10 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

I write this hoping that there will actually BE a new year. After all, there are those who maintain that the world is ending not just soon, but specifically tomorrow. They base this belief on an ancient Mayan calendar (which some have observed bears more than a striking resemblance to the top of a gigantic Oreo cookie).

But on the off chance that the Mayans got it wrong – which could be a simple matter of the slip of some poor stonemason’s chisel – I’m going to hold on to my characteristic glass-half-full attitude, and put forth some ideas on how you might want to approach next year – or at least whatever portion of the year remains before our cosmic Oreo is completely consumed.

I’m big on new year’s resolutions. I don’t know why, since I’ll admit I’m not that great at actually following through on them. But I think there’s something strangely satisfying in the act of at least making the list, of attempting to get our ducks in a row to face our next trip around the sun. It gives us a general direction to follow, before life presents us with the inevitable fork (or other piece of cutlery) in the road. It’s sentimental, I know, but I really do like entering each new year with the mindset of starting fresh, of picking something to focus on and saying, “THIS is the thing I’m going to do this year.”

And I think this can be a particularly helpful exercise for writers. Why? Because being a writer is hard. We face many obstacles and distractions. So I thought I’d try to help carve through some of them, by offering ten items for you to consider adding to your own Post-Mayan-Apocalypse To-Do List (or, PMATDL). Let’s begin.

 

1. Read more.

I know, this is pretty basic. But haven’t most of us lamented at some time or other that we simply don’t have time to read? That’s not good. In fact, it’s a showstopper. As Stephen King puts it:

 

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But Stephen doesn’t just scold us. In his book On Writing, from which the above quote is drawn, King points out that if we always keep a book handy, there are plenty of opportunities to read, as long as we learn to take satisfaction “in small sips as well as in long swallows.” Whether you’re a fan of King’s fiction or not, it’s hard to argue with his logic.

 

2. Complain less.

I noted above that being a writer is hard. Yeah, but here’s the thing. So is being a plumber. Or a brain surgeon. Or just about anything other than being a Jersey Shore cast member. Nobody’s got it totally easy, and – more important – nobody really wants to hear how hard your life is, particularly when it comes to being a writer. After all, this is something you volunteered for, not something you’re being forced to do (even if you’re the type who considers writing to be your “calling”).

On top of that, don’t forget that the people you’re complaining to are also your potential readers. Who wants to buy a book from a big old crybaby? Do you really want that to be your platform? (Keith pauses to make a mental note to add “Stop saying that godawful word platform” to his own list of new year’s resolutions.) But the most compelling reason to complain less is that it gives you more time to write.

 

3. Back up your computer.

If you’re not already doing this, put this at the top of your list. We’ve all heard the horror stories, and it’s way too easy to assume that those terrible things only happen to other people. Sorry, but it’s all too likely that there’s some nasty computer gremlin out there with your name on his list, and he’s coming to get you. Be ready.

And it’s so easy, there’s really no excuse. I’m a big fan of Carbonite, which has been a lifesaver to me and my family multiple times over the years. But there are other solutions out there. Look for the ones that back up your data automatically without requiring you to remember to do anything – this eliminates both the hassle and the excuses.

Don’t put your hard work at risk, folks. Back it up. Do it now – I’ll wait.

 

4. Try something new.

A great way to conquer literary inertia and expand your horizons is to try something that is outside of your current realm of experience. Like what? Like anything – this really is an open-ended resolution. If you always write in the third person, try writing a chapter or a story in first person. If you’re a present-tense junkie, try writing something in past tense. If you’re a pantser, try plotting. If you’re a plotter, try writing something by the seat of your pants (which is a really odd metaphor, the more I look at it – but I digress…). Experiment with a different genre or style, or try making your main character the opposite gender from what you normally write. You get the idea.

Or experiment in other ways. Change the physical act of writing, by sitting on a yoga ball, or trying a standing desk. Change the process you use, by trying some piece of writing software, or writing an outline, or adopting some new writing methodology like the hero’s journey, the snowflake method, the three-act structure, etc.

All of these fall into the “you never know until you try” category, so unless you feel like you’ve got this whole writing thing completely nailed (in which case, I suspect you don’t waste your time reading blogs like this), try injecting some new blood into the way you write. You may be amazed by the results, or you may confirm that no, that particular approach is just not a fit. Either way, you learn something. And learning is good. Always.

 

5. Build a skill/fill a gap.

Not sure where your gaps are? Then stop and mentally replay the excuses you make most frequently, about stuff you’re not good at, or don’t know how to do. Then do something about it.

Always admitting that you’re fuzzy on some style or grammar issues? Learn the distinctions between “less” and “fewer;” between “that” and “which.” Figure out what the dreaded “passive voice” actually is. Always lamenting that you’re just not tech savvy? Figure out how to post photos in a blog or discussion forum. Learn how page-numbering works in MS Word. Finally figure out how to make your little avatar show up in a WU comment. And so on…

The cool thing is that all this information is readily available, and often for FREE. Some basic searches will typically generate relevant results immediately, and there’s a tutorial for how to do just about ANYTHING on YouTube these days. It just requires you to be a little inquisitive, and willing to follow some steps. Then bookmark the web pages that helped you, so that you can replicate the experience. You don’t even have to memorize this stuff, just take the Henry Ford approach, and make sure you know where to get the information you need. In that respect, there has never been an easier time to learn new skills. Take advantage of it!

 

6. Give something back.

Since we are writers here, I’m talking specifically about giving something back to other writers. There are so many ways to do this. Write reviews on Amazon for books you enjoyed. Mentor a writer who’s a few stages behind you on the journey to publication. Offer critiques to other writers (of course, ONLY do this in situations where your critiques are actually solicited, such as in a critique group or online forum).

Show your advocacy for a writer (or for a genre of books, or some literary cause) by championing them when you talk about books and writing – both in face-to-face interactions and online. We really have endless opportunities to help each other, if we take the time and make the effort.

 

7. Tell somebody what you’re working on.

I advocate this for a number of reasons. First, it’s easy to be shy (okay, hugely insecure) about trying to do this whole writing-a-book thing. I mean, who the hell do we think we are anyway, trying to do what The Great Novelists Before Us have done? The thing is, all of those literary giants started out as regular humans who thought they might try writing a book. Just like you.

Plus, you’ll be drawing a line in the sand. When you tell somebody you’re writing a book, they will not forget. They’ll ask you how the book is coming along. Frequently. This makes you accountable to actually write the damn thing, which can provide some additional motivation to get your butt in a chair (or on a yoga ball) and start typing.

And if you’re fortunate enough to have friends and/or family who are supportive, you may find that clearly stating this goal helps them become more understanding about your decreasing availability to join them in potentially fun activities that could distract you from the task at hand and eat up your valuable time. After all, you’ve got a book to write. Most people – at least in my experience – think that’s pretty cool. And it makes a much cooler excuse than “sorry, I just don’t feel like it” or “I don’t have any pants that are clean.”

Finally, this gets you in the habit of talking about your book, which is an absolutely freaking CRUCIAL skill for all writers who aspire to be published. Might as well start practicing now, because you ARE going to get asked: So, what’s your book about?

 

8. Re-read a book that was important to you before you became a writer.

I have always been a big reader, but I didn’t get serious about writing until I was in my late 30s. This means that for many of the books that shaped my life and molded my outlook, I’ve never really taken a look at how they were written.

This can be an illuminating exercise. Some books will hold up really well. Others, not so much. Either way, it’s a fascinating journey, and if you’re like me, there’s a long list of books that fall in this category, so your TBR stack of books just got joined by a TBRR (to be re-read) stack. Enjoy!

 

9. Read the book everyone’s talking about.

While I typically don’t like to get caught up in fads or trends, as a writer it makes sense to have an awareness of a book that’s currently setting the world on fire. But many writers do more than resist the trend – we openly diss that book. Sometimes without having even read it. That’s really unforgivable, yet it can be so tempting. After all, that author is making money hand-over-fist, right? So aren’t we poor struggling writers entitled to a little sour-grape-flavored griping?

Um, no. At least not until you’ve read the thing. And try to read it with an open mind – you may be surprised. I read The Help when it was the hottest thing going, and was completely knocked out by it. In addition to the subject matter of Kathryn Stockett’s novel hitting a cultural hot-button, the damn thing was just plain well-written and brilliantly paced. Which is something I’d never know if I hadn’t read it.

But even with books where the writing may not be to our tastes, there’s usually something to learn. Wooden prose or not, The Da Vinci Code made an impression on millions of readers. As a writer, I wanted to see firsthand how that happened. So you better believe I read it, and my hat is off to Dan Brown for pulling off such a plausible what-if story anchored by iconic imagery and symbols that are so universal that they make the story something almost anybody could latch on to and envision. Bottom line, when a book sells that many bazillion copies, the author has done something right, and – to me, at least – is worthy of study.

 

10. Tell the world about a book nobody’s talking about.

This might overlap with my “give something back” suggestion, but I’m always surprised by how hard it is to find people who’ve read many of the same books I’ve read. It’s a lot different than movies, because the sheer number of books published each year is so much larger than the number of movies released. That’s why even in books about the craft of writing, authors usually use movies as examples, because it’s far safer to assume that the reader has seen Titanic or The Firm than to assume they’ve read Updike or Austen.

Got a book that rocked your world? Talk about it. Do it at parties, on your blog or Facebook page, tweet about it, and review it on Amazon. Spread the wonderfulness, particularly if it’s a book that is not on many people’s radar. We each have the power to help change that.

 

So, what’s on YOUR list?

These are just a few suggestions. How about you? What are some other resolutions you think writers should make for 2013? Please chime in, and thanks for reading!

 

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

 

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About Keith Cronin

Author of the novels ME AGAIN, published by Five Star/Gale; and TONY PARTLY CLOUDY (published under his pen name Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Comments

  1. says

    Keith, These are great words to live by. I myself am guilty of at least four and half of them. Like complaining that I am not finished yet. Well, so, what! After reading your list, may I add another? Appreciating that we are wrestling words to the page, luring them to sit down for a while, attempting to see their outline against the night sky. Being present for this incredible story (whatever it is) and listening hard..Merci, Keith!
    Dorette Snover´s last blog post ..French Train Travel: Croissants and Jasmine Perfume, Part One.

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  2. says

    Okay, the complaining part. Bad habit. That’s on my list.
    I’m backing up on the Carbonite trial, even as I write. I had no idea it was that cheap!

    This was a great Christmas gift, Keith – thanks!

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  3. says

    Great post – especially the part about complaining less. I try and remind myself that a bad day writing is still way better than a good day working for someone else or in an uncreative and boring job.

    At the end of each month, I do a blog post about the “standout” books I read over the past weeks – some are popular, others are older, etc – and I’m always thrilled when readers comment about how they’d never heard of the book but it’s going on their TBR list.

    Oh, and these two parts – “cosmic Oreo” and “Who wants to buy a book from a big crybaby?” – had me spitting out my coffee, I laughed so hard. :)
    Madeline Mora-Summonte´s last blog post ..Motivational Monday

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  4. says

    Wonderful post, Keith, and timely.

    Re #7: I’ve read many times that you should NOT talk about a WIP, that it somehow dilutes or distracts. Your contra-argument is refreshing. Reducing your core theme to an ‘elevator speech’ helps focus and gives self-induced feedback. If it sounds corny or muddled, change it.

    Re #8: My beloved wife/muse/editor suggested I do some rereading to straighten out some tense issues and I had delved into some early LeCarre and am smitten with love all over again (both for LeCarre and the aforementioned muse).

    Good suggestions gratefully recieved.
    alex wilson´s last blog post ..Playing ‘what if…?

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  5. says

    Great list. I’ll adopt a few of these. Also on my list: 1) less Internet. When I am wrestling with my writing it’s too easy to use the interet as purposeful-feeling distraction. 2) practice my music–nurturing other forms of creativity is good for my mind and stimulates my creativity in general yet this gets a low priority now.
    julie luek´s last blog post ..Giving Back- Thanks Alex

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  6. says

    Insightful as always, Keith. I’m resolving all these right now, especially #2 and #3. Writing resolutions all too often take the form of word count goals, and while those are useful too, writers can grow in so many ways that don’t involve putting the maximum number of words on the page in the shortest time.
    Jael McHenry´s last blog post ..books, babies and balance

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  7. says

    Re: number 8, I recently tried to go back and look at CS Lewis’ novel The Horse and His Boy (part of the Narnia series and one of my favorite books of all time) and I found it was quite tricky to dissect the writing because no matter where I started reading, I got sucked in to the story! I finally got a blog post called ‘The Narrative Voice of CS Lewis’ out of it, but man. Challenging exercise.

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  8. says

    Number 6 – give something back. Why hasn’t this occurred to me? Feedback is so crucial to the business, and I’m content to just enjoy a book and not let the writer know? Well, it’s definitely on my list of things to do in the new year!
    Jillian Boston´s last blog post ..AIL Day 90: funambulism

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  9. Carmel says

    Inspiring list. I especially love #10, since I love to share on FB about a book that wows me. Will try to do more of that this year. My goals are more yoga, more walking, and more letting go and writing with abandon.

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  10. says

    A very enjoyable post –

    I want to thank you for mentioning Carbonite. My computer’s hard drive was defective and crashed. I was able to back everything up to flash drives – I was very fortunate to be able to – but, flash drives being corruptible, I wanted something more. I have now signed up for Carbonite’s trial version. I will most likely be signing on permanently.

    Thank you!

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  11. says

    These are great, Keith. And I just signed up for a free trial of Carbonite. Thank you for that nudge!

    You know what I loved about these? They are all, 100% in our control. There is so much over which we writers do NOT have control. But reading, trying new things, giving back . . . those are all doable.

    Thank you for this gift!
    Sarah Callender´s last blog post ..Rogue

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  12. Denise Willson says

    I’ve never been one for resolutions; not sure why. Thanks to your ideas, I think I’ll give a few a shot this year.

    Thanks, Keith!

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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  13. says

    Great list!

    This year I’m choosing to keep my reading to myself. Sounds weird, but after faithfully posting on Goodreads for years and keeping lists of what I’m reading on my blog, I’d like a bit of privacy in this dept. Sure, I’ll still post on what I’m reading on occasion, (love the discussion aspect of this) but somehow keeping the entire list to myself feels like re-claiming some of the joy reading brings.
    Caroline Starr Rose´s last blog post ..Why We Read

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  14. says

    Re complain less: It’s funny, but I would have thought medicine would have given me the ability to put writing woes in perspective. Not consistently, as it turns out. I’m working on this one.

    Re #9: I so agree. I can virtually be assured that when people trash talk the latest big thing, they haven’t read more than a few pages, if that. Maybe this is connected to complain-less?
    Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..Think Your Partner Doesn’t Support Your Writing? Look Again

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  15. says

    Oh my goodness, I love this list. Arrogantly I thought I’d already be doing most of whatever you came up with, but there are definitely some holes I should address. Thanks for pointing them out!
    Kristan Hoffman´s last blog post ..Let things pass

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  16. says

    Great list, Keith. I love the beginning of a new year and setting goals.

    I would add: Review your previous year’s list of goals and write down your accomplishments. (ie, completed a project, attended a writer’s conference, started a blog, submitted ms, bought two books on craft, etc). It is empowering, and a good way to jump-start a new year.

    It’s interesting…I just checked out THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES yesterday for exactly the reasons you gave in #8!
    Cindy Angell Keeling´s last blog post ..Characters I Have Known: Miss Louise Z.

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  17. says

    Next year my blog will actually focus primarily on your #6 with a creation of a new writer’s series called WRITERLY WISDOM. Every Wednesday for a year beginning January 2, 2013 I will have an author or experienced writer guest blog about monthly topics and weekly themes to help everyone from novice writers to award winning authors learn more about the writing process and publishing industry. I can think of no better way of giving back than showcasing the talents and wisdom of those who have helped create the path to publication we are all on!

    Lovely post, Keith. Thanks for all you do for the writing community!

    Donna L Martin
    http://www.donnalmartin.com
    Donna L Martin´s last blog post ..Celebrating Seanachaism

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  18. says

    All excellent tips. If you knew better you would do better. We should organize an international back up day.

    I remember in college loosing a paper and ever since I back up like i’m crazy.

    Here’s another to add to the list:

    Collaborate.

    Work on something with someone else for a change everything doesn’t boil down to just what you do alone.

    This is what I learned from Guy K’s newest book that’s blowing up Amazon right now.
    Jacko´s last blog post ..APE Review – 20 reasons why you should read the new book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

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  19. says

    Damn! I got the end of the world with the Mayan date wrong! I was thinking it was the 21st of December. So, it’s tomorrow???? And, my book is not done. What to do… : )

    This is a fantastic list. I do some of these already, such as your #10 one. I have found some fantastic writers that no one has ever heard of and I give back by doing a little review of their novel if it moves me. The world is full of talented writers nobody’s heard of. I love that. It gives me both inspiration and hope.

    I have an 11th one that I will try for again this year. It is just saying “No”. I need to better protect my writing time. I’ve come to the conclusion (personally) that I can’t be everywhere or be everything for everyone and still be a writer.

    This is an awesome post ~ thanks for sharing.
    Katherine Owen´s last blog post ..Not good enough

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  20. says

    I suspect Carbonite’s seeing the Cronin Bump today.

    BTW, according to Mr. Right, the Mayan calendar didn’t account for leap days and years, so the world actually ended last July. Who knew?

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  21. says

    Brilliant! This is getting stolen and reposted [with attribution of course] widely. Thank you for jump-starting my task-list. Now to think of what to add to it. Most everything I can think of can be neatly added to one of your categories so why mess with economy like that? Many thanks.
    Lori (Lara Britt) Sailiata´s last blog post ..Writing Space Updated

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  22. Emily Stone Davis says

    As usual, WU is the best. I also love New Years Resolution time. I feel chock-full of potential and inspiration. Here’s my list:

    1. Announce to my people that I have a 2013 Master Plan so they know I mean business.
    2. I will strictly adhere to a writing schedule.
    3. I will write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for books that knock my socks off and continue to advocate for authors I love to read!
    4. I will study up (but not during my writing time) on the correct usage of commas, parentheses and … elipses.
    5. I solemnly swear on a stack of holy texts I will finish my first novel and start on the next.

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  23. says

    Thanks for the great list! I’ve already printed it out for my bulletin board. (Yes -I’m an old-fashioned tree-killing paper person.)

    BTW – the “seat of your pants” expression was originally “FLY by the seat of your pants” and referred to piloting an airplane without instruments.
    Carolyn Paul Branch´s last blog post ..Why a Conference? The Conversation!

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  24. says

    Thanks for your list. I especially like #7.

    For some reason your site thinks that mine, http://www.writeradvice.com, is not valid, so I’m not sure if you’ll get this or not.

    I wish you all the best as you share with the world.

    B. Lynn Goodwin
    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

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  25. says

    Talking about my work with family and friends is something I need to work on. Once I decided my next novel would be set in my home city, they were all very supportive. Thanks for the list :D

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  26. says

    Well, I believe we miss the purpose of coming up with any new year resolutions if we believe the new year isn’t coming, aren’t we?

    Personally, my main resolution this year is to be more consistent in what I do. I want to keep myself motivated for as long as possible to maintain habits such as writing (a great mind liberator), healthy habits (jogging, martial arts) and volunteering (makes me feel awesome!).

    It is proven that sharing your purposes and big goals with others gives you an improved chance of achieving them, so I encourage everyone to comment!

    Thanks for an inspiring article, Keith! :)
    Andrew´s last blog post ..14 Reasons You Always Give Up New Year Resolutions

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  27. says

    12/21/2012 is associated with the Mayan prophecy, and is not a harbinger for the end of the world as (too) many people think. ;-)

    Great list of resolutions! My writing-related resolution is to finish what I start, and then get it published. Sounds so simple.
    Ellen M. Gregg´s last blog post ..12/12/12: The Beginning is Near

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  28. says

    I’ve got 2 books that has been started since 2008 and have yet to be completed. I think my new year’s resolution would be to get at least one of them completed in 2013 spring.

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  29. says

    Hiya Keith,

    As soon as I read the title of this blog, even before I saw your name, I knew you wrote it. Your magnetism is spreading in more ways than you know.

    Loved your list, especially #8—re-reading the books that were important to you before you became a writer. I have discovered that when I reread a play or book I also uncover how much I’ve personally changed. How we interpret a book is based on where we are in our life—what kind of issues we’re dealing with colors how we take the book in and ultimately what we get out of it. Recognizing how we change as individuals is a great reminder of how important it is for our characters (the ones we are writing about) to change.

    I don’t invest in New Year’s resolutions. I reexamine my year on my birthday. I choose 1 or as many as 3 goals I want to accomplish and meditate on them at the exact time I was born. The power of the universe at this moment is the strongest for you to manifest. Through the years I have discovered that the goals that are true to my path and my ultimate objective do manifest, although it may not be in one year’s time. Something to think about. However, if I were to have a list one of the things I would do would be to watch Midnight in Paris periodically to recharge my inspirational battery.

    Thanks Keith and Happy New Year!
    Jocosa Wade´s last blog post ..SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER by Fred Waitzkin

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  30. says

    To your point – I really enjoyed the Engineer Trilogy by K.J. Parker. Don’t think this author (gender unknown) is getting enough eyes on their masterful tale of a man caught in the midst of revenge, plotting, betrayal, and steampunk—all for the sake of love.

    Devices and Desires is the first book – pick it up! I think writers will find a wealth of writing knowledge and raw talent on the page.
    Justin´s last blog post ..Ave Woodland

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