The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Writing (Take Breaks!)

take-breaks

No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that I frequently work too hard. I’m a perfectionist and have a serious type-A personality. Combine that with an insatiable curiosity and desire to achieve my goals no matter what, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. I’m notoriously terrible about taking breaks. It’s gotten me in trouble before. Still, I’m stubborn. I never learn.

Recently, I got sick. It was just a cold, but it absolutely drained me. I couldn’t stop coughing, I had a fever, and I was exhausted all the time. It was all I could do to get dressed in the morning, let alone go to work and then come home and do housework and writing tasks. It got so bad that I even went to the doctor to get checked for mono (which I didn’t have, thank God).

This bout of illness opened my eyes to a truth I’d been trying to ignore: I need to rest. I need to take breaks. Every once in a while, I need to make time for myself, spend a day on self-care, and things of that nature. I can’t spend all my time working or I’ll wear myself out. And if I’m worn out, I can’t be productive. To me, a lack of productivity constitutes a death sentence. There were no bones about it: I had to scale back.

Since recovering from being sick, I’ve been working on a plan to reduce my stress levels. I’m scheduling blog posts and bills and things as much as I can, and the rest of the time, I’m setting limits on how much I can work outside of my day job. While it’s still too early to have seen real results, I’m positive more breaks will make a difference in my writing.

Learn from my mistakes, people. Take more breaks. Go easy on yourself. Your writing will thank you.

What do you do to make time for yourself? What are some tips you have to help avoid burnout?

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What Ghostbusters Can Teach Us About Writing Female Characters

What Ghostbusters Can Teach Us About Writing Female Characters

I am a massive Ghostbusters fan, and I have been for quite some time now. When news of the Paul-Feig-directed reboot came up in the world, I had fixed feelings about it. However, when I heard that the reboot would include a star-studded cast of powerful ladies, I got a little more excited. I was optimistic, if not cautiously so.

You see, for the longest time–and I’m sure you’ve noticed this–women haven’t exactly had the most coveted roles in film and television. Maybe you’ve heard of the Sexy Lamp Test. Basically, what this “test” does is ascertain the strength and depth of the female characters in any given medium. If the character can be replaced by a sexy lamp with no real issues or effects on the plot, then the female character is considerably lacking in depth. Any women who do have some kind of depth are usually relegated to familiar, comfortable roles, such as the shopaholic, the ditz, the slut, the nerd, and the sexy sidekick.

Ghostbusters changes all of that. In the female-led, character-driven reboot, Feig puts Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in positions of respect. Wiig, McCarthy, and McKinnon all play intelligent, capable scientists, while Jones’s character puts in hours as a long-suffering  MTA employee who works hard to do her job no matter what–even if that means confronting some ghosts. These characters are not only women I could see walking down the street day after day but also most definitely worth looking up to. I kept thinking, I want to be her when I grow up, even though I’m already (technically) grown-up.

Another thing I love about the film is its depiction of female friendship. Throughout the movie, the Ghostbusters develop a close, familial bond built on trust and mutual admiration. There are no love triangles, no catfights, no betrayals or name-calling. Instead, the woman cheer each other on, utilize each other’s strengths to work together as a team, and help each other out in every battle that takes place. I can’t remember the last time I saw female characters in a movie getting along like this. It is such a refreshing change of pace.

 


 

What I love most about Ghostbusters is its potential to change popular culture. If the film does as well as I hope it does commercially, it serves as a statement to Hollywood that people want female-led films. We want to be entertained, certainly, but we also want to see strong, capable female characters banding together to save the world. We want to see friendships, teamwork, and heroism. More than anything, we want to see women who are real.

When developing female characters, I hope to keep in mind the way I felt emerging from the theater after watching the new film, and that is triumphant. Ghostbusters succeeds not only at an entertainment level, but also from a cultural-critique perspective as well. It serves as the spark that could ignite the powder keg of traditional, male-driven filmmaking, and more than anything, I want to be around to witness that explosion.

What do you think? How do you feel about the new Ghostbusters movie?

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TOUCH Audiobook Giveaway Winners

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I’ve been sick, but I thought I’d do a quick post today announcing the winners of last week’s Touch: A One-Act Play audiobook giveaway. Are you ready?

Wait for it…

The winners are…

JASON DAILING AND STEPHEN MORAN!

 

Woohoo! Congratulations, Jason and Stephen!

An enormous thanks to everyone who entered! And if you didn’t win, there’s always next time–more giveaways are coming soon! 🙂

 

How to Plot If You Hate Plotting

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The other day, I started plotting my novel Smoke and Blood, the prequel to my debut novel Blood and Water. If you’ve known me longer than a few months, you know I’ve never been a big fan of plotting. Heck, while writing Blood and Water I even wrote a post detailing why I don’t outline anymore. But that was quite some time ago, and a lot has changed since then.

The biggest change has been that I am now a fan of plotting. A few people have commented that it seems like I wrote the first draft of Reflections faster than they expected, and that’s mostly due to that fact that I had the whole thing outlined. I used to be a die-hard pantser, and this strategy made a significant difference in my writing productivity. After Blood and Water, I was so sick of struggling and slogging through drafts. I needed a change. That’s why I started plotting.

It all started when I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster WritingThis book changed my writing life. In a series of anecdotes and knowledge gleaned from personal experiences, Hawker provides tips for plotting a novel without losing your mind. That book, combined with this post by Rachel Aaron, made me view my process in an entirely different light. Based on what I learned from these wise ladies, here’s how I’m plotting my books going forward:

  • Take note of what you know already. Whenever I get plot bunnies for a new book, I make sure to write them down in Evernote. That way, when it comes time to start plotting, I’m not starting from scratch.
  • Find your characters. Rachel Aaron recommends, at a minimum, knowing your main characters, antagonists, and power players. Don’t get bogged down in character sheets right off the bat. All you need for now is names and some identifying details that are relevant to the story.
  • Figure out the end and the beginning. Try deciding them in that order. Once you’ve discovered the end, it’s a lot easier to get there from the beginning. If you know the end, all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get there.
  • Determine the setting. Where and when will your novel take place? Consider some minor worldbuilding here, but like with the characters, make sure you don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of this part.
  • Fill in the gaps. If you have the beginning and the end of your novel down, all you have left to do is fill in the gaps. of course, this is much easier said than done. Focus on moving from one plot event to another, building a compelling, believable framework. Connect the major twists, scenes, and climaxes until you get to the conclusion. If you get stuck, don’t panic. That’s totally normal!

There you have it! Whether you’re a full-fledged plotter or a pantser looking for a better way to write, consider giving some of these techniques a try. If you’d like more information, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Libbie Hawker’s book. She goes into much more detail than I have in this post.

What do you think? How do you plot or plan a book before starting?

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If you hate plotting, you’re in luck. @brianawrites has found a way to make plotting less painful. (Click to tweet)

How I’m Preparing to Write a Series

How I'm Preparing to Write a Series | Briana Morgan

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As the time this post goes live, I’ll hopefully have gotten through some of the plotting process for the Blood and Water prequel, titled Smoke and Blood. I’ve never written a series before–only standalone novels–but I’m optimistic. A lot of my readers have suggested I should make a series, and I do miss the virus-ridden kids in my debut book, so I thought it was a good idea.

Now, I’m a little anxious. I had no clue where to start. So, I sat down at my desk, drank some coffee, and make a plan. I felt better. I’m certain that part of this process will change, but it’s nice to have at least some idea where I’m going. Without further ado, here’s how I’m preparing to write a series.

    • Making timelines. I didn’t make one of these bad boys before drafting Blood and Water, and it came back to bite me. When revising, I wanted to tear my hair out because I couldn’t figure out what happened when and who knew what at what time. This time around, I’m making a complete timeline for the prequel and the sequel, as well as an overarching series timeline for all the big events in the trilogy. That way, I don’t have to struggle so much with that nonsense when I go back and edit.
    • Rereading Blood and Water. This one is a no-brainer. There’s so much information I dropped in that novel that I can use while drafting this one that it would be stupid not to go back and take some notes. While I am a little nervous (I haven’t read the novel since publishing it), it’s a necessary evil. It’s probably not as awful as I imagine it might be.
    • Picking relevant scenes. While not having a timeline made the flashbacks in Blood and Water confusing for me at first, I’m so glad that I wrote them. Not only did they add depth to the world of they story; they also made it easier for me to outline some important scenes in the prequel. For example, I know I’m including the scene with Jay and Melanie at the museum that I mention in B&W.
    • Reading The Hot Zone. Chris Mahan, among others, recommended this book to me. It’s about Ebola, which is fantastic, since that kind of hemorrhagic fever is what my virus is based on. I’m excited to dive in. I’m also taking notes, of course.
    • Outlining. In addition to making different timelines, I’m also going to make a loose outline for both the prequel and the sequel, so that I can ensure all my loose ends will be tied up in the sequel. Again, I’m doing everything I can now to make things easier on myself come revisions. I used to be terrified of outlines, but I used one while drafting Reflections, and it saved my life.
    • Drawing character maps. My writing is and has always been focused on my characters. With a series, one of the biggest challenges I’m facing is character growth. There’s no doubt in my mind that many aspects of these characters will change as the series progresses; I’m just not sure how much, in what ways, or why. That’s why mapping out some major changes in their personalities, goals, and relationships will help me so much moving forward.
    • Worldbuilding. Since nearly every part of the characters’ lives is affected by the virus, I need to make sure that I fully understand it. In order to accomplish that, I need to come up with causes, symptoms, incubation periods, and things of that nature. Good thing I’m not squeamish.

Feel free to steal any of these ideas if you think they could help you in your writing process. Also, please let me know if you have any links/resources that could help me with this stuff. I’m slightly intimidated, but I love a good challenge. I’m ready now. Let’s do this.

What do you think? What tips can you give me for planning a series?

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Giveaway: TOUCH Audiobook

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I’ve already shared this on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m giving away copies of the Touch: A One-Act Play audiobook. For those of you that don’t know, the play takes place in a world in which deliberate physical touch has been outlawed. In the play, a woman called the Seeker strives to find out more about touch however she can, even if that involves taking some serious risks.

I knew right away that I wanted Touch to be an audiobook. Ideally, I’d like to see it staged, but I think an audiobook is a great first step. This version is narrated by Evan Harris, and although it’s short, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way it turned out. As someone who watches plays and seldom listens to them in audio form, I was nervous to see how this would turn out. Thankfully, Evan took my direction and added his own narrative flair, and I’m pleased with the results.

I don’t have many reviews on Touch, and I don’t know how many of you have already read it, but I’m going to do this giveaway, anyway. Of course, you don’t have to leave a review if you win a copy, but I would certainly appreciate it!

If you’re interested in winning a free audiobook copy of Touch, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. I’m giving away five copies, so you have several chances to win. The winners will be announced about a week from now, July 19, 2016, at 11:59 EST. Good luck!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Making Time to Read (And Why It Matters)

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I have a confession. I’m terrified to share this with you all, but I want to nonetheless.

I haven’t been reading. Well, that’s not quite true–I’m reading a lot at work, since I’m an editor, and I’ve been reading some essays and articles and things of that nature. I just haven’t been reading fiction–not anything that’s published, not outside of work.

I know that as a writer, I have to read often. Stephen King, one of my writing idols, said in his book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

According to King, reading helps you recognize the shape of good and bad prose. It helps you appreciate language and hunger to put magic down on the page. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. Reading is the best thing you can to to improve your writing prowess.

And I wholeheartedly agree with him–reading is important. As much as life gets in the way, I’m well aware that I make a lot of excuses. I do have time to read. But I often fill that time with Netflix or iPhone games or just wasting time on the Internet. I don’t put it toward furthering my writing career. I don’t use my free time as productively as I could.

It should come as no surprise that I want to make a living from my writing. I want it to be my career. In order for me to realize that dream, I’m going to make every effort to improve as a writer. That means I have to learn to make better use of my time–which in turn means I have to make myself read more.

Recently, I read a post by the wonderful Lucy Flint in which she confessed a similar struggle. Like me, she wants to make it a point to read more, concentrating her efforts on reading more fiction in order to improve her writing. So I’m coming clean, too. I want to read more. And I need you all to help hold me accountable to that.

Also, that means I need more book recommendations. Feel free to leave some in the comments below!

What are your tips for reading more? What are some books that you couldn’t put down?

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.@brianawrites hasn’t been reading enough fiction, and she needs some advice. (Click to tweet)

REFLECTIONS Draft 1, Chapter 1 Excerpt

dressing-room

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I finished the first draft of my YA urban fantasy novel Reflections sometime last week. I can’t remember the exact date right now, and I’m not too concerned about it, because I get to take a break now. I’m taking two weeks off from writing to rest, relax, and recover before diving into the second book in the Blood and Water series.

Since a lot of you have been asking me about Reflections, I wanted to take time to share a sizable excerpt with you. So, without any further ado, here’s the first chapter of a (very) rough draft of the novel. Enjoy!

NOTE: General trigger warning for body dysmorphia, self-esteem issues, self-criticism. Onward.

CHAPTER 1. the dressing room

The dressing room was hot, but that wasn’t the reason Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan was sweating. She and her best friend Myra Hare had been at the mall for hours, and although Myra had a dozen outfits stuffed into bags on her arm, Rama hadn’t found a single thing she liked.

She never found anything she liked anymore.

The department-store dressing room was small, way smaller than it needed to be. Either the air conditioning had gone out in this part of the building, or Rama was really worse off than she thought. Sweat ran down the back of her neck and trailed along her spine. What’s worse, she could see the sweat beaded on her face as she cautiously assessed her reflection.

Standing in front of the dressing room mirror, Rama hated what she saw. The dress was as awful as all of the others—too tight in some places, too low in others, and too short around her thighs.

Disgusting.

As she studied her reflection, she wanted to throw up. She prayed for the ground to open up and swallow her whole before Myra could ask her what was wrong, why she was taking so long, and whether she planned to buy the dress.

There were too many questions, and she didn’t feel like answering any of them. They were all too complicated, and she didn’t have the patience. Besides, she wasn’t sure she had all the answers, either.

Then again, she wasn’t sure that she had any of the answers.

Myra’s knuckles rapped against the door. “Hey, can I come in?”

“Just a second.” Rama smoothed the dress over her stomach. Too tight. She’d known it would be. Still, there was no way she’d ask Myra to go look for the next size. “I’m changing back into my street clothes. I don’t think I’m getting this one, either.”

“Rama,” Myra said, “that’s like, the eighteenth outfit.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Just give me a minute.”

Myra sighed, but she didn’t argue. Rama felt guilty for dragging her best friend into such a mess, but Myra had been the one to propose the shopping trip. They hadn’t been spending enough time together. Myra had just made the cheerleading team, and Rama was taking three AP courses, which meant her nose—as hooked as it was—was constantly buried in a book. She had so much homework that sometimes, she didn’t even leave the house on the weekends. She didn’t count that as a loss—it wasn’t as though she liked going anywhere now, anyway. She was far too busy to even help her parents with running the restaurant most nights, and that was an obligation. A social life? Forget it.

Her parents, like all of the others in town, must have been thrilled with this development. There had been a rash of unsolved murders of young girls in the past few months, and the mayor of Aldale, West Virginia had even gone so far as to establish a curfew for anyone under eighteen. It just wasn’t safe to be out alone at night. It wasn’t safe to be alone at all.

But Myra’s parents thought all the precautions were too strict. Sure, the children needed to be careful, but as long as they exercised common sense and good judgment, there was no need for them to take such drastic measures. They’d explained their point of view to their daughter, and it hadn’t taken much else for Myra to be convinced. Of late, she’d taken to trying to recruit Rama to her side of the debate.

“We should go to the mall today,” Myra had said at her house that afternoon. “It will do you good to get out.”

For some reason, Rama had gone along with the plan. She’d even, at one point, thought that Myra might be right. It probably would do her good to get out.

But now, in the dressing room, Rama wasn’t so convinced. She wasn’t sure what the worst part of the dress was—the way it scratched her skin, the way it dipped low enough in the front to expose the scar below her collarbone, or the way it clung to her hips and made her feel like a cow.

She didn’t even need the dress, didn’t she? It wasn’t as though she actually went anywhere anymore, let alone somewhere that she would wear something so nice. It didn’t even cover her scar, which had been her biggest reason for wanting to buy new clothes, anyway. If it couldn’t even do that much, did it do her any good?

She ran her fingertips over the scar and winced as though it were fresh. Myra was the only one besides Rama who had seen the scar, and thankfully, she’d never asked Rama where it had come from. If she had, Rama would have had no idea what to tell her. There was absolutely no way she’d tell anyone the truth—if she said it aloud, she had to acknowledge that it had happened, and then she couldn’t pretend it was just a nightmare anymore.

Rama swallowed the lump in her throat. The walls of the dressing room were closing in around her, and the ceiling was going to cave in any minute. She would be crushed or suffocate and die in the middle of the mall and no one would miss her, that was the worst part, not even Myra who had dragged her to the mall try on the stupid dress in the first place.

“You okay?” Myra asked from the other side of the door.

“Fine,” Rama lied. “I’m just hungry is all.”

“It’s making you cranky.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. Look, can we just go?”

Myra sighed again. “You said you needed new clothes, and you haven’t gotten a single thing. I don’t want to leave without you buying something.”

“I hate everything I try on.” Rama pulled the dress off over her head and tossed it onto the chair. The plastic hanger that had been there clattered to the ground. Rama stooped to pick it up. “I don’t see the point in staying here when I don’t want to even get anything now.”

“Let me see if I can find you something else then. Just let me try, okay?”

Rama looked at herself in the mirror again. Shiny white stretch marks pulled across her hips and thighs, dipping into the ragged waistband of her underwear. The under-wire of her bra was sticking out on one side. Her hair was disheveled, dull, and full of tangles.

She wanted, more than anything, to be someone else—anyone else.

Anyone that wasn’t her or anyone like her.

And she’d be willing to do almost anything to make that wish come true.

Rama was still thinking about how much she hated her body when Myra returned with an armful of clothing. She knocked on the door, and Rama paused a minute before opening it enough for Myra to shove the clothing in. Rama dropped the pile of clothes on the chair. None of them were to her taste—fit too tight; showed too much skin. Drew too much attention. What had Myra been thinking?

“Well?” Myra asked.

“Close the door,” Rama said. There was no way in hell she’d wear any of that stuff. But she couldn’t say that to Myra. She wouldn’t understand. She never could.

No one could.

And she wouldn’t try to make her understand where she was coming from.

“Something’s wrong,” Myra said. “I wish you’d just tell me what’s bothering you.”

Rama took in a shuddering breath.

“It’s not about clothes, is it?”

“It’s not about the clothes.” It was never about the clothes. She squeezed her eyes shut, willed away tears. In her mind’s eye, she saw him again—the man with the mustache. Chicken tikka masala. Her stomach churned.

“Rama.”

She opened her eyes. Myra was still there, lips narrowed into a thin line.

She touched Rama’s arm. “You’ll never be happy until you learn to make peace with your body, you know.”

That was easy enough for her to say. Myra had long legs and curves in all the right places—that was one of the biggest reasons she’d made the cheerleading squad. As far as Rama knew, she’d never had a single pimple. Self-esteem issues? Forget it. Myra had absolutely nothing to complain about. And she certainly had never been attacked like Rama had, never hated her body as much as Rama hated hers now.

Rama sniffed and covered the scar on her chest. There was no way in hell she’d ever tell Myra what had happened that day in the restaurant.

Myra took the clothes from Rama and sighed. “Okay, you win. You don’t have to try this stuff on if you don’t want to. Shopping is supposed to be fun, not torture, you know.”

A smile quirked the corners of Rama’s lips. “I appreciate your help.”

“It’s nothing,” Myra said. “Why don’t we head back to the car? We can get milkshakes before I drop you off. I’ll grab your bike.”

In her battle with self-image, she’d almost forgotten—she’d ridden her bicycle to Myra’s house, and then they’d gone on to the mall. She needed her bike to get home. Sure, she could always hitch a ride with Myra, but Myra was asking for more quality time. Rama needed to be alone. And Myra wanted them to get milkshakes.

Rama chewed her lip. The last thing she needed was a milkshake. She kept saying she was going on a diet, but maybe she wasn’t serious. She couldn’t figure out how to make a diet work when she lived above a restaurant and had two chefs for parents. At any rate, she’d already done too much thinking about her body that day, and she needed a serious distraction. A milkshake wouldn’t cut it. Neither would her friend.

“I’m going to bike home, I think. I could use some fresh air.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? You’d be alone.”

“I know. It’s all right, I promise. I’ve done it before.”

Myra cast a sidelong glance at her. “Have you done it since the murders?”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Rama exhaled loudly. “I’m going straight home, no stops on the way. It isn’t even dark yet—won’t be dark for a while—and I really need to think. Come on, Myra. Just let me take my bike.”

She could tell that Myra wanted to press her for details, but somehow, she resisted. “Suit yourself. Let’s go, girl.”

What do you think? Are you excited for Reflections?

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“She wanted… to be someone else—anyone else. Anyone that wasn’t her or anyone like her.” (Click to tweet)