Day Zero-A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

“We can’t touch our faces, mama?”

My four year old mimicked the concern in my voice as he repeated back to me my instructions.

“That’s right, baby. It’s important.” I sounded distracted, I know I did. Because I was. I wiped down the surfaces surrounding us, doing my best to make sure he couldn’t accidentally touch anything and then touch his face..

“We can’t touch anything?”

“You can touch what I sanitized.”

“Because we don’t want to get Pop sick?”

“We don’t want to get anyone sick.”

It was a tough thing to explain to him. I did it as best as I could. We’d be fine, but others wouldn’t. I tried to keep the concern out of my voice to not scare him, but he picked up on the atmosphere. Things weren’t as bad here as they were in other places, but it was in the air. The fear.

The bus was usually a fun experience for us. I took it every day to work and he loved riding it. But now, he picked up on the fear that crossed the other rider’s faces every time someone coughed or sneezed.

We couldn’t sit in our regular seats because there were people there. I tried to explain as lightly as I could why we couldn’t sit behind them. Social distance. This is a hard concept for him to understand because he doesn’t understand personal space. All he knew is that he wanted to sit where he could see out all the windows but he wasn’t allowed.

I tried to keep our life as normal as possible, but there were things in our routine I had to cut out. Our bi-weekly visit to the arcade had to be cancelled. That was also tough to explain. He looked forward to it on my paydays.

That day we were on the bus headed to his doctor’s appointment. A normal well child checkup. We arrived in town only to get a call that it was cancelled. His doctor had to deliver two babies. Easy enough to explain to him.

He told me he had to use the bathroom, so I took him to the transit center waiting room to use the bathroom.

We stopped when we entered as I gazed over the taped off waiting room.

“Mama, what’s that?” he asked.

“The waiting room is closed due to the virus,” the man told us.

“That’s caution tape. We can’t wait in here.” I told my son then glanced back at the man. “Are your bathrooms opened? He needs to go.”

“Sorry, restrooms are closed, too.”

I thanked him, and asked what bus I needed to get on to take my kid to get lunch.

“Can you hold it until we get to burger king?” I asked.


He was potty trained, but he was four. I wasn’t sure if he could hold it. He had his backpack on with his extra clothes so it wasn’t a big deal if he couldn’t. The bus was already there, not twenty feet from us. Yet, as we headed for it, I heard the chatter of the bus drivers.

“Have you seen the latest? Fresh off the press.”

I didn’t get to hear it, but couldn’t ignore the thought that I missed something. After we boarded the bus and I sanitized our area again, I checked my phone.

The bus ride is short and I don’t have time to read the article. I’m not quite sure what this means but it leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach. Burger King’s door has a message on it but my kid is moving too fast for me to read it.

“Why are all the chairs up?” he asked me.

“Because the dining room is closed. We can’t eat in here.”

I’m assuming that’s the gist of the note on the door, and the General Manager confirms it. We order our food and I ask if their bathroom is open. It is, and he uses it and we wash our hands.

We eat our food on the side walk outside, waiting for the bus to come back around.

It isn’t until I get home that I can look at the news article. All businesses that are nonessential should be closed. I text my boss asking if that includes our store, which is a bookstore, and then call my mother.

She’s a nurse who works for Geisinger, so the mandate doesn’t apply to her, but she thinks it will apply to me. Even as a book lover, I have to agree that buying new books is not essential when it comes to health. Many of our customers are older and are high risk. It makes me worry about the store because we aren’t a large business. We aren’t a corporation. Small bookstores are on the verge of extinction in some places, and the permanent closure of my store would change my town. It’s been around before 200 years, give or take some years. Oldest Independent book store in the country.

I’m not too worried about the bills just yet. I only work part time and it’s mainly just spending money. Otherwise, I’m a stay at home mom who pays minimal rent in exchange for keeping my grandfather’s house clean and do repairs. I’m extremely lucky compared to many others. He’s 87 and insanely diabetic. A huge risk for this illness.

I have no great urge to travel to and from work every day on the petri dish they call the bus and bring him COVID-19 to him.

“Has anything like this every happened to you guys?” I asked my mom, who had me on speaker phone so my dad could hear me, too.

“It’s a first for us, too,” my mom said.

My boss called me later that evening and told me that Wolf’s message wasn’t clear on a local level. We would still be opening to the public in the morning, and I would get to go to work. He said he’s posted on our Facebook page that morning, but it may be void. They were still trying to figure it out. If we were closing, it would be to the public only, but the senior staff members would still be on site for email orders, phone, and website orders. They would be working in shorter shifts.

My boss called me later that night to tell me they were officially closed to the public, and he’d drafted another statement for the Facebook page. I was officially off work for two weeks, like many other Americans. It sucked for losing the money, but the money was not worth the potential to carry the illness back to my grandfather or four year old. Just because I would be fine doesn’t mean those I care about would be. My dad is diabetic, too. A lot of my family is.

I’ve seen a number of theories regarding COVID-19. Some present facts, some are conspiracy theories.

No matter what theory you believe, the one thing we can all agree on is we are in unprecedented times. The first for many of us. No matter the outcome of all of this, many of us will not forget what has happened. How it has affected us. For some, it will affect our lives more than others. For now, this could be the beginning. The beginning of something greater. Or, this could be the means to the end of COVID-19 and life will go on as normal after the shut downs are lifted. Time will tell.

Check on your neighbors to make sure they are surviving. Call your family. Practice social distance. Wash your hands even when this is over. Be safe, my friends.

10 Tips on Self-Editing

So this happened.

Somewhere a rumor started that writers don’t have to self-edit. I’m here to let you know that it’s a false rumor. Writers should always self-edit. Keep in mind two facts, though. One: Self-editing does not make up for professional editing. Two: Self-editing comes after the first draft.

See, all writers have to wear more than one hat. We have our fun hat, the one we wear during our first draft. This is the creative, bedazzled hat that reminds us not to give a damn about what anyone else is going to think. As Terry Pratchett put, this is us telling ourselves the story.

The second hat is more professional. Think construction hat. We’re going to worry about the structure, plot holes, grammar, and the overall picture. We’re going to use our blueprints and evaluate our story with a keen eye. We’re going to locate any missing pieces and our hat is going to make sure we’re protected. (By “we”, I mean our egos. They are awfully fragile.) Switching hats is a good way to give yourself distance from all the blood, sweat, and tears you just put into that first draft.

It also helps to change formats, or read aloud when you go back that first time. Make notes, but don’t edit yet.

There is more than one type of self-edits, and I’ll talk about them below.

Levels of Editing: Big Picture & Small Scale

There are essentially two levels of editing, but each level contains their own bits. The first thing you do when you complete that first draft is put it away. Yep, throw it in your desk drawer and forget about it for as long as possible. Anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. The point of this is when you finally unearth it again, you’re looking at it with fresh eyes. You’ve probably heard about that numerous times, but I can assure you it’s important.

The first level is the big picture editing. You may have the urge to start rewording and editing your grammar as you do you first read through, but that’s a waste of time. Big picture editing is also called developmental or structural editing. You’ll remove scenes, chapters, subplots, and anything else that doesn’t move the story forward or develop character.

Big Picture Edit

  • Plot
  • Subplots
  • Characters
  • Arrangement
  • Background dumps
  • Scenery dumps

Not everything has to go, but it’s important to look at each of these to see if they need cut, moved, or strengthened.

Small Scale Edit:

Line editing

  • Paragraphs
  • Word choice
  • Transitions
  • Author’s Voice
  • Clarity
  • Vocabulary

Copy Editing

  • Sentences
  • Grammar
  • Inconsistency in usage of words in a sentence (afterward vs afterwards. Stick to one spelling)
  • Spelling of names, places, and things
  • Inconsistency of details about characters, places, or things
  • Wordiness
  • Document clean up (such as extra spaces between words)


  • Words
  • Deleting extra words (such as two “the” in a row.)
  • Basic spelling and punctuation
  • Book format

Tip # 1: Use your blueprint (a.k.a the outline)

Photo by Christian Kaindl

I love outlines, but I haven’t always been this way. I used to sit down with my notebook and just go for it. I never finished a book, and although the pieces were interesting, they were a mess.

You don’t have to outline every single scene, but you should at least know your direction. See my Dramatic Structure page for help outlining and tips for plot points.

If you don’t create an outline before your first draft is finished, then create one out of your first draft. It’ll help you see the big picture and point out spots that need work, or if you haven’t tied off any loose ends. I like to do both an outline in excel with each plot and subplot and on index cards. Excel allows me to see it all on one page and if a plot point doesn’t have an event for one of plots, I know I have to add it. Index cards help me physically move scenes around to strengthen my structure.

Tip # 2: Cut the fluff

Photo by Matthew Henry

During your small scale edit, you’ll want to go through your manuscript and hunt down words that are filler. This will cut your word count and tighten your sentences. This includes “to-be” verbs and weak adjectives. They rob your writing.

Check out my favorite go-to page for cutting the fluff. 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power

Tip # 3: Kill your darlings

Photo by Sebastian Pociecha

A lot of writers aren’t clear on what this means. To me, it means that cut anything that isn’t moving your story forward or giving character information that is vital to your story. It’s important for you to know as many details as possible about your character and their world, but your reader doesn’t need all that information. Less is more, and it keeps your reader interested.

Check out this post on what this phrase means.

Tip # 4: Use action and reaction scenes

Photo by Ryan Quintal

MRU changed my writing forever. I don’t worry about it during my first draft, but during editing, it’s a blueprint inside a blueprint. Just like anything else in the writing process, MRUs have to make your book better. If it doesn’t work in some parts, that’s fine. Writing is not like speed limits and stop signs. Breaking the rules isn’t going to get you in trouble.

For a better look at MRU, check out this post.

Tip # 5: Show and tell

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli

You’ve most likely heard “show, don’t tell” a million times now. It’s not something I worry about in my first draft, or second, or even third. This, despite how time-consuming it is to go through your entire manuscript hunting for these instances, is considered small scale. Don’t waste your time at the beginning of the editing process changing these sentences around because you may end up deleting a lot of work if you need to delete the entire scene or chapter.

Showing keeps your reader in your world while telling puts them at a distance. You never, ever want them at a distance because that’s when they put down your book.

For more about Show vs. tell, check out this post.

Tip # 6: Format

Photo by Kiwihug

While in your drafting process, it’s alright to have any format you wish, especially if changing it helps your editing. One of the last things you should do while editing is change your manuscript to the correct format. Read the guidelines for the publisher carefully. Many of them will automatically toss your beloved work simply for not following their guidelines.

Check out a basic formation guide here.

Tip # 7: Your opening pages

How many times have you picked up a book and found that it takes 50 pages to get to the story? How many times have you put the book down to never pick it up again? The writer drones on and on about the world, the character’s background, or anything that is absolutely boring. My answer is all. Every book I’ve read like that was donated and I never made it to the good parts. Readers don’t have time to waste, so don’t waste your opening pages (or any pages) with fluff. Of course, you want to ground them in the who, why, and where, but it doesn’t need to take pages or chapters.

I recently read a book where the opening was fantastic. The MC comes back from break to find someone has planted her own obituary on her work computer with an exact time of death. Though the rest of the book veered horribly wrong (I couldn’t finish it), the writer obviously knew how to start strong.

With all that said, this really should be the last thing you worry about. You’ll change it so many times by the end that you won’t remember the first opening.

Check out here the importance of the opening pages and chapter.

Tip # 8: Exit stage left

Photo by stefano stacchini 

Another time consuming small scare edit. Having your character detail every movement they make is a big no-no. Readers are not idiots and they know how the human body works. They know that someone sitting has to rise to pace. You don’t always need to describe them rising and then pacing (unless the rising part is important. If a character is about to attack the POV character, the POV character will watch every movement. It’s acceptable to write it out).

Check out The Manuscript Shredder for more information.

Tip# 9: Active Vs. Passive

Sandy was attacked by Rizzo. Rizzo attacked Sandy. Shorter sentence, more direct. However, there are times you need passive voice if the person/thing is unknown.

Check out this post on Grammarly to learn more about active vs. passive voice.

Tip# 10: Use Beta readers

Photo by James Tarbotton

Using Beta readers is one of your last steps. You usually do this right before your last draft, before you send it off into the world. Beta readers can help pick out parts that don’t work. Usually, you want to give them a direction on what to look for or what you think isn’t working in the manuscript.

Check out my post on Beta readers for some great tips.

Extra tip: Use a spell checker. Keep in mind, though, that spell checkers have their weaknesses. They don’t have human eyes.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

What is your favorite part of editing? Let us know in the comments below!

8 Tips For When You’ve Hit A Wall

Photo by Fares Hamouche

Writers get writer’s block for all sorts of reasons. There is but one cause, however.


That tricky little bastard doesn’t always show up with that face. It can disguise itself as all sorts of problems, and sometimes you don’t even view its disguise as a problem. Take for example family. It doesn’t exactly seem like a problem because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking care of the people you love. The problem with this is you usually forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong–there are times life gets in the way. Emergencies happen. New babies happen. Finals in school happen. You should forgive yourself for literally not having the time to write on some occasions. I didn’t pick up a pen for the first 6 months of my son’s life. Single moming to a new baby was time consuming, and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t possibly handle the effort it would take to write.

Falling off the wagon is easy, and honestly, it’s normal. What’s not normal is forever giving up your passion because life is happening because news flash: life is always going to happen.

Fear is primal. It’s instinctual. It’s a part of our evolution. It’s supposed to be there, and everyone feels it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and not let it hold you back.

Tip # 1. Describe your proverbial wall.

Photo by Dave Webb

No, seriously. Describe it. Is it brick? Cement? Stone blocks? Does it have a pattern? Is it made of sheep’s wool? (it’s safe to say I’ve been playing too much Minecraft with my boy.) The point here is to get your creative juices flowing. Describe that wall in detail, down to the cracks and discoloring. I’m assuming it’s been erected for a bit now if you’re here.

Envision what it’s going to take to break it down. Try out a couple tools. Write how hammering it with a pillow does nothing, but you’re seeing some damage with the pickax.

That didn’t work? Okay, tip # 2.

Tip # 2: Dig deep.

Sometimes the only way around a wall is to go under it. Forget about describing the wall. This next exercise involves journaling. Start with the sentence “Why can’t I write?” then state your reasons. Next, think of ways to solve those problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends you trust to help carve out time for something equally as important.

These solutions still seem daunting? Write about the worst thing that could happen if you took time to write. Now write about the best thing that could happen if you took time to write. Compare results with a keen eye and see where the probability lies. Chances are, the world will not fall apart if you take the time.

Journaling is therapeutic. It’s listening to yourself as you would listen to the problems of your friends. A lot of people don’t do it, and they are honestly missing out. It’s easy for your mind to go to the worst thing that could happen when you faced your fear, but I recently read a book that talked about taking it to the next level. Deciding what the best thing that could happen if you faced your fear. It was game-changing.

Didn’t help kick start you? Next.

Tip # 3: Edit

Open up your manuscript and go to your favorite or least favorite scene. Read the one before that to know where you are, and then edit that next scene. Don’t worry about how good it is. The point here is to get you back to the story.

Nope, not yet?

Tip # 4: Inspiriation.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 

You started that story because something about it interested you. It set your soul on fire. Write a paragraph summary. If you want to keep going, do it. Let your inspiration take you. If your muse doesn’t show up, move on for now.

Tip # 5: Research

Every good story needs some level of research. This ties into tip 4. Your muse may visit again if you do some research on your topic. Read the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let yourself feel as you read. You’ll probably pick up some other ideas for your story, and that is the point. As soon as you feel it, write a small scene around that piece of research. Look at pictures, too. Pictures invoke our creativity and you never know. You could end up using that scene as one in your story. In fact, try writing a scene with that picture.

If that didn’t work, well…you know what I’m about to say.

Tip # 6: Practice stories.

Many people call them fan fiction, but I like to call them practice stories. Pick your favorite book and put yourself in it. Just start writing. The author did the hard work for you, and remember there is no pressure. No one ever has to read it (in fact, I keep my practice stories in a file labeled as top secret. I don’t want those babies getting out!)

Tip # 7: Rest

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson 

Every night as I’m trying to fall asleep, I think about my characters and my story. This sets my writer brain up for incoming ideas. Go over stuff you’ve already written or you already know. Let scenes play in your head. Something big pops up, write it down, otherwise, see what you come up with the next morning. This works for naps, too, if you can fit that sort of thing in.

A study done in 2010 found that deep REM sleep improved creativity and memory. Sleep improves our abilities to make connections. I don’t know about you, but when I have one of those “aha” moments during writing, I’ll do anything to have it again. Best. Material. Ever.

Tip # 8: Read

Reading is probably what inspired you to write. Sometimes I felt as if I’d waste my writing time by reading, so I changed my perspective of it. Reading is another way of practicing. It’s now part of my product time. Not all writers read (astonishingly) but chances are, you’re a reader.

The important thing isn’t how you get back to writing, but that you do. My main tip is to be careful with yourself. Be forgiving. You are only human. Writing isn’t a job, but it is hard. Even the best writers hit walls. I seem to hit a wall around the 75% mark without fail. Know that the one thing standing in your way is you. Thank your fear, but tell it it’s time for it to get in the back seat and let your creativity have the passenger. You’ve got places to go.

Check out my Writer’s Block Series for additional help.

Let us know in the comments below what you do when you hit a wall!

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.


Photo by Aziz Acharki

One of my favorite parts of storytelling is subplots. A lot of writers refer to them as “strands” of a story, but I like to think of them as one with the story. I don’t separate them, and sometimes I don’t even plan them. That’s not to say I don’t plot them. I let them develop naturally within my story world and tweak when needed. Of course, some subplots do need to be brainstormed and plotted carefully.

Many writers are intimated by subplots. Writing the main plot is enough work, and now we, here in the literary world, are asking you to do more work. I’m telling you though–great stories require great subplots. Don’t think of throwing in your hat quite yet, though. I’ve got great news regarding subplots.

You’ve probably done half the work already.

Subplots are ingrained in our stories so deeply that sometimes we can’t see that we already have them, that we already started writing one. You have in-depth characters? In-depth world building? Then you already have enough material for subplots. That conflict you’re writing with a romantic interest or best friend is a subplot. The war raging outside the main plot is a subplot. The envy a character feels for another character is a subplot.

We have subplots in our own lives by having relationships with other people. We have family subplots, friend subplots, romantic subplots. We all have a main goal we are trying to achieve, but just like in novels, our lives are not a straight shot.

Where we have community, we have subplots.

Note: If your story relies on pacing, you’ll likely not have subplots. Pieces such as thrillers are fast-paced, and there’s no room for them.

Photo by Toa Heftiba 

What are subplots?

Subplots can run the entire length of the novel, half of it, or for only a short time. They often involve the secondary characters but can be about your protagonist. No matter who you choose for the subplot, they should, at some point, involve your main character. Subplots are simple to write if you know your characters. Characters who you’ve spent time on will be complex, and there is often opposition between them. Subplots add depth to your story and can evoke empathy in your reader. They can give your readers a break from the main story-line to explore your character’s world. This could be relationships with each other, problems arising in your world, or internal conflict.

Keep in mind that your subplots don’t have to appear to connect at first, but by the end of your piece, your reader will see the connection.

So, how do you write better subplots?


Photo by Jo Szczepanska

The first step to writing a subplot is to brainstorm them. I like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, but you can do whatever is most comfortable for you. To brainstorm, you must first know what your central theme or main plot is. You also have to know your characters. The more complex characters you develop, the better subplots you’ll come up with.

Subplots show different angles of your theme, plot, or characters. For instance, the theme of love can be shown with the protagonist who is trying to find love or has a love interest. Secondary characters can already have found their true love, or are struggling with their partner, or detest love. It shows choices, and choices show conflict.

Increasing Conflict:

Photo by Chris Sabor

Out of your list of possible subplots, look at the ones that will increase conflict. The trick here is to choose ones that relate to the central theme or main plot. As stated, they don’t have to make sense to your reader right away. Even a romantic subplot can end up influencing your main plot. There’s no greater incentive to save the world if it means saving the romantic interest or family.

Subplots can stem from your main plot, too. Two important characters don’t agree with a plan and their always at odds over what the next step should be. Conflict happens even if you’re on the same side.

Showing how characters handle smaller conflicts can foreshadow coming bigger conflicts. Your readers see how your characters dealt with the less important ones, and it makes them unsure if your character is doomed to repeat the not so graceful ones. On the flip side, it shows their strengths.

Using Subplots For Back Story

Photo by Aman Shrivastava

If you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice, you know that Darcy and Wickham knew each other. Not only was Wickham used as a subplot with Lydia, but it also gave readers information on both Darcy and Wickham creatively. It showed us their character without telling us.

Austin is certainly not the only one to use this type of subplot to further develop our understanding of her characters. We see it in some of the best novels and movies out there, and you can use this technique, too. Snape hated Harry, but we didn’t quite understand why until Rowling used a subplot between Lily, James, and Snape during their younger years.

What’s the right number of subplots?

Photo by Paul Bergmeir

There is no formula for the right number of subplots. A lot of writers say stick to one for every 15,000 words or so. I say that’s too limiting for what subplots can do. My only rule is this: if the subplot outshines the story, either change your story or delete the subplot from it (to use it as the main plot in another story).

Every point of view in your story will add a subplot because every character is different. Even your antagonist can be a subplot and have subplots if you wish it.

How to write a subplot.

Photo by Green Chameleon

The good thing is that writing a subplot mimics how you would write the main plot.

You give your character a problem, have them try to solve the problem, throw conflict in and opposition, and bring about the resolution.

The resolution will depend on your preferences. You can have them achieve their goal or not. Depending on the length of your subplot will depend on how many plot points it gets. They always get a beginning, middle, and end, though.

That’s the jist of subplots. Go forth and write!

Leave comment below to tell us what you’re favorite subplots are.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

5 Writer Challenges

Have you ever questioned the old proverb “misery loves company”? How in the world do you feel better when someone else feels as poorly as you do?

Because you’re human.

Humans have an innate need for social connection and often seek what is familiar. We seek ways to alleviate our feelings, and the best way to do that is by finding people who understand.

Writing is a lonely business. For the most part, writers spend hours on end by themselves. We seek other writers who understand our challenges relating to our writing process.

All writers have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at 5 ways writers struggle with their work, and the solutions.

5 Writer Challenges

  • Plot Development
  • Time Management
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Perfectionism

Plot Development

Photo by You X Ventures

Writers are finding several issues accompanying their plots. Some find their entire books happening in the first few pages. They have no idea how to slow it down enough to fill up the rest of their books. Some struggle with certain parts of the story, such as a dragging middle. Some find their entire book is dragging.


If you struggle with Dramatic Structure, pick a structure and get familiar with it. Plot your points and base the rest of your work around those. You don’t have to get detailed with plotting, but even I, a pantser, do minimal plotting. My work is better for it.

If you find episodic narrative in your work, cut it. That means unless the day-to-day small stuff is important to plot, delete it from your story. This usually helps with an entire book dragging. What also helps is looking at how many subplots you have. While there is no exact formula for how many subplots you can have, if it doesn’t enhance your plot, cut it. You’ll find there may be things your characters do that don’t enhance your plot. Cut those, too, no matter how much you love them.

If you find your middle dragging, divide it into two sections, making your 3-act structure a 4-act structure. It’ll help you see things more clearly. This is another place where you can cut what doesn’t enhance the plot.

If you find your entire book happening in a few scenes, consider making it a short story or flash fiction piece. Some work isn’t meant to be a full-length novel. Nothing wrong with that.

Time Management

Photo by NeONBRAND

Perhaps you, like many writers, find yourself surfing the web while it’s product time. Maybe you’re on day 20 of research without having written a single word. Or, maybe you can’t stop editing what you do write, getting you very, very, very slowly to the end of your work. Then, you have straight-up procrastination.


The best solutions I can offer you for time management comes as a three-fold. One: Limit your distractions. Turn off the internet if you have to.

Two: When you’re supposed to be writing, then write. I know, if it were that easy, time management wouldn’t be a thing. Even if you only can fit in ten minutes, trust that the world won’t (probably) fall apart in that time, and everything else can wait. Tell your brain there is a time and place for all other thoughts, but this isn’t that time. Yes, this takes practice.

Three: Forgive yourself for wasting time. If you’re hard on yourself, you’ll feel guilty. Guilt turns off your creative brain. You literally have no time for guilt. Just get yourself back on track.

As for too much editing and research, know that your story won’t be perfect the first couple drafts. Try to relax and just tell the story you’d tell your friends. Research is super fun, and for me, it lasts the entire writing process. How I navigate seemingly endless research is to use placeholders and leave comments to myself while focused on writing.

Procrastinating…it’s truly an art. It doesn’t make you lazy to procrastinate. It makes you human. Usually, procrastination stems from fear of the thing you’re procrastinating. Dig deep into this and figure out what you’re afraid of. Then #ffear and get writing.


Photo by GMax Studios

Characters are important to your story, especially if it’s character-driven. Find that you have perfect characters? Flat characters? Too many of the same characters? Not enough of a cast? Too much of a cast?


Give your characters real flaws. These flaws should get in their way constantly. The flaws don’t always have to relate to the lie your character believes, but at least one should. Look back at their childhoods and see what traumatic events could shape a flaw. Then use the hell out of it to create conflict. This goes for both perfect and flat characters. Dig deep into their psyche to figure out who they are. Make a list of possible flaws and choose some.

When you find that you have too many of the same characters, it helps to combine some of them into one or two characters. That also goes for too much cast. Remember that the more characters you have, the more chances you have of confusing a reader. A confused reader is not a good thing. Don’t do it.

If you think you don’t have enough cast, think hard about it. There is no formula for how many characters you need. You can have one character if it means your story gets told. If you think it’s important to add some, think of character types that help advance your plot or main characters. Don’t add random ones.

Check out the posts on character building.


Photo by Toa Heftiba

A lot of writers find they are either really good at dialogue, or pretty bad at it. It’s definitely something easy to get wrong. Dialogue is one of the best tools you have in your writing arsenal, and if not used carefully, it can ruin your work.

Writers find they have flat dialogue or a simple exchange bit. Too realistic dialogue is also a huge problem. Other problems include: being formal all the time, glaring dialogue tags, no dialogue tags, phonetic spelling, too much or no narrative, using names too often, summarizing important dialogue, and the opposite, writing out everything.


Use silence to create conflict. If your character asks a difficult question or gives a difficult statement, either have the other character use silence or try to change the subject. This also ties into the simple exchange bit (on the nose). Don’t have characters ask questions and then give an answer right away. People don’t talk like that.

Speaking of how people talk, skip the interrupters. The “um” “ers” and stutters, for the most part. Some exchanges call for them but cut when possible. Try not to have your characters be too formal, though, unless it’s part of that character’s personality. Keep in mind that people also speak differently based on who they are talking to. Talking to a spouse will be different than talking to an officer who has just pulled you over.

Using the tag “said” is best for most cases, though feel free to mix it up from time to time. Readers will skip the word said, and that’s what you want. You don’t want them to be pulled from the story because of an obtrusive dialogue tag.

For instance, don’t say:

“I hate you!” she screamed.

The exclamation point says it all. Even better than ‘said’ is using action tags instead of dialogue tags. Example:

John lit his cigarette, his gaze level on Steph,. “I hate you.”

In most cases, you’d never place an action in the same paragraph as someone else’s dialogue so this wouldn’t confuse the reader.

Phonic spelling gets to be a problem when it draws your reader from your work. Use it sparingly. Use narrative to enhance your dialogue, and dialogue to enhance your narrative. It’s all about balance. Skip characters using other character’s names unless it’s for emphasis.

Check out more dialogue tips.



Going back to what I said in the plot section. Your first few drafts won’t be perfect. Train your brain to have a switch. There is a time for editing, and it’s not during your first few drafts.

Save your neurotic tendencies for your last draft, and even then, remember the goal is to move forward, not be stuck.

My Journey 10.9.19

Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans

A few years ago, I worked for a medical alert company. During a one-on-one meeting with one of the supervisors, I had a bit of a melt down. It was strange, but sort of expected. I was pregnant with my son, so bouts of emotion were quite common. The meeting was just about to begin, but my supervisor had to step out for a moment, and when she came back, she found me sitting there, a blubbering mess. I wish I could truly only blame my hormones, and although they played a huge part in it, they weren’t the cause.

There I was, a single mom to my unborn child, who wasn’t sure how I was going to do. I have a plan for my life, and my current position wasn’t it. I felt like shit. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing, and I certainly wasn’t being me. I forgive myself now because I realize how much trauma weight I was under, but back then, I was super harsh to myself. I was a down right bitch to myself, and it finally caught up.

I tried explaining this to my boss. I wasn’t happy with my life but had no idea how to change it. Then she asked me a question that I toiled with for years. It was only very recently that I figured out the answer.

She said, “Kayla, what does happiness look like to you?”

Fuck if I knew.

I kept coming up with what I wanted to be, which was a writer. Little could I see that I was already a writer. I felt like a failure because the people who graduated with me seemed so successful, and here I was, no college degree, a single mom, had my first good paying job (that sucked the soul out of me), with nothing to show for my twenty some years.

If I could go back in time, I’d be a little more loving with younger me. She’d been through a lot and had a lot to work through. So, let me tell you what happiness means to me, because I finally figured the shit out.

Happiness to me means choosing my authentic self at every crossroad. It’s loving myself enough to show the world who I am unfiltered. I’m still working on it, but me is shining through and let me tell you…

She’s pretty fucking awesome.

I always told myself that I’m that caterpillar who will one day turn into a butterfly. The last few months I’ve been weaving (do they actually weave?) my cocoon. Lately I’ve been sitting inside it, quietly transforming.

I’ve learned a shit ton in the last six months. My journey to become a better person and to become a better writer, have gone hand in hand. I have this new appreciation for life like I’ve never had before. Writing, like many other things in my life, is fun again.

In my need to understand how great writers write, I turned to as many psychology books as I could get my hands on. As I began to understand myself, my fears, my desires, my dreams, and goals, I began to understand people. More importantly, I began to put that understanding to practice. I see people differently now.

I’ve found that I’m more understanding of people, less judgmental, than I was before. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with their actions, but I’m more accepting of differences. It’s so important to be culturally sensitive.

My depression and anxiety is at its all time low. Me saying that today means something, because today wasn’t high on my fun-days list. But you know what? I had a today, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful the Universe (which, by the way, I totally have faith in now) decided that I’m experiencing another day.

I’m finally the fucking butterfly, and I’m ready, Universe. I’m ready.

Photo by Yuval Levy

10 Tips for Self-Care

With NaNoWriMo approaching, I wanted to talk about self-care. To not get burned out, you have to have coping strategies. I asked a few of my writing groups (Fiction Writing, Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Zombie Pirate Publishing Writers Group, and Creative Fiction Writing) what they practiced for self-care and wanted to share their answers with you. First, let’s take a look at what self-care is.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
― Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

What is self-care?

Self-care is the act of giving your soul what it needs to replenish. It’s different for everyone, as what works for one person may not work for another, so keep that in mind as you try new ways. Self-care is important for all walks of life, not just writers. Creating art is not what makes you creative. What makes self-care a universal necessity is creativity is deeply woven into the fabric of human nature. Regardless of passion or profession, we are all creative.

Without art, we’re not human. –Augustín Fuentes

Self-care is a habit, which means that even if you claim you don’t have time for it, you can make time. New habits form all the time. The good news is, you don’t have to devote hours to it daily. All you need is 15 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. See where in your schedule you can fit it in. Get off social media for 15 minutes, fit it in during your children’s naps, on the bus during your way to work, or anywhere else you can.

Types of self-care

There are 5 common types of self-care. Depending on what type of person you are depends on which one you focus on the most, though it’s a good idea to try meeting all of them.

  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Mental

10 Tips on self-care

As I stated before, you have to find what works for you. Here are some of the ways fellow members use self-care.

  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Creative play
  • Meditation
  • Video games
  • Reading
  • Free writing
  • Yoga
  • Getting off electronics for a bit
  • Eating the right foods

#1: Sleep

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson

As you probably guessed, sleep is important. A good night (or day, depending on your schedule) of sleep can help you reduce stress, improve your memory, help regulate your metabolism, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help your focus, and among other benefits, keep you in a good mood.

#2: Healthy eating

Photo by Adam Śmigielski

You may be surprised to learn the connection between stress and food. More specifically, the connection between stress and your gut. As you know, the brain is in charge of all things emotional and behavioral. Yet, your gut sends some of those signals through neurotransmitters. This is called the gut-brain axis. Can you guess what it’s also connected to?

The immune system, which you probably also know can be affected by stress.

Eat good foods to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Check out healthline for a small list of things you can eat to live a healthy lifestyle and read about the gut-brain axis.

#3: Exercise

Photo by Bruno Nascimento

As with healthy eating, exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by the release of feel-good endorphins. A good routine can keep your energy up, keep you fit, and keep you writing.

#4: Journal

Photo by Aaron Burden

You know how we make others feel better by listening to what they have to say? The same applies to you with yourself. Journaling is nothing more than giving yourself attention. See how much more clear-headed you are after a few minutes of journaling.

#5: Spend time with yourself.

Photo by BhAvik SuThar

Just as it’s important to listen to yourself, it’s important to give yourself quality time with, well, yourself. Take yourself on a date, treat yourself to a massage, to dinner, to a movie.

#6: Be Grateful

Photo by Brigitte Tohm

Give thanks, especially for the small things. When you’re having a bad day, stop for a moment and thank the universe (or whichever higher power you believe in) for the current weather, no matter what the weather is like. Rain makes stuff grow, sunshine spreads warmth, storms show power, snow is beautiful. Be grateful for family, for being like them or having the strength to be different. Be grateful for lessons and gifts.

#7: Keep records

Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio 

Write down the good things that happened. When you have bad days, you’ll have material to make you happy. Keep track of your goals and priorities, as well. They don’t have to be large ones, and checking off ones you’ve met will give you a boost of confidence.

#8: Get out of your comfort zone

Photo by Tomáš Vydržal

Do what you’re afraid to do. These are often the most worthwhile memory makers. Do what terrifies you like it’s your last day on earth.

#9: Be forgiving

Photo by Felix Koutchinski

Yes, of others, but mostly yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes, for expectations (yours and what other people think for you), for acting out of character, for not achieving your goals right away.

#10: Say NO

Photo by Andy T

If it doesn’t serve your priorities and goals, say no. You have enough on your plate without doing a ton of favors for others. No need to stretch yourself so thin that you don’t have enough time for what really matters, including self-care. “No” can be a hard thing to say, but you know what? It can also be easy.

One last note: self-care and self-medication are not the same things. One is healthy, one is ignoring what your subconscious is trying to tell you. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, or health professional. As someone who struggled with substance abuse (which isn’t just drugs), I personally know things can get better.

What do you do for self-care? Leave a comment below!

The Inciting Incident and Key Event

I find a lot of writers aren’t clear on what the inciting incident is, and in those cases, they’ve seldom heard of the Key Event. Both are plot points in the Dramatic Structure, and both usually occur in the first act. It’s possible that the inciting incident occurs before story-time, or at the beginning, but before we get too confused, let’s define exactly what each point is.

Inciting Incident

Photo by John Cameron

The Inciting Incident is plot-related. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, you’ll remember where Princess Leia sends R2-D2 and C3-PO away with plans and a call for help. That’s considered the Inciting Incident. Or when the games are announced on The Hunger Games. The main conflict in your story hasn’t affected the MC yet, but that’s a job for the Key Event.

Key Event

Photo by Markus Spiske

The Key Event is character-related and draws your MC into the plot, oftentimes smacking them in the face. Luke and his uncle’s purchase of R2-D2 and C3-PO draws him into the main conflict, even if he doesn’t know it yet. When Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place is her key event. That one is a bit more in-your-face.

Where do they belong?

Photo by Jacob Miller

As I said, the inciting incident can take place before story-time, such as the setup up the games long before Katniss. This is just a moment where the reader tastes what’s to come. The choice is yours where in the first act you wish to place it, but it often comes before the key event.

The key event takes place half way through the first act, around the 12% mark.

Keep in mind that the Dramatic Structure is more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule. You need to do whatever is best for your story, and if you trust yourself, you’ll often find you put them right where they need to be.

Humans have an innate drive for story-telling, and it’s often only when we overthink it do we mess it up. Also, keep in mind that it all depends where your story starts. If you have no set-up of the ordinary world, you’ll find your two plot points will happen sooner.

My suggestion is to plan them in advance, regardless of where you start. You’ll often go back and change the beginning anyhow. As long as you know what they are, you’re good.

Comment below your favorite inciting incidents and key events!

Writer’s Block: Fear On Steroids.

Photo by Joe Beck

Imagine you’re a new blogger, and your blog is super important to your Author Platform. It’s one of the things that’s going to make agents and publishers notice you. It’s what’s going to start your reader base. It’s what’s going to make or break your career. You have to build it from the ground up, build it out of nothing, and hope you don’t fail. Because if you do, there goes your whole career.

It’s probably not that serious, but in this day and age, it’s pretty important to have an Author Platform. The point is that your anxiety probably rose a bit when you imagined all that pressure building over a blog.

You’ve probably felt it while writing a draft. You probably sat back and thought, “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and no one will be interested in a single thing I write.”

And then, poof, you can’t write. Not a single word. You stare at the blank page, maybe delete or scratch out whatever you did write. Devastation follows, self-loathing, depression, the whole works, because of one sentence. One feeling. But, probably a feeling you’ve felt far too many times, and not just in your writing life.

That is fear on steroids.

I promise there are ways to beat this feeling. As we all know, though, we are different people and what works for me may not work for you. We do have one main thing in common, though.

We can change how we think.

Use it or lose it.

Photo by Natasha Connell

First, it’s important to understand the brain. Scientists used to think that our neural pathways (basically a “signal path”) were set by our mid-twenties, never to change. They recently discovered this isn’t the case.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is the ability to reorganize those signal paths based on experiences.

It’s why some people who were abused or fought in wars develop PTSD. I developed it after domestic violence. It’s also why psychotherapy works (at least for me). Negative experiences can shape our brain, but if we work at it, we can intentionally shape it, too.

Bottom line is: you can teach an old dog new tricks.


Photo by Natasha Connell

Think of neural pathways like hiking trails. The more you travel a particular trail, the more defined it becomes. If we stop hiking a trail and start another one, the old one starts to grow back and the new one becomes well traveled instead. The strength of neural pathways depends on how much we work at a particular skill. It becomes easier the more we do it (habit).

The great part is that neuroplasticity helps in cases of brain injury. It takes neurons from damaged pathways and helps us cope in new ways, strengthening less used pathways or creating new ones. Like building muscles, it takes time. Takes resiliency. Takes stubbornness.

Which leads me back to changing how we think.


Photo by Jared Rice

We’ve all been guilty of self-sabotage, and being downright mean to ourselves. Let me be the first to say this doesn’t help out creativity. It dries it out, among a whole bunch of other psychological problems.

Ask yourself this: would you be so cruel to someone else as you are to yourself?

If the answer is no, then why treat yourself this way? (If the answer is yes, please do some soul searching. The world has enough ugly.)

You’re so busy trying to be perfect at everything you do, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. There is no greater gift than the ability to love yourself, and it’ll do wonders for your creativity.

One of my rules now is I don’t call myself names, not even when I’m so frustrated with myself and my inability to write that I could give up. I also try to not use definitive words when I talk about myself and my actions. “Never” and “always” are not in my vocab. (I’m still trying to reassign those neural pathways, so you’ll catch me still using them from time to time).

Say out loud, “I’m never going to be a good writer”. How does that make you feel? What happened to your mood? Now say with a little attitude, “I am a good writer!” Did it pick you back up?

As I stated, neural pathways aren’t redirected overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience. When you catch yourself being negative, correct yourself. Be nicer to yourself. Be the little engine that could. Shove the fear and negativity off the back of the train. You are worth it. What you’re writing becomes worth it with practice. No one can say things as you can.

Self-care is incredibly important if you want to live a healthy life. Without it, it can truly make or break you.

Training neural pathways is one way to beat writer’s block. Working on being positive will pay off. It’ll change your life.

Some times, losing it is positive, if you’re losing the negativity.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

12 Newbie Writer Mistakes

Laundry list descriptions

Photo by Jason Briscoe

Readers like to use their imaginations, so try not to go on about how a character looks. It’s better to describe a character based on behavior, personality, and body language.

Spelling errors

No, not “typos”, but mistakes such as changing the spelling of a name several times throughout a manuscript.

Not editing

Photo by Andrew Neel

Yes, those types of spelling errors. Grammatical errors, plot holes, the like. Check out the piece on Dramatic Structure to help with plot.


Don’t use ten words when you only need five.

Having characters with similar names

This confuses readers and makes them work to keep your story straight. Readers do like challenges, but not this kind. This isn’t a hard rule as many successful writers have done it, but keep in mind that they went through vigorous character building. Check out the How-To series for tips on character building.


Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič

Readers are all for imaginations, but when it comes to things like typical procedures–police, firemen, doctors, etc, you want to make sure your stuff is right.

Dialogue Issues

This could be tags, punctuation, small talk, voice. Check out my other posts: What We Don’t Say and What We Do Say

Sensory Information

Photo by Samuel Zell

Or lack of. Include all the senses. If you’re writing sci-fi, include more if your characters have them. Check out the Setting post for ways your setting can help invoke your character’s emotions.


They are so last summer.

Adjective Overkill

Readers get wary when they read a laundry list of adjectives.


Pick a tense and stick to it, only altering for things such as flashbacks, memories, dreams, visions.


Photo by Mike Enerio

There is a place for it, but for the most part you should aim for showing.