Guest post: "Six Things a Writer Needs," by Roxanne Bland

In my writing career (which is admittedly not very long) I’ve learned several things about the craft, but more important, about myself as a writer. Talking to people has reinforced some of these views, which I share with you here.

1.  Solitude

Writing is by nature a solitary profession. Every writer needs alone time to dream, to plan…to write. I know, it’s sometimes hard to come by, especially if you have a family to accommodate. How I do it is to get up when most people are already asleep—that is, two or three in the morning, shut myself up in my little office and have at it. I have a day job, so I slave on my project until it’s time to get ready for work. Yes, it means I get less sleep, but my body’s adjusted to it, so it’s not so bad. I know of authors who can be alone even in the midst of a crowd of people. They write in coffee shops, a city park, or wherever. They can just tune out their surroundings. That’s great for them! I’ve never been able to do that. For me, the distractions are overwhelming—people talking, walking by, or whatever. Heck, sometimes the people in my head are a distraction. Then I have to tell them to shut up, sit down, and wait their turn. If you don’t have a quiet place, but can’t tune out the world, get a pair of noise-canceling headphones. They’re wonderful.

2.  A Social Network

Yes, I know what I just said. But too much solitude can lead to disconnecting from the real world. Humans are a social species, and relating to one another is, to my mind, crucial to our mental well-being. Even the most solitary writer has to go into town to buy provisions. And that’s the beauty of the internet and social networks. It may not be as good as interacting with other people in a room, but at least it keeps one connected with real people. Where I live, there aren’t many people I can socialize with, so I’ve turned to Facebook and other social networks. I’ve made some real friends there, people with whom I can share my ups and downs without feeling awkward. I’ve actually met a few of them, and some of us talk on the phone as much as through social media.    

3.  A Writing Group

Also known as a critique group, this is vital for any author wanting to learn or improve her writing. These are people who read your manuscript, and then comment on what they think about it. Here are a couple of observations if you’re thinking of joining an established group. First, are they just back-slapping? You want honest feedback, not a chorus of yes-people. Is the criticism constructive? I checked out one critique group where the criticism was so harsh, one woman was in tears. Needless to say, I did not go back. If you’re looking for a group, check your local meetups. Or, you can join an online critique group. That’s what I did. We email chapters to each other and meet twice a month via Google Hangouts. It works out well.

4.  A Library

This might seem obvious, but it’s so important. One thing that writers do is read. A lot. They read within and without their genre, and fiction and non-fiction. It’s a great way to observe other authors’ styles and maybe even learn things some things. When I run across an author I like, I look at the way they write, their use of words and phrases. Then I take what I want and incorporate it into my own style of writing.

And in that library should be…

5.  Dictionary/Thesaurus/Manuals of Style

This might seem obvious, too, but it can’t be stressed enough. Have you ever read an author who uses the same words over and over again? Or uses a word incorrectly? That’s where the thesaurus and dictionary come in. My thesaurus is well-thumbed (I have an online version, too) as well as my dictionary (yes, I have an online version of that)! For me, the dictionary is especially important as sometimes a word doesn’t mean what I think it means. Manuals of style include Strunk & White, Chicago, and AP (Associated Press). I use Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style. Others use the AP version, and still others use both the Chicago and the AP. But everybody uses Strunk & White’s. It might be old, but it certainly hasn’t outlived its usefulness. Invaluable tools, all of them.

6.  Books on the Craft

A writer should have a number of these. There are some very, very good ones out there, but I think one of the best is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He lays it out simply in his inimitable voice that’s easy to read and understand. Another great one is Donald Maas, Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice to Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level.

Happy writing!



In the world-building tradition of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Moreva of Astoreth is a blend of science fiction, romance, and adventure in a unique, richly imagined imperialistic society in which gods and science are indelibly intertwined. It is the story of the priestess, scientist, and healer Moreva Tehi, the spoiled, headstrong granddaughter of a powerful deity who is banished for a year to a volatile far corner of the planet for neglecting to perform her sacred duty, only to venture into dangerous realms of banned experimentation, spiritual rebirth, and fervent, forbidden love.

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I've been a fugitive from reality since forever. As a child, I constantly made up stories--some would call them lies--about my family, friends, neighbors and even strangers on the street. I had friends that only I could see. Oh, the adventures we had! 

Learning to read was a revelation. Words fascinated me. Whole new worlds opened up, and since my parents forbade nothing, I read everything. Some of it I didn't quite understand, but I didn't mind. I read it anyway. I even read the dictionary. When I was a little older, I was big on mysteries--English cozy mysteries, that is, Agatha Christie, were my favorites. Then I graduated to horror. Whenever a new book came out by Stephen King, Peter Straub or Dean Koontz, I was first in line. I was reading a little science fiction at this time--Robert Heinlein and authors like him--but I really didn't get into it until I was in college. The same with fantasy. I really got into high fantasy--Lord of the Rings style--in college. 

During this time I was still making up stories, but not writing them down. They were private. Besides, I thought my family and friends would laugh at me. In fact, the only story I recall writing was one that won a contest when I was in elementary school.

So anyway, life goes on. I went to law school. After I graduated and entered the workforce, I finally started writing down my stories. I wrote a bit here and there, short stories that never saw the light of day (which was probably a good thing). Then I fell ill. I had the flu for a month. Bored out of my skull, I started writing a piece of fan fiction, though I didn't know that's what it was at the time. I showed it to a friend of mine who suggested I finish the story. 

Well, that piece of fan fiction fell by the wayside, but in its place came a manuscript that would eventually become my first book, The Underground. I absolutely adored writing it. I absolutely adore writing, period. Slipping into that alternate reality for hours on end, there was a time in my life when it was called daydreaming and I got into trouble for it. Now it's legitimate. And that's the best part of all.

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