Jeff’s Pep Talk: Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Earlier this year, I wrote two articles about finding new writing inspiration in what I called alternate means of creative expression. In the first article, I talked about creating new non-writing projects to jumpstart your inspiration, and in article two, I shared the perspective that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself in the face of writing burnout is to—get this—quit for a while. If you’ve read the Pep Talk before, you know I’m a huge advocate for treating yourself well as a precursor to good creative output. I’ve seen too many very talented, very capable writers hit a wall in their work and tear themselves to pieces because they can no longer commit to a regular writing schedule. Being an author can be a pretty tough gig, and it does most people no good to pretend burnout doesn’t exist. Be kind to yourself. Recognize human creativity is not an inexhaustible resource, but rather, is more like a battery that occasionally needs a recharge.

This month I’ve got some new ideas how to go about said recharge, all centered on a little thing many adults have a hard time engaging in: play.

I like to play. In fact, you could say I’m an enthusiast. When I was a kid, sometimes the only refuge from school, bullies, and the pressures of modern family life was in fun and games. The thing about kids is nobody has told them yet it’s not okay to use their imaginations. You may not believe me on this, but a lot of people learn to ignore their creative impulses because they’re not “practical,” “serious,” or “valuable” enough for the adult world.

But you and I are storytellers, which means we know better. I say the day you stop playing is the day you lose contact with your own heart and soul. When I was getting too old for make-believe on the playground, I got into playing video games. Later, I got into playing music with my friends. In either case, I refused to sever contact with that part of myself that required the emotional release of a rollicking good time. And since we’re all storytellers here, odds are you may be a lot like me, in the sense that some part of you still feels the need to bring to life concepts, characters, and worlds that previously only existed in your head.

In my very personal experience, video games are a good way of nursing a bruised and battered creative drive, and if you’re so inclined, or if you simply haven’t played a good game in years, you might be surprised to learn modern gaming offers so much more quality and variety than players had access to in decades past. Only problem with video games is that although they’re interactive by nature, they’re often no different than watching a movie or a TV show, at least as far as these things go. In gaming, I don’t get to create the story, not really. Some other storyteller is graciously offering his or her talents, which in itself offers a fine respite, but it doesn’t always help me find my own inspiration.

So may I offer an alternative, one that might shock you in its sheer unabashed nerdiness. Back in the 1970s, people used to have to—wait for it—use their imaginations if they wanted to play. On a whim inspired by fantasy literature like The Lord of the Rings, a small group of very talented and enterprising nerds created something brand new from some very old storytelling traditions. (Nerds is not a pejorative, by the way. Not in the year 2019. These days, I’m a nerd, you’re a nerd, the old lady down the street is a nerd, and so is her pet poodle.) In 1974, a man called Gary Gygax published the very first version of Dungeons and Dragons, and the world of tabletop roleplaying was born. Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Dungeons and Dragons? Isn’t that only for people with bad acne, social issues, and a penchant for dwelling in their mothers’ basements well into their mid-40s?”

I’ll admit, the stereotypes tend to cling to D&D like a shirt of fine mithril clings to the back of a frightened halfling. But here’s the thing, tabletop roleplaying games engage an individual’s storytelling capacity in some pretty surprising and dynamic ways. For those not in the know, roleplaying games (RPGs) involve a shared storytelling experience between players and a game runner—in D&D parlance, a Dungeon Master. The game is all pretend and dice rolls, slowly and joyfully co-creating and co-experiencing an unfolding adventure completely unique to you and your group of friends. And let me tell you something else, here in 2019, there are so many variations, spin-offs, and reinventions of the basic RPG schema it’d make your head spin. There’s fantasy roleplaying, sci-fi roleplaying, horror roleplaying, romantic roleplaying, and even roleplaying based on Saturday morning cartoons. And I’ll tell you another thing, these kinds of games have experienced a huge resurgence in recent years.

I’ll make a confession at this point: my wife convinced me to write this article. I didn’t grow up playing D&D. Like many of you, when I was a kid and teenager I scoffed at it. Sure, I collected comic books, wrote speculative fiction stories, played video games, and enjoyed the heck out of entertainment properties like Star Wars and Star Trek, but for some reason, tabletop roleplaying was simply a bridge too far. My prejudices continued well into adulthood, but very recently my wonderful wife turned me on to a new way of experiencing RPGs.

Round about the time internet culture discovered people like to watch others game electronically, it also discovered the joys of watching a group of strangers play D&D. The most successful example of this is Critical Role, which you can watch on internet apps Twitch and YouTube. Critical Role is a weekly show populated by a group of eight Hollywood voice actors who just so happen to be best friends and hopelessly devoted D&D enthusiasts. These guys aren’t your prototypical basement trolls, either. They’re charming, attractive, talented, incredibly funny professionals who are as dedicated in their own ways to the craft of storytelling as you and me. They play D&D like no one else, personifying their characters with impressive skill and gusto to generate an incredibly engaging and entertaining storytelling experience that shouldn’t be tons of fun to watch but is. And they show you what’s possible when you engage your imagination in a completely improvised way.

Admit it, sometimes the act of writing is lonely. It’s just you, your word processor, and your dedication to the craft. Fun is not at all required, as much as we’d like it to be. So here’s my advice if you’re dead tired of laying down one paragraph after another, one concept after another, one character, theme, or narrative arc after another, and your mind is aching for a bit of a vacation: go out and play a little bit. Not everyone has access to a group of people who like roleplaying. This much is true. It’s also true a huge chunk of the adult population considers such things frivolous at best. But look, roleplaying can be a hell of a good time, and as modern pop psychology often reminds us, sometimes you’ve got to nurture your inner child before you can fully embrace what it means to be a grown up.

RPGs force players to think on the fly, to produce results from nothing but their own creativity and random dice throws. It’s extreme storytelling, if you think about it, and if you’ve tried everything else to combat that nasty spell of writer’s block, it may be just what the doctor ordered. There are plenty of online resources that can help you find local games in your area, but if you’re still not sure, maybe just start with a little passive viewing. Do yourself a favor and check out some internet shows like Critical Role. There are a lot of options out there. See if it doesn’t spark something within you, and if it does, maybe consider giving it a try yourself.

We live in such a take-no-prisoners world. Is it really too much to ask of yourself to slow down every once in a while and just have some good, clean, creative fun for the sake of, well, good, clean, creative fun?

Until next time, folks, keep those storytelling skills limber and toss a couple d20s. That’s roleplaying parlance, by the way. It’s your adventure. Tell it how you want it.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

WtbR Team

Looking back, I can remember when I first started this blog, back in 2010. I really had no idea what I was doing, or even what blogging was all about, but I knew I wanted to write and Writing to be Read offered a platform where someone might actually read what I wrote. Back then, I really struggled with what to write. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would care to read what I had to say. 

Since then, I’ve learned a lot. Acquiring an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, along with my experience as The Southern Colorado Literature Examiner, gave me the knowledge, skills and confidence to imagine that I could create content that people would want to read. I write about what I know. My passion has always been writing, thus that is what I write about.

In 2016, I decided that there was no way that I could produce enough quality content to keep fresh content and keep readers visiting the blog, so I began recruiting other talent. My knowledge was limited to my own writing experience and I wanted to expand the scope of the content. With the help of others who knew more about areas which I wasn’t versed in, I was able to do this.

My first team member was Robin Conley, and her “Writing Memos” are still bringing viewers to the blog, although she is no longer an active team member. Next, Jeff Bowles was added to the team, with two segments. Although he no longer does his “God Complex” segment, you can find “Jeff’s Pep Talk” on the first Wednesday of every month, and “Jeff’s Movie Reviews” posts on the third Friday. Jeff is great at writing motivational posts and he writes killer movie reviews, so if you haven’t checked out his segments, I recommend that you do.

This year, Art Rosch joined the team with his “The Many Faces of Poetry” segments the last Wednesday of each month, and he recently began posting for “Art’s Visual Media Reviews” on the last Friday. Both segments cover subject matter Art was versed in and his reviews are both interesting and entertaining. Also, joining the team in 2019 are Jordan Elizabeth, with her “Writing for a Y.A. Audience” segment on the third Wednesday of each month, which explores Jordan’s inspirations and writing experiences, and Robbie Cheadle with her “Growing Bookworms”, which emphasize the importance of reading for children and explores children’s literature.

In 2018, I ran two twelve week segments of “Ask the Authors”, which was quite popular, where I interviewed an author panel on the various aspects of writing. Although it was fairly successful, it was also a lot of work, and it required a lot of time from each of the authors on the panel in order to respond to my questions with depth and knowledge. The compilation of those segments is currently in process for the Ask the Authors anthology, to be published by WordCrafter Press.

In 2019, we’ve seen a little more structure as I added monthly genre themes to focus on specific genres, and added my “Chatting with the Pros” segment in coincidence with those. We also saw the first “WordCrafter Paranormal Story Contest”, which will result in the publication of the Whispers of the Past paranormal anthology, also by WordCrafter Press. (Jeff Bowles was the winner of the contest for his short story, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known”. He received a $25 Amazon gift card and his story will be featured in the anthology.)

Writing to be Read is growing, and recently had its 500th post. View numbers are up, as well as followers, and I attribute it to the quality content posted by both myself and my team members. Of those 500 posts, 100 of them were made by Writing to be Read team members and I want to take time now to acknowledge and thank them for the quality contributions that they each make to the blog. Writing to be Read is a labor of love and team members don’t receive compensation for the time and dedication they put into their segments, so they really do deserve kudos for the content they provide. To show my appreciation and bring them and the blog segments each one contributes, I’ve created a “Meet the Writing to be Read Team Members” page, and I hope all of you will check it out and learn more about those who provide such great content.

This new page comes along with other new changes as I prepare to launch WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services. I’m happy to say that although some parts are still under construction, the website is now live. Write it Right Quality Editing Services, which used to be found here on this site, is now housed on the WordCrafter site, so if you are looking for it, you can now find it there. Other changes you may notice in the near future include the migration of my “Copywriting and P.A. Services” to the WordCrafter site, where it will become WordCrafter Social Media Copywriting and Book Promotions.

These are the most immediate changes which have taken place or are expected to before the end of the year on Writing to be Read. Closer to that time, I’ll be posting another update that will tell you what you can expect in 2020. Can you believe it? It’s just around the corner. So until then…

Happy Writing!

Kaye Lynne Booth, M.F.A.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Who Influences the Influencers?

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Who Influences the Influencers?

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Are you an influencer? You might want to think about it a moment before you answer. In our culture, to influence is to make a big splash, to inform what individuals and groups value, how they think and interact. I’m an influencer because I’ve got a Mom and Dad, a wife, a brother, friends. I’ve had a huge impact on them, and it goes without saying, they’ve impacted me. We all influence each other, right? We can’t help it. If I know you and you know me long enough, we’ll start to get under each other’s skin. Science even suggests we’ll start to look alike, as terrifying as that sounds.

Human beings are the influential type. We’re social creatures, and usually, when one of us has trouble, there’s a whole baying wolf pack of supporters and naysayers coming up behind. One of the things I dislike most about our modern storytelling ecosystem is the fact writers today tend to favor death, tragedy, betrayal, all the nasty things in life. Whereas love, respect, loyalty, they seem to get left in the dust. So you’re a writer. You like to tell stories and communicate complex ideas that might otherwise mystify people. You’re an agent of truth, an avatar of righteous disclosure, and you need a clear mind and a firmly rooted foundation.

Enter the influencers. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be that grade school teacher who first read you your favorite book. Or the acclaimed author who, after forty years of alcoholism, workoholism, and abject failure, produced that one brilliant novel that sets your soul singing every time you read it. You can be your own influencer, too. Who is it that forces you to sit down at the computer and write? Is it your work ethic? Where’d you pick that up? I’m an all-or-nothing guy, much more comfortable working in bursts and spurts. Also more likely to face periods of intermittent burnout because of it. But even I get uncomfortable when I’ve allowed myself to rest on my laurels too long. Knock me down, I get back up (eventually). Who influenced me to perform this way?

It may sound sappy, but I don’t believe people come into our lives by accident. I learned to work hard from my family. They taught me to laugh as well, which means my stories are par-boiled and strange as hell. I didn’t know I had talent until people close to me told me in no uncertain terms. Even as an adult, there have been those moments a special person has come out of nowhere and made me feel suddenly and delightfully valuable. A little encouragement goes a long way, right? And thank god for that.

But let’s not forget the negative influencers in our lives. The people who tell us we can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, that we’d never. Sometimes, especially when we’re just starting out, our naysayers seem more numerous than our supporters. I was an indie singer/songwriter until I turned twenty-three and decided I was a writer. Just about everyone in my life, my family, friends, even my fiancé, were puzzled by the sudden turnaround.

“Don’t you still want to do music on the side?” they asked, oblivious to the fact I might interpret their concern as doubt in my abilities.

I wasn’t born to write, not really, and neither were you. We worked at it, honed our abilities to finely pointed instruments of literary destruction. Sure, people like us have a natural aptitude for this sort of thing. But for crying out loud, my first completed short story was such a godawful mess I haven’t had the strength to look at it in all the years since. No, my family wasn’t super supportive of my choice. I think they wanted to be, but perhaps they didn’t know how. To say they were unequivocally negative about my chances wouldn’t be fair, but I was their golden boy when I had a guitar in my hands, something substantially less than that when I started cranking out sub-par stories. Like you do. Because we all have to crawl before we can crawl just a tiny bit faster.

Here’s the thing. I’m grateful for their doubt. I recognize now that if not for a little healthy adversity, there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today. Do you feel the same? Who influenced you? Who told you you could or couldn’t? You may be surprised to realize you needed both groups in equal measure. We never really know how bad we want something until it’s denied us. Ask any hard-case of unrequited love out there, it’s always so much more romantic when the answer is a resounding “no.”

I’ve got a brief writing exercise for you, a small motivational tool to unearth where you’ve been and help you ponder where you’d like to go. Write down the top ten people who have influenced you on your writing journey. Could be anybody, teachers, authors, loved ones. Now for each one, assign a numerical value from one to ten. Your high school language arts teacher, what was her name? She gets a seven because she’s the first person to compliment your out-of-the-box ideas. Tally up the final score for all ten influencers and answer one very simple question: did you do this alone?

No! Of course you didn’t. There were people ushering your progress the whole time, laughing at you, cheering you, doubting you, praising you. There were ghosts of old writers in all the books you collected, urging you to follow in their footsteps, to find truth in their work, such that it could be found. The sheer joy of the struggle, the artistic and cerebral strains, buoyed by hearts buoying hearts, the ability to sit down and craft a narrative that takes everything you are, were, believe, love, hate, condense it into chalky baby formula, slap it in the food processor, and then ka-blam! Gourmet word smoothies (literally speaking, of course).

It’s no small thing to think about these people from time to time. For so many of us, real support doesn’t manifest until we’ve been working for years and years. Imagine you were raised to go into business. Mom, Dad, I want to be a writer instead. Professors, Dean, sorry I’m leaving your wonderful but boring academic program. I’ve got the bug, you see, and there really is only one cure.

The older I get, the clearer it seems to me our desires don’t come to us by chance. Plenty of people try their hands at penning their first novel and never make it further than a chapter or two. So take for granted the fact that if the urge to create is so strong in you you’ve never been able to lay it down, obviously, much gratitude and respect, you are MEANT (that’s all caps, MEANT) to keep working. Saying nothing about MEANT to be super rich or super successful, MEANT to win awards, MEANT to change the world. No, simply MEANT to write, which is no small MEANT at all, thank you very much.

Do yourself a favor today and give some gratitude to all your many influencers. Without their love, support, disinterest, and bad advice, you wouldn’t be able to influence others in kind. Oh no, you didn’t think you were getting out of it that easy, did you? Of course you’re the biggest influencer of all. We don’t live in bubbled slip-space isolation, present state of geopolitical affairs notwithstanding. You never know who’ll come knocking on your door. That special individual may become the most important author of the millennium. Then again, they might just be a friendly guy or gal who needs a friendly pep talk and a kind word or two.

Don’t make your job harder, and don’t make them feel they should abandon theirs. Writers who make a point of discouraging others give me indigestion. Probably for the best, in the long and short of things. I never really listened to their sort anyway. Until next time, folks. Dream large. After all, if you don’t, who will?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Back in the Saddle

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Back in the Saddle

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

If you’ve been following the Pep Talk, you know I’m big on writers cutting themselves some slack. Burnout kills creativity and breeds writer’s block. So while I’ve always been a fan of the idea that we need to keep working in order to evolve, grow, and succeed, I’m incredibly cognizant of the ever-present reality most writers hit a wall every now and then, and that it’s okay to admit and even embrace that.

Now, a bit of an admission. The past two years or so, I’ve been struggling to rebound from my own slowdown. This decade has been intense for me, particularly on the creative front. I went from earning my MFA in a very hard and fast environment, to publishing short stories at a fairly decent rate, to suffering some unfortunate circumstances in my personal life, to not writing a single word for several years.

Really, this has been the worst burnout phase of my life. I’m in my mid-thirties now, so it stands to reason that ten years of working, practicing, and publishing finally caught up with me. Furthermore, we can’t stop living very human lives under very human circumstances. If I hadn’t experienced such a shake-up on a personal level, I might have been able to keep working. But things being what they were…

So this Pep Talk is not about showing yourself some love when you’re slowing down. It’s about being eager and ready when you’re speeding back up. I recently started a new writing project, a novel, and I’m pleased to report I’m about 9,000 words in. If that doesn’t sound like much of an achievement to you, it’s probably because you’re a hard-nosed writer who puts in your time, come rain or shine. And before my productivity started to drop off, I was right there with you. But the truth is we all need a break sometimes. All of us. Actually, very often life forces us to take breaks, and we can bemoan, resist, and condemn them, but it doesn’t change the fact that a career in the publishing industry is—in its most ideal form—a long-term project. As such, detours are something of an obligation.

For several years on end, my average yearly wordcount was around 120,000. And that was after a few years of maybe 75,000 to 100,000 words. Really, I was ramping up to something big. I’m a short story guy with some long-form publications in the indie realm. Not precisely a best-seller, but not a newbie either. And as I said, grad school was intense. I think a lot of people who go after an MFA have a similar experience, right on down to needing time off after graduation. The sad and torrid fact of the matter is I haven’t attempted a book-length project since I completed my thesis novel four years ago. That’s a huge dry spell for me, so I’ll take that nice 9,000-word head start, thank you very much.

If being kind to yourself in the face of writer’s block is about realizing you’re not a story machine (no matter how much you want to be), booting up your systems after some downtime requires acknowledging any fears or insecurities that might come up. It’s scary getting back in the saddle, or at least it can be. It’s also pretty exciting, isn’t it? Maybe, like me, you started wondering if you’d ever be productive again. Am I finally done with this whole writing thing? Where are my abilities?! Why don’t I feel like telling stories!? WHY, GOD, WHY!?

Got a flair for the dramatic? Well step right up, ‘cause this next one could be a doozy: in almost any case, we need to be able to accept the fact we might be rusty. Now I took a break of a few years, but I’ve known authors who went ten, fifteen, or twenty, and who were startled to encounter really crummy writing on their part. I know, it’s disappointing. Turns out none of us is a miracle worker. So a little piece of advice, maybe start slow, a short story or two. Heck, start writing blog posts or flash fiction or maybe even try your hand at a new genre, like creative nonfiction or poetry. That’s actually a good place to start. Writing truth is, in my experience, almost always easier than writing fiction. The point is you need a jumping on point, something you can sink your teeth into that doesn’t require you to … well, break your damn teeth.

And respect yourself enough to know when it’s time to work and when it’s not. Again, I really do appreciate the workhorse model of writing. That’s how the beast feeds itself. It’s the lifeblood of what we do. I just think it’s a bit self-deluded and unkind to think you can go on like that forever. Maybe some of us can, but for the majority, it does no good to crash and burn. Don’t knock yourself for it, man. And don’t let colleagues or friends and family make you feel bad or lazy or lost.

When it’s time to get back to work, it’s time. You’ll know you’re ready because—hey, here’s a nice big no-brainer for you—you’ll actually feel like it. Don’t push yourself too hard too soon. It’s a pretty organic process when it comes down to it. You can’t get blood from a stone, though I’m sure if you hit yourself in the head enough times with said stone blood would ensue. Never imagine yourself to be something you aren’t, a literary god, born of good fortune and the primal mud from which warriors emerge, Achilles of the word processor, Odysseus of plot structure and acute character psychology. Nah, you’re just a humble guy or gal who likes to crank out some good writing every now and then. Maybe you thought this day would never come. How do you feel now that it has?

I believe that life is almost always a matter of two steps forward, one step back. It’s how we progress as human beings. So two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward: hey look, the math checks out. You’re one step ahead of where you were last time. It’s like a Jacob’s ladder, right? You zig left, zag right, but you’re always climbing higher. Don’t feel like writing today? Consider, if you will, investing in some fun. Watch a few old movies that always manage to inspire you. Read a good book. Listen to some music, or try your hand at painting, sculpting, songwriting, video production, anything that engages your creativity and that doesn’t have all that unbearable weight built up behind it.

This is a fun job. Remember that. It’s fun. We get to tell stories and entertain people with our words. If you’ve been at this a while, and you’ve done silly things before, like attempting to quit but finding it quite impossible, then consider the possibility you’re meant for this life. You shouldn’t shirk being meant for something. Any way you slice a lifelong love affair, it’s fate, my friends. It’s kismet. Maybe you aren’t a literary god, but rest assured, the real gods up on Mount Word-lympus have plans for you that go back eons. One last time, do however much you actually feel you can do, and get excited about the prospects. If, lord forbid, you someday end up in a terrible driving, skying, skydiving, or rogue spelunking accident, you’re going to want a surgeon who can put you back together with slow and steady hands. Do yourself a favor and be that surgeon for your writing.

Until next time, everybody. The straightest line between two points is … wait, you guys are using straight lines?!  So that’s why my writing is so crooked.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Big C(riticism)

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Big C(riticism)

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?

And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.

But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.

Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.

So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.

Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.

Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…

Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…

Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”

To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”

…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.

Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.

And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!

“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”

“Really? And how did that make you feel?”

“Like we should have used a safe word.”

Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.

[end of joke digression]

Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!

Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


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“Writing to be Read”: 2018 full of surprises – 2019 promises more

From Old to New

This is the time of year when I like to take a look back over the year to see what worked and what didn’t for Writing to be Read, but there are exciting changes coming as well. So let’s move forward in the logical order and talk about the old first. Let’s take a look at the past year on Writing to be Read. For me, there were several surprises and if you are following, they may surprise you, too.

I feel like we had a really great year in 2018, featuring two rounds of Ask the Authors, with two wonderful and diverse author panels sharing writing tips and advice in many aspects of writing with almost seven thousand views. Now that may not seem like a lot to some, but when you consider that it’s over three thousand more views than in 2017, that’s not too bad.

Ask the Authors

For those who don’t know Ask the Authors is a twelve week blog series, where an author panel responds to questions on the many aspects of writing. Panel members in the original series of Ask the Authors, which ran from February through April, included author and ghostwriter DeAnna Knippling, dark fantasy author Cynthia Vespia, Y.A. author Jordan Elizabeth, literary author Margareth Stewart, action novelist Tim Baker, action and speculative fiction author Chris DiBella, women’s fiction author Janet Garbor, multi-genre author Chris Barili, and Y.A. author Carol Riggs. Round 2 ran from October through mid- December with the first four authors from the previous list as returning panel members and seven new panel members, including multi-genre author Dan Alatorre, nonfiction author Mark Shaw, pulp fiction author Tom Johnson, thiller author Ashley Fontainne, romance author Amy Cecil, multi-genre author Art Rosch, and speculative fiction author R.A. Winter. I’d like to thank them all once again for taking time out to share with us here.

Wednesday Line-up 2018We also were blessed with three new Wednesday blog series with three new team members. The team member from the 2018 Wednesday line-up with the most views was Jeff Bowles with Jeff’s Pep Talk, but Jordan Elizabeth and Art Rosch brought in their fair share with Writing for a Y.A. Audience and the Many Faces of Poetry, respectively.

To my surprise, the team member with the mosts post views over 2018 was Robin Conley, who is currently not an active team member, but readers continue to seek out her writing advice in her writing Weekly and Monthly Writing Memos from 2017; the most popular was her Weekly Writing Memo: Word Choice is verything, which had the second most views of all blog posts this past year. Right up there with that is her review of Pride and Predjudice and Zombies, with over one hundred post views.

I was also surprised to learn the most viewed interview was tied between children’s author Nancy Oswald from the 2016 series Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing and action novelist Tim Baker from the 2017 series Book Marketing; What Works. But those interviews were focused more towards information on publishing and marketing, respectively, so I don’t really count them in the same category as author interviews, because readers may view the series posts for different reasons than they would author interviews.

My author interviews provide a focus on the author, so in this category the most post views came from my interview in 2018 with screenwriter J.S. Mayank. My interview with author Alexandra Forry was next in line, and my interview with performance poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer recieved the third most post views.

In 2018, the top book review was Dan Alatorre’s dark fiction anthology, Dark Visions. Another surprise – the second and third most post views in the review category are both from 2016, with my review of Simplified Writing 101 by Erin Brown Conroy coming in second, and Wild West Ghosts by Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd coming in third.

2018 Top Reviews

The other review that I feel is worthy of mention is my review of Mark Shaw’s new release, Denial of Justice. I did the review in December, so it hasn’t been available long enough to acrue a great number of views to rank in the yearly statistics, but it is a tale that deserves telling and Mark did a smash-up job of telling it. I’ve no doubt this book will be as popular or more so than the original tale, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, because we all love mystery and intrigue, and the story of Dorothy Kilgallen is a true life tale filled with both. I am privilaged to have been allowed to review both of these books.

Along the lines of other content, again my 2016 post Why is Fact Better than Fiction recieved the most viewed, and surprisingly, a post from 2011, The Process Takes Time close on it’s heels, with my 2016 post, A Writer’s Life in No Bowl of Cherries following not far behind them. Not one of my top three posts was from this past year. My post from 2018 which recieved the most views was Join Me in My Protest Against Facebook, a rant I did about Facebook and their changing policies after I got blocked from posting in groups, including my own group, for a twenty-four hour period. I think this post was my cry in the dark from the frustration I felt as a busy author who promotes her own work and limited time. It makes me laugh to think it was my most popular post published last year. 

Views outnumber visitors, so I’m thinking that the increased views of all the older posts comes from new viewers who popped in to read a newer post and decided to browse the site, which is great. If I gained some new followers due to this, I certainly won’t complain.

Overall, it was a great year and my following has steadily grown, as well as post likes and comments. I have to extend thanks to my readers, my followers, my team members and my guests on Writing to be Read for helping me make it happen. I couldn’t have made such strides without all of you.

Writing My Way Into the New Year

Logo Switch2019 promises to be an even better year for both Writing to be Read and for me, and I’m excited to share my plans with you here. To start, this site will be getting a facelift: a new theme which will coincide with my new WordCrafter website and a new logo. The WordCrafter site will be the new home of Write it Right Editing Services and WordCrafter Copywriting, now housed here, as well as WordCrafter Press and WordCrafter Online Courses in the near future. Writing to be Read, although remaining here, will operate under the WordCrafter trademark. I was hoping to launch it tonight to start the New Year off right, but time constraints have not favored me. The launch of my WordCrafter and new image and logo for Writing to be Read will happen sometime in January. That’s the revised goal.

On Writing to be Read, look forward to some great new content beginning in January.  To start the year off right I already have scheduled reviews for Freedom’s Mercy, by A.K. Lawrence and Fanya in the Underworld, by Jordan Elizabeth, and an interview with western author Loretta Miles Tollefson.

Growing bookworks 2Let’s not forget the new addition to the Wednesday line-up. Starting in January, children’s author Robbie Cheadle will be joining us with her blog series, Growing Bookworms. You can learn more about Robbie and her exciting and creative new series in my introduction and welcome post last Monday.

I also have an exciting new monthly blog series planned for the third Monday of each month, called Chatting with the Pros. Starting in January, I will interview a successful professional author in a different genre, who will graciously allow me to pick their brains for tips and tidbits of writing wisdom from authors who are making it work. I can’t reveal the guest line-up yet, but it shows promise of holding some well known names. And I’m thinking about doing a writing contest, with entrants recieving an invitation for inclusion in an anthology and other cool prizes.

A third round of Ask the Authors is also in the making for this coming summer and I’m planning an Ask the Authors book to follow, which will include material from all three segments. I already have a cover for the book, created by D.L. Mullen of Sonoran Dawn Studios. I hope to have it out by the end of the year.

WIPs

And of course, you’ll be able to get updates on my other works in progress: The Great Primordial Battle, book one of my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods; The Homecoming, book two of my western series, Delilah; and my memoir about losing my son to teen suicide, His Name Was Michael. I hope you will all join me in the coming year. 

With that, I’ll just say see you next year.

Until then, happy writing!

Happy New Year

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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Learning to Let Go

jeff black and white

Learning to Let Go

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a writer. So many authors–successful and unsuccessful alike–seem to have been aware of a certain literary calling from an early age. Stephen King began telling stories as a kid and never stopped. One of my personal favorites, Frank Herbert, creator of the Dune series, told his parents when he was little, “I want to be a author.” Adorably so, I’m sure, even if in basic syntactic error.

I had precious few moments like that. At the age of eight, I began an ambitious Star Wars fan fiction novel in which Luke Skywalker was forced to confront an evil dark Jedi clone of his poor dead Uncle Owen. I never got off the fourth page. When I was a teenager, I wrote about seven chapters of a complex space opera. But even though I showed clear aptitude, the process was long and boring, and I had better things to do, like playing music with my friends and spending hours on the couch in front of my PlayStation.

I didn’t decide to devote myself to writing until I hit my mid-twenties, by which time the life of a coffee-house-playing singer/songwriter had lost its appeal. Nobody listened to me when I performed. They were too intent on their dark roasts and shallow hipster conversations. I reasoned that even if I someday made it as a musician, I’d have to spend all my time on the road touring, and I’d just gotten engaged to a wonderful woman and had future plans to start a family with her. It made sense at that time to go after a new dream, and I’d always liked telling stories, even if I’d never demonstrated the necessary discipline to actually finish them.

Like so many young hopefuls, I was convinced literary success and stardom would be just around the corner. Ehem, they were not. What can I say? If you’ve been at this thing for any length of time, you know well the real hard work comes in the form of keeping your head down, applying butt to chair, and pounding out thousands of unsuccessful words before a single one catches the eye of an editor or an agent. Maybe you’re just starting out, in which case you might be wondering what the long-term odds of your success are.

Sad to say, but instant recognition is pretty rare. I know some very talented but also very lucky writers who hit it big their first time out. Ultimately, their jobs and their lives haven’t been made any easier. Sometimes the work is actually harder for them, because big success comes with big pressure. Each morning, they still have to make that basic choice: to write, or not to write. And that isn’t easy. Nothing about this job is. Anyone who tells you otherwise … actually, I seriously doubt someone with experience will tell you otherwise.

If you’re like me, your first stabs at storytelling were bad. Like really, really bad. I wrote at least thirty short stories before I snagged a single decent pub credit. I had a couple things working against me, and so did you. First off, I had to learn to write. And I don’t mean in the general sense; writing a blog post like this and writing a fully realized novel are two incredibly different beasts. That probably goes without saying, too.

Secondly, most of us have to build a name for ourselves slowly and over time. Many of your favorite authors didn’t get anywhere near success until they’d generated an incredible amount of published content (that’s published content; the unpublished stuff doesn’t count). The difficulty curve inherent to all this is enough to derail the majority of us. Everybody wants to write a book at some point in their life, but actually finishing one, submitting it through the proper channels, and receiving scads of rejection letters … well, may I just say, fresh meat, welcome to the great literary meat grinder.

At this point you may be asking, “What gives, Jeff? I thought you were going to give us a pep talk. This is more like trash talk.” Well, yeah, I guess it is. But it does no good to approach creative writing as a profession with anything less than a level head. You’ve got to know the odds. Or at least, I feel you should know the odds. The truth is–and this may seem counterintuitive–recognizing your likelihood of failure is just as important as having your writing dream in the first place.

I’m a dreamer by nature. Most creative types are. When I close my eyes at night, I’m just as likely to see book signings and red carpet movie premieres as blank white pages with blinking, unfulfilled cursors … taunting me, taunting me … the horror, the horror. Just because I recognized a long time ago instant success would never be mine doesn’t mean I no longer do what I can when I can to get there. Actually, and this is the important part, the slow and steady nature of my career thus far has allowed me to let go my prodigious and unproductive white-knuckle grip, helping me at last to relinquish just enough control so I could, say, have a life outside of my stories.

That’s kind of the point. Failure teaches us more than success. Failure hurts, no doubt about it, but it also heals. Failure is not a four-letter word. Count ‘em, seven letters, not even close. Nor is it some cosmic slight. Don’t be afraid to fail. In the grand scheme of things, there’s no difference between the careers of a thirty-year vet who hit the mark right out of the gate and a thirty-year vet who had to slowly build an audience with each successive work. In other words, it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.

Here is your pep talk in four simple words: learn to let go. Seriously, that’s it. Let go of your need for recognition, for validation. Let go the desire for royalty checks the size of the annual Defense Department budget. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up. Far from it, in fact. Some very big writers love to spoil it for newbies. Gleefully, they hand out advice like, “If you can quit, you should,” implying of course this job sucks so bad you shouldn’t even bother.

I’m not that guy. I like to build people up. Learning to let go of your expectations, your insecurities and personal timetables, it’s actually a cure-all for life. The day-to-day of a writer really can be challenging. There are just so many lows, sometimes more than there are highs. You’ll have days you want to give up. Heck, you may have entire years or decades you don’t write a single word. So I find it’s better for the mind and the soul to consider writing a lifelong journey rather than a pass/fail vocation. Do you know what happens when you let go? You actually start enjoying what you do. Some time-tested philosophies think of this as living in the now, embracing the flow of life, or choosing to let the stream carry you rather than fighting its currents. It’s a healthy attitude to cultivate, especially when you’re in a creative industry that hands out disappointment like local discount car wash flyers.

Don’t give up. Don’t do it. And don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you should. If you find you’re getting frustrated with your progress, take a break. That old chestnut, writers write, applies only to very unhappy people and very well-adjusted robots. Writers are just average folks, and like every other warm body on this planet, you need a life that’s fulfilling on more than one level. You know what you can do instead of pounding out words until you tear your hair out? Fall in love. Go see a movie. Have kids. Start a stamp collection. When you let go of the desperation, the incessant need to be somebody, you can be anybody, and that, my friends, is freedom itself.

You know who you are. You know you love to write. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here on this blog. So why not trust yourself? Trust life. Tell a story for the joy of it. One moment, one second, one word at a time. If you worry too much about the future, the next rejection, the next failure, if you obsess over the past and all the ugly moments still living there, you’re doomed to forever hate right now.

It’s okay to admit you’re no superstar. At least not yet. Trust me, it won’t hinder your ability to create awesome stuff. I’ve met some big name talent. Many of them feel imprisoned by their careers. The grass is always greener, right? So while you’re busy fuming with jealousy over their magnificent sales figures, they’re busy resenting you for what they perceive as your complete and total freedom. The joy of writing is in discovering what’s just around the corner. Imagine if a new entry in your favorite book series telegraphed its epic ending on page one. Wouldn’t that be disappointing? Life, like any story worth reading, works best when you don’t know what comes next.

So don’t try to predict the future. Live free, focus on today. And that’s your pep talk for the month, folks. Read ‘em and weep! Just don’t weep too hard.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – Fun!