Tag Archives: Ellie Soderstrom

Upon Emerging from a Deep and Abiding Funk

You may have noticed that I haven’t made a blog post these last couple days. Probably you didn’t notice.That’s okay too.

Were have I been? I’ve been battling my way through the absolute worst bout of depression I have seen in years. And it was bad. It got so bad, I seriously considered quitting. I thought, if writing is going to bring me this much grief then what’s the point? Why go on with something that hurts me so badly?

Fortunately I have a loving wife who gave me as much encouragement as she could, and put up with my black moods for nearly a week, and that helped me get over my desire to quit writing. Also, Ellie Soderstrom said she’d kill me if I stopped.

However, some things are going to change. Specifically, I’m shifting my attitude about blogging. Trying to get something new posted every day is part of the reason I think I burned out so badly. I had an expectation of what I could do with this blog that fell far short of reality, and it hit me all at once and took me down hard.

So for the time being at least, I’m backing off on that. It’s not that I’m going to quit blogging entirely, but I’m no longer going to strive to put something up for every weekday. After all, it’s not as if I have anything to say writing-wise that you can’t hear somewhere else, from someone better qualified and probably far more interesting.

So, I’m going to give myself permission not to blog when I don’t feel like it. I’m also going to stop trying to hit any kind of arbitrary word count.

Because somewhere in the middle of the terror that was last week, I realized that I wasn’t having any fun anymore. Blogging had become a dull and tedious ritual. I know that there are some things we should do regardless of how we feel. But it isn’t exactly as if blogging is bringing in the big bucks for me. It’s not even bringing in the little does. (Hunting humor: a sure sign you’ve been working in Sporting Goods for way too long.)

Put differently, this is not my job. And since I already get depressed often enough about the job I have, why should I let blogging add to that pile?

It’s possible I’m way off base with all of this. Maybe I should keep pushing through, regardless of how I feel. It wouldn’t be the first time I wrote something that I ended up disagreeing with later. But for now, I’m gonna take it easy. Hopefully it will help me improve my outlook and avoid falling into another nasty week-long funk.

If not at least I can promise you one thing: whatever happens, you can read about it on my blog.

Abandonment Issues

Someone smarter than me (And probably richer too, so why should I bother to look up his name?) once said, “Novels are never finished. They are only abandoned.”

Unfortunately for us tortured penmonkeys, that does not mean that we can just give up in the middle of writing our book and expect someone to pay actual money for it. What it does mean is, “Your book is never going to be perfect, and you can only do so much revising, so eventually you’re going to have to learn to be happy with what you have and just put it out there, bucko.”

It’s a reality that every writer who ever plans to publish anything must face. And earlier this month it stared me straight in the eyes.

I was putting the finished touches on The Mulch Pile. I had done multiple edits on my own, in addition to farming out proofreading work to people nice enough to do it for free. (Speaking of which, huge thanks to Creste Meyer and Ellie Soderstrom for volunteering to help me make my work as pristine as possible.)

I was coming into the home stretch, reading through the story one last time, applying some final edits, when I was struck with a stunning realization:

The Mulch Pile I had written nearly two years ago was not the story I would have written today.

Okay, so maybe it should have been all that stunning. But it was somewhat disconcerting. After all that hard work, writing, rewriting, tweaking, rewriting some more…all of that and yet somehow looking back over it my current writer self was saying, “I could have done this better.”

It’s possible that’s just wishful thinking. It’s possible that everything I’ve learned in the past two years wouldn’t have improved the story of The Mulch Pile at all. But somehow I doubt it. I feel in my heart that if I had it to do over again, I could have created a better, more focused story and crafted a plot with better structure.

And yet The Mulch Pile went live a week later, largely unchanged.

Why? Is it because I’m a lazy bum, and I’m sick and tired of looking at this thing, obsessing over every little word, every turn of phrase and every hidden symbolic clue that no one’s likely to pick up on anyway?

Well, yes. But also, it’s because I’m not the writer I used to be.

The writer I used to be wrote The Mulch Pile. And it’s a good story. Not perfect mind you, but good. And if I let the writer that I am get pulled into constantly trying to improve and rewrite, I could get bogged down with this one story for the rest of my life.

Because the truth is, I’m getting better. I’ve been getting better over those two intervening years, and I plan to continue getting better over the years to come. The writer I am has his own stories to write. And the writer I’m going to be may very well look back on the stuff I’m doing today, and think, “I could have done it better.”

But he won’t. He won’t, because he won’t have time. He’ll be working on his own projects. Because life is about motion. It’s about moving forward.

The Mulch Pile was the best story the writer I was could have written. And with that I am satisfied.

How about the rest of you? Ever have to let go of one story so that you could move on to another? Share your tale of abandonment in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

Managing the Mushy Middle

If you woke up this morning thinking, “You know, I’d really like to hear an incremental progress report on the collaborative work of two unpublished authors” then today is your lucky day, my friend. It is my pleasure to announce that the rough draft of our “aliens meet clockwork robots meet romantic fantasy” story has just crossed the planned halfway mark of fifty thousand words!

Since we’re here at the halfway point, I thought this might be a good time to bring up something I hear a lot of authors out there struggling with. It’s a little condition I like to call Midpoint Malaise.

Based on the data derived from me sitting here and thinking about it for about thirty seconds I believe that I can state conclusively that Midpoint Malaise is the single biggest reason novels don’t get finished. It’s that part of the story where you’ve started to fall out of love a little bit with the idea of writing your novel. Maybe the plot has started to go astray from what you thought you knew. The map has gone fuzzy, and you’re not sure which road is the right road to take you through to your grand finale ending.

So you get discouraged. You stop writing for a few days. And a few days turns into a few weeks, and after that you go back and look at your manuscript and think, “Unholy Cthulhu, did I write this? What was I thinking? This is terrible.”

And so you quit.

Well gents and lady-gents, I’m here to set you straight. First, and possibly most important, it’s okay to hate your manuscript. In fact I’d say at some point it’s inevitable. You know why? Because your manuscript sucks. Not all of it, probably, but parts of it? Sure. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.

The problem isn’t that you’re a terrible writer. You may be a terrible writer, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that you stopped. You got bored. You lost your momentum. And now you hate your work so much you may never finish it.

Because, lets face it, the middle ain’t sexy.

Beginnings are sexy. You’re full of the flush of new ideas, and you’ve got it all lined up in your head, and when those first words spill out onto the page it’s pure magic.

Endings are sexy. There’s stuff blowing up, the bad guy finally gets vanquished, the hero gets the girl, and the world is saved.

But middles aren’t sexy. You’re developing characters, working through plot points, struggling desperately not to get sucked into the gears of the machine that is the story you’ve created.

But there is a cure for Midpoint Malaise, and it’s a healthy dose of So What? Cream.

So you’ve started to fall out of love with your story? So What? So you dread the time you have to sit down in front of the keyboard and think through those words? So What?

Because if you’re gonna do this writing thing, you need to know that it isn’t all going to be fireworks and unicorns. Some of it is going to be boring, menial, mundane work.

Most of you know this already. But maybe you needed to be reminded. I know I need my butt kicked into action every now and then.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting the good fight. And whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep that momentum rolling and you can accomplish great things.

The Happy Dance Manifesto

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the little circle of blogs I follow lately. My writing partner Ellie Soderstrom has recently branched out from the group blog she contributed to in order to start her own little venture. Freelance writer Austin Wulf has taken his blog in more of a freestyle direction. And last, and most dramatic of the three, Evelyn LaFont better known to us Twitterites as The Keyboard Hussy has anounced she’ll stop posting on her writing blog altogether.

A while back I posted about the whiplash our little blogging community has had to Kristen Lamb’s assertion that writers shouldn’t write exclusively about writing, and in a way I see some of these changes as a culmination of that discussion.

For myself, I’ve undergone something of a blogging transformation as well. I remember when I started writing in earnest at the beginning of the year after reading Kristen’s “Freshly Pressed” post about how all writers should have a blog.

When I started I had in mind that this blog would turn into something of a powerful sales platform, that I’d wield my mighty blogging power to move my readers toward buying my books and stories. But it hasn’t worked out that way. I didn’t sell piles of books because of this blog. I sold more than I probably would have without it, but still…no cash cow here.

So you might be wondering: why should I keep blogging? Why put time and effort into something that isn’t going to pay off?

Because over the months since I’ve started doing this, I’ve realized that hoping blogging will “pay off” is the wrong mindset. I’ve written lots of things that didn’t “pay off.” There are stories that simply weren’t good enough to get published, short fiction I’ve posted here for absolutely free, and you know what? I don’t regret one word of it.

Because maybe we’re looking at this whole thing the wrong way. Do you know what pays off in my life? My job.

I go in to work every day, punch the clock, and do what I’m supposed to do. And every two weeks I get a paycheck.

No one ever asks me to love it. No one ever asks me if that’s my life’s calling. They all know it isn’t.

But writing…writing is different. I’d like to paid for what I do some day, just like lots of other authors out there. But I’m fully aware that lots of other authors out there are either unpublished or making far less than they need to support themselves. And I still keep writing.

And you want to know why? Because I can. Because I want to.

Money is great. And every time I see that someone has gone on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website and bought one of my stories I do a little happy dance.

Yes that’s right, you too, can have your very own Happy Dance custom designed by me for the low low price of 99 cents! For the Deluxe Happy Dance option, buy What the Dog Saw for $2.99!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that writing, whether it be novels, short stories, or blogging, doesn’t have to have a payoff. Call it lowered expectations if you want. Maybe you’re right.

But no matter what you call it, I’m gonna keep on rolling.


Adendum: A lot of these thought are sorta kinda inspired by Ignore Everybody by Hugh Macleod which I’ve been rereading lately. If you’re a “creative type” and you haven’t read this book, you really really should. That is all.

How to Collaborate on a Book Without Killing Yourself or Your Partner

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that me and Ellie Soderstrom are working together on a new story called…well I’m not sure what it’s called yet. Definitely not Stinky and the Cheese Have an Adventure I can tell you that much for sure.

If you’re wondering how such a collaboration gets started, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Basically I sent Ellie an email saying, “Hey, you ever think about collaborating on a story?” and the next thing I knew I was run over by a train full of awesome.

But while I was on my little blogging hiatus last week (oh and I’m back by the way, so hooray for me) I thought, “Maybe there’s someone out there in internet land who could glean something with three whole weeks of experience I have with this.” So without further dithering these are my top five tips for success in collaboration.

1. Trust is essential.

I’m not talking about the, “I’m willing to lend you my wallet full of money and I expect you not to spend it all on hats,” kind of trust. I’m talking about something deeper. When you collaborate on a story like this you’re sharing a small part of yourself with the person you’re working with. You’re throwing them ideas, and working with the ideas they throw at you, and you’d really better be sure that you and your partner are going in the same direction writingwise.

I’d known Ellie for a good while before I approached her with this idea. I’d been reading her blog posts, so I knew she had a healthy respect for the importance of story and character, and she’d done some edits on A Prairie Home Apocalypse: or What the Dog Saw so I knew she really understood the fundamental mechanics of prose. Also, and this is crucial, I knew she wasn’t lazy. Because the last thing you want to have in a collaboration is one person doing all the work.

No, scratch that. The last thing you want to have in a collaboration is one person doing all the work when that person is you.

2. Your partner isn’t psychic.

Actually, hey what to I know? Maybe you’re partner is psychic. But I’m not, and neither is Ellie. It sounds obvious, but there have been a number of times when I’ve been rattling on about some story element or other and Ellie would say, Wait where did that come from? Which means when I have an idea for a plot point or a character trait or…whatever I have to communicate that. It sounds obvious, but with all the intricate details that go into constructing a story like this, it’s easy to get lost in the fog.

Oh, and speaking of communication

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

This is a collaboration. On an entire book. Which means you’re going to spend a lot of time shooting ideas back and forth. For me this has been the most amazing phase of the process. Because it’s here that you really see the value of true collaboration. Me and Ellie have spent hours on the phone hammering out plot points, asking questions, making suggestions, fleshing out characters, you name it.

And there’s something about that time that really makes the story come alive. It’s different than just sitting in a room by yourself dreaming all that stuff up on your own. I’m not sure why it’s different, but trust me, it is.

4. We’re gonna need a bigger outline.

You’ve heard me talk about outlining here before. Outlining is my thorn in the flesh, my Achilles heel. But if you’re going to collaborate you have to outline.

Well, okay no. You don’t have to. You don’t have to do anything. You could do the clunky, “I’ll write a chapter then you write a chapter” thing. But in addition to the danger of falling into a Head You Lose style tiff with your writing partner, you’re also tying your hands timewise.

With a good outline and the clear sense of the direction of the story, me and Ellie can be working on different scenes simultaneously. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more encouraging to a writer than to take a look at the document your working on, and see that it’s grown by several thousand words while you were sleeping.

5. Learn to let go.

I hear a lot of writers say things like, “I want to have control over my work.” If you are this person, then collaboration is not for you. Because in every stage of the process you’re constantly having to give things up.

Maybe it’s a plot point that really sings to you, or a character that is just so cool. Whatever. You’re partner starts asking questions and you don’t have all the answers, and she says, “I’m not sure we really need that bit.”

And the thing is, she’s probably right. But you love that character with the tiny head growing on his thumb for no reason. You love that scene with the rodeo clown and the power outage. And you’ve got to let them go.

Because if you can’t convince your writing partner that they make sense, how are you going to convince your readers?

Bottom line: collaboration is great. If you can find the right partner. To be honest I’m having so much fun with this I’m not sure how I can go back to writing solo.

There’s more I could to say, but this blog post is already way over standard length anyway. Maybe I’ll come back to this topic in the future though. Until then you can check out what Ellie has to say about the whole thing.

Insert obligatory end-of-post “Have you ever gotten to collaborate with another writer?” plea for feedback here.

Collaboration Station

The writer is a mythological creature. He exists in the public mind as an anomaly, some mad genius hunched over a keyboard, fueled by coffee and whiskey, desperately churning out words of breathtaking brilliance. And when his labours are done he sends his work off to the publishers and they print it.

And he’s not real.

I’m not sure what it is about that view of the writer that is so enticing, but the truth is it just doesn’t work that way.

Most preposterous to me is this notion that the writer is an island, that he works alone to build his worlds of fancy, staking out new frontiers without regard for anyone or anything else.  For a long time I bought into that notion myself. Sure, maybe I needed help with the editing and rewrite process, but the initial draft? That was all me, baby.

Only I found an anomaly, a sticking point that made me wonder about the whole magical notion of writing. See, a while back I was watching the special features on one of the Pixar films and there was a segment about how they developed their stories. I clicked on it, half expecting to see some boring shots of some guy at his typewriter pounding out the script.

What I found instead was something of a revelation. The guys at Pixar had the entire movie planned out on little note cards with each card depicting a different element of a scene. There were maybe five or six of them in this one room talking and asking questions and arguing about the best way to move the story forward.

And I thought to myself, “Why don’t people write books like this?”

Of course the  obvious answer is that books are written and movies are visual, that visual mediums require more planning, more focus, more detail than written mediums. And while there is an element of truth to that argument, I think it misses the bigger picture entirely.

No one makes a movie by taking a camera out onto the street and looking for something to point it at. Well maybe someone does. But he’s probably French or something so he doesn’t count.

Point being that there’s very little room for the “magic” of writing in the movie world. There are a thousand little pieces that have to fit together, and the writing has to recognize that. In the making of a movie, the importance of the writer is set aside, and the importance of the story is elevated.

And I’m here to suggest that maybe we should take a crack at working with the same mindset on our books, and even, dare I say it? collaborating with other writers from the very beginning.

All of this has really been my long and drawn out way of announcing that I’ve started work on a new story with Ellie Soderstrom. We’ve been on the phone for hours in the last few days hammering out details of character and story, and despite my natural phobia of outlining the very nature of this project has forced me to sit down with a notebook and start sketching out plot details.

What I’ve found thus far is that collaboration is a powerful tool indeed. The way ideas can resonate in two minds, bounding back and forth building up power beyond what either could have imbued them with independently is nothing short of wondrous.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with writing alone. I’ve done almost all of my writing solo up until now. But if you can find a partner who you trust and respect I would challenge you to let go of a little of your independence and see if they can’t help you make your story that much better. I think the results may surprise you.


Some of you may know that I recently released a book.

For those of you who don’t, just so you know: I recently released a book.

My book has most of the normal book things in it. It has a title page, and a copyright page and a Dedication to My Totally Wonderful Wife page. Also there’s a story in there as well.

But one thing I did not include in my book was an Acknowledgements page.

Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found those Acknowledgement sections to be dry and boring litanies of people I don’t know doing things I don’t care about. When I see “Acknowledgements” I read “Skip This Section.” (The exception to this rule is Chuck Wendig’s Acknowledgements page for Irregular Creatures which was an absolute screaming hoot.)

But now that I’ve gone through the process of getting something ready to toss out into the cold and crowded world of ebooks I know why all those other authors wanted to include those lists of people who I didn’t know. The dirty secret is this: writing is a social process.

We think we can do it alone, but we can’t. We need support and advice and all kinds of prodding and poking to make our stories the best they can be.

So without further ado, I’m going to give you my Acknowledgements. These are people who helped to make this book what it is.

Ashley Berg

Is thanking your spouse a cliche? Well, yes, but for very good reason. In my dedication I said she would have loved me just as much if I had never written a word. And that’s the truth. Sometimes you need someone at your back screaming at you to go farther and do better. But sometimes you need someone by your side to tell you that it’s all gonna be okay. Every day I tell her how my writing went and no matter whether it was great or terrible she’s always there to encourage me. Every writer should be as lucky.

Ellie Anne Soderstrom

I’ve mentioned Ellie’s contribution here before, but it bears repeating. Ellie did a fantastic job of cleaning up the snaggling loose ends of my prose and making it all flow like it should. She also served as the projects head cheerleader. Knowing how much she liked the story really helped boost my self confidence about my writing and motivated me to make this release as good as possible.

Piper Bayard

If Ellie was the head cheerleader, Piper was the head coach. She was the one screaming at me in the locker room to get out there and clean up my act. Well, that may be a bit harsh. But she did give me a great critique that helped me clean up the ending of my story. She pitched in and helped to take it to the next level. She’s an awesome lady and a great writer.


Because it’s really his story when you get right down to it. For those of you who don’t know, Hoover is my dog. I never had a dog before I had Hoover. My family has had dogs and my wife had a dog when I married her, but Hoover is the first dog that I really felt I could call my own. His pure joy and enthusiasm inspired much of the character of the dog in the book, and it was him getting tangled up out in the hot Florida sun for hours when we were gone that first inspired me to write this story. He’s fine now by the way, chasing a squeaky toy as I’m writing this a generally being his awesome doggy self.

I could probably go on. In one way or another many many people in my life have helped to shape me into the writer I am today. But these are the major players for this particular work. These are the ones who made this book what it is today. If you read it and like it, they’re probably the reason why. If you hate it…well there’s obviously something wrong with you. I mean it’s a story about a dog who fights zombies. How can you not like that?

So again, thanks to all who helped to make this story what it is. And thanks to you dear reader. Without you this would all be in vain.