It's About You: The Metamorphosis of A Writer

Today, enjoy this guest post on writing from my good friend and colleague, Zoe Cannon.

A few years ago, I read this series of posts about the stages every writer goes through. The posts had some interesting insights, especially about what really matters on a page-to-page and paragraph-to-paragraph level in any given story (hint: it’s not the words), but for the most part, these stages didn’t match either my own experience or what I’ve seen other writers go through. I didn’t give it much further thought, until recently, when I found my own relationship to my writing changing. I started thinking again about writing stages and whether there really was any kind of path that all writers follow. Of course there are no true universals—no two writers experience writing quite the same way—but when I looked at my own personal experience, what I’ve seen in various critique groups, and the lessons and life stories of writers far beyond me in skill and experience, I was able to see some definite commonalities.

Stage 1: It’s About the INSPIRATION.

“Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.”  Anna Quindlen

“Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.”

Anna Quindlen

You love to write. And when you don’t love it, you don’t write. Writing is about that glorious feeling of flow, where you see the story unfolding in front of you in your mind’s eye and the words pour from your fingers almost effortlessly. When that feeling stops—you hit a difficult part of the story, or you’re not sure where to go from here, or you’ve made it through your whole first draft but when you reread it you discover that it doesn’t get your story across nearly as well as you had hoped, or maybe your creative well has just run dry for the moment—you walk away from the story. Maybe you go through creative bursts followed by periods of not writing at all, or maybe you flit from new idea to new idea, chasing whatever calls to you at the moment.

Most people stay in this stage. You’ll hear a lot of people maligning this type of writing, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with staying here if you don’t have any goals for your writing beyond having fun. All the other stages involve pushing yourself to write even when the inspiration isn’t there, and if all you’re after is a way to keep yourself entertained and let off some creative steam, then why force yourself to keep going when it’s not fun? It’s a lot harder to finish a story if you don’t move beyond this stage, but a finished story doesn’t necessarily have to be the goal. If you just want to play, then let yourself play, and don’t worry about the rest.

Nevertheless, most people generally won’t consider someone a “real” writer—whatever that even means—until…

Stage 2: It’s About the STORY.

You have stories that you need to tell, and you’re willing to slog through the not-fun parts of writing in order to make that happen. Maybe you have that one great idea that you’ve been trying to get down on paper for years. Or maybe you’re bursting with more stories than you could write in a lifetime, and have no idea which one to work on first. Either way, getting the story onto paper is worth pushing yourself through the times when you don’t feel inspired, because now the story matters more than the feeling of inspiration.

This is when many writers start establishing goals and routines—something external to push them forward when the inner motivation isn’t there. Maybe you decide you’ll write every day. Maybe you get up half an hour early and write before you do anything else for the day, or write on your lunch break, or after your kids have gone to bed. Maybe you set a daily quota of words to write, or tell yourself you can’t watch your favorite show until you get an hour of writing done. Maybe you participate in NaNoWriMo (this is what pushed me out of Stage 1).

Most writers, unless they prefer to focus on short stories or have a deeper-than-average well of inspiration to carry them through Stage 1, finish a major project for the first time here. Some writers stop there; they had one story to tell, and they’ve told it. Others keep going. Some writers learn to revise here; for others, that doesn’t come until Stage 3 (ahem, looking at that writer in the mirror with the 5+ untouched first drafts from her stint in Stage 2). Either way, finishing a project is an amazing feeling, not only because you’ve accomplished a major goal, but because of what your stories mean to you. They’re your babies; they’re pieces of you set down on paper. Which is why it can be so nerve-wracking to send them out into the world. And that brings us to…

Stage 3: It’s About the REACTIONS.

You’ve started sharing your stories with the world. Or maybe you were already sharing what you wrote back in Stage 1, but the stakes are higher now. Because you don’t just want to write anymore—you want to succeed at writing, whatever that means to you. Maybe you just want to learn how to polish a draft until it tells the story you want to tell, but this stage is when most writers start thinking about publication.

You join a critique group, and studiously revise your story based on their notes. You try to eliminate adverbs, and give every character a flaw, and follow all the other rules you learn about as the wider world of writing opens up to you. You write and rewrite with the goal of getting positive feedback—a “this is much better than the first draft” from your critique group, “good” rejection letters (the ones that come with a personal note instead of just a form letter), a publishing contract.

If you do publish a story or several, whether traditionally or by putting your books up for sale yourself, this stage doesn’t end there. Now success—or failure—is measured in average star rating on Amazon, number of newsletter subscribers, followers on social media, the size of your royalty checks. I think this is the most stressful of the stages, because it’s so dependent on things you have only limited control over. You live for that five-star Amazon review or the notification that you have a new subscriber. If the numbers aren’t as high as you expected, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. If you get a one-star review, you consider revising based on the reviewer’s feedback, or completely changing your plans for your next project, or maybe giving up on writing entirely.

A lot of writers give up here, disillusioned. You thought your story was good when you put it up for sale, but despite all your marketing efforts, it’s only selling one copy a month at best. Or you’ve collected dozens of rejection letters without a single personal note to show for it, let alone a publishing contract. Or you haven’t even gotten that far, because no matter how many times you tweak the story, your beta readers keep finding problems. Even if you find success here, however you define it, you might start feeling burned out by the efforts to make sure your growing fanbase likes your new book as much as the next one, or to keep your sales up so your publisher will buy your next book. But of the writers who persist through this stage, many move on to…

Stage 4: It’s About the PROCESS.

This is where many writers refine their personal process. Or if you already developed a system that works for you back in Stage 2, you lean into it instead of trying to change things up based on advice from your critique group, or the writing guru of the moment, or Joe Schmoe on Facebook who sells more books than you. Maybe you start writing as soon as you get your idea, while it’s fresh, and then write three or four drafts, each one focusing on a different element of the story. Maybe you write page by page, polishing each page until it’s perfect and then never looking at it again. Maybe you use the Save the Cat structure, and like to plan out five scenes at a time but no more than that, and don’t need any high-level revision but have to go over your draft three separate times to catch all the typos and grammatical errors. My own process is a two-part outline (scene-by-scene and beat-by-beat), a first draft, a revision for story and narrative issues, and a line edit. There are as many ways to write as there are writers—more, really, because no writer writes every book exactly the same way. But there’s always one common thread, and that’s what this stage is about.

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.“   N. R. Narayana Murthy

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.“

N. R. Narayana Murthy

In this stage, you write a story, and you send it out—mail off your query letters, email your completed manuscript to your agent, upload the files to the ebook retailers, post it on Wattpad, whatever—and then you move on to the next. That’s what this stage is about—the act of writing itself, sitting down at your keyboard every day (or however often you write—in this stage you often no longer need to follow a one-size-fits-all rule like “write every day” in order to write consistently), and starting and finishing and starting again. That story from Stage 2, the one you’ve spent years trying to perfect? You still love it, but it’s out of your hands now, and you’re on to the next thing. That book that sold hundreds or maybe thousands of copies out of nowhere, and you still don’t know why? You pour yourself a glass of champagne and keep working on the next story. That book that got dozens of one-star reviews on Goodreads? You still cringe when you think about it, but you also know it doesn’t really matter, because you’re writing a new story now.

Because in this stage, writing is about the work, not the works. The act of writing, not the finished product. When you sit down and do the work, the finished product takes care of itself.

At this point, you may find yourself outgrowing your critique group—not because you no longer need outside eyes on your stories, but because you’re less concerned with revising to other people’s preferences. You solicit more targeted feedback now, often from carefully-chosen beta readers and paid editors. You might start experimenting with new genres, no longer as concerned with meeting expectations, or you might stop feeling the need to experiment and instead settle into writing the things you know you love.

This is where writers often move beyond the basic skills they learned in Stage 2, and the more advanced, but still universal, skills of Stage 3, to specialize in the things they’re best at or that are the most interesting to them. Some writers focus on building characters that readers connect with, others on prose quality, others on plot structure, others on genre tropes and writing to market.

Sometimes you’ll sit down and the words will just flow out of you, and the story will carry you along the way it did when you were writing purely for the fun of it. You’ll still love all the stories that you write, and every one of them has a piece of you in it (if that’s not the case—if you’re choosing your projects based purely on external factors—you’re in Stage 3). And you’re still putting your stories out there and receiving external feedback (if you’re unwilling to let your stories go, you’re in Stage 2), although you might have stopped reading your reviews and might be checking your sales on a schedule instead of whenever you have a free minute. But the thing that distinguishes this stage from all the others is that you see all of those things as transient. Today’s inspiration will be tomorrow’s slog. Today’s fascinating new idea will be tomorrow’s boringly familiar project. And today you may wake up to hate mail, but tomorrow you’ll more than likely wake up to a five-star review on the same book. The work is the only constant—but the work is all you need.


Zoe Cannon is the author of the Internal Defense series (a YA dystopian series with a dose of realism) and the Catalyst series (genre-breaking post-apocalyptic paranormal-ish YA). She is currently working on an urban fantasy series about a black-ops agent for Hades in the secret war between the gods. You can sign up to be notified when the urban fantasy is released (and get updates on her other books) here, and find out more about her books here.

Monster Encyclopedia: Minket

Minkets! I know I said everyone likes kovers, but honestly, minkets are really everyone’s favorite monster. To find out why, read the book! :) I started designing them using aye-ayes as my model. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a picture of an aye-aye:

Picture of an aye-aye, with big ugly eyes, weird scraggly fur, and sort of leathery ears.  Image source.

Picture of an aye-aye, with big ugly eyes, weird scraggly fur, and sort of leathery ears. Image source.

Ugly isn’t quite the right word—hideous? Terrifying? Granted, some other pictures of aye-ayes are a bit easier on the eye, but this is where I started.

Minkets are relatively friendly monsters, in it for themselves, obviously, but willing to work with other animals, humans, or monsters to survive. They will eat anything (literally anything), and are ravenous gobblers of all cuisine. If you are insecure about your cooking? Get a minket.

You know Nibbler from Futurama? I love the way he eats, so that’s how I imagine minkets eat.

Here’s another one, with a meal scene right in the middle:

Anyway, you get the drift.

So minkets eat a lot and everything. They are wily, smart, able to communicate to a certain extent. They are social animals, but are perfectly capable of being independent. They have families, and remember them, even when they get separated or one dies.

They have big ears, human-like fingers, and sharp blades that extend from their knuckles that they use when fighting or to rip apart food to make it easier to eat. They can climb, run, and hunt. And they have blood red eyes. There are a few other characteristics of minkets as well, but since they are a key monster in the series, I’m going to keep a few secrets. Muahahahahahahahahaha.

Here was my first sketch:

A rough sketch of a minket sitting on a branch, done in red, black, and brown.

A rough sketch of a minket sitting on a branch, done in red, black, and brown.

And of course, here is the full illustration, done in stippling:

A minket sitting on a branch, with big ears, long tail, wiry fur done in pointilism.

A minket sitting on a branch, with big ears, long tail, wiry fur done in pointilism.

For this drawing, I experimented with layering textures, especially in the fur and her left hip, and was really pleased with the results. Also, her teeth are amazing.

If you’re interested in reading the book, click here to order it on Amazon.

Monster Encyclopedia: Barlang

First, I want to say this: I LOVE THE BARLANG. I think it is cool, interesting to look at, interesting to think about, and I sort of feel a bit of empathy for it. If I were a monster, I think I’d be a barlang.


Barlangs are cave monsters. They like the dark and the quiet, and most of all they like to be left alone. They are solitary, introverted, peaceful, for the most part. They largely eat bugs, lichen, bats—the sorts of things you might find in a cave. That said, if you wander into their house, they will eat you, or at least fight back.

They have two big climbing arms, with claws that help them grip the rock. They have several smaller arms that they use for grabbing and pulling, and they are a little sticky so it helps them move around rocky areas. They have big teeth, great hearing, and are sensitive to light.

The easiest way to kill one is with a powerful blow to the skull, but you’ll need a crossbow for that, or a gun.

Here is the full-sized illustration of a barlang:, and I honestly think they are just neat

Image of a monster with a bone skull being held up by two muscular arms, pointed ears, and several swinging shorter arms.

Image of a monster with a bone skull being held up by two muscular arms, pointed ears, and several swinging shorter arms.

You can learn more about why I love barlangs so much by reading the book! Click here to grab your copy on Amazon.

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Monster Encyclopedia: Gyiks

Image of a gyik, with sharp teeth, lizard-like body, running on hind legs.

Image of a gyik, with sharp teeth, lizard-like body, running on hind legs.

Gyiks, gyiks, gyiks. It’s hard to say three times in a row, but also fun because of the hard “y” sound. Gyiks appear in the very first chapter of Tentacles and Teeth. They are a little like lizards. Lizards the size of dogs, that is. They have sharp teeth, grumpy faces, and are ravenous. Absolutely ravenous. And they run in packs. It’s rare you’ll see lonely gyik—usually it’s surrounded by its brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second, third, and forth cousins—you get the drift.

When I invented gyiks, I needed a monster where you thought you were safe for a second, but then they just kept coming. I also needed a type of monster that was really aggressive, but simultaneously quite cowardly when anything bigger showed up. Hence, meet the gyiks. I have a feeling gyiks are going to be playing a repeated role throughout the series, mostly because they’re easy to kill and give the characters a little bit of a break.

To kill a gyik, all you need is something sharp. They are soft and fleshy, so you can spear them or chop off their heads. One thing to remember, however, is that they don’t really feel pain, so if you only injure them, they’ll just keep right on coming.

The stippled illustration for this monster is the only one I’ve done in color so far. I really wanted to do it in color, but found that the time investment was incredibly high compared to simple black and white, because I wasn’t just doing shading, but also blending colors. So I did this one, and then went right back to black and white.

Picture of a blue and green gyik, done in pointillism style.

Picture of a blue and green gyik, done in pointillism style.

This was also one of the very first stippled illustrations I’ve done, alongside the nagy and the pok.

Good news, everyone (channeling my inner Professor): the book is available to read now! Click here to grab your copy.

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Monster Encyclopedia: Fulek

First off, fuleks facilitate fun for fidgeting fancy foals (a little alliteration for you on a Tuesday). Fuleks came about because I wrote a bad chapter and needed to replace it with a different chapter, and I wanted to show that not all monsters are to be feared. All of the other monsters up until this point in the book (hulla, pok, gamba, rarohan, nagy, kover) had the main intention of killing and eating everything. But not fuleks.

Fuleks eat plants primarily, and because of their more passive nature, are sometimes preyed upon by other, larger monsters. As a result, they have evolved a type of spray (like a skunk) that is acidic in nature and can burn other monsters. This spray is used as a defense mechanism, but also sprayed around the area they inhabit to warn off other monsters. They have long legs, weird ears, and can run fast. Their coloring allows them to blend in with tall grasses and low bushes.


An interesting fact about fuleks is that they are both male and female (asexual). Each one has all the necessary means to reproduce, so they tend to live as “families” which typically consists of one parent and several children, or groups of parents, which is made up of two or three parents and their children (or grandchildren, as it may be). When too many fuleks are inhabiting an area, one parent takes one or two of their children and migrates to a new area.

Another fun fact: the Lamplighter’s Society brings fuleks into the properties of the safe houses that they maintain, to help keep other, larger monsters away. But I won’t say too much else about that because [spoilers!].

An even better fun fact: The book is available for sale! Click here to grab a copy.

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