The Business and Craft of Writing: The Importance of Accountability and Stickers

I wrote my first book back in middle school. I was in fifth or sixth grade when I first put down the story in my head into a spiral notebook. I made some occasional progress. Then in seventh grade, one of my teachers found out I was writing a book and asked me to read it to her English class. Suddenly everything I’d written over the last couple of years wasn’t enough. I had to pick up my writing pace or else I’d show up without anything to share.


I did finish that book, but then stopped writing stories for a long time.

After college and with my first job, I cautiously made my way back into writing stories. But honestly, I spent more time talking or thinking about wanting to write than I did actual writing.

Pro Tip: only dreaming about writing does not a writer make.

Once I found myself with a critique group and a commitment to *someone else* to bring in at least 1000 words each week, my writing output increased. But then, I moved away and that critique group fizzled out. I tried getting a couple friends together to do an online group, but nothing really stuck.

The year after that critique group, I think I wrote 1000 words in total. Double yikes.

I needed something to hold myself accountable.

Enter this video from Victoria/V.E. Schwab:

I admit, I was skeptical. I’m not really a sticker person.


The first month I tried the stickers, I wrote a total of 7 days. I was both amazed and horrified. I had written more that month than I had in over a year. Wohoo! But also, I knew I wasn’t writing that often, but surely, surely, I was writing more often than that?

Pro Tip 2: The stickers do not lie, folks.

I kept going with the stickers and cheered as my numbers and my stickers went up.

At this point in time, the sticker calendar is the best thing I’ve found to keep myself accountable. Critique groups are amazing, wonderful things and the people who make up the groups I’m currently in are even more so, but people are more understanding than stickers.

I can fudge how much I’ve been writing when I talk to other people. I don’t realize that’s what I’m doing, but deep down, I don’t want to admit that I slacked for whatever reason on my writing, even if it was a completely, 100% totally valid excuse.

But when I look at the stickers on my calendar, I can see how much I actually did.

Pro Tip 3: If you want to be a writer, then you gotta write. It doesn’t have to be every day or all that much. But if you want to get *published,* then you gotta be accountable for your writing. Ain’t nobody who gonna hold you responsible for the rest of your life, except you.

If you find yourself in the same position I’ve found myself in multiple times, may I suggest you make your way down to the dollar store and buy a cheap set of stickers and a calendar?

Even if you decide not to keep going with that method, you’ll learn a lot about your personal writing method.

The Business and Craft of Writing: Show, Don’t Tell, Or Get the Reader Up Close and Personal



Something you might here frequently as a writer is “Show, don’t tell.” As a newer writer, I got so irritated hearing that. What does that even mean? HOW do you do that? And more importantly, how is that any different from what I’m trying to do right now?

As a slightly-less new writer, I think I’m starting to understand.

I had the most amazing opportunity to take Brandon Sanderson’s writing workshop a few years ago and part of that included getting personal feedback from him. One week while he was sitting in with my critique group, we got to this section of my then-current WIP:

Night was falling as they emerged from the swamp. They were exhausted.

“Do we keep going or do we stop for the night?” Dragony asked.

Shinabar looked down. Era hadn’t stirred yet and she was paler than normal. “Keep going and hope that we don’t run into my men.”

The ambassador looked at him. “Let’s stop for just a couple of minutes. You look like death warmed over.”

“I feel like it too, and I’m not the only one who feels that way,” he warned.

The ambassador nodded. “Give her to me then. We’ll be able to move faster.” Shinabar hesitated a second before relinquishing her. Immediately, they took off again.


Dawn was breaking. “He’s back!”

“Landon! He’s back!”

Landon sighed in relief. “Good. Now I can kill him.”

“It doesn’t look like you’ll have to.”

Dragony and Shinabar staggered into camp; each leaning on the other for support while holding Era.

Men rushed forward to catch them as they collapsed.

This was at the end of what should have been an intense fight-as-we-take-flight scene in a swamp.

Brandon looked at me and told me something along the lines of  “You need to show more here. You’re telling me they’re exhausted. I want to feel their exhaustion. I want to feel the mud clinging to their boots, making it difficult to walk. I want the mosquitoes buzzing around their heads. I want to feel the night getting colder as the sun goes down.”

Ok. Yeah, I can do that. Showing means adding more sensory details. Easy peasy.


That wasn’t good enough. And for the few years, I’d turn in something *awesome* for critiques and get told,

“Yeah, you need to show more here.”

Seriously. I give up.

And then I took an amazing class on “Tell, Don’t Show” by Josi Kilpack at the American Night Writers Association conference last September.

Turns out, I had only the first part of show, don’t tell.

Part A of “Show, Don’t Tell” is to engage the senses, which is what Brandon taught me.

Part B is to “avoid reminding us these are the character’s senses (i.e.

Using the example Josi gave, the difference between what I was doing and showing is the difference between example 1 and example 2.

  1. He watched as the sun slipped behind the horizon, taking the
    last traces of warmth with the light.
  2. The sun slipped behind the horizon, taking the last traces of
    warmth with the light.

See the difference? Feel the difference?

In example 1, we’re being told what He is experiencing. We’re focused on him and what he’s doing (watching the sun).

In example 2, all of our attention is on the sunset. We’ve all experienced a sunset. (If you haven’t, I’m terribly sorry. Your first assignment is to look up when sunset is for your town and then to go outside 5 minutes before then.)

We know what it feels like to see the sun go down. We know what it feels like as it gets darker. We know what it feels like as it gradually gets colder.

The writer doesn’t have to spend a lot of time describing those sensations. We as readers have already experienced them. Simply shifting our focus from the character to what is happening changes our experience. We’re more intimately involved in the story.

Part C is knowing when to show and when to tell. Honestly, that depends on what your end-goal for the scene is. And I can’t help you with that.

The Business and Craft of Writing: Pantsing vs. Plotting

A while back I was talking with some of my family and I mentioned that I was a pantser*. They gave me a very confused look. I’m sure that if you’re just barely getting into writing, you’re equally confused.


When I say I’m a pantser, it refers to the phrase “flying by the seat of their pants.” In other words, I don’t plan out my books before I write them. I literally sit down and start writing. Who knows what’s going to happen this writing session? Frequently, I’ll write something and then sit back and go, “Huh. Did not see that coming. Now what?”

Other people (arguably more sane/organized than I am) sit down and write an outline before they start writing. That is plotting. In a later post, I’ll go more into detail about what’s involved with plotting and outlining since there are far too many options to go into detail right now. tenor

I’ve heard pantsing and plotting also referred to as gardener and architect. A gardener will plant story seeds and see what grows and the architect plans out the entire story before they start building.

Generally, writers will claim one side or the other, but in actuality, this isn’t a zero-sum game. Most people land somewhere in between and even change how they write depending on their project.

My usual writing process looks like this:

  • Come up with cool idea
  • Play around with idea in my head
  • Come up with vague ideas of events in the story
  • Start writing
  • Get stuck
  • Look at idea some more
  • Start writing again
  • Get stuck
  • Sit down and write down vague ideas
  • Write
  • Get stuck
  • Figure out next two or three scenes
  • Write
  • Repeat last three steps

This process is often referred to as road-mapping/road-tripping (among other things), but it’s a combination of pantsing and plotting.

Pantsing is great for really getting to know and understand your characters, but tend to have plot issues. You know how you read a book with amazing characters and then you reach the end and think…. “That’s it? That was such a let-down.” It was probably written by a pantser.

Plotting, *surprise surprise* tends to have the reverse problem(s). Everything fits soooo well together and “Did you see that foreshadowing in Ch 5??? That was awesome!” but the characters are kinda flat and boring. You totally know what the villain is going to do because you’ve seen that same thing before.

Ideally, if you tend toward one end of the spectrum instead of the other, you won’t have any of those issues because you’ll revise your story multiple times before it gets published.

*No, I do not go around de-pantsing people. I haven’t done that since I was like ten.

The Business and Craft of Writing: Expectations for Book Lengths and a Bit on Genres

I finished writing my first book when I was 14. I was so proud of that thing. I had hand-written 150 pages of fantasy. And a 150-page book isn’t the shortest book out there, especially for a middle-schooler.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t know then: there are certain expectations about book lengths and genres that are a decent indicator of whether or not a writer is a beginner.* And everything about my story screamed NEWBIE.

First thing you should know: when you’re writing a book, most people in the publishing industry go by word count. Page count is often inaccurate because there are so many variables (including font size, font type, spacing, and even what version of Word you’re using) that affect what each individual is actually seeing. But I could do an entire post on formatting.** In fact, I will do a post on formatting in the future.

Second, there are so many different genres you could be writing in, and those affect word counts. Usually when I say genre, I’m referring to where on the bookshelf would someone who’s selling the book place each book. Unfortunately, there are several different definitions of genre, which makes it very confusing. For example, there’s nonfiction, general fiction, genre fiction (which is romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.), children’s books (which even that entails more than you’d think), and on and on and on.

A novel is what most people think of when they think “book.” A novel can be anywhere from 40,000 words on up. 110K-120K is typically the safest high-end word count a novel can reach before people get antsy about the length. If you’re writing for children, those numbers are lower.

For adults, here’s a guideline that can at least get you started.

Short Story: 0-7,500

Novelette: 7,500-15,000

Novella: 15,000-40,000

Novel: 40,000+

A book like the one I wrote is considered middle grade fantasy or MG for short. Excluding the two missing pages, which I’ll generously guesstimate totaled 1000 words, that story is 26,000 words long.

Middle grade books are typically for kids 8-12 years old and are approx. 20,000 to 40,000 words long. Technically, yes, my book was in the correct MG word count range, but since it’s a fantasy, it’d get a few side-eyes from agents just on the length along. (Fantasy books for any age are generally longer since you need more words for adequate world-building.)

This article on Writer’s Digest gives a better breakdown of acceptable word counts per genre and age group.

*Like anything and everything with writing, there are definitely exceptions. Some best-selling books are shorter than the norm and others are waaaaay longer. (I’m looking at you, Branderson.)

**Design and layout is one of my other true loves.

The Business and Craft of Writing: What is publishing?

This seems like a funny, no duh kind of question, but seriously, when I was 14 and looking for publishers, I thought that writers wrote their book, sent it to a publisher (i.e, paid the publisher), and then it’d show up in bookstores after the publisher made the word document into an actual book.

Ha. Haha.

Not even close.

I was aware enough to know that there were fake publishers/scammers out there, so I searched for publishers who didn’t cost a lot. (Also, I was 14. I had no money.) When I found a publisher who would PAY ME for my book, I was so thrilled! And then because I’m a procrastinator and my family moved halfway across the country, I never sent them my book.

*Current me wipes relieved sweat off face*

Turns out, there are different types of publishers beyond scammers and legit publishers. Forteen-year-old me had found what is called a vanity press. Technically, yes, that particular publisher would have paid me, but only after I had covered the cost of printing. More on that in a bit.

What I really wanted is what is referred to as traditional publishing. A traditional publisher takes submissions, decides if they want to publish that book, and if they decide YES, then they will contact the author with an offer. The author can then accept and sign the publishing contract as-is, negotiate for different rights/more money, or reject the offer. The publisher will then edit the book, design the book (both the cover and the interior), market the book, print the book, and get the book into bookstores. While an author has some input once a traditional publisher is working on their book, they actually don’t have that much control over most of what happens, (like the design and marketing of the book).big-five

In a later post I’ll cover contacts and payment. But for now, this is the basics of what a traditional publisher does. At no point does the author ever pay a traditional publisher.

Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins are known as the “Big 5” US publishers, but there are many other legitimate traditional publishers out there.

Next is self-publishing. There are so many ways to self-publish now that I’m not even going to attempt describing all of them, but essentially self-publishing means that the author is paying for and/or actually doing the work to publish their book. Self-publishing gets a bad rap since a bunch of authors either don’t know how to produced quality work (whether it’s the actual writing, the editing, or the design) or can’t/won’t pay someone else with the appropriate skills. Fortunately, that’s not the case for a large number of self-published authors. The upside to self-publishing (compared to traditional publishing) is that the author has complete control over every aspect of the publication for the book. It’s just more work for them.

There is something called hybrid-publishing. Essentially it’s a combination of the previous two. The vanity press that I found when I was 14 is a great example. They would have done much of the work of a traditional publisher, but I would have had to pay the costs of printing and done the marketing myself. There are various combinations to hybrid publishing and there’s a debate on whether or not it’s a separate category from self-publishing.

Whew. That’s a lot of info and I’m really just skimming the surface of what publishing is. For the majority of this series, I’m going to focus on traditional publishing since that is what I’m most interested in. I may touch on self-publishing a bit, but I’m not particularly familiar with it.

Let me know if there’s a specific publishing- or writing-related question you and I’ll do my best to answer it in another post!

Introducing The Business and Craft of Writing Series

22159317_1509436672426752_1079978262542680064_nI’ve been meaning to update for months, but I’ve been busy with life and my writing. (So it goes… Sigh.)

Anyway, last November, I did an Instagram photo challenge for writers. One of the items was to post our “Author Bucket List.” I hadn’t ever specifically thought of what my bucket list would be, though I did have some long term goals and hopes. Two of which kind of go hand-in-hand: 1) Present at a writing conference and 2) Teach a creative writing class.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to do with this blog and my bucket list, several things occurred to me.


A) My passion is publishing and writing. I majored in English and minored in editing, but I frequently said that if my minor had been a major, I would have dropped English in a heartbeat. And maybe someday when my kids are out of the house (or basically out of the house), I’ll actually work in publishing.

2) I LOVE to advise people on writing and publishing.

3) If I want to teach or present, I better start practicing.

All of which is a very long-winded way of me saying that I’m starting a new blog series! At first it’ll probably just be a random compilation of various tidbits about the publishing industry and writing craft, but eventually I hope to have a system worked out.

The first few topics will be things that I wished I knew back when I was 14 and looking at getting my first novel published. I’m already working on the first post, so keep your eyes out for that one!