Writing Tips

August Knows Best

We’ve all heard “Write What You Know.” What do you think? Truth or fallacy?
Is there an option for both? Because I’m going with both. #OwnVoices is a genre for a reason. And right now? When the world seems like it’s quickly going up in flames and headed off the side of a cliff simultaneously, while the only possible course to fix it is by understanding each other and showing compassion? Yeah, writing what you know is more important than ever. But, that in and of itself is a double-edged sword. What if you end up outing yourself / someone? What if feelings are hurt when the truth is put down on paper? Relationships can crumble under the pressure, the reality you know falling apart around you.
And, maybe an even harsher reality: what happens if all the agents you submit to reject you and no one wants to hear your side of the story after all?
Writing books is painful. Especially when you’re writing what you know. But that’s also part of what makes it so great.
Of course, that’s also assuming you have a story to tell. Maybe you’re just an average person with an average life doing average things. Should you create a novel / character based around your life if you’re just sitting around your house watching TV and going to your 9-5 job? Probably not. There’s enough of that in the real world that I can’t imagine a book really being able to find and fill a need in that niche. So, for those people, I encourage them to get a hobby, go out and see the world, and pull pieces from those experiences into the novel you’re wanting to write.
Do you have to live in a city to set a novel there? No, of course not. Does it help to build authenticity? Absolutely. Do you need to get a job as an accountant to write a novel with a protagonist who is one? No. That’s what research is for. With information being easier than ever to obtain online, you don’t have to go out and experience those things to be able to write about them effectively. It will always help, of course, but as long as you’re good at your job researching and finding editors / betas to help nitpick the small stuff?  There’s not a desperate need to do it.

Do you write what you know?
A little bit yes, a little bit no. With locations, I tend to write about places I’ve either lived or spent enough time visiting that I felt like a local in the time I was there. I want to know where the weird bumps in the sidewalk are from tree roots pushing them up or about the way a certain traffic light always knocks up against a branch if the wind blows hard enough. But I don’t have to live there to experience those things. A visit is enough for me. Sometimes, Google Maps / Streetview also works — or serves as a decent reminder if I’ve forgotten.
I listen to people’s conversations or watch them in the streets and make up background stories for them in my head. Both of those things get adopted into my novels. But that person up above who just sits in their apartment and goes to work? That’s me. I’m boring and okay with it. But my life as it is right now? Wouldn’t make the best novel (unless I wrote about my day job. That would be heartbreaking, honestly) for anyone other than me. So, sure. There are bits and pieces from my every day life mixed in, but I don’t rely on just the things I know. Research is great.

Back from the Dead?

This month’s topic:  ZOMBIES are a July tradition  for WriYe. Do you have a writing tradition of your own? How did it come about?
Well, this is awkward. As one of the founding members of this annual tradition… I’m actually not participating in Zombie July this year. I always love plotting and planning to write a zombie novel, but then when it comes down to actually writing them? I get maybe 10k in and then things die out and I get super frustrated that I spent all the time to plot / plan the book and wasted July… So, that’s a thing.
But, the real reason I’m not working on Zombies this month is because they don’t really fit into my genre. That is the downside of writing primarily realistic fiction — to do so many of the challenges that I’ve seen around, you either have to be writing speculative fiction or completely abandon what you’ve been working on the rest of the year. Which, normally isn’t an issue for me and I welcome July as a break from the “normal grind.” But, since I’m writing on borrowed time and July is one of two months I have to really dedicate myself to my craft? It’s very difficult to want to give up even a second of my time to something that isn’t one of my more “serious” projects.
I do, however, have some of my own writing traditions, however. For one, I do love hosting a kick-off party for large WriMo months (January, July, November) by grabbing myself some Wavy Lays plain potato chips, cheese dip, Cheez-Its, and Cherry Coke, then at midnight, do a 15 or 20 minute word sprint and just basically try and get as high a word count as possible before falling asleep while writing (usually around 3 or 4am). This started back when I was writing a lot more and would never miss a monthly WriMo kickoff. I would do that for every single month… And now it’s just stuck as something I “have” to do in order to really get into the writing groove, especially that late at night.
Other than that, I don’t really have any writing traditions. I mean, I try to outline before I write a novel. I usually watch Twitch or YouTube while I’m writing. I always edit in pink, purple, or green ink… But, those are more habits than traditions, I think.
What about you? Any writing traditions?
Writing Tips

“Finding” Time

I know it’s still June and I just did one of these, but I’ve missed several. So, I want to catch up. Plus, they’re good topics! So I’m going to work my way backwards through them for the next few weeks.
May: Life is busy, sometimes often insane. How do you find the time to write within your life?
Here’s the thing — life is always going to be insanely busy, especially as we get older and we start to build our own professional careers / families. And if we, as writers, don’t figure out ways to manipulate our schedules in order to “find” the time to write? The book we keep saying we’re going to write, will never be written. And we’ll have no one to blame at that point but ourselves.
And that, my friends, is why I keep saying “find” time in quotes. Because the time is there; we all have the same 24 hours in every single day. You can’t magically think more minutes into your day or more days into your week. Thus, you need to prioritize the time you do have and make time for the things that are important to you. Which, hopefully, will be writing.
I’m sure there are articles and videos and books written about how to maximize your time and be your most productive you (in fact, I know there are because I have one on my shelf called The 4-hour Work Week). But, that’s not necessarily what I’m looking to do. I’m just trying to make myself find time for writing. So, with that in mind, the first thing I would recommend would be to sit down every evening just before bed for a full week and map out your time that day. Hour-by-hour. Honestly. If you sat on your couch staring at the wall for two hours? Chart it. If you took a six-hour nap on Saturday, two hours after waking? Put it on the graph. The more honest you are, the better your information and new schedule will be in the end. Then after those seven days, analyze what you’ve found. My schedule is weird right now since it’s summer vacation. But, I did this the first week that I was not at school (with students), but had 4 days of training to attend on campus. There are several reasons why this was not the best choice for me, since I don’t have a consistent day-job to attend, and I was exhausted from the last two / three months of school and was sleeping much more than normal to make up for it. But, I took what I saw from my schedule that week and set my rough idea of an “ideal week” up with the knowledge that I do not currently have a consistent day-job to attend. It’s just a vague outline that would get me more on the right track towards writing more and maybe not spending so much time on YouTube without doing something else at the same time.
I honestly learned a lot by looking at my schedule critically like this. Like the fact that I work every day. Even over the summer. That isn’t healthy. And that was JUST time working on things for school. I figured in anything for my Etsy shop into the “planning” category. Also, that I spent a lot of time that week sleeping. But, as mentioned above, it was me just enjoying my first week of summer and not really typical of my normal sleeping habits (which are usually 10pm – 5am over the summer and no sporadic naps throughout the day (so 12 hours less normally than I slept the week I was tracking). I wasn’t really surprised to see how much time I spent on YouTube / Gaming without multitasking… The green category, however? That was surprising to me. I consider that time my “essentials” time. That’s when I would shower, cook, eat, clean, tend my garden, and take care of my dogs. The fact that I’m spending almost as much time on that during the week — and most of it is nonnegotiable! — as a second full time job was astounding. And… it made sense why my apartment is always messiest during the school year. But, unless I get rid of my dogs, my garden, or become independently wealthy enough to hire a cook / cleaner, that isn’t time I can change.
You can see my rough “outline” of an ideal week for me in the black there. I tried to be realistic. It’s summer. I don’t want to “chain” myself to work (be it school, Etsy, or writing) during every waking moment. I want to be able to lay on the couch and read a book if I want to. I want to be able to get lost in a video game for 4-6 hours if I feel like it. I’d like to be able to sleep until 6a… Because those are things I don’t have the opportunity to do when I’m back to working 10-12 hour days again. But, at the same time… Summer is my main time to write. So, I do want to make sure I get some quality time in my universe during June and July. I’ve included a few places there where I might be able to fit it in, but I also did something else this summer in order to make sure I am actually writing, and that is to create a challenge on WriYe relating to this exact topic. Every week this summer (and even my first week back at work in August), I am encouraging myself and all the other WriYe people to follow a different professional author’s established writing routine. Yes, this was a very selfish challenge, as I struggle to figure out how I want to incorporate writing into my own life. But, it has definitely been an enlightening one for me… And hopefully others as well.
At the end of the summer, I should have an idea of a few things — first, what my “ideal week” would look like as a full time writer, and second, how to make time in my life to continue being a “full time” writer alongside my day job. And, even if what that boils down to is waking up at 4am daily to get an hour’s worth of words in before work every morning and spending a few hours every weekend to get “the rest” in on my days off (and stop working 7 days a week!) in order to make time for my writing.

Nom de Plume

June: Real name vs pen name: is one better than the other? Why or why not? Which would you use and why?
It has certainly been quite some time since I updated here and I don’t have excuses or explanations for you about it. It happened and it deserved being addressed… But that’s all I have to say about it. Especially since this post is meant to be about pen names!
You might be able to tell by my website / social media handles, but I am a person who does not use a pen name. As long as I’ve been writing and publishing things on the internet, I have always gone by some iteration of (at least) my first name. As I started taking a more “professional” route with my writing — or at least attempting to — I began switching over fully to my “author persona:” Erin Foster Books. Could I have transitioned into a pen name at that point? Probably, but I didn’t see the point. In fact, if I had made that choice, it might have actually had negative affects on my yet-developing platform.

Back in college, I had to complete a short story project for one of my creative writing courses and the outcome was a fully-edited, ready-to-publish (essentially) short story collection. And since this was back in the day of free proof copies for NaNoWriMo winners, I decided to go ahead and publish it. Why not, right? And I did so using my real name. Then I entered a Harlequin contest and did decently well (top 12 — so not placed or anything, but still a huge success in my mind), using my real name. All of the self-published short stories in the AugNoWriMo Compendium Milestone: under my real name. I was already starting to establish my name as my author brand, even before ever thinking about it. To then start over with a pen name? Not something that really appealed to me, personally.

Now, if I were to decide to write… say a fantasy quartet about elemental mermaids instead of my normal romance realistic fiction, would I consider a pen name? Absolutely. Because if someone had read a handful of my other fiction and picked up a fantasy book, thinking it would be in a similar feel / genre because I wrote it… They would be very confused. And the last thing I want to do to my readers is confuse them.
As for which one is better? Well, neither. I don’t think you can make a sweeping generalization like that with something that’s such a personal decision. For me, my real name worked out and was the right choice for my situation, but that might not always be the case for someone — or even for me. I think that as long as the person behind the name is intentional and consistent with their use of whatever moniker they choose, then that is the “better” decision.
(Stay tuned. I am promising a minimum of one blog post per week for the rest of the year. Always Wednesday mornings at 10am EST. There might be more than that, but there will definitely never be less. If there’s something you’d like me to talk about / address, feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on twitter at @erinfosterbooks!)

Tell Me All Your Thoughts on Love

The blog writing hasn’t really taken off yet, but I’ll get there. For now, here’s the monthly WriYe Blog Circle post, at the very least!

Is romance necessary in all fiction? Why or why not?
Now, this is a very tricky topic for me, since 90% (or more!) of my own novels wouldn’t exist without romance, simply because that’s my “home” genre. So, for me? Yes. It is necessary. Is that to say I couldn’t write something without romance? Absolutely not. In fact, I’ve done it several times. But those pieces are rarely what come to mind when I think of my best works. And if it’s a book that I’m sitting down to read for enjoyment, I could go either way if there’s no “pairings” to speak of within the pages of the book.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think romance is limited to the romantic love (or, delving deeper into the genre and thinking about erotica, lust) that most people think of when they start to consider romance in fiction. There’s always platonic love between friends or familial love between siblings / parents and children / cousins / whatever. Or, and maybe my favorite, self-love — again, not the erotica version — wherein the main character really learns to love themselves and everything they have to offer their respective world. And when you start including all of those kinds of love into your consideration, I think you’ll be even more hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t include at least one of them.


So, is it necessary? No, not entirely. But does it usually benefit the depth of your story and characters? Absolutely.

If you do have romance in your fiction, tell us about your favorite pairings. Why are they your favorite?
If we’re talking about tropes, I very much love a good girl / bad boy (or the reverse!) where each half of the couple is from an entirely different world and they bring each other into their own world and find their own, combined place to build their happiness somewhere in the middle. I am also a huge fan of long term friends slowly growing into lovers. It feels like it is among one of the more realistic ways to build a relationship to me and just generally makes me happy.

However, if we’re talking favorite ‘ships in our own writing, I also have two favorites in this category within my huge universe and cast of characters. One is Nick and Audrey. I adore them for a few reasons. One, they were the couple that started it all. Without them, my series wouldn’t even exist. So, for that reason alone, I feel like they will be my forever favorites. However, I also just love how pure their relationship is. The two of them are truly just two halves of the same whole and always have each other’s backs, no matter what.

My second favorite couple in my series was actually an accidental couple. Back when I used to consistently write and share short prompt-based pieces based in my universe with a Livejournal community called Runaway Tales, a whole new plot arc developed in my universe that sprung forth a new relationship between Colin and Erika in the coffee shop they both work for. They quickly became my favorite likely because they fit into both of my favorite tropes listed above and they’re both incredibly sarcastic people who really play off each other well.


What are your thoughts on romance in fiction?