Monthly Archives: December 2012

Writing Goals 2013

In the last month I’ve been talking a lot about goals. So have thousands of other people–so many that you might even be sick of hearing about it.

Well, for those of you who are sick with new years resolution talk, I’m sorry, but please bear with me. Today I’d like to share my writing goals for the next year with you both so that I can be held accountable to what I’m doing over the next year and so that you can see why I chose each goal and get an idea how to structure your own list of writing goals for the year.

Goals 2013

Finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian–This has been on my list forever. It’s been shunted aside due to injury, Nanowrimo and post-Nanowrimo burnout, but I’m back on track now and I’ll probably finish this in January. This goal is here because I absolutely have to get it done. I’m passionate about this project and I’m already most of the way through this goal, so I should be able to cross this one off early, too.

Write 12 Guest Posts–I’ve done some guest posts in the last couple of years and they’ve all been well received. I’ve also gotten good traffic here from doing these, so my goal for next year is to make sure I write at least one guest post per month. It’s a good way to get more traffic and to build a reputation, bringing me not only relationships with new readers but also with the blog owners themselves. Twelve is one per month and it seems like a reasonable goal to me even with everything else that’s on my plate.

Query 12 Articles–This goal is all about getting myself into the freelance marketplace. It’s about making sure that I always have at least one thing being looked at by an editor. It’s also at the one per month scale, meaning that while it is a commitment, it shouldn’t interfere with my other work. Oh, and just a note–it says query twelve articles rather than publish twelve articles because unless I’m self publishing, I have to depend on editors liking my work to publish. Thus, publishing twelve articles wouldn’t be such a good goal because I wouldn’t be able to do it all on my own.

Launch 10 Commandments–The 10 Commandments of a Serious Writer–no, it isn’t religious–is an ebook that I’ve already done most of the writing for. I’m hoping to have this ready in March. It’s going to be a flimsy freebie used mostly to test how many people would be interested in ebooks I produce and also to help me get comfortable with the ebook creation process.

Launch an Email Newsletter–I’m already pretty familiar with the technology used to run one of these, and I’ve always wanted to have one. My biggest issue has been figuring out what the format would be. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to do with this now. I’m aiming to launch it with the 10 Commandments of a Serious Writer ebook.

Create Dear Diary Workbook–I’ve always wanted to turn the Dear Diary Workshop I’ve run on this blog in the past into an ebook that people can work with on their own time. I’ve already got a solid outline for this and an intro, so I don’t think it will take too long to get it up and running. By the end of the year is totally reasonable. I’m hoping to sell this as it’s very dear to my heart and I think it’s a great tool for writers. This should help me further build credibility and hopefully make some money.

Edit Some Secrets Should Never Be Known–This is my Nanovel from last year, 2011, that’s in pretty awful shape. I do quite love the story though, so I’m probably going to start an entirely new draft of this next year. I do someday hope to turn this into a publishable novel, and I didn’t have time to this year with all my other projects. But I’m going to be doing a serious restructuring this year so I have more time to write, giving myself time to finish more than I did last year.

Write One New Novel–Every year I participate in Nanowrimo and this year will be no different. I have no idea what I’m going to write in November. All I know is that I insist on participating and that writing a new novel is never a bad thing–even if it’ll be a couple years before I get the chance to edit it.

These are all my goals for the year. Each one is designed to contribute to my writing career in some way, and this list has a good mix of editing, non-fiction and fiction projects. I’ve also kept it relatively small–at least in comparison to some of the lists I’ve had in past years–to leave room for new things that come up. I’ve already got some ideas of what else will come up in the new year, but I’m trying not to overload myself with official goals this year so there’s room for new things and so I actually feel accomplished at the end of the year.

What are your goals for the new year? How did you choose them?

Happy Holidays!

It’s that time of year again… The houses on your street are covered in lights. Every store you go into is playing Christmas carols. Every store you go into is also jam packed full of people buying last minute Christmas presents–but hey guys, it’s almost Christmas, and in a few days the stores will be survivable again.

No matter what holiday you’re celebrating this winter, and even if you’re staying indoors with your best bah humbug face on, I hope you take the time to truly enjoy this last week of 2012. If you’re like me, you’ve accomplished a lot this year–although not as much as you hoped to accomplish–and you deserve to celebrate those accomplishments.

I was going to write a pretty large post today and two more this week. But then I read this post and realized that I am also suffering from pre-holiday burnout. I’ve been working so hard in the last three months or so that my brain has almost completely shut down.

I need time to rest and relax and to see all the people I haven’t been able to see in the last couple of months. I also need to spend a couple days focused on powering through my edits of Moonshadow’s Guardian, because frankly, I’ve been working on this thing forever and if I can’t get the edits near their finish line by New Years I’m going to be really upset.

So I’ve decided to take this week off from blogging. You will not be hearing from me on Wednesday or Friday. Instead, you can expect a post with my personal list of goals for 2013–and why I chose those goals–on Monday, right before we get into the new year.

I hope you will have a wonderful holiday, and if you really need some reading materials, don’t be afraid to go hunting through the archives here–I’ve written hundreds of interesting posts since I started blogging here and odds are you haven’t read them all.

Happy holidays!

Creating Goals That Match Your Definition of Success

In light of the upcoming new year, I’ve been talking a lot about success lately. I’ve talked about how to define your success and how to identify the keys to your success. Now that you have an idea of what your success looks like, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to move towards that goal in 2013.

Every writer needs goals. Without goals, you have no idea where you’re going–and no idea what accomplishments to celebrate. But creating your own success–and nobody else is going to do this for you, so it’s crucial you focus on this–doesn’t come from a list of goals chosen at random. It comes from a list that is designed to get you closer to your own definition of success, based on the keys to success that you’ve identified.

For example, if your definition of success is to become a career writer, your keys to success probably include things like selling more articles and publishing books. So your goals in 2013 should help you achieve these things. Make sure, however, that your goals are reasonable and based upon what you can do by yourself. An example of an unreasonable goal is to have your book picked up by a publisher in 2013. This is unreasonable because it relies on other people–instead, your goal should be to submit your novel to at least twelve publishers or agents in 2013. While if you submit the work over and over again your chances of publication go up, you can’t say for sure whether anyone will pick it up by the end of the year–so don’t make your goals reliant on those editors. Focus on what you can do.

That said, if you plan to self publish, a goal of having published one of your novels by the end of the year is probably reasonable. This is because it’s only reliant on you–and the editor and cover designer that you hire, because every writer needs an editor and unless you’re already good at graphic design, creating your own cover means selling yourself short.

Today I’d like you to create a draft of your goals for 2013. First, figure out the steps required to acquire the keys to your success. Then decide which keys to your success are most important right now–what will bring you closest to success in the shortest amount of time? If you’re like me, creating an income stream is probably a big priority right now, so focus on things that will bring the money in sooner.

When creating your list of goals for 2013, it’s also important to think about how much you can reasonably accomplish in a year. Factor in the commitments you already know you’ll have–six hours a day dedicated to school, three hours a week to your writing group–and leave some wiggle room for unexpected crisis and opportunity. You have no idea what’s going to happen next year, so don’t put too much on your list right now. Overloading your list will just make you feel bad when you can’t finish everything–and it’s easy to overestimate yourself. In fact, it’s perfectly natural to overestimate what you can do in a year, because it feels like a long time. That is, it feels like a long time until it’s over, when it suddenly feels as though the year never happened at all.

You’ll notice that I said the goal for today is to create a ‘draft’ of your goals in 2013. This is because, of course, you don’t know the future and everyone has that tendency to overestimate themselves. So don’t treat this as your final list. Instead, think of it as your first draft. Put everything you can think of that you’d like to accomplish on this list. Once you have a list, you can then go through it item by item and decide both how important each thing is and whether or not it’s reasonable to accomplish all those items in a year.

So if your list is three pages long and it already looks overwhelming, don’t despair. You still have time to analyze and edit it or even create an entirely new list before the new year begins. For now, just having a list is the important thing. Spend the next week analyzing your list and thinking about why each goal is there and how long each thing will take to accomplish. Next Friday I’ll share my list with you and explain why each item is on the list and how long I expect it to take.

For now please share your drafted list in the comments below and I’ll help you figure out why each item belongs there and whether or not your list can be reasonably accomplished in a year.

Author Interview: Douglas McLeod

Today’s author is not only the self-published author of two novels in a murder mystery series, he is also a several time Nanowrimo winner and a dear friend of mine. Please give a warm welcome to today’s guest, Douglas McLeod.

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1. Can you tell us a bit about your books?

Both of my published books are in the hard-boiled mystery genre. They’re the case journals of Detective Gary Celdom, a 27-year veteran of the Toronto P.D. He tries to follow the proper letter of the law, but there are times when he doesn’t follow proper procedures, and ends up paying for it; whether he’s suspended, or gets injured in the line of duty; much to the chagrin of his superior officer. His partner of a couple of years, Detective Jessica Amerson, also doubles as his current girlfriend — they started dating at the end of my first novel, “Scarlet Siege.”
However, Gary is constantly haunted by the spirit his former fiancée, Karen Prairie. Karen and Gary were partners on a case 25 years ago, and they began a long-distance relationship (she lived in Edmonton, and they were assigned to be part of a Nationwide security task force for a major sporting event in Calgary.) Then, 20 years ago, they were to be wed, but the criminals they busted during the Calgary case returned, and sought revenge. The criminals would assassinate Karen on her wedding day, and she died in Gary’s arms. Nowadays, Karen appears before Gary and Jessica to provide advice and give her former fiancé a hard time.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I guess for me it was the allure of seeing my work in print. Usually, if you “win” Nanowrimo, one of the event’s sponsors, Createspace, will provide a special code that will enable you to transform what you toiled away all those days on into an actual paperback book. The first two years I participated, the code was for a free Proof copy, but in 2011, they changed it to 5 copies of the finished product. This modification in the reward made me think about wanting to turn this from a hobby into something that I could actively pursue. I’ve always had an interest in creative writing; since I was in grade school, but to see myself as a published author; it’s something I could only dream about all those years ago.

3. You’ve participated in Nanowrimo four times and also participated in Camp Nanowrimo this year. What do these challenges mean to you?

For me, it’s the thrill of pushing yourself to do wildly creative things in such a short period of time. Whenever I’ve told people about the premise of Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo, they all think I’m crazy: writing 50,000 words in one calendar month. However, at the same time, they’ve all commended me for all of the effort I put into that first draft. I’ll admit I have had my doubts over the years; thinking the challenge is too daunting when life gets in the way. That was the case in August 2011 when I attempted Camp Nanowrimo for the first time. I was unable to finish that year, and I was dejected that I failed to rise to the challenge. But, I dusted myself off, got back on the proverbial horse, and prepared myself for the upcoming November.

What also helps is the camaraderie there is within the Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo community. Yes, you’re embarking on a creative and insane journey; however, there are others out there who are making their own sojourn into this craziness, as well. As the month draws on, you learn to support them in their endeavour, and they will return the favour in kind. You develop a special bond — a kinship — with your fellow writers, and form friendships that last a lifetime. I have come to know so many wonderful people over the past four years I’ve participated in the month long challenge, and I look forward to writing alongside of them every November. Now, with the formation of Camp Nanowrimo, I can develop new friendships and reunite with ones I’ve already established during the spring and summer months.

4. What advice would you give to people hoping to participate in Nanowrimo next year?

Try to formulate an idea for your story a few weeks beforehand. Brainstorm possible novel concepts when you have the opportunity, and write them down. There have been times when I’ve come up with a premise and failed to get it down on paper, only to have it vanish from my mind a day or two later. Once October rolls around, go to your list, and start determining which one you would like to write the most for Nanowrimo. Remember not to discount all the ones you reject; you can use them for future Nanowrimos.

As soon as you’ve settled on your story use the balance of October to plot and plan it out. Develop your characters, formulate key plot points; your Outline will be your compass on the journey you’re about to set out upon. That way, you won’t be scrambling around; trying to iron out unresolved details once the clock ticks 12:00:01 a.m. on November 1st, because as soon as that moment arrives on your computer clock, “it’s Showtime.”

5. You self-published your books through Createspace. Can you tell us a bit about the process of turning your manuscript into an actual book?

The concept of turning what you’ve written, edited, and re-written into a published book may seem daunting to most, but Createspace makes the process quite easy. Once you set-up your account and log into the site, you can set up your book. They’ll ask you the specifics: the title, whether it’s part of a series, and to provide a brief synopsis of the book.

The next step, Createspace will ask you for an ISBN number. A book cannot be published without an ISBN number. If you’re lazy, you can get Createspace to generate an ISBN number for you, but you’re limited to selling it through them. Your best bet is to obtain your own ISBN number. Fortunately, since I live in Canada, obtaining your own ISBN number is free. You just need to register with the Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS) – which is free, as well – and you can apply for an ISBN number anytime you publish a paperback or eBook. Just remember, you’ll need a different ISBN number for each edition you publish; you cannot use the same ISBN for a paperback as you do an eBook. Once you’ve established your ISBN number on Createspace, you will be able to upload your actual novel, or “Interior.”

Here, you’ll have the option to print your novel on white or cream paper, and if you prefer the Interior to be done in standard black and white, or colour. Since, I don’t use photos in my Interior I opt for “black and white.” You have the option here to select your book’s dimensions (My paperbacks are in 6” x 9”), and adjust for whether or not you want your text to bleed towards the edge. However, as you’re setting this up, this is where you’ll need to adjust your Word document to reflect how it will be printed. After you’ve done the necessities regarding page size, margins, headers, page numbers, and throw in the title, copyright, and acknowledgement pages, you will need to convert that entire revised document into a PDF file. If you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a free online converter, if you don’t have one already on your computer. Once your Interior has been converted into a PDF, you’ll upload it onto the Createspace site. Once it’s been uploaded, they’ll give you the option to review your Interior online to make sure it looks alright before it’s sent to printing. If you’re satisfied with it, then you can move onto the next step, and my favourite part: designing your cover.

If you have Cover Art already pre-made, you can convert that into a PDF file and upload it to their server. However, if you have no idea about graphic design, like I do, Createspace has an online Cover Creator tool that will walk you through the process. They have pre-made templates to choose from, and you modify it accordingly with back cover blurbs, front cover photo, change the colour to your preference; it allows you to be your own cover designer. As soon as you are satisfied with the cover design, you can submit it, and then comes the next step in your journey. If you have all the necessary files submitted, you will submit your entire project for review. The review process takes about 24-48 hours. If they find any issues, they will email you and let you know of any changes you need to make to get it approved. Once you’re approved, comes the second-last step in the process: the Proofing.

During the Proofing process, they will offer you two options: you can purchase a printed Proof copy of your novel and/or review the Proof online. Personally, I do both because having a physical bound Proof of my book gives me a hands-on idea of what the finished product will look like. But, depending on where you live, and the speed of shipping, it could take at least a couple of weeks until you receive it. That’s where the online Proofing comes in.

It allows you to virtually look at your Proof, and allow you to comb over every final, minute detail of your creation. During the Proofing process, Createspace will also allow you to set up your sale pages-to-be. Since Createspace is affiliated with Amazon, they will allow you to decide where your paperback book will be sold; whether it is through Createspace’s online store,, or European Amazon outlets in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. In doing so, you can set up the price for which your title will be sold for. The default for the European Amazon outlets is to base it on the U.S. price, but you can adjust the U.K. and Euro price to your liking. As soon as you’ve completed this step comes the biggest decision you will ever make regarding your novel since you started writing it: approving the Proof.

This is the final frontier you have arrived at; all of the days and nights, hours after hours of writing and fine-tuning have brought you to this particular moment in time. You are on the cusp of taking that final leap to changing your life as you know it. When you click the “Approve Proof” button, you will have done something that people will admire your guts and determination for accomplishing. You will have become a published author. The Createspace eStore listing will be instantaneous, but the Amazon listings take about a week to build. In that time, you can be content with the Paperback edition, or you can expand your horizons, tweak the formatting a little, and publish it as an eBook on Kindle, Kobo, or Smashwords.

6. Why did you choose to self-publish?

I’ll be honest it is tough to get published by the big publishing houses. Most places won’t take you seriously unless you have an agent, and combine that with the self-esteem issues I have, the fear of being rejected would prove discouraging for me in the long run. I have heard horror stories of people who have gone to some of the smaller publishing houses, and their experience ends badly. By going the self-publishing route I find it allows me to be more in control of the entire process. It enables me to decide where my books are being put up for sale. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to one day be able to walk into a Chapters and see one of my novels on their shelves. However, I do realize it is a process, and one that should only be progressed based on the author’s comfort level. The notion of being a published author can be overwhelming at times. I just feel that if I’m able to call some of the shots, I can enjoy the journey better.

7. How have you chosen to market your self-published novels?

Admittedly, this is one of the toughest parts of being a self-published author. When you decide to publish on your own, all of the facets are do-it-yourself, and I confess, when it comes to marketing, I completely suck at it. So far, I’ve been trying to advertise my novels on my blog at , as well as, on Twitter and my Facebook page. I’ve been trying to go via the word-of-mouth route, but alas, it can only take you so far. I’m hoping to expand that network through doing interviews, like this one, but we shall see.

8. What do you think is the most important piece of advice for aspiring writers to remember?

The best piece of advice that I could give to aspiring writers is to remember that to be a successful writer, you have to love and believe in the subject you’re writing about. I have found over the years that if I’m in the middle of writing a short story, a fan fiction, or a novel, and I’m not “feeling it”, I will lose interest and not see it through to its eventual completion. However, if it is a story that I invest myself in to its very core, then it helps motivate me to make sure that I see it through to the end. When I’m able to do that, I find it to be the most rewarding part of the craft, and the most fun in the long run.

9. What will you be reading in 2013?

I have quite a few books on my reading agenda in the next calendar year. A friend loaned me his copy of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” and I confess I haven’t started it yet because of Nanowrimo. I also plan on reading the debut novel by my good friend, Hilary D. Slater, “The Bird People: Children of The Dragon,” and in a few weeks I should be receiving a copy of Joel Mark Harris’ “A Thousand Bayonets.” That reminds me, I have a plethora of books stockpiled on my Kobo Touch that are waiting to be read. 2013 is going to be a busy year regarding reading.

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

Currently, I’m in the midst of editing my 2012 Nanowrimo project, “Rouge Numbered Week.” It is the third novel in my Gary Celdom Case Journals series where Gary and Jessica are on the trail of a mass-murder that is causing havoc during the celebrations for a professional sporting championship. I’m hoping to have that available for sale by the end of June 2013. In between, I will be participating in both sessions of Camp Nanowrimo this April and July. The July edition will see me attempting to write the fourth volume in Gary’s series, but in April, I’m thinking of doing a different story all together. It’s about a bunch of fans of a professional football team’s journey through what is the final season of a venerable stadium that has seen its better days.

Bio: Douglas J. McLeod is a self-published author who resides in Toronto, Canada. He is a four-time participant in National Novel Writing Month and two-time participant in Camp NaNoWriMo. His debut novel, Scarlet Siege, was penned during the November 2011 campaign, and its sequel, Barbadian Backlash, was written the following June.

Balancing Fiction and Non-Fiction

While I’ve been blogging for years, over the last year or so I’ve become more focused on non-fiction than ever before. This is not because I’ve found some new passion for it. It’s because it’s easier to get paid for non-fiction than it is to get paid for fiction, and I very much want to make a living. So I’ve shifted my focus to include more non-fiction. And I’ve actually gotten paid for a few articles, inspiring me to write more–after all, it’s not like I’m getting paid for my short stories yet.

But while non-fiction is an easier way to make a living off what I love doing–writing–it’s important to me that I keep this work balanced with my fiction, the stuff I’m truly passionate about. I might not be getting paid for it now, but I’m confident that someday I will, as long as I keep working at it. I also know that if I let my fiction fall by the wayside, it won’t be long before I’m depressed.

So how do I balance my non-fiction work with my fiction work? I always have a couple projects of both kinds going on, and I try to work on one of each every day. Other days I’ll decide to focus purely on one or the other. Many days I’ll do some non-fiction work in a notebook at school or during my commute home, and then focus on the fiction when I get home. How I do it from day to day varies, but I try to make sure that every week my accomplishments are on an even keel in both fiction and non-fiction.

This year I’ve really struggled with this balance as I try to bring non-fiction into focus, but my list of goals for next year already has a good balance of fiction and non-fiction. Finding the right balance is a process and I’m sure I’ll get better at it year after year. Over the last couple years I’ve figured out how much I can reasonably expect myself to do in one year–now I just have to find a way to balance my fiction work with my non-fiction work. While it’s kind of terrifying because I’m about to finish school and try to make it in the working world, it’s also wonderful. I’ve come a long way in the last couple of years and I’m incredibly proud of myself.

If you’re trying to balance non-fiction work with fiction work, take a good hard look at the lists of goals you’ve created for the last few months. Go through all your to-do lists and mark each item as fiction or non-fiction work. That will give you an idea of what you’ve accomplished in both fiction and non-fiction this year and allow you to see where the imbalances might be. Once you’re aware of this, it will be easier to set goals for next year that allow you to balance the two.

Friday’s post will be all about goal setting and creating that balance for the year ahead, so stay tuned.

Identifying the Keys to Your Success

The keys to your success are the stepping stones on your journey. These things are usually the same for anyone pursuing the kind of success you are. For example, a fiction writer’s keys to success includes writing short stories and submitting regularly. A freelance writer’s list might include researching a variety of topics and querying a variety of markets about different articles. While each individual’s goals will be more specific than this because everyone’s exact definition of success is different, the keys to success will be almost identical for people aiming to reach the same career or financial/emotional place in their lives.

Today I’d like you to consider what the keys to your success might be. While the most important thing is to look inward and ask yourself how you will reach your definition of success, it’s also helpful to look at people who have reached the kind of success you want. Learning about people who have walked the path before you and analyzing what steps were most important in their journey to success gives you a good idea of how to set your own goals.

For today’s exercise, though the focus is not on goals. Goals should always be specific, whereas the keys to your success are broader strokes. These are what you will base your goals on, but they are not your actual goals. They are guidelines for your life.

In order to find the keys to success, first ask yourself what the most important steps towards your definition of success would be. Chances are, you already have an idea: get out of debt, start your own business, go back to school, write a novel or a book proposal, etc. Most of the things on the list will be things you’ve been considering doing for a long time, but for one reason or another have been putting off. Circle the ones you think are most important–these are what you’re going to base your list of 2013 goals on–and underline anything you’ve already started doing.

Sometimes the keys to success are not so clear. You might not be sure exactly what you’re going to need to start your dream business. You might have no idea about what really goes into moving up in the corporate world. You might want to be a politician but be unsure how to start your first campaign. That’s perfectly fine–nobody knows everything, and some paths are easier to understand than others.

If you have no idea what you’ll need in order to reach your definition of success, research people who have walked the path before you. As you study people who have reached a definition of success very close to your own–though it will not be exactly the same–the keys to your own success will become clear to you. Pay particular attention to how they got to their most successful, but also to which actions hurt them along the way. Often it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.

Once you have a solid list of keys to your success, attach it to the paper with your definition of success. While these exercises are still helpful on the computer, I find that having the physical manifestation helps keep me on the right track. So staple these things together and put them somewhere not only memorable but plainly obvious–on a wall, on top of your computer, wherever you’re sure to see it regularly. This way, success will never be far from your mind–and the closer it is to your mind, the closer you will be to that success.

Writing The Feature Story by Jordan Clary

Today’s guest poster is a freelancer who originally emailed me asking for more information about the work I did as a social media manager earlier this year. I was thrilled to make the connection and happily invited her to post something for all of you–I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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Feature stories are a mainstay of nearly every type of publication. They balance out informational articles with texture, color and depth. Feature stories give the writer, and reader, a chance to explore a subject and look at it from different perspectives. Unlike news stories, which generally follow the inverted pyramid style, where the reporter makes the main point right away and the most important sub-points in the first paragraph or two, with a feature story a writer can develop the storyline in a number of ways.

Although, features must still follow the journalistic rules of fairness and accuracy, the writer can be more creative with a feature story by adding descriptions, impressions and other details that might be overlooked in a news report.

Feature stories can be found anywhere.

As a freelance journalist, and more recently, as a writer for a weekly newspaper, I’ve written hundreds of feature stories. Just in the past couple weeks I’ve written features about a woman who saves greyhounds, a rancher who self-published his memoir, a homework club for English as a second language learners and a small band of Paiutes who are reclaiming their ancestral homeland.

What types of subjects make up feature stories? Nearly anything.

Many features are profiles of an interesting person. Trade magazines might be interested in a profile on someone who is a master at the trade or a behind-the-scenes look at a particular industry. Business magazines like profiles of successful business people. When writing a profile of a person, however, it’s important to focus on just the parts that are relevant to the topic you are writing about. Don’t try to cover their entire autobiography.

Human interest stories are one of the most popular types of features. Similar to profiles, they give the reader a chance to understand issues through the experiences of another. I live in a rural area where one of the big issues between ranchers and environmentalists is water rights. There is a movement to restore some barren areas to their original lushness through stream and meadow restoration projects. Some ranchers feel this is taking water away from their cattle. Last spring I wrote several features trying to present the different sides to the issue, including a profile of a rancher who began to support the restoration project once he understood its long range impact on the area. History can make for a good feature story. For Veterans Day you might write about a particular battle or interview a veteran. You could write about how traditions evolved during a particular holiday. And don’t forget the lesser known holidays. Does anyone really know the origins of Groundhog Day?

Seasonal themes can also be developed. These can be themes about the four seasons or they can follow other seasonal ideas: baseball season, opera season, cultural events, a business’ cycle.

Mastering the art of feature stories can provide a door into a number of different publications, including both internet and traditional print media.

Newspapers and magazines like features because of their engaging nature, and many of these venues are printing more features as a way to keep their readers interested.

If you’re a copywriter or business writer, you’ll find many opportunities for feature writing. Company newsletters often contain feature stories that highlight a particular employee’s achievements or of someone who has done something relevant for the industry. Public relations professionals often write short features as press releases.

Broadcast journalists for both television and radio love human interest stories. These behind-the-scenes profiles are often what keep viewers or listeners coming back for more.

If you’re a blogger, you already know, many posts are simply short profiles on a particular topic.

Feature stories are all around us. Do you know someone who has overcome a serious illness? As more and more businesses fold, a profile on what happens to a worker suddenly out of a job can be a valid feature. Who, in your community, is volunteering for animal welfare, assisting battered women, feeding the homeless or helping raise the awareness about foster children? A casual conversation in a grocery line can lead to a feature, as it did for me recently when the cashier mentioned they were holding a birthday party for a customer who turned 100 years old.

Informational articles may give you ideas on how to expand to a feature.

Keep a notebook to jot down ideas and contact information when something comes your way. You’ll soon find you have more ideas than you can possibly bring to fruition. And if you work locally, you may very well find people coming to you for feature stories.

Bio: Jordan Clary lives in northern California and works as a writer and photographer for a rural weekly newspaper. She continues to freelance on the side.

So Who CAN Write 10K in 4 Hours?

You’ll probably remember the insane challenge I posted last month to attempt to write 10K in 4 Hours. I originally promised to post a list of everyone who succeeded here on my blog, but after attempting the challenge myself and realizing that it’s much harder than I remembered, I decided to post the usernames and final word counts of everyone who dared attempt this with me. This is because I realized that just like in Nanowrimo itself, anyone who even attempts this crazy feat is a winner–and incredibly enough, all of my brave participants won Nanowrimo itself and therefore deserve a huge pat on the back.

And so here is the long awaited list of brave champions who dared try writing 10K in 4 Hours, divided into two–the brave participants and the champions.

Brave Participants

RandomChaosElement–4, 273
Wulfae–6, 905
WnGoddess–4, 000
Litharukia(me)–8, 910

Sunstreak–10, 000
Moogle99–10, 001
EliteGundam–10, 385

Congratulations to everyone who participated! Whether or not you made it, remember that you are a winner–and that there’s always next year.

Define Your Success

Success means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?

Author Interview: Marcella Kampman

Myths Cover
Today’s author is a fiction novelist of the type you’ll usually see around here. Instead, she is a folklorist who collects and analyzes myths from different cultures. Please welcome Marcella Kampman, author of Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths and Legends from Sumer.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer?

Thank you so much for asking! I’d love to tell you about my book, Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer. First of all, don’t let the title fool you. Inanna was a lot more than just another pretty face! She was the goddess credited with bringing man out of the Stone Age by giving him the Tablets of Destiny, otherwise known as the Laws of Civilization. She was also a battle goddess and she crowned kings. The book is a collection of myths (the gods of ancient Sumer) and legends (stories of ancient man, in particular Gilgamesh) and how the two (man and deity) are intertwined. Personally, I feel that the legends of Gilgamesh are much richer in detail for being included in a collection of myths involving not only the deities of his time, but his interactions with those very gods and goddesses. Let me share a quote with you from Dr. Gwendolyn Leick, author of Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia, and The Babylonians: An Introduction: “Marcella Kampman’s skillfully crafted versions of the Sumerian myths, which were written down some 4000 years ago, capture the beat of the original language and allow these exciting stories to delight new generations.”

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I have always loved to read, and I still read a lot, and so I believed that in my case writing was a natural progression from reading. My love of storytelling began when I was young, and I would insert myself into the adventure of the current book I was experiencing, and from there the story would morph into something different, my story, and one day I guess I just decided to try writing down my own stories. And here I am! In addition to this non-fiction collection of myths and legends, I am also a published romance author, under the name of Vanessa deHart. I’d love to share with you a quote from one of my reviewers: The Word on Romance is pleased to have reviewed Promise Me! “Fasten your seatbelts because Promise Me will take you on a wild and rocky ride …I really got hooked on the characters …I found myself turning the pages to find out the next plot twist. This reviewer looks forward to reading more unique stories from the pen of Ms. deHart.”

3. What do you consider the most interesting aspect of mythology?

I am so glad you asked that! In a nutshell, a myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Let me explain. I regularly go around to the local junior and high schools, teaching students about mythology and giving readings from my book, and with every visit it seems I connect a little more with the class, and I believe it’s because I am able to share with the students (and teachers!) how relevant ancient mythology can still be in today’s society; how man, at his very heart, has not changed all that much in five thousand years. Myths explain things. They are a means of discovery, usually of the human condition, and they can impart understanding, which may even lead to uncovering a deeper meaning of life. Even though the stories may be about the gods, at their very core they are stories about the gods being human and doing human things. Myths are the very foundation of our very human values and ethics. They teach right from wrong, good from bad, they answer basic human questions like: Where did we come from? And what is the meaning of life? Myths are often rich with symbology and metaphor, and to help students interpret these stories I’ve included a brief explanation after each story in the collection. My publisher at Bayeux Arts has this to say about my book: “Beautifully crafted and narrated, this collection of 16 legends and myths comes with a splendid introduction to the Sumerian Civilization. A brief explanation of the myth/legend follows every story – a valuable aid for teaching and learning.”

4. How did you choose a mythology to focus on for your book?

I did not choose these myths, but rather, they chose me to tell their stories! It all began when I was doing some research for a completely different project (I write epic fantasy as well) and I stumbled upon some bits and pieces of these myths. The more I delved into the subject of ancient Mesopotamia, the more fascinated I became. When I went in search of a more comprehensive collection of ancient Sumerian mythology to read for my own enjoyment, I couldn’t find one. So I decided to write my own. Fortunately for me, my publisher agreed! I decided to render these ancient myths into a more engaging style for a younger, modern audience, to make the reading of ancient history more “user friendly” if you will. In a little aside here, even though I wrote the collection for my own ten-year-old self, I have found that many adults who share an interest in ancient history have thoroughly enjoyed reading about Inanna as well.

5. What did you find most challenging about writing Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer?

The most challenging part for me was in doing the research. Retelling ancient myths and legends is something most creative writers can do, interpreting them in their own way, but I wanted my versions to be as authentic as possible. I had to read hundreds of hours of dry history texts, and most of these manuscripts only had portions of the stories available in them, and so I had to piece together the myths and then choose those which fit together best into a comprehensive whole. I know I succeeded when I read the following quote from Professor Andrew R. George, author of The Epic of Gilgamesh from Penguin Books: “Marcella Kampman’s tellings of ancient Mesopotamian myths are vividly rendered and faithful to the spirit of the originals.”

6. You’re also a multi-published romance author and you’re working on a fantasy novel. How is writing a novel different from writing a non-fiction book?

With regards to writing non-fiction, it requires hours of meticulous research (as you can tell by the extensive bibliography at the back of my book!). To be taken seriously by the academic community, there is no chance of letting your creative writing side take off on a tangent. Having said that, I believe that by the very fact that I am a creative fiction writer I was able to take those dry, dusty historical tomes and turn them into something new and fresh again. As Dr. William Ryan, author of Noah’s Flood: the New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History states: “Marcella Kampman skillfully brings the ancient world of myth and legend back to life in a child’s imagination through her inspiring interpretations of favorite Sumerian texts.” On the flip side of having written, and published, a non-fiction collection of myths and legends, I feel that I have learned some valuable tools which will aid in me in the writing of my epic fantasy novels. I now know how to do proper research, and where no true facts may exist for my imaginary universe I know enough how to create a solid foundation to give my world credibility.

7. If you could go back to any moment in your career and do things differently, when would it be and why?

I am where I am now because of the journey that my writing has taken me on. I look upon this particular journey as my “apprenticeship” years. Each step led to the next. I struggled, I learned, I grew. I could never have bypassed any one stage and gone onto the next without significant consequences. I have enough rejection slips to wallpaper a good size room, but those rejection slips (as much as they were not pleasant to receive!) were necessary for me to grow as a writer, and as well, they show my commitment to my craft, and the fact that I did, and still do, take myself seriously as a writer, enough so that I would submit my stories whenever I felt they were ready to go out into the world. As far as doing things differently, I would rather state here for the record that aspiring authors should not be afraid of making mistakes, or of feeling foolish, or of taking things too personally. I’d like to share with you something personal, from my own writing history; my first novel, No More Lies, was actually the third of my romance books to get published. In its earliest version it garnered the most rejection slips, so I set it aside and continued with writing two others, which were successfully published. Then I returned to the first one, saw all that was wrong with it with new, wiser eyes, rewrote it, and last year I saw it finally get published and since then it has garnered some very positive responses.

8. What are your favourite things about being a career writer?

I get to live in my “dream world”, doing what I love day in and day out, and never get bored doing it!

9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never give up! The published author is the aspiring writer who never quit!

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

I am having a brilliant time right now working on a fantasy trilogy called the Daughters of the Moon. Over the scope of three novels I plan to take readers on an exciting epic journey from ancient Celtic Ireland to Regency England, weaving in Irish mythology (a great use for my research skills!) with a blend of the real world and a touch of a magical, mystical realm.

Bio: Marcella Kampman is the author of i>Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer, and shares her gift for both learning and teaching through the art of storytelling and the understanding of myth with students and teachers alike through her free classroom visits in the local Ottawa, Ontario area. For those not living in Ottawa, you can find her free online lesson plans available on her website to use in conjunction with her book, Inanna, Goddess of Love (which is also available online). In addition to her non-fiction collection of myths and legends, Marcella is also a multi-published romance author, an aspiring children’s book writer, and is currently working on an epic fantasy series. She resides in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband of thirty-one years in their dream home designed by their architect daughter, Tessa, who is also the illustrator for “Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer.”

For more information about Marcella and her work, please check out her website at: