BOOK REVIEW: SMALL FAVORS BY ERIN A. CRAIG

Enter not the forest deep. Beyond the bells, the dark fiends keep.

Summer is slowly winding down. The changing of the seasons brings with it the chill of autumn, ripe with spooky tales and creepy crawlies. Who doesn’t like a twisted tale that makes you glance over your shoulder?

Small Favors is the perfect book to read during the tail-end of summer, when nights are starting to become longer and colder. This is author Erin A. Craig’s second novel. Her first book, House of Salt and Sorrows, was a NYT bestseller and one of my personal favorite reads this year. You can check out that review here.

Here’s the synopsis for Small Favors:

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

Craig draws upon the same elements in Small Favors that made House of Salt and Sorrows such a riveting success: creepy vibes, strangers with dark secrets, and a young girl trying to save her family from destruction.

One of the main themes in the book is the sense of community, of family, and how painful it can be when the bonds that hold us all together begin to fray. It also touches on the chaos that inevitably comes after a community implodes into itself, when people who were once viewed as friends are suddenly regarded upon as strangers, or worse: enemies with a familiar face.

The pace of the storytelling and drama increases gradually throughout the book, the tension mounting and building up until the very last page. There is mystery upon mystery, and the town seems to be the epicenter of it all. The tension in the story slowly becomes more taut as the narrative progresses, until everything becomes so tightly woven that something has to give. Which, of course, it eventually does. The last arc of the book, where everything gets resolved, are complete page-turners. I don’t recommend starting the final few chapters just before bed, unless you don’t have to wake up early the next day!

What I also appreciated about Small Favors is that not all of the characters are redeemable. I genuinely believe this is a strength to Craig’s storytelling. Not everyone can have a happily ever after. And frankly, not everyone deserves to be forgiven for their terrible sins and choices.

Overall, the book has just the right amount of claustrophobia that is reminiscent of stories with spooky vibes and undercurrents of mystery and horror. As things begin to crumble around Ellerie and her family, the feeling of being stuck with nowhere to go becomes stronger.

If you enjoy stories with a single point-of-view, that are slow-burning and heavily lean into unsolved mysteries and family secrets, then I highly recommend this book. Hopefully Craig writes another one soon!

Book review: Project Hail Mary

With a title like ‘Project Hail Mary’, you figure that whatever stakes there are in the story, they must be high. And for this story in particular, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Our sun is dying. Energy – the literal light is being leeched by an interstellar bacteria dubbed astrophage, feeding off of our star’s light. The sun dims at the same rate as astrophage brightens. No one knows anything about this new threat. How does it feed? How does it breed, and most importantly: where did it come from?

Only one thing is certain: the consequences of the sun’s dimming will be devastating. Global collapse of the world’s agricultural systems. Ecological devastation. War. Civil unrest. Pestilence.

The only way to have a fighting chance at saving Earth is to follow the astrophage back to their home planet, study it, and see what its weakness is. It’s a one-way journey. Here’s the synopsis:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

THE PROS

One of the (many) successes of this book is that regardless of what is going on in the story, there is a constant sense of dread. Weir is particularly gifted at making it very clear how many ways this mission will likely go sideways, either on Earth or out in space. Every second that Grace takes to determine his surroundings means one more second of potential chaos on Earth. And time is running out quickly.

Project Hail Mary was very difficult to put down, as there was always something new and exciting that made me want to read more. The stakes were unbelievably high (saving the Earth and all human kind? No biggie). And reading about the science was really interesting.

Now, as a non-science person myself, I really appreciated how Weir explained very difficult concepts (well, difficult to me at least) in a really approachable way. Weir is a devout space nerd and hobbyist, and it shows in the quality of the writing that he indeed did a lot of research to make this book seems as fluid as it is. It made the story that much more realistic, and even if I didn’t grasp every scientific concept brushed upon in the book, I understood enough to follow along with the story and see the impact.

This book was an automatic five-star read for me. The story is told in two timelines: the present, where Grace is on the Hail Mary, and the past, which come in the form of burst of his memories. These memories also happen to contextualize what is happening in the present, and I found it a brilliant way to show the reader what happened, without telling them outright. The back and forth also did a great job in cranking up the tension, especially as it becomes clear that Earth’s position is even more dire than initially thought.

And, without giving any spoilers…the ending of the book was one of the most beautiful I’ve read in a long time. I teared up a bit reading those last few pages, and was completely taken by surprise.

THE CONS

Now, ‘cons’ is a strong word for me being really nitpicky about a few things in an otherwise fantastic book. But every work has parts that aren’t as strong as the whole.

Ryland Grace is a multi-dimensional character, and the flashbacks peel away aspects of his personality in a really elegant and thoughtfully executed way. One of Weir’s strengths as a writer is creating main characters that are easy to relate to.

Now, on to the ‘but’: For all of Ryland Grace’s personality traits, he reads very much like Mark Watney, the main character of Weir’s debut science fiction novel The Martian. They share near identical types of humour and react very similarly to different situations. Personally, I didn’t care much, since I enjoyed reading The Martian and liked the humor injected into the story. But I do concede that it might annoy readers.

Another nitpicky thing with some of the tertiary characters from Earth in the story is that they sometimes come across as a little one-dimensional according to their nationality. For example, Russians enjoying vodka, or Canadians being unabashedly positive. These are characters who do not appear for very long, and for whom it wouldn’t make sense to delve into their backstories for longer than necessary. But, it’s something important to mention.

If you enjoy science fiction stories, dystopias, or epic adventures, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Project Hail Mary ASAP. You won’t regret it!

Book review: House of Salt and Sorrows

Oh, I liked this book.

House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.

I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.

Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.

Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.

Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.

And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.

As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.

What would you do if you lost your imagination?

Have you pre-ordered your copy of The Imagination Machine yet? The Imagination Machine is a tale of friendship, adventure, and creativity. 

Sam thinks he has lost his imagination. When his friend Ophelia finds out, she offers to help him find it using the Imagination Machine! The machine has the power to bring you anywhere you can imagine. All you need to do is draw where you want to go.

I had so much fun putting this story together. As a young girl, I often worked on elaborate drawings and thinking up stories that went along with them. That creative streak is still with me today, and fuels my writing.

You can now pre-order your digital or hardcover copy of The Imagination Machine via kickstarter

By backing us, not only will you help in bringing this project to life, but you’ll also have the opportunity to get your copy of The Imagination Machine before anyone else. And to sweeten the deal, you’ll also have access to exclusive goodies like activity pages, a coloring book, and stickers!

Pre-Order your copy of The Imagination Machine today!

What would you do if you lost your imagination?

Today is a very exciting day. After months and months of hard work planning, writing, and illustrating, my latest illustrated children’s book is finally open to pre-orders!

The Imagination Machine is a tale of friendship, adventure, and creativity. 

Sam thinks he has lost his imagination. When his friend Ophelia finds out, she offers to help him find it using the Imagination Machine! The machine has the power to bring you anywhere you can imagine. All you need to do is draw where you want to go.

You can now pre-order your digital or hardcover copy of The Imagination Machine via kickstarter

By backing us, not only will you help in bringing this project to life, but you’ll also have the opportunity to get your copy of The Imagination Machine before anyone else. And to sweeten the deal, you’ll also have access to exclusive goodies like activity pages, a coloring book, and stickers!

Must-read indie books for Spring

Do you read books by indie authors? The blockbuster hits are, of course, incredible. Who can forget A Song of Achilles, or Throne of Glass?

But recently, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for indie books, and by extension indie authors. There are so many good stories published by small presses, or self-published by authors themselves. As a small-press author myself, I know how even just a little recognition can go a long way.

Here are some indie reads that you should absolutely check out:

The Soft Fall, by Marissa Byfield

Genre: YA Fantasy / Roman Myth retelling

Demon wolves roam the forest, the villagers all said. Dianna had been warned to stay away.
She didn’t listen. Now every full moon Dianna slinks into the cellar beneath the barn. Into the cage made by her brother to protect her secret. One that would get her burned at the stake by the village leaders if discovered.

The heirs to the throne disappear just as their enemies lay siege to the empire. Famine hits the village as it struggles to survive. Dianna does what she can to hunt and help. But her secret is discovered when she transforms during an attack. Captured and imprisoned, Dianna must find a way to escape. If she does, she has only one direction to go. Into the heart of the forest where she was cursed.

The Soft Fall is a refreshingly new take on the werewolf genre that mixes classic tenets with new ideas. In Byfield’s world, the wolves are prisoners of their own bodies. They are not inherently evil, just cursed.

The plot to the book is well-paced, and the features a diverse set of characters. Byfield writes with a poetic eloquence that makes it hard to put the story aside. It’s incredibly well-written, and an absolute must-read for any fantasy or Roman mythology fans! Dianna is a strong, independent young woman who will not bend to the expectations that others have for her. She is her own person who fights for those she loves while desperately trying to understand her place in the world.


Check out The Soft Fall on Amazon!

Clockwork Detective, by R. A. McCandless

Genre: Steampunk / Fantasy

Aubrey Hartmann left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druwyd in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae.

Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs and a monster of pure destruction. 

The Clockwork Detective was the first Steampunk novel that I read, and I loved it! I have the highest praise for McCandless’s book. Aubrey is a nuanced protagonist, who is both strong yet vulnerable, with flaws that make her human and relatable. The story itself kept me on my toes, as political interests weave in with the magical. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and anything in between.


Steampunk and fantasy come together in this heart-stopping detective novel that hits all the right tones. There’s mystery, hints of romance, and controversy afoot. Aubrey must solve the mystery of the murdered Druwyd, and fast, before the Imperium decide to go to war with the fae roaming the ancient woods near Aquilinne.

Check out The Clockwork Detective on Amazon!

The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, by Tiffany Lafleur

Genre: YA Fantasy

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people.

Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own. 

A Forgotten Past is the first book in The Sapeiro Chronicles trilogy. Lily is a complex character who finds herself in the middle of a years-long secret conflict, a conflict she wants nothing to do with. But Lily will need to weigh her resistance to adventure with the consequences of not partaking. A whole kingdom hangs in the balance while she decides which side to take.

Sapeio is a grand land, where everyone has inherited a touch of magic. A Forgotten Past is a fast-paced novel that is at heart uplifting, at times heart-wrenching.

Check out A Forgotten Past on Amazon.

Republic of Ruin, by L. Blaise Hues

Genre: YA Dystopia / Post-apocalyptic

Forget life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Surviving is a feat in and of itself.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Hudson immerses herself in the few things the Supply Wars haven’t destroyed—her ranch work and secret baseball games with her best friend. But her power-hungry stepmother is leading a group of domestic terrorists in an effort to start another Civil War and frame Ellie as the instigator.

Ellie’s lost her father, her home, and her country, but nothing can rob her of her need to preserve the American dream…or what’s left of it.

I had the absolute pleasure of being an ARC reader for L. Blaise Hues’ Legacy of Debris series, which includes three books, the first of which is Republic of Ruin.

An EMP attack has completely obliterated what we know the modern world to be. No more power, no more technology, only you and your skills. In the power vacuum left in the dust, some want to rise from the ashes and elect themselves as rulers. What I found most enthralling about the Legacy of Debris series was how realistic it was. This is not a story where you need to suspend your understanding of reality. The circumstances that led to the apocalypse are unfortunately not that far-fetched.

Republic of Ruin has all the makings of a classic in the genre: a heroic heroine, a nation holding itself together by a thread, a budding romance. But it also has elements that make it unique. Each book in the series is also a fairy-tale retelling. And let me tell you, it works surprisingly well!

Check out Republic of Ruin on Amazon.


The Wise One, by K. T. Anglehart

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy / Witches

Mckenna’s never thought much of her nightmares, but on her seventeenth birthday, a vivid dream of burning at the stake awakens her dormant abilities, thrusting her into a world where faeries are real, spirits hold a grudge, and a High Priestess obsessed with a 16th-century prophecy is tracking her every move.

​Now, her overprotective dads, Seán and Andre, are forced to tell her the truth—they know who her birth mother is, and her life is not the surrogate story she’s ​always ​been told. Abigail, Mckenna’s mom, is some sort of mystic, and Mckenna a Wise One. ​Whatever the hell that means.

​With the help of a persistent little wren and company of a newfound friend, Mckenna journeys to Ireland in search of her mother and real answers. Along the way, she learns to harness her innate magic and trust her intuition, as best she can anyway—Cillian, a kind and passionate delegate ​who crosses her path, is proving much harder to read. ​Only her mother could truly help her halt her ill fate and prepare her for what’s to come…before she gives in to the darkness she knows is buried deep within. 

The Wise one was a wonderfully witchy read, with strong elements of friendship and powerful family bonds that span oceans. Oh, and the best part? It’s set in the 90s!

The Wise One is a beautifully written book that takes us cross North America all the way to Ireland, where McKenna was born. As she embarks on her adventure of self-discovery, she makes friends along the way that help her in her search for her mother. But their motives might not be as genuine as they appear to be.

I read the whole book in like, two days. I had a very hard time putting it down, and I loved all the 90s references! An absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about witches, friendship, magic and prophecies.

Get your copy of The Wise One on Amazon!

Time to Live, Jordan Elizabeth

Genre: NA Urban Fantasy

A witch’s magical orbs. Clan Wars that have lasted centuries. A heritage shrouded in secrecy.
Welcome to seventeen-year-old Banon Andreeta’s world.

Banon is a child of Clan Genae and can do things most people can’t. Which might account for her rebellious behavior. Or maybe she’s just a magnet for trouble. Either way, she’s in hot water more often than the average teen. When she rejects Fred, a random creep at the mall, she makes an enemy who will bring unwanted attention from Clan Julae, her own clan’s mortal enemy.

She also makes a friend in Clan Julae – the intriguing Hadley. Drawn to each other, neither understands the forces behind the attraction. Or that they are from opposing clans. Hadley only knows Banon is in danger and he must protect her. But the long-standing Clan War is not as much in the past as the Genae thought. Their very existence is threatened by enemies known and unknown. And the only thing between them and death is Banon. A secret weapon even they don’t know they have.

Time to Live is a beautiful story of love that spans hundreds of years. But it’s also a story of betrayal and the power that lies have when they become perceived truths. The characters were well developed and I found myself unable to put the book down as I rooted for them to achieve their goals!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and was impressed with how the author was able to jump between timelines seamlessly. I look forward to the sequel! Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading urban fantasy. 

Check Time to Live on Amazon!

Win a FREE copy of A Forgotten Past!

Question: do you set yourself a reading goal for the year?

This year, my goal is to read 25 books. I’m currently making my way through my 11th book, and I’m super stoked that I’m way ahead of the goal I set for myself!

In other fun news: I’m super thrilled to be hosting a giveaway on Instagram! This week I reached 3000 followers, and to celebrate I’m giving away one free eBook version of The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past!

Check out the rules here. Entering is super easy. Make sure to tag all of your bookish friends!

And hey, if you did happen to read the Sapeiro Chronicles, consider leaving a review on Goodreads and Amazon. Each review helps get my book in the hands of someone else who enjoys reading YA Fantasy!

Hurry up! Giveaway ends on April 16th!

Sapeiro Chronicles wins Silver in Literary Titan Book Awards

Some good news for 2021…The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past has officially won Silver in the Literary Titan Book Award!

This award makes my little Author heart ever so happy. It’s a small recognition, but one I am very proud of nonetheless. Not to mention that it starts the year off wonderfully!

You can read their full review here, as well as an author interview I did here.

Have you read A Forgotten Past yet? Get your copy on Amazon today: https://amzn.to/2V79PPO

ON THE PATH TO YOUR FIRST DRAFT: FIGURE OUT YOUR WRITING STYLE FIRST

Maybe you have an idea for a story that’s been kicking around in your head, screaming to be let out, nurtured, and put on paper. It might have come to you just as you were falling asleep, or as you were on your fourth kilometer while jogging around the block. But now, it’s here and it isn’t letting you rest easy.

It’s time to write it down and make the jump from half-baked idea to a full-fledged narrative. Cue the sudden realization that writing a whole book is…well, it can feel overwhelming. The first milestone is hammering out that first draft.

Here’s where it gets tricky, and this is where a lot of fledgling (and even well-seasoned) writers get stuck: writing the ominous, terrifying first initial draft.

But how does one write a first draft? Surely there are steps that must be accomplished before sitting down with your hot beverage of choice, a solid amount of motivation, and a healthy amount of optimism.

I’m here to tell you that yes, yes there is. There are indeed many things to consider before putting pen to paper for the first time. Character sketches, maps, floor designs, plotting the narrative, story development are but a few things to consider working on before writing.

It may seem like a lot. Take a deep breath. Good. Now, here’s the question of the day for you: what kind of writer are you?

It may seem innocuous enough. And may also seem completely irrelevant to writing a first draft. But determining what kind of writer you are may help in figuring out what kind of planning you need to do before sitting down to write.

From my musings with other writers, I’ve noticed there are two overarching ‘types’ of writers: those who write without a plan, and those who write with one.  

Both are equally good ways of writing a story. Personally, I’m a planner who writes. I don’t feel comfortable writing unless I have over-analyzed the whole world I’m trying to build. But Stephen King is perhaps the best-known writer who just writes, without tethering himself to a plan. And to give complete credit where credit is due, I think Mr. King has written enough stories at this point in his career that he can absolutely do whatever he wants.  

Before sitting down and working on your story, determine which type of writer you are. There are pros and cons of each style, and becoming familiar with the pitfalls or advantages will really help determine how to approach your first draft.

The ‘just do it’ writers

These writers don’t plan. They have an idea and execute it as the story evolves in their minds. After a first draft is written, they reexamine their story and try to find common threads that can be tied together and exploited to strengthen the storyline.

The advantage of this approach to writing is that the absence of a plan can feel liberating. You can do whatever you want! Your muse will guide you! The characters will speak for themselves! The story may even feel more authentic because even you, the writer, are flying by the seat of your pants!

There may not be much room to plan in this stage, and so the prevalent concern is to keep writing. Not having a story outline may feel freeing, but the weight of the blank page staring back at you feels a lot heavier when you don’t have a captain to steer the ship.

What’s important to keep in mind when pumping out your first draft is that the quality really doesn’t matter much. The longer you stay stuck in a particularly knotty area of your story, the longer you’re ignoring the rest of the narrative.

And here’s where the downside of this technique comes in: when you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of the big picture while you agonize over details. Or, even worse, lose motivation to write after you’ve written yourself into a corner and can’t see a way out.

For ‘just-do-it’ writers, it’s important to remember that what counts is to keep writing, no matter how thorny or difficult the task may seem. Things can be altered, and since you haven’t adhered to any firm plan, everything can be changed anyway. But the crucial bit is hunkering down and pecking away at the keyboard, stringing sentences together so they make sense.

A good tip to unstructured writing is to structure your time. Set yourself a goal for how long you want to write, undisturbed, and then stick to it. And no matter how eloquently the siren of distraction calls, keep your butt glued to that writing chair until you’ve completed the required time to do so. Best to fit it into your schedule, or risk being at the mercy of ‘inspiration’.

The planners

As a planner myself, this method is what I subscribe to and fully endorse. I’ve tried the unstructured writing, but to be completely honest, I find it stressful. So I’ve always over-planned my stories, going into the nitty gritty of character development and plot structure before ever considering putting pen to paper. I draw maps, sketch out characters, and concoct whole backstories for my main characters, including the antagonists.

The planning method of writing means exactly that: planning the nitty-gritty of the story, the narrative arc, and plot structure so you get an idea of the big picture before sitting down to write.

The advantage of the planning method of writing is that staring at a blank page isn’t as intimidating, since you already broadly know what you want to say. It’s just a question of how you want to phrase it. By breaking it up into little chunks, it also minimizes the burden of knowing you need to write a whole book, because you can take the story one chapter at a time. It’s a nice way to confidently chug away at the narrative that was oh-so-brilliantly charted out by a past version of yourself. This way, you can blindly follow along to the arc that was pre-determined and concentrate on throwing words on the paper.

The downside of planning so much of the story ahead of time is that it may result in the story feeling forced, or at some point the narrative may outgrown the arc you’re trying to force through. In these instances, it’s totally okay to switch up the plan you had on the fly and spend some time re-charting your course, if you know it isn’t going anywhere anymore.

So, what now?

Hopefully, by this point you’ve giving some thought to what kind of writer you are, and what steps you may need to take before sitting down and typing out the first draft of your masterpiece. And don’t forget, you are also free to combine the two methods to create your own hybrid version that works perfectly just for you! Nothing is stopping you!

When I was writing the first draft of my Young Adult Fantasy novel, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, I first spent countless hours delving into the culture, religion, and structure of the land. Then I agonized over character development and sketched out key locations. After that, I loosely plotted out what I wanted to happen, and used that plan to then section the whole novel into chapter blurbs. These chapter blurbs were the foundation of the first draft, and although the final result was immeasurably different from that initial first 50,000-word draft, sectioning it as I did helped in taking it one step at a time and, more importantly, see the big picture.  

THE IMPORTANCE OF A BAD FIRST DRAFT

Writing is stressful. It isn’t this blissfully serene activity, where writers spend their days on high-backed chairs sipping a perfectly roasted cup of coffee while story arcs magically plot and write themselves.

No. every word choice is agonizing. Every plot twist takes time and preparation to, well, plot.

From the second draft to the fourth (or fifth, tenth, or how ever many it may take to get to a final), stress levels are high as you boil down the words to their most perfect form, and strip away any imperfections within the narrative arc.

But here’s the thing: a lot of writers stress about this in their first draft. And that’s a bad thing. You may be asking yourself: “but shouldn’t my first draft be the best it can be so I can build from there?”

Here’s the short answer: no, it doesn’t.

The longer, more elaborate answer is that your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, because perfection isn’t the goal.

No story is perfect, ever, but especially in the first few drafts. The story is still figuring out what it is trying to be. Even if you, the writer, may think you have everything perfectly plotted out and ready to go. The story needs room to breathe and expand.

The only expectation you should ever have of a first draft is to have it written. It doesn’t need to be good. Doesn’t even need to have all the pieces. It just needs to be on paper, and it needs to be finished in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the first draft, the focus should be on story and making sure the main plot points are all in the right-ish order.  

You can always go back and tinker with the writing to your heart’s content. But focusing on the writing is kind of like choosing an outfit without looking at the forecast: might work out, but you might need to get changed. When you focus on the story, then you can make sure the pacing is good, the characters are where they need to be at the right time, and all the steps are in place.

The first draft is as bad as your story will ever get. It’s all improvement from this point on.

I’m a huge advocate of a bad first draft. My first draft for A Forgotten Past was just under 50,000 words. A few dozen drafts later, and the final was just over 100,000. The first draft was not publishable. Neither was the second or third. I would never have dreamed of sending it to an agent.

And that alleviated a lot of pressure. The stakes were lower. This draft just needed to be done, typos, mistakes, and run-on sentences galore. I didn’t care, because it didn’t matter. No one, short of a few trusted friends, would ever read that monstrosity.

But because I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I was able to get a first draft out in a few short months. And from there, I refined, re-plotted, re-wrote, and edited, edited, edited.

All the writers I know all agree on one thing: it’s a lot easier to edit than to write. Staring at a blank page is awful. The stakes are so high, needlessly so.

But editing is a thing of beauty. You have an outline, maybe not a clear one, but an idea is beginning to form, and it just needs some polishing. Your first draft is the putty that you need to sculpt your masterpiece. It needs to be sculpted and mashed and cut and worried for it to resemble something worth displaying.

Without that first bad draft of A Forgotten Past, I might never have finished the whole book. Or maybe I’d still be writing it. But by hanging up my pride as a writer and embracing a get-‘er done attitude, I was able to have fun just writing and throwing ideas onto a page for an older and wiser version of myself to edit at a later time.

The more time you waste on trying to find the exact, perfect word to describe something, the less time and energy you have on building your story.

And remember: story is everything. Readers will forgive a good book that is written okay. But good writing cannot cover for a bad story.