve never gotten a guest post published before, this week’s article about a guest post strategy might have felt a little overwhelming. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy to get yourself published on other people’s blogs, as long as you have something valuable to say. In fact, the first three guest articles I pitched were all accepted by the first blogs I pitched them to, and that wasn’t by chance. It’s about getting the process right.

Grab the list of blog post ideas you created on Monday. If you didn’t, you should probably go do that. Like right now. Done? All right. Now pick a blog and a pitch idea and follow me.

Prepare a query

Most blogs want you to submit entire posts. Some will ask for a query. All of them want a cover letter. What’s the difference? A cover letter sells you; a query sells you and your idea.

Bloggers usually give specific formats for queries–especially bloggers who pay for posts–but there are some general rules you should always follow. Spelling the blogger’s name correctly and telling them why you’re interested in writing for them is usually a good idea.

When I write a query for a guest post it’s usually two paragraphs long. The first paragraph introduces me and my experience and explains why I want to work with the blogger. The second paragraph gives a brief explanation of the idea I’m pitching and mentions things like word count and–unless the blogger specifically asked for a completed draft–how far I’ve taken the idea. Even when bloggers ask for a query instead of a draft, I like to have the draft finished before I send out a query. This is especially true when I know I’ll be able to use the article on another blog or even post it here if it isn’t accepted.

Write the article

This is essentially the same as writing a blog post for your own site, except you’re playing by somebody else’s rules. Maybe you’re not usually profane online but you’re posting to Terrible Minds so you drop a few F-bombs. Your guest post might be a bit longer or shorter than what you usually write on your own blog.

The idea is that you want to meet the blogger halfway. Incorporate some of their writing style into your own and notice how they get their readers’ attention. Every audience is a little bit different, and you want to be able to tap into each one effectively. Before you draft the post and again before you edit it, read two or three posts on the site to make sure you have a good grasp on the other blogger’s style.

Send it in

Make sure your post is formatted properly so it can easily be posted to the blog where it will be appearing, do one last edit and send out your query/article. Remember that bloggers are busy people and be patient when waiting for a response. In fact, the best thing to do if you’re waiting for a response is write your next blog post. After all, you want to reach as many audiences as possible right? The best way to do that is by reaching out to several bloggers in a short period of time.

Most importantly, remember that your commitment doesn’t end when you press send. If your post is accepted and published, you’ll be expected to share it on social media and respond to any comments. Make sure the number of guest posts you have published in any given month is a number you can handle–bloggers won’t invite you back if you don’t communicate with their audience in the right way.

Creating a content plan for your blog

agenda planner Last week I talked about my efforts to get serious about building my vlog to increasing your number of daily views by 50.

What matters is that you aim high but keep your goals realistic. Aim for a slightly larger input than what you’re comfortable with. This allows you to push yourself to the next level without pushing yourself too hard and burning out.

Don’t commit to posting more frequently than you can handle. It’s better to publish fewer posts and schedule them a couple months in advance in case you get really sick or busy. Of course, you can change the schedule at any time, but having posts ready to go several weeks in advance helps eliminate a lot of blogging stress.

Your long term goals should include how many posts you want to write this year, how many readers you want to gain and any content you want to release that’s related to your blog–say an email newsletter or an ebook based on your blog content.

Planning for each month

Your plan for each month should include the number of posts you’ll publish each week, when they’ll publish–consistency in your schedule matters more than frequency–and potential themes or topic ideas. You can choose to give each month a theme or create a point form list of post ideas. I usually do both. Ideally, your plan should include outlines for at least a handful of these posts.

Remember to build a variety of posts into your plan, both in terms of topics and formats. You want to keep readers interested by providing something a little different each week. You’ll also want to figure out what posts attract the most attention so you can incorporate more of those into your future planning. Starting with a wide range of posts will allow you to narrow your work down to the most effective.

Any important dates–such as the release of your first email newsletter or subscriber freebie–should also be included in each month’s plan. After all, you’ll want to write a blog post about these dates, right?

Creating a long term plan

You don’t need all the details, but having some idea what you’ll be doing six months, a year or even two years from now can help keep you on the right track. A long term vision makes it easier to do short term planning–after all, how else are you supposed to know what you’re working towards? How are you supposed to measure success if you don’t know what that success looks like?

While a long term plan should definitely note changes in your posting schedule–say if you’ll be returning to school in September and will want to cut back on posting frequency at that time–and potential themes for future months, it’s also where you put goals related to building outwards from your blog. If one of your long term goals is to create an ebook from your blog, plan to start working on it in a few months and publish it in a year when your blog is fairly well known–or work with whatever schedule you’re comfortable with.

Think of your long term content plan as a business plan for your website. Any extra content, future ideas, and goals you have for your content–both in terms of how many people you reach and how much money you make–belong here.

The more solid your plan, the easier it will be to implement. It’s important to always leave some room for change, because the only constant in life is change and better ideas may surface, but give yourself a solid foundation to build your author platform on. Putting conscious energy into building your author platform now will separate you from the rest when it comes time to publish your first novel.

Winter break

Christmas is almost upon us, and whether or not you celebrate the holiday itself, odds are that you have some vacation time coming up. For those of us caught in the daily grind of work or school, vacation time often means extra time for your writing projects. It’s always a good idea to take one or two days completely off to relax your mind and spend time with family, but it’s also a good idea to make the most of your vacation. After all, we all want more time to work on our writing, right?

Personally I’m planning to use my vacation time to focus on book length projects. I’m almost finished my Nanowrimo novel now, but by the time January first hits I want to not only have finished that novel, but made a significant dent into my rewrite of the novel I wrote in 2010. I’ll also be creating a plan for this blog that will cover my topics for all of 2014, though they’ll be subject to change at any time.

The one thing I won’t be doing is actively posting on the blog. If I can instead spend the few hours I spend on writing posts each week on planning my next year of work, it will make everything run more smoothly in the new year, and give me more time to work on both my novels and the writing ebooks I plan on publishing.

So have a wonderful holiday season and expect me back fresh on January 6th, ready for both a new year of writing and my last month of school. Don’t forget to keep working on your own goals through the holiday season, no matter what gets in the way.

Focus in on what really matters

As a writer with a limitless imagination and an interesting life, it’s easy to get caught up in too many projects at once and to end up abandoning things you really want to work on. It’s something I do all the time, and this summer I’ve done it yet again, and realized that I need to change course to truly create the future I want.

When you know exactly what you want, it’s tempting to try to force it all at once, but life doesn’t work like that. You need to choose two or three projects to focus on at a time, no more. You might even want to try focusing on one project at a time depending on your schedule and the kind of person you are.

I don’t have the focus to work on just one project for more than a few days at a time, so I’ll always have more than one going, but right now I have way too many things going on and it’s time to slow down. Trying to start your own business or freelance/fiction writing career is hard enough, but trying to start all three at the same time is ridiculous.

I’ve now found a “real job” that will give me a stable income so I can save up to get my ebooks professionally edited and formatted, and I’ve decided to stop actively searching for freelance work and to stop doing website consultations. Trying to market myself on those levels has taken me away from what’s truly important: my books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this blog, the projects that I am from now on devoting all my time to.

I will still accept freelance work, but I don’t have the time to hunt for it right now. There are a couple almost-finished article queries I intend to shop around, but after that, I’m going to focus in on my books for a while. In the end, freelance writing is something I do enjoy, but I’ve always wanted to make a living writing books and so I need to focus on creating the best books possible and editing the ones I’ve already created.

Are you focused on the projects that really matter to you? If not, what’s taking up your time that you can sacrifice to get back to what truly matters? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Monetization

Part of the transformation of Dianna’s Writing Den into The Dabbler is creating a website that is more than just a blog. I’m changing my focus from actual freelance writing to website consultation, helping online business owners, freelance writers and authors recreate their websites and tighten their copy in order to become more successful, and there are several other changes I’d like to bring your attention to, some of which are still in the works. These changes can be applied to any blog to start bringing in a cash flow, and this list is a great place to start if you’ve been struggling to figure it out.

Monetization Strategies

1. Ads. You’ll notice two ads–one picture and one link–for the Blogelina writing courses in the sidebar, and at the very bottom of the page an adsense ad. Since helping other writers and forming a community are the main focuses of this site, not making money, I’ve kept these ads to a minimum so they don’t interfere with your experience of The Dabbler. I can also honestly recommend the Blogelina programs, since I took one of their classes and got free web hosting as well as an awesome experience. The Adsense ad I don’t have too much control over, which is why there’s only one.

2. Paid service packages. Eventually my plan is to offer three specific packages, all focused around helping you build your website with varying levels of involvement, which you will be able to buy easily off the website. I’m still learning how the shopping cart technology attached to my GoDaddy account works, so right now I’m only offering website consultations and I can’t accept credit cards, but I am working on this. I’m hoping to have a proper shopping cart up and running by the end of the summer.

3. Ebooks. My first ebook, The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer, will most likely be a freebie, but I am working on a larger ebook designed to help you build and keep the necessary commitment to have the writing career you’ve always dreamed of. The book will be compilation of posts from Dianna’s Writing Den combined with new articles and writing exercises. I’m also finally finished my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian, and while I am sending it out to critiquers one last time–email me if you’re interested–I feel that it is almost ready for publication too. My goal is to have one non-fiction ebook for sale and to have a contract for Moonshadow’s Guardian by this time next year.

While these are the direct methods I’m using to build an income, you’ll also notice some changes around here that are more directly linked to money. I’m working on creating a new logo for The Dabbler, as well as a landing page which will properly display all my available products/services. There’s also going to be a monthly newsletter which will share writing tips, inspiring quotes and the most popular posts on The Dabbler in any given month. I’m still working on the template for this newsletter, but you can sign up right now here if you’d like to receive this newsletter. You’ll also receive special offers and updates on my available products/services.

All of these methods can be applied to any blog. If you can write a blog about it, you can create an ebook based on your topic. The best blogs are designed to help people, and with a little creativity you can turn any blog into a springboard for your service/coaching program. So if you’re looking to make money from your blog, maybe it’s time to ask yourself some questions about how you can turn your knowledge into a helpful ebook or program.

Are you looking to monetize your blog? If so, what’s your plan?

Happy Victoria Day!

I’d like to wish all you lovely people–at least all you lovely Canadian people–a happy Victoria day. In keeping with my rules of productivity, I will be taking the day away from Dianna’s Writing Den to work on other things: editing my novel and working on other long term projects.

You might have noticed that I didn’t manage to reach 400 subscribers in two weeks, but that’s okay. When I do reach 400 subscribers, I’ll still be hosting a massive giveaway. I am still working on my ebook, Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer, and I’m planning to release this when I hit 400 subscribers–with the very first copy being given away to one of you.

Now, off to writing! Have a wonderful day, and thanks for being a loyal reader.

Three Hundred and Fifty… Two!

Today I was going to wrap up my series on disturbances in your writing, but then something very exciting happened: the number of people subscribed to Dianna’s Writing Den reached three hundred and fifty. In fact, it reached three hundred and fifty-two.

Usually I don’t make a big deal of these markers, but three hundred and fifty seems like a really big deal. So today I’d like to say a few things about Dianna’s Writing Den.

The first is that I appreciate every single one of you, and that I’m thrilled to be forming such an amazing community of writers here at Dianna’s Writing Den. I’m really proud of the work I do here and I’m glad to be helping all of you. I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey and that someday when we’re all famous authors we’ll be able to have a big party together, sipping tea and talking about the early days of our journeys.

The second is that I’ve learned a lot from you, maybe even as much–or more–than you’ve learned from me. I know a lot of my subscribers are also wonderful authors who I’ve interviewed or who have written posts for me, and I learn a lot from these interviews/posts. I’ve also learned about what the most common challenges for writers are, and you’ve taught me how to foster an amazing community. Again, I thank you.

The third is that I’d like your help. Inspired by hitting three hundred and fifty subscribers, I’ve thought of a big goal. That goal is to reach 400 subscribers by May 20th. It seems lofty, but I know with your help I can do it. What do you get for helping me? Well, if I hit 400 subscribers by the twentieth, in exactly two weeks, I’m going to host a giveaway. I’m not sure how big it will be as I’m still working on prizes–if you’re an author and you’d like to donate a book, shoot me an email(diannalgunn@gmail.com)–but I do know that it will involve something special: a small ebook I wrote myself, full of advice for writers. And at least one issue of Penumbra, so if you’ve wanted to check it out for a while, now’s your chance.

I haven’t decided what this ebook will be about yet. I might use the Ten Commandments project I’ve almost finished, but I thought I’d ask you first: what would you like this ebook to be about?

Let me know what you’d like to see in the comments–and don’t forget to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den over the next couple of weeks.

The Reality Blog Award

reality-blog-award1-e1357511854615

It would seem that my dear friend Matthew Kirshenblatt over at Mythic Bios has nominated me for the Reality award. I’d actually never heard about this award before, but it’s pretty cool. Here’s how it works:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition. Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

If I could change one thing about the world, I would get rid of money and instead create a system where all the goods were distributed evenly and people were appreciated based on how hard they worked rather than how much they can earn for other people.

If I could change one thing about myself, I would make myself more of a routine animal. My spirit always bucks against routine, and when I try to create routines after school, I find they’ll often work out for a few days but on the third or fourth day I’ll be so exhausted when I get home from school that I just pass out and ruin it. This would be fine if I wasn’t trying to create a writing career for myself, but since I am, I’d like to find a way to make myself more accepting of routine.

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

The age I’m at right now. I’d love to be nineteen forever. I really love my current school and I’d also love to stay in the program forever. I’m pretty healthy, I’m old enough that people respect me as an adult and have stopped treating me like a child, I’m doing pretty well in all my endeavors, and I don’t yet need to worry about paying rent. If I got to repeat the year, I’d be much better set up to support myself by the time I got out of high school.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that it’s nice to be able to legally buy cigarettes and alcohol–though I buy very little of the latter.

What one thing really scares you?

There are a few, though only a small few, but the one I’ll talk about today is the fear of being unable to pursue my passion. I have tendonitis in both wrists–at least, that’s what they *think* it is–and it’s pretty terrifying. I also know that it is possible–my grandmother dreamed of being a ballerina, but her feet were bad and she was short, so she would never have made it too far dancing in a company and she had to give up altogether one day because of the pain it caused her. Keeping her story in mind, I’m grateful to be a writer, because nobody will ever try to tell me I’m too short to pursue my passion.

But more so I am afraid. Afraid that someday I will lose the capacity to write, because writing is my life and without it I would be nothing. I would be useless. I would be really crazy really quickly, probably extremely suicidal. Writing has carried me through a lot of things, and my desire to make my voice heard has kept me from suicide on many occasions already. Without it, I’d be lost.

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

That’s a good question. I think, though, rather than being somebody else, I’d like to just be me… except rich. I’m pretty happy with who I am and though I’d like to have 50 books published, I don’t think I’d like to be Terry Pratchett for a day all that much. And though I’d like to be a famous actress, I wouldn’t want to be Helena Bonham Carter for a day. But I’d love to be independently wealthy so I could focus on my craft and not have to worry about finding a job that, you know, pays the bills until I become a famous novelist.

And now for my own nominations:

Iamzion

Patricia Yager Delagrange

L.K. Mitchell–Pocketful of Dreams

Pub Rants

I hope that you’ll all take the time to check out these blogs and that the bloggers will be doing this exercise soon themselves. Oh, and I’d also like to throw out a big thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to Dianna’s Writing Den–I crossed the three hundred subscribers mark a few days ago and I’m ecstatic! I can’t make any promises, but I’m thinking up a contest for when I hit 350 already, so keep tuned.