Always be learning

Joe’s Post #154

IMG_2269 (800x599)As a writer, as a human being, as a full-on weirdo, there’s one thing I should always be doing.

ABL. Always. Be. Learning.

Like the famous speech in Glengarry, Glen Ross. (Parental discretion advised.)

But not, you know, always be closing. Always be learning.

So even when I’m writing on my novel or fixing it or staring at the words I’ve written and wondering what the hell made me think this was a good idea, I continue to try to learn something new that will help me be a better writer, a better blogger or just a more annoying history buff.

This week, I looked at three things I wanted to share.

First, the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge for October. Check it out. I have a link. Lots of good stuff if you’re just starting out a blog, but also some interesting exercises if you have one up and running.

Here are a few examples. Day 8. Find and share a helpful article. We do this on our blog (or at least share links) but it’s a good reminder to connect with the community at large. It’s something I need to work on with my own blog.

Day 9. Call to Action. I have to confess, this one has me baffled. We’ve not gotten a lot of comments on our blog and when I read other blogs, I see they often do. I’m not sure what we’re doing wrong. Any suggestions? (this is my call to action.)

Day 18. Interview an Expert. Oh, I like this one. Paula talked to an ex-sheriff, but I’m going to task that for next week. Stay tuned. I’m agonna find someone who knows something about something.

sniper 3. Apparently i'm in there somewhere.

Sniper 3. Apparently I’m in there somewhere.

Day 20. Search yourself. Hmmm. Seems Joe Cummings writes travel books. Seems Joe Cummings had a stranger living in his apartment. Seems there’s a Canadian poet named Joe Cummings. So not me. Seems Joe Cummings is an actor in Sniper.

So, yeah, seems I’m a lot of things, but none of them me.

Try justjoebc as a search and see what you find. I dominate that one. Oh, yeah, baby. Yeah.

I think I’ll go back and do up a plan for next week. I should be able to do 2 a day and catch up a bit.

Anyone else willing to give this a try?

Second thing learned.

Black Soldiers in WW1

Black Soldiers in WW1

Watched 8 hours of WW1 footage for my novel. Pretty interesting stuff. I’m going to steal all sorts of facts for my character’s background. After all, that war defined him. But the most interesting thing I learned is that while the US refused to integrate its army into the French army (for good reason), they did integrate their colored regiments, who were treated quite differently in that army than in their own.

Last thing.

I re-learned how important it is to have a support group, a critique group, or just a few writing friends who’ll be there to help you when you need it.

Holland WW2

Holland WW2

See, something was wrong with my first 60 pages. I dunno what the hell it was, but something was nagging at me. Nagging bad. But after spending time with one friend (and Friday, another), I should have it all sorted out.

Funny what a new set of eyes can see that you can’t.

So, if you’re ever stuck, go phone a friend. It’s advice from Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

At that’s it from me for this week.


Page count:  90ish (but see that thing about having to redo some of it)

5/5/5 Word count. I dunno. 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: Probably 21,000

Blogs written: 1 (but a burst of 5 starts tomorrow on Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: 0 – sick as a dog for most of last week

Movies Seen: Fury Road (with the boys). The Martian (maybe it was that time of month for me, but I teared up a lot). San Andreas (with the youngest boy, a movie that proves if you go by a formula, you’ll suck. Even with the Rock.)

Book I’m Reading: Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green (a book akin to the one I wrote for the Tor open call).




Guest post by Sheila Watson: Fear

Joe’s Post #136

Actually, I’m not sure I can call this my post as I’m going to give the blog over to a guest blogger. I hope that other people will also be interested in blogging on our site, so please send us a note if you are. In the meantime, Sheila Watson was fortunate enough to take a workshop on something we’ve all been struggling with over the last few months. FEAR!

So, here it is. It has some great insights.

Part 1 (the 2nd part will be next week)

FEAR ˈfir/    noun

  1. 1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The key word in the above definition is “belief”.  Fear, as it relates to writing, is not real.  There is no danger or threat in telling a story and no disaster will ever befall you because you write a novel.

Those of us who are writers can’t help but write.  If we are not writing a novel, we are writing a blog or crafting status updates on Facebook or responding to discussions on forums or emailing and texting our friends and family.  There are hundreds of ways of writing daily.  And we manage to do all of them – except the writing that matters most.  Because we are afraid.

Why aren’t we afraid to write a blog?  Why is it that we set a goal to write a blog every week and we manage to get it done and published?  Every single week.  But when we say we are going to commit to writing a novel a year – a snail’s pace of merely 275 words a day – we can’t get it done?  Why aren’t we afraid of writing a blog?

Because there is nothing dangerous or threatening about writing a blog.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if you wrote a blog and put it out in the world?  Someone might not like it?  Someone might disagree with it?  No one will read it?  Maybe someone will write about the same idea and be better at it?

So what?  Is that what you are thinking?  So what if no one reads it?  So what if someone disagrees or doesn’t like it?  So what if someone writes better than I do?  It doesn’t matter.

That same idea – that feeling – needs to translate into the writing of your “real” stuff.  It’s the same.  You are just another person putting stories out into the world and seeing what resonates.  Some people won’t read it.  Some people won’t like it.  Some people will write it better than you.

So what?

You are already facing and managing this fear when you write a blog, or an email or a forum post or a witty Facebook status.  You just have to bring that to your “real” writing.

How much could you write if you were not afraid?  If you could sit down at the laptop with no beliefs of danger or threat or pain clouding your thoughts and you could just tell a story?

Do you know?

I didn’t. Not until this weekend. This weekend I set about writing a story for my teenaged children.

They still request an Easter Egg Hunt every year and we are long past hiding chocolate eggs behind the curtains.  So each year, this mom devises an increasingly difficult hunt.  This year, I decided to write a “choose your own adventure” for them.  The idea being that they read a story and at certain points in the story they have to decide between option 1 or option 2 (and sometimes options 3 and 4).  Seemed like a good idea.  But it required a story.  I started writing on Friday night.  And I wrote more than 11,000 words by Sunday morning.

11,000 words. In a day and a half.  Because I was not afraid.


Bio: Sheila Watson is a wife, a mom, a self-defense instructor, a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do, a wanna-be chef, a dog companion and a writer of tall tales, fanciful stories, occasionally useful commentary and rather wordy status updates.

Stay tuned, she has a second part coming next week!

As always, if you like the post, please follow us or share on FB or get your 8 year old daughter to do something with it on instasnap or chatlink or whatever’s new.


Un-learning from reading

Joe’s Post #131

way of shadows

Like most writers, I find it’s not always easy to read a book. We can get bogged down in critical mode (or learning mode), looking more at how a writer did something rather than losing ourselves in the story.

I’m bad at this these days. Really bad. Part of that stems from being in a critique group for so long, and part of it stems from me just being me. I love to see how things are done, good or bad. I do the same for movies, food and bar mitzvahs.

But here’s the funny thing. A good book will not let us get into critical or learning mode. It keeps us engaged.

So, after a good bit of reading, let me give you some thoughts on this book, think of it as counter-learning. Or unlearning. The book – The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks – is about an apprentice assassin.

  • It has no big stakes. It’s all small stuff, but stuff that’s important to the character. Protecting his friends. Finding his place in the world. Learning how to kill without remorse. Typical kid stuff.
  • It’s a story that’s been done before. Honestly, I don’t know how he pitched it, but I’ve read a ton of assassin apprentice books. Seems if you’re not an apprentice mage, you totally go the assassin route.
  • It has no central villain. Oh, there’s a big bad that gets what’s coming to him by the end of act 1, but there isn’t a dark lord, a dark king, a dark witch or anything all darkish.
  • There’s nothing really special about the world. It has taverns and whorehouses and streets clogged with poo, but nothing that would make you text a friend (god, I originally wrote ‘call a friend’, I mean, who does that any more?) and say, wow, you gotta check out this cool idea.
  • It isn’t particularly poetic, nuanced, or filled with beautiful descriptions that would make you weep.

So it could have been a book I put down and savaged in a very clever blog. But I’m still reading.

Those things, it turns out, don’t matter.

I kept reading because it has a character I like, the pacing is good and the poor bugger is constantly beset by all kinds of problems (that I want to see if he can overcome).

It’s writing at it’s most basic, really. He’s got a good voice, a good story and f*ck all the rest of it. Forget what you’ve read in books or heard in workshops. You don’t need it.

Maybe sometimes we unpublished writers get hung up on getting it ALL right. Maybe, despite a stack of rejection letters, my story isn’t that bad at all, it’s just not picked up because I can’t get the query right or the agent/editor/publisher has had a bad burrito.

Who knows?

All I know is I’m reading this book and enjoying it despite the fact it’s not likely to be taught at writer’s retreats as the perfect novel.

As someone once said to me, don’t let perfect get in the way of good.

Good can be enough to make a totally enjoyable book.


Best show last week – Not much TV watched due to being a chaperone for a grade 7 camp outing. I, of course, blogged about it.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Probably obvious from the blog. Brent Weeks. The Way of Shadows.

Pages written on new book  Nothing new added. Oh, I know that’s not good, but that’s what happened. No sense in lying about it or finding an excuse.

Social media update – Despite not a single post last week, I continue to grow my readership on my site, justjoe, ( and we continue to add readers here. Maybe I need to post less?

Health  A piece of advice. Never go camping sick.

Best thing last week  I survived being with 70 preteens. I didn’t kill one of them (yeah, that’s my story), and the whole adventure did not become a Bill Murray comedy.

Worst thing  Hiking for 3 hours with a cold. Luckily, the weather was amazing, but not being able to breathe made a hard thing even harder.

So, if you have some free time, check out these site from fellow authors…

meghanJM McDowell (and her Meghan Bode short stories)

hilaryHilary Custance Green

sofferJerry Soffer, author of the shadow of xeno’s eye.


Fake it til you make it

Joe’s Post #126

from brainyquotes

from brainyquotes

Everyone has their cool, purple-pictured philosophies they practice. Or say they practice.

But today, I’m going to admit to a secret philosophy that has largely been successful in my life. Especially as a writer.

Fake it til you make it.

Now I don’t mean out and out lie. I’d never write a query like this…

Dear Agent,

butterflyAs a former CIA operative now working for the illuminati, I am in the unique position to write a novel about the assassination of the president by a butterfly assassin drone. Having developed – and indeed used – a wide variety of neurotoxins, I can bring a level of expertise to the subject that is second to none.

If you don’t believe me, I hope you haven’t touched this letter because it is coated in AXT, a delightful ebola-measles mix that’ll kill you in about 20 minutes. Please find my contact information below. And say the words, “I will publish you,” on the message machine.

No, lying isn’t what I’m talking about.

Faking til you make it isn’t new. It’s even maligned by people who clearly don’t have to fake it and who’ve made it. So, good on them.

For me, though, it’s about using my imagination. Or living in a dreamworld. It’s pretty much the same thing.

Every time I sit down and write my novels, I sit with the idea that this will be the best novel I’ve ever written, so good that it’ll be loved by my dog, my girlfriend, and, I hope, my writers group. It will be even be good enough to get published.

That’s faking it. For me.

SOTLIt’s not, “oh, yeah, that movie, yeah, that was based on a book I wrote”. Or, “oh, sure, I make so much money as a writer, I could buy Iceland.” Or, “I write 12 hours a day, seven days a week and man my life is hard.” Or, “I could have written that story so much better.”

No, those are just lies. Ok, crap, I may say that last one every so often, but I try to be authentic about what I do. The good and the bad. Hell, read the blogs.

But I do believe that if you act like a published writer, behave like one (and no, I don’t mean, “I know I didn’t make a reservation, but you know who I am, right?”), that you’ll become a published writer.

So, I keep doing it and doing it.

Sooner or later I will make it.


Best show last week – Modern Family may be the best sit-com on TV. Maybe ever. It’s so clever, so funny, so fast that it has to be watched more than once.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. Ok, so it got all sorts of grand endorsements, including from James Patterson, and Vince Flynn. But I’m finding it a total grind. The author, much to my astonishment, pretty much ignores every piece of writing advice out there, and has his main character meandering through the story without a purpose.

Pages written on new book  40 (At this rate, I’ll get a book done this year, but only just.)

Social Media update – My twitter hoard continues to grow. Imagine the dark lord getting an orc or two every week or so. No wonder it took him a thousand years to try to reconquer Middle Earth.

Health  Totally hit by the flu. Lost 7 pounds in 5 days. Pretty impressive. 0 energy for 3 days. Like 0. Nearly passed out trying to do up the youngest boy’s skates.

Best thing last week  No one else got what I got. Otherwise I think we’d have all hung out in the bathrooms. Plus I think I pooped out something from 1980. Forget colon cleanses, a good tummy bug will clean you out far better.

Worst thing  The flu.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

The BEST book he’s written so far IMHO.

Lastly, but most importantly, my favourite author, Sean Slater, had his newest book released in Canada. I honestly believe it’s his best and he got virtually no support from the publisher so if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.


Social media


Joe’s Post #91 How much social media is too much, how little is too little?

It’s hard to figure out how much time to spend on social media. Am I building an audience or is this just narcissistic me shouting at the world to pay attention to me, dammit, pay attention?

Karalee wrote a great post about Twitter and I was lucky enough to hear her thoughts and advice on that form of connecting with people.

gotThing is, I love connecting with people and groups online. Hello, Game of Thrones fans! ‘Sup fellow writers. What’s happening, Sandra Bullock, why the restraining order, why, why, why?

But it’s like research. It can consume your writing time. Two blogs a day takes time. Adding the links to other media takes time. Making posts on Twitter, well, you get the idea.

And time is the one thing I’m short on at the moment. That and chocolate. But I can go buy chocolate, I can’t buy more time. So, if I’m to get my book started on the 14th, if I’m to finish it up in three months, AND still blog AAAAND still get queries out, and help my writing friends, and be a good parent, and a good partner, then something has to give.

It may be a bit of social media.


Days Until Game of Thrones Starts: None. It was amazing. Love the Hound. Love this too, I laughed my ass off… (spoiler alert) GOT Honest Trailer

Days Until I Start My Next Novel: Date has been set. It’s April 14th. That’s, errr, next week!!!!!!!!

Blogs Written This week: 14 new ones. Maybe more. I kinda lost count.

Queries out this week: 0 (See, this obsession with social media has to stop)

Rejections for the last week: 0 (has to be bad news. I may need to move the 5 out there to 5 rejections)

Queries Still Out there: 5

Hope Meter: 70/100.  Up +20. Loving that I have a few more readers on my blog. LOVE LOVE LOVE blogging. Thanks for my fellow 5/5/5 writers for letting me go nuts on this site.

Amazing blogging advice

Joe’s Post #73

I want some. Amazing blogging advice, that is.

IMG_0831Not that I can’t find lots on the internet. There was one that boosted 101 ideas. Writer’s Digest had a few suggestions. My dog, Vegas, had some thoughts as well though they mostly involved pictures of her looking all princessie.

There are widgets and gadgets and add-ons and plug-ins. I hear I should know my audience, that I have to be savvy in social media, that pictures are a must, that guest blogging helps, that I should write in a good voice and write a lot and…

Well, you get the idea.

Thing is… there is almost too much information. 

In the end, all I want to do is write. And by writing, be read. I love writing about movies, my travel adventures, and (of course) writing. But is that good enough?

So I want to throw it out there.

Party shoes - black high heeled courts with gold ankle strap by Zara

What makes you read a blog?

If you have a blog, what works for you?

In the meantime, something for my audience.

Maybe I should write more about shoes. Or Johnny Depp.


Hey, you! Wanna buy a book?


Joe’s Post #30 — The last thing I want to do is paint myself as some sort of expert on this subject. I’m not. I’m just Joe trying to figure this out like everyone else.  But I do have a process. It may not be for everyone and I welcome any and all advice to improve upon my chances of success.

So, sit back, grab a drink and let me lead you into that vast and cobwebbed labyrinth that is my mind.

For me, querying is by far the hardest part of being a writer. It terrifies me. I want to slink under the bed and hide from the scariest monster of all: Rejection. Oh, I have no problem pounding out a novel, no fear there. Nor do I fear rewrites or tossing out vast swaths of my manuscript to write a better story. I don’t fear critiques, spiders or people saying I write like a 2-year-old on dope.  But faced with a query letter to write then SEND, boy, I tell you, it’s a tough one for me.

To quote Nicholas Sparks “Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important  page an unpublished writer will ever write. It’s the first impression and will  either open the door or close it. It’s that important, so don’t mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write.”


But there seems to be some sort of correlation between getting published and writing queries. Apparently my psychic powers are not enough to wake up an agent in the middle of the night and get him or her to call me and say, send me your manuscript.

So, I nut up and begin.

First up, for today, finding an agent. There are many great resources out there, but Nathan Bransford is certainly one to check out. He says it better than I ever could and he knows it from both sides, the writer and the agent.

SKFor me, I begin with research. The first ones I have queried have been agents I’ve met at conferences or workshops and didn’t throw up on. Then I progress to agents that I find from my favourite authors. I read the acknowledgments. Make notes. I mean why not send to an agent who represents an author and genre I like? Stephen King’s agent, however, has not replied. I think this is to be expected.

For research beyond that, there are many avenues including a simple google search, but I chose querytracker, the Association of Author Representatives,  Preditors and Editors, Agent and perhaps the greatest resource of all, Publisher’s Marketplace.  These sites, and there are others, but these sites combined give me a pretty good idea of who wants what and how they want submissions done.

But those resources, as good as they are, aren’t everything. The agent I queried yesterday, Barbara Poelle I found from reading Writer’s Digest. She answered 14 Questions You’re Too Afraid To Ask Literary Agents.  Funny as hell (she seems to share my same sense of humor) and (from Publisher’s Marketplace) “She loves unusual literary fiction with a commercial edge, thrillers, and anything with a great voice.” Perfect, I thought. I’m unusual, I wrote a thriller and I wrote it with a great voice. So I sent her a query.

Now, when I write my queries, I want them to be as personal as I can make them. I will never say, Dear Agent. I will use their name and pray to God I spell it right. I won’t spam out the same query to all agents, I will tailor it to the agent based on a few things. I’ll research them as noted above, I’ll read their blogs (and man, there are some great blogs out there), I’ll check out the authors they represent, I’ll read their twitter feeds and I’ll do a basic google check. This also helps me determine if indeed the agent is right for me. If someone is looking for Highlander erotica primarily, no sense in sending them a book about detectives in the desert who don’t wear kilts.

And then I send out the query. I hold my breath. Move the mouse over the ‘send’ button. Close my eyes. And click. (Or, in some cases, put it all in an envelope and toss it in the mail box.)

It’s still terrifying. I won’t deny it. Before I send off any queries, I am the greatest writer of all time, funny and handsome and charming and so sure that everyone will want to read my novel. But querying puts my book out there. I risk not being the greatest writer of all time (though I still may be funny and handsome and charming).  I risk a blow to my self-esteem.  I risk not being read, the worst thing that can happen to a writer.

But it’s the price I have to pay to get published.

And honestly, at this point, being a new writer, the best I can hope for is that someone is willing to take a chance on me – that I’m taking this very seriously, that I can write, and that I can tell a good story that people will want to pay money to read.

Wish me luck.

Next week, a query I wrote for fun. To relieve the stress a bit.

What’s in a number?


Helga’s Blog-Slog Post #25 — Is there anything else we can talk about on the topic of writing that we haven’t yet covered in our 130 or so posts on this blog? I have to confess that blog-fatigue occasionally strikes me, especially when it’s my turn to write a new post. (I admit though that I can’t wait each morning Monday to Thursday to read my partners’ posts)

So I started philosophizing about the value of blogging. Never mind this blog. How about all the others, floating in cyberspace, vying for your attention? Just how many blogs are there, anyway?

Apparently, a number is difficult to come by, because Google and other search engines don’t share that information. Still, research firms have come up with estimates, although rough at best. Reason being, there are many so-called dead or ‘zombie-blogs’ littering cyberspace, which have been abandoned or discontinued.

To come up with a number specifically for writing blogs, is even more challenging. But blog statistics in general hold a certain fascination. Here are some early numbers I would like to share, courtesy from several sources, including Caslon Analytics. Keep in mind, these numbers are a few years old now, ending around 2006. (It’s instructive for putting it into context with current numbers, further down).

In January 2002 alone some 41,000 people created new blogs using Blogger, and there were then more than 500,000. In August 2002 another source claimed that Blogger had 350,000 users, with converts supposedly “creating a new weblog every 40 seconds, or more than 60,000 a month”. By early 2006 that had risen to around 160,000 per month.

Live Journal, according to New York Times, had signed up 690,000 users since 1998 and was currently gaining another 1,100 bloggers per day. It is unclear whether all 690,000 were (and still are) maintaining their personal pages and, if so, how frequently.

In the same month the Times claimed that Brazil was the “second-largest Blogger-using country” after the US, with up to 13% of the 750,000 Blogger users.

Wired exulted that “nine blogs are created every minute and 2.3 content updates are posted every second.” In November 2004, PubSub claimed to track 6.4 million blogs.

In July 2006 the Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that the US “blog population has grown to about 12 million American adults”, some 8% of US adult Internet users. The number of US blog readers was estimated as 57 million adults (39% of the US online population), although few of those people read widely or read often.

But what about staying power?

Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated. The ‘average blog’ thus has the lifespan of a fruit fly. One cruel reader of that page commented that the average blog also has the intelligence of a fly.

So much for blog writers. But what about blog audiences? Here are some tidbits on demographics:

One research company claims that blogs are primarily read by men (60% vs 40% women; currently it has shifted slightly to 55% male vs. 45% women) and in households where the total income is over US$60,000 per year (again, these are 2006 figures).

But wait, there’s more:

Researcher Leigh Philips (again from Caslon Analytics) sniffed in 2003 that “blogging remains the dominion of geeks, wittier-than-thou twenty-to-thirty-somethings in Manhattan and angry gay Republicans”.

Now let’s take a look at some more current statistics. What a difference a few years make. Are you ready for this? Hat Trick Associates, to use one example, has this to say:

Current estimates say there are about 450 million “active” English language blogs right now, but that number varies according to the source. Technorati estimated over 200 million blogs at the start of 2009, with exponential growth since then.

These numbers change daily however, as new blogs are started by the thousands (or tens of thousands) every day, and a large number of blogs have also reached the point of where they could be defined as “abandoned” and should be subtracted. When including non-English in the total number, especially those in Chinese Mandarin, and there may be over one billion blogs worldwide.

This equates to 1 out of every 6 people in the world with a personal blog!

That of course begs the question ‘How many people read or follow all these blogs?’

Once again there is no reliable tracking mechanism. But certainly we are talking about many hundreds of millions of people, maybe 500 or 600 million total (Compare that to 57 Million blog readers in 2006 as mentioned earlier). If you include non-English blogs again, we can easily assume a number well above a billion people (remember, there might be a billion bloggers!) perhaps even more than 2 billion – or about 1 out of every 3 human beings on the planet. Think about it:

~ More than 2 Billion Blog Readers ~

“With such a massive number of worldwide readers,” Hat Trick Associates reminds us, “it should go without saying that an active blog can be absolutely VITAL to establishing a strong web presence for your company or brands. Blogging also allows you to regularly share “fresh” content, the kind that has become key to solid search engine rankings from Google, Bing and other search engines…whose web crawlers are constantly seeking out and indexing new content.”

As expected, plenty of advice is available on how to become a ‘killer blogger’, if you are willing to fork over some money. Just check Amazon and search ‘Books on Blogging’. Last I checked, 483 titles were on offer just on that site. There are also a number of web sites that list all sorts of interesting demographics about bloggers and blog readers. For example, the typical reader of the world’s top blogs is 38 years old, according to a new @Pingdom study.

And the latest numbers on our own only, updated frequently, the current number of blogs at the point of writing this, is


How many posts are published on users produce about 39.3 million new posts and 41.4 million new comments each month.

And if that hasn’t convinced anyone yet about casting your net wide to reach an audience, this one should:

How many people read blogs on

Over 389 million people view more than 3.6 billion pages each month.

Happy Blogging all around!