Creating a Writing Tribe

If you’re a writer, it’s likely that you spend a lot of time by yourself. While you can talk about your writing process, current WIP or latest bout of writers’ block with your friends and family, it is a vastly different experience to have those conversations with other writers because they actually understand what you’re saying!

A writing tribe has many benefits, both creatively and professionally. Depending on the level of experience held by each member of your group, a writing tribe can support you through the editing and revising of your novel, offer encouragement or suggestions when issues arise during the writing or publishing stages, and they can even introduce you to other writers or professionals in the publishing industry.

Typically, writers are a friendly bunch—despite our preference for isolation!

Most writers are happy to help others and to provide advice from their own lived experience. If you don’t have an existing writing club in your community, you can always make one. Most libraries are happy to provide a space for a writing club to host their meetings. You could post an ad on your local community Facebook page, gumtree or you could create a group page on the site ‘Meet Up’ to see if there are any other writers in your area interested in creating a club.

There is also a host of online communities you can join via Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram.

However, building real-life relationships with writers in your own town and region is far more powerful and rewarding.

Attending workshops hosted by your state’s Writing Centre is another great way to meet people, same goes for attending writing festivals and conferences. Being on a budget is no excuse as most of these events are desperate for volunteers. Volunteering at a conference and festival is not only a great way to give back to your community and support the organisation running the event, but it is also a great way to meet other volunteers, committee members, staff and guests. The bonus here is that you all have something in common: a deep love for writing and reading.

As a writer and lover of books, you may consider yourself an introvert and therefore incapable of introducing yourself to a stranger.

Dear friend, if you are at a writing festival, workshop or conference, you are already among your people.

You are surrounded by introverts who are just as nervous, anxious, and worried about saying something weird/stupid/foolish as you are. Also, everyone attending such as event expects to be approached by strangers. That is the whole damn point! To make new friends and contacts. So, don’t be shy. If you need a few introductory phrases to break the ice, here are some conversation starters to get the ball rolling:

  • Are you a writer? What are you working on right now?

  • What are you reading at the moment?

  • Are there any speakers you’re looking forward to seeing?

  • Is this the first time you have volunteered? Are you enjoying it?

Part of being a writer is spending a lot of time alone.

The gift of creating a writing tribe is that you can meet other people who also express their inner thoughts, their observations about the world and the bizarreness of our human lives through the act of storytelling.

Writers need time alone, but we also need to be around other writers.

Home to Make Working from Home Work

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If you are self-employed and work from home, then you are largely in charge of your schedule. People around you (family and friends) may misinterpret this control as meaning that you work “whenever you feel like it.”


(Watch the video version here)

Creating an ideal writing routine takes time. We have to figure out whether we work best in the morning, afternoon or night. We trial different creative processes such as outlining, discovery writing or a combination of both. We test out different cafes and libraries to see which ones have the best lighting, non-invasive music and relaxed staff. We learn whether we are disciplined enough to check email and social media before we start writing, or whether our Wi-Fi has to stay off until the session is over.

The writing routine is often fetishized, but the reality is it takes a long time and a lot of experimentation to develop a routine that supports our creative practice and goals.

When we find something that works, we stick to it.

Unfortunately, these routines are also very fragile.

We need to set aside a reasonable chunk of time—preferably during our optimal working hours—in order to do the deep work our novels/short stories/articles/essays require. A knock on the door, a text message or email can be enough to throw us off our game. For every interruption that occurs, it takes fifteen minutes to get back into the ‘zone.’

A friend may call or text to invite you out for a morning coffee or to go see a midday movie. Because you work from home they just assume you’ll make up those lost hours later.

The problem is, you only have so many good hours in a day.

If you spend three of your optimal morning hours having coffee with a friend, you are not going to get those hours back. Of course, you can push yourself to make up those lost hours later, but the quality of that work will not be equal to what you could have produced during your optimal working hours.

There is only one way to negotiate your work schedules with loves one: communication.

That means you need to tell your family and friends what your non-negotiable work hours are. If you consider yourself a morning person, get yourself into your office as early as reasonably possible and firmly close the door. You can even put up a nifty sign if you like. Tell your family that you will be unavailable between 9am-12pm. You can then reserve less urgent tasks such as administration and email for the afternoon. Though it may still be undesirable to be interrupted during this time, you can let your family know that they can come to see you between 1-5pm.

If you have adult children, teenagers or friends that you connect with on a daily basis via text message, tell them not to text you during your dedicated writing time. You can also switch your phone to flight mode or leave it in another room, but some people prefer to keep their phones handy in case of emergency.

That being said, there is no reason to keep your inbox or social media pages open during your writing time. You need to make it MORE difficult for people to interrupt you, not easier!

And no-one is going to contact you about an emergency situation via email or social. If the house is on fire—metaphorically speaking—people will call you.

Being self-employed and working from home is a dream scenario for many people. The downside is some people see home-based businesses as less serious then brick and mortar businesses. As though the money earned through writing articles is less real than that earned through an employer.

Being a full-time writer who works from home is a privilege, but it is also a job. A job that you need to dedicate time to. A job that requires a schedule and that requires you to stick to that schedule. Family and friends may never see your work in this way, or they may forget when your non-negotiable work hours are, but there are so many distractions you do have control over. You have the power to say no to invitations and requests. To switch off your devices. To close your web browser.

You can’t stop life from happening, but you can minimise its ability to distract you. And don’t worry, all those requests, invitations and interruptions will still be there when you open the door and emerge from your writing cave. At least you will be more generous in dealing with them because you’ve already tended to one of your highest priorities: writing.

 

 

Self-care For Writers

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(Watch the vlog version of this post here)

We’re all familiar with the image of the brooding writer with unkempt hair leaning crocked back over their desk with a bottle of whisky carefully concealed beneath a mountain of notes and crumpled cardigans as they pen the next international bestseller.

Many famous writers contributed to this cliché through their substance abuse, intense isolation and generally manic behaviour. Little wonder writers aren’t known for having good self-care.

We all experience burnout and writer’s block at one time or another, and no author wants to hate the practice that used to bring them joy/satisfaction/meaning.

If you are a writer then finding the time to write is good self-care.

After all, a writer who doesn’t write may very well go insane, what with all those unexpressed voices, stories and characters bumping around in their head!

But you don’t have to go insane in order to be an “artist”. In fact, it is preferable that you don’t.

Self-care and productivity are not polar opposites. When you tend to your stress levels and take care of your mind and body then you’re in a much better position to write something that someone else will actually want to read. And that is the whole damn point of all this, right?

Below are the six ways you can start taking better care of yourself, and your creative practice, right now.

# 1 / Give yourself a break

The expectations we put on ourselves are immense:

  • We have to write every day
  • We have to hit our word count every day
  • We need to write more guests posts
  • We need to start a blog
  • We need to research editors/agent/publishing houses
  • We need to research police procedure/how boat motors work/astronomy
  • We need to find and enlist beta readers and create a street team.

How often have you written a sentence, feel smugly satisfied for a moment, and then quickly nit-pick it to death because it failed to re-invented the wheel of this vast and complicated craft known as WRITING?

We need to give ourselves a break.

There are many steps on the road to publication, and while it may feel as though we are behind in the publishing rat-race, the truth is we are not. Books aren’t going anywhere; neither are readers. Writers should do their best to make time for their practice, to educate themselves on the industry and to put their best work out there. Books and words are powerful, but they are still only books. Don’t let your own sense of perfectionism or the societal belief that productivity correlates to self-worth lead you down the destructive path known as burnout.

Take the pressure off.

Writing can be really fucking complicated or really fucking easy. Open a Word document, type some stuff, hit save, close the Word document and then get on with your life.

# 2 / Take an actual break

Re-framing the way you perceive writing, your current work in progress and the industry, in general, is vital if you want to avoid crumpling beneath the pressure of your own expectations.

Sometimes, this re-framing is not enough. Sometimes you need to take an actual break. As in, go outside and lay on the grass with your dog and watch the clouds go by. It’s amazing. The world does not in fact implode.

How long your break goes for depends entirely upon you. Do you need to take an hour off after lunch or the whole afternoon? Maybe you need to take a whole day off or even a week? You may want to create mini-breaks throughout your entire day, set specific “office” hours or organise your schedule so that you can take 1 or 2 days off every single week. Do you.

Burnout and writer’s block suck, but the good news is that avoiding and mending these nasty buggers is both easy and free: take a break.

#3 / Read for the pleasure of reading

 Writers are told to read widely and to read as writers. The intention here is that you are reading in order to improve your own writing. By seeing the patterns and traits of other genres and other authors, you can adopt the best and avoid the worst. The only apprentice available to writers comes in the form of reading.

Reading a novel with a critical mind, dissecting its plot, characters and structure and analysing the technical use of language is the best way to figure out how that author wrote that novel and how you might be able to do something similar.

Reading as a writer is exhilarating and exhausting. It can also kind of ruin reading.

Turning off this analytical lens can be difficult, especially if you’ve trained yourself to read in this style. No reader appreciates poetic pose the same way that a writer does and it’s likely that you became a writer because you read a book that made you feel something. Setting aside a little time to read something beautiful each day will help remind you of that fact.

# 4 / Work on something fun

If your writing is starting to feel a little rigid or if you regularly find yourself cleaning the refrigerated during your writing time, maybe it’s time to work on something different?

You could grab a notepad and pen spend an hour practising writing exercise and responding to prompts. Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and Writing Down the Bones are full of inspiring writing exercises, but you can also find a million helpful websites by googling “Creative Writing Prompts”.

If a particular chapter is feeling stuck, try working on a short story instead, or maybe spend some time writing a blog post or article. You do not have to publish what you write, in fact, it may be better if you don’t. The purpose of this exercise is to make writing fun again, whether you tap into that energy by writing a few pieces of flash fiction, an article about your dog or completing a series of exercises is completely up to you!

#5 / Routine vs spontaneity

Sometimes burnout may be the result of a stifling routine or a lack of it. If you write at the same location, at the same time, on the same project, hitting the same word count, it’s likely that you are VERY productive and VERY bored.

Are you an artist or a drill sergeant?

Yes, we’re all professionals here and part of being a professional means doing the work whether you feel like it or not. But Jesus, do you have to be so miserable while doing it?

Write somewhere different, at a different time of day, wearing different clothes, using a different device (pen and pad?) and drinking a different beverage. Organise your writer friends to come over for a “writing sprint” or organise one online. Write for ten minutes, then go stare at the clouds for ten minutes, and then come back and write for an hour. Shake our those stiff writerly muscles.

Alternatively, you may be suffering from a lack of routine. If you are super busy because you work full-time and are taking care of your family, it’s likely that you are constantly on the lookout for writing windows.

Writing windows are fragments of time when you write in between completing other tasks. Maybe you scribble out scenes during your lunch break or between loads of laundry?

The problem is, if you don’t know when your next writing session is, what you are going to work on or how long you are going to write for, that’s a whole lot of unknowns and unknowns lead to anxiety and stress.

If that is the case, you may benefit from creating a specific, non-negotiable time each week when you get some writing done. If you live with other people, tell them that you will be unavailable between 2-4pm every Saturday (or whenever you choose!). Better yet, leave the house and switch all your devices on to silent.

# 6 / Eat well, drink water, and exercise

Writing is an intellectual exercise, but we still have bodies. Sometimes when the muse has found us—or a deadline is looming—taking the time to refill our water bottles, make a healthy meal and exercise slip right off our radar.

And yet, eating well, staying hydrated and moving our bodies are basic self-care principles that support our writing practices. If you eat badly, drink nothing but coffee and spend twelve hours a day looking at your screen, you will start feeling very crap, very quickly and your work will suffer.

Eat well, drinking water and exercising isn’t rocket science, so don’t act like it is.

Writers need to learn to take better care of themselves. As communicators and story-tellers, writers have skills that others do not and the world needs those skills now more than ever.

Take care of yourself while you are writing and publishing your brilliant prose; that way, you can write and publish more of it.

The Seven Elements of Book Cover Design

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(Check out the vlog version of this post)

Your book’s cover is the most powerful marketing tool at your disposal.

Whether we like it or not, we all judge books by their covers.

In traditional publishing, professional designers are responsible for creating a book’s cover. Sometimes the publisher will ask the author for input and sometimes the publisher will present the author with several mock-ups and ask for their opinion. Most of the time, however, these decisions are made in-house.

There are seven basic elements that inform a book cover’s design. They are:

  • The country it’s being published in
  • Design trends
  • The novel’s theme, plot and characters
  • Genre
  • Whether it is a stand-alone or part of a series
  • The target audience
  • The author’s brand

Different Covers for Different Countries

Have you noticed that many popular books have different covers in different countries?

The US, UK and Australian versions of any one book often have very different styles.

This happens because the publisher’s US, UK or Australian division have tasked a ‘local’ in-house designer with creating a cover that will appeal to that specific country’s readership. What appeals to an American horror reader differs from one based in the UK or Australia … apparently.

Self-published/indie authors tend to use the same cover for every country. Though it is easier than ever to get your self-published book into bricks and mortar stores, the truth is that the bulk of sales occur online through print by demand distributors. This system makes it nearly impossible to create country-specific book covers and most indie authors would struggle to find the funds for such adventures anyway. That being said, many indie authors experience plentiful sales across multiple countries using the same cover design.

Trends

Trends have a huge impact on a cover’s design. You have already noticed that bold colours, large or hand-drawn typography and illustrations are the current trend. This handcrafted style is a push against technology and digitisation while simultaneously acknowledging the cultural rise of artesian craftsmanship such as boutique wineries, cheesemakers and rocking-horse makers, etc.

Theme, Plot or Character

The most common factors that influence a book’s cover are its themes, plot and characters. Often, the significance of these elements isn’t clear until after the book has been read. However, the cover should be striking enough to intrigue potential readers. If the protagonist has long blonde hair, a woman with a similar appearance may appear on the cover. If the plot is driven by the protagonist’s duty to protect a mysterious ancient talisman, the protagonist may be depicted as holding the talisman while looking over her shoulder. Repeated imagery, metaphors or symbols may also work their way onto the cover depending on their significance to the overall plot and aesthetic appeal.

Genre

The book’s genre will also influence its design. As you’ve no doubt noticed, romance books have very different covers to horror and science fiction books, historical novels differ from crime novels and chick-lit differs from fantasy. Non-fiction books have very different covers to literary and genre novels, because the tropes, mood and purpose of these respective categories are very different.

Non-fiction books typically seek to entertain, inspire or inform their readers. Genre books are driven by story/plot and each specific genre has its own unique tropes. Literary novels are driven by ideas; the story isn’t about the story, it’s a metaphor for something else.

Stand-alone or Part of a Series

There is a continuity between book series’ covers so that fans of that series can easily identify which books belong to the series. This is particularly important if an author has multiple series under their name. Though each series may fall under the same genre, each series will have its own distinct look.

Target Audience

A book’s target audience has a huge influence over a book cover’s design. The reader’s age, gender, occupation and interests are just a few of the qualities a designer may consider when creating a cover. Some of the questions a designer will consider are: Who is this book for? A mother is her mid-forties? A teenage boy? An elderly gardening enthusiast? For example, a novel aimed at male video game players in their early twenties won’t have a pastel green cover dotted in pink flowers, but one aimed at an elderly gardening enthusiast might.

Author Brand

The last thing to consider is the author’s brand. Author branding is not a new concept, but the rise of the internet, social media and self-publishing have certainly increased our awareness of it. An author’s brand is essentially how they present themselves to their audience.

A brand is a promise an author makes to their audience so that readers know what to expect from them and their fiction.

Branding includes the visual images that appear on an author’s website and social media pages in the form of banners, layout, photography and even typography. If the author publishes non-fiction books, then their online aesthetic may influence their book cover’s design. This is rarely the case with indie and traditionally published fiction authors. Instead, a continuity may exist across all the author’s covers so that fans can easily identify works written by that particular author.

You may have noticed that some books and series are re-branded every five to ten years. As previously mentioned, a book’s cover is the most powerful marketing tool available to both authors and publishers. Book covers are often up-dated/re-branded in response to changing trends and reader feedback. A book’s target audience doesn’t change, but the members of that audience do. Readers grow older and their interests and reading preferences shift. Publishers and indie author’s update their book covers in order to appeal to current members of the target audience.

Covers contain a lot of embedded information and they are our first impression of a book. A great book cover should make a reader feel something, and if that reader does feel something, they are far more likely to pick the book off the shelf, turn it over and read the blurb. (Or, click on the image and read the description).

A book contains many thousands of words, but a picture, as the saying goes, contains only one thousand—and that is why you must make it count.

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The Permission to Write

You get to write whatever stories you want to write.

I do my best to read widely. That includes everything from Wyoming cowboy and Indian mysteries to urban vampire romps to family dramas set in Melbourne to novels about eighteenth-century American botanists. I read classics, historical fiction, literary fiction, short stories, series, crime, and lately, I’ve returned to Fantasy—something that I haven’t read since I was a teenager. Then there is the occasional science fiction, speculative, or young adult novel.

The only criteria I have is that you (the writer) tell me (the reader) a good story.

I hate genre shaming. No one should make you feel bad about liking chick-lit, general popular fiction, romance or sci-fi. You have the right to like what you like free from judgement. I equally detest the question ‘what are your guilty reads?’ Lord knows there are a few novels on my bookshelf that some readers would be ashamed to place alongside last year’s Booker or their copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Incidentally, it’s highly likely that neither novel has been read. Don’t all budding author have unread copies of infinite jest on their bookshelf?

The point is, no one should be embarrassed about the fact that they enjoy Outlander, Harry Potter, Throne of Glass or any other work deemed shameful because it has achieved mainstream success.

Similarly, no one should be made to feel bad about the contemporary rom-com/epic fantasy/space opera that is their current WIP.

You are allowed to write whatever you like.

You are allowed to write highbrow literary fiction that no-one will get.

You are allowed to write erotica even though your mum might read it.

You are allowed to write a story about a vampire detective and his werewolf sidekick with whom he has a crush on.

There are writing rules but there are no rules about writing.

If we start censoring our creative desires and impulses, then what is the point in writing at all? Why put all that time and energy into writing something that you’re not even into?

If you don’t enjoy working on your story, then you may as well get a day job because a) it would be easier and b) it would pay more.

If you’re looking for a permission slip to write that cosy mystery, cosmic horror or outback romance novel that is the work of your heart, considered it give.

Write what you want to write!

How To Write A Manifesto

How To Create A Writing Manifesto

What is a manifesto?

A manifesto is a curation of succinct phrases that best represent your intentions, opinions and aspirations. Typically, they are presented in the form of a list. So, how would a writing manifesto differ from a list of writing rules?

Writing rules are practical. A writing manifesto is inspirational. A manifesto embodies your idealised view of the world, the vision you hold for the future and your core beliefs as they relate to creativity and craft. Though a manifesto may be created through a particular lens – creativity, business, health – these principles can often be applied to other areas of life.

How do you create one?

Creating a manifesto is easy, but if you’re looking for a little inspiration then check out the list of published manifesto included below.

You can write your manifesto whatever way you want to – it’s your manifesto after all. However, if you want to make your manifesto easy to remember I recommended that you make each principle as clear & succinct as possible. For example: “I always feel better after I have written so I will write every day whether I feel like it or not” could be rewritten as “Write every day” or “Inspiration follows action.”

A writing manifesto is a tailor constitution that reflects your unique understanding and experiences with the craft. The purpose of the manifesto is to inspire and ignite you – especially on days when you’re as excited as a wet sock. Once you’ve created your manifesto, it’s a good idea to hang it near your desk as a reminder of how and why you do this crazy thing called writing.

There’s a million way you can go about writing a manifesto, but here are a few easy questions to get you started:

I write because…

Writing makes me feel…

Writing means …

In order to write, I need to…

What’s the purpose of a manifesto?

Creating a manifesto can be a lot of fun and it’s a great way to inject a little creative and playfulness into your writing. And that’s a good thing especially if you suffer from any of the following:

  • perfectionism
  • rigidness
  • taking things too damn seriously

Given that this post is all about writing manifestos, I thought it was only fair that I share mine.

Writing Manifesto

  1. Inspiration follows action
  2. The story already exists, you just have to type it out
  3. Stories have their own logic and it’s your job to follow it
  4. Resisting writing is more painful than writing
  5. No one care if the house is clean but everyone cares if you’re happy and writing makes you happy
  6. Dreams don’t work unless you do
  7. Writing happens even when you’re not writing
  8. It’s easier to write every day than once in a while
  9. New ideas are delicate, keep them close to your chest
  10. Write one good sentence, then another, then another.

 

Being an Active Member in Your Writing Community

Also Known as Good Writing Karma

Let’s be honest, as creatives, we can sometimes become a little self-involved with our creative process, our routines and art-making. This seclusion and intense inward focus is often a necessary part of the practice, but it’s equally important that we take the time to support other creatives and members of our writing and reading community. That’s just good karma. If you’re running a little thin on ideas don’t worry, the below suggestions will help get you started.

Write Reviews and Leave Comments

As a writer, you know how much time, energy and sacrifice goes into the creation of a book. That’s why it means so much to us when someone takes the time to acknowledge or praise our work. If you’ve enjoyed reading a particular book, take the time to write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Not only are you telling the author how much you loved their book you’re also supporting the success of that book as the number of reviews – especially positive reviews – greatly effects book sales.

Lots of positive reviews = More book sales.

No reviews = No sales.

We’ve all experienced the warm fuzzy feeling that follows ANY compliment; doubly so when the compliment is about our creative work. Giving the gift of praise to another writer is damn good karma. Cos let’s be honest, so often we slave away on a piece of writing that even our parents and friends can’t be bothered reading. That’s why it’s so important that we support one another and that we give each other praise and feedback. Not only do we value language and story in a way that non-writers do we also know the discipline and sacrifice it took to make that book, article or blog.  Let writers know that you enjoyed their work. Write a review, leave a comment and spread that writerly love!

Shop Locally

It’s vital that we support small local independent business whenever we can. Yeah, you can buy books cheaper online, but such purchases rarely come with a smile, additional recommendations or bookish banter. Plus, you don’t have to wait 1-7 days for said purchase to arrive. Instead, you can crack that spine within thirty seconds of leaving the story. Instant gratification!

If you DON’T support your local bookstore, then one day you may not have one. Ask yourself the following question: do you really want to live in a town that doesn’t have a bookstore?

The books at your local store may be a touch more expensive, but you’re paying for the privilege of leisurely browsing, picking up physical books, flipping them over and reading the blurb. You get to amble past shelves that haven’t been organised by a logarithm. You get to see books that haven’t been curated according to prior purchases. This small freedom may introduce you to a new book or novelist; pleasures yet to be experienced. You are also paying for the bookseller’s expertise. If you give the assistant a few clues, they’ll meet it with a handful of recommendations – books that you may not have instinctively picked up.

You get to amble past shelves that haven’t been organised by a logarithm. You get to see books that haven’t been curated according to prior purchases.

A bookstore is not a shop. It is a community centre where authors, budding writers and readers can meet in real life. It is a place where you can discuss the latest Zadie Smith, Tim Winton or Ann Patchett novel and you won’t be met with blank stares. It is our place. That’s why it is so important that we show up and support it with our time, money and presence.

Critiquing

Writing can be a lonely business and we don’t always do a good job of assessing the strengths and weaknesses in our own work. If there is a member of your writing network (physical or virtual) whose company or storytelling you enjoy, consider offering to critique their work. Remember, the ideal critique partner is someone who is kind and honest. Always start your critiques with positive feedback by highlighting the works strengths and any sentences that you found beautiful, poetic or technically impressive. Whatever weaknesses you do identify, be sure to deliver that criticism kindly followed by a suggestion on how they could potentially resolve it. You shouldn’t offer to critique someone’s writing with the expectation that your generosity be reciprocated. If your partner does make such as offer be sure to take them up on it and say thank you — just don’t expect it!

Sensitivity Reader

If your novel deals with some heavy themes or if you’re representing marginalised groups, then you should consider hiring a sensitivity reader. Of course, writers can write about anything, but readers (and critics) also have the right to tear that author to shreds if they do a bad job. Sensitivity readers are useful if you are writing about an experience you haven’t had, or if you are writing from the perspective of a character whose race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental abilities are different from your own. You are responsible for your representation of people from marginalised groups and people who’ve had traumatic experiences, so act responsibly. A simple Google search will provide you with a host of readers you can approach. Once you’ve made contact, they’ll be able to tell you whether they are the most appropriate person to proofread your work.

The last thing the world needs is more poorly research literature. Books and words have power and we need to be careful about the way we use these tools.

It’s important that we make time for the crafting of our stories, but it’s also important that we make the time to support other writers, readers and book lovers. This is our tribe and we need to take care of it.