For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

February 24, 2017

What's in this heart-to-heart?


Recent Goings On:

Lots of things afoot.

First off: my birthday is tomorrow. I will be 33. Woopteedoo, not the point of this paragraph. The POINT is that I'm finally, finally kinda sorta maybe starting to feel like an adult. Kinda.

Although, upon further consideration, I think this might have more to do with the mom-jeans I just bought, since they make me feel like a 90s romcom heroine.

Wait a second...Upon further consideration, I now realize everything in my current wardrobe screams Meg Ryan from You've Got Mail. Not sure how I feel about this. 🤔

Second off: I head out on tour #2 this Sunday! Check out my tour stops below! I really hope I see some of y'all along the way!

Third off: BREATH OF THE WILD BREATH OF THE WILD BREATH OF THE WILD. Yeah, the new Zelda game hits stores the same day I get home from tour. Is that coincidence? OR FATE?

Fourth offThe world is in a lot of trouble these days. It's easy to lose track of just how truly dire things have gotten for a lot of people, since the news media is dominated by Trump.

I know not everyone has the time to volunteer or the money to donate, but even simply getting the word out about these issues can help a lot. So please, it would mean so much to me if you could RT:

For the Mislanders:

Witchlands Fan Art & Cosplay Costume Contest

You may or may not remember that I hinted in the last newsletter about a SUPER COOL CONTEST on it's way.

Well, today I get to reveal.

And oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is seriously the coolest thing I think I've ever gotten to do for you guys. Like, I am bouncing in my seat as a type this. EEEEE!!! EEEEE!!!!!


To celebrate the recent release of Windwitch and to say THANK YOU for all your support of the both the series and of me, I am hosting a super epic fan art contest of super epic proportions.

You can learn more about why on the main contest page, but the general gist is: I love cosplaying and I want YOU to be able to cosplay your favorite character in the Witchlands!


What You Can Win

The Grand Prize Winner will win:

  • A FULL COSTUME rendition of your art submission fabricated by the incredibly talented, internationally renowned cosplaying superstar Nicole Marie Jean. (Seriously, she’s amazing and you can learn more about her here.)
  • Signed copies of Truthwitch, Windwitch, Bloodwitch (ARC).
  • Signed copies of the repackaged Something Strange and Deadly trilogy.

5 Runners-Up will win:

  • Signed copies of Truthwitch, Windwitch, Bloodwitch (ARC).
  • Signed copies of the repackaged Something Strange and Deadly trilogy.

Winners will be chosen by an advisory committee that includes: Susan Dennard (me!), Joanna Volpe (my agent!), Whitney Ross (my Tor editor!), and a fourth, soon to be decided judge from Tor! All winners will be announced and notified on April 14, 2017.

How to Enter:

You can learn more (and actually enter) here. But the general idea is:

  • Create fan art of your favorite Witchlands character! The Witchlands-themed outfit is the key. 😉
  • All art mediums will be accepted, so get creative! Sculpt, embroider, paint, pixelate, sketch — whatever!
  • If your fan art is not easily digitized (i.e. a frilly pillow), just snap a picture of it! All we need is to see the awesomeness of the created character in .jpg form!
  • Once your Witchlands characte art is complete, you must submit it in .jpg form along with the completed form by 11:59:59 PM EST on March 31, 2017. Note: this is only open to US entrants. I'm sorry!! For legal reasons, I have to keep it that way.
  • Note: this is only open to US entrants. I'm sorry!! For legal reasons, I have to keep it that way.

So there you have it! I am super, super, super, SUPER excited to see not only what kind of fan art you all come up with, but also to see the final costume Nicole creates!

This is gonna be awesome.

Oh, and don't forget to learn more about it all on the main page.


For the Daydreamers:

Leaning Into Our Creative Strengths

This post is a continuation of the previous newsletter and the newsletter before that, in which I introduced the importance of analyzing a project postmortem and also provided my own postmortem of Windwitch.

The reason, of course, for all of this is to identify what did & did not work int the past, so that we can improve our problem areas and -- more importantly -- lean into our strengths.

Identifying Your Strengths & Weaknesses

My hope is that upon completing your postmortem, you have clear idea of WHAT WORKED versus WHAT DID NOT. I mean, looking at my own Windwitch postmortem, we can see that:
  • I needed more time than I normally do for this book, due to:
  • I wrote a lot of wasted words and false starts.
  • Drafting was (and always is) agony.
  • Revisions were fun.
  • Brainstorming was fun.
  • I ultimately assembled all these written-out-of-order Windwitch scenes like one massive puzzle.
  • Merik was the hardest character for me to write.
    • Likely, this is linked to the pressure of telling HIS story in Windwitch. Because PRESSURE.
  • Iseult and Aeduan were the easiest.
    • Likely because they were NOT the most important thread in the story.
    • I fear the ease of their narratives will vanish in Bloodwitch, which is Aeduan's story. Again, PRESSURE.

Now, I want to look at all of this more closely, for three things are now very apparent to me.
  1. I do not fall into creative flow while drafting.
  2. I do fall into creative flow while revising.
  3. I also fall into creative flow while planning and brainstorming.
On the surface, I have always known that drafting wasn't easy for me, but I have always assumed this was some massive character defect on my part.

I mean, what kind of writer HATES writing?

To make matters worse, I have a number of friends who can draft thousands upon thousands of words in a single day. I've always assumed that THEY WERE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT while I WAS DOING SOMETHING WRONG.

But that's not true. And on the flip side, nor is it true that I am doing something right while they do something wrong.

Instead, what it boils down to is how you create.

Your Creative Brain

I recently read a book that literally transformed how I view my own creativity (and others'). I highly recommend the book, Your Creative Brain by Dr. Shelley Carson, though I warn you it is very science heavy.

Of course, I loved all the nitty gritty science, but you could theoretically skim past all that dense brain talk and dive directly into the heart of the book, which asserts that science has identified 7 types of creativity. Each of these "brainsets" happens in a different part of your brain, and while your own brain might be strongest at one kind of creativity, it doesn't mean you can't improve the other kinds as well.

So for example, you might be extremely strong in the Stream "brainset" (which contributes to creative flow), but weak at Reason (which would contribute to revising).

On Dr. Carson's website, you can actually take a quiz that will tell you which brainsets are YOUR strengths. The book provides a much more in-depth quiz, and I will say: I got slightly different answers from the quick quiz vs. the full one in the book. Additionally, having the book will give you much more insight into what each brainset means, as well as how to improve your weaker brainsets. Still, the quick-and-dirty quiz on her website can be hugely helpful if you can't get a hold of the book.

Now go on. Go take it right now. I'll wait.



Okay. You're done. What were your results?

I came back with Reason as my highest, followed by a tie between Connect and Absorb. This means that I am good at generating ideas, solving problems in unique ways, and learning new things.

This doesn't surprise me at all. It fits perfectly with my abilities as a strong reviser and brainstormer. I take a bad first draft and solve it like some tricky math problem -- but unlike a math problem, there are a hundred different possible solutions, and the fun for me is picking out the best one.

It also came as no surprise to find that my WEAKEST brainset was Stream. I am not good at falling into flow while drafting.

"Duh, Sooz," you're thinking. "You reinforced what you already learned in your postmortem. Good for you."

Yes, I did. But I also learned something that came as a complete surprise.

Dr. Carson doesn't address what this means on her website (you need the book for that!), but the basic idea is that in addition to the 7 brainsets, there are 2 pathways to actually accessing creative ideas.
  • Deliberate creators work away at something, little by little. The simple act of "showing up" regularly allows them to tap into their creative brainsets. They feel they are getting "warmer and warmer" as they hone in on the Right Idea or the Right Solutions. Deliberate creators work with the front of their brains firmly in control.
  • Spontaneous creators tap into their creative brainets via the subconscious mind. The back of our brains never turns off, you see, yet rarely are the ideas happening there worthy enough to reach the conscious, thinking parts of our brains. When those the ideas DO come, though, they can be a total AHA! moment. You're struck by a solution that is so perfect and so "random," you think it must have come from some external, magical source. (It didn't. Thanks human brain!)
What surprised me is that I would have said without a doubt that I was a "deliberate" creator. BUT NOPE. My results showed I am much more of "spontaneous" creator. So while yes, I will continue to "hack away every day" at an idea because I can't not, the really important solutions and creative moments are always going to come "spontaneously" from my subconscious mind.

Leaning into Your Strengths

This is all important. So, so important because it means that I AM NOT BROKEN. (And nor are you!)

I'm not failing at flow because I am a terrible author -- I'm failing at flow because that part of my brain isn't nearly so developed as the parts of my brain that work with problem-solving and learning.

Can't you see why that's incredibly liberating?

Instead of trying to force myself to become that writer-who-loves-to-write, it makes more sense instead to lean into what I am actually good well as what I actually love.

It also means that working everyday for 2 years on Windwitch was NOT the most effective use of my time. The spontaneous, subconscious part of my creativity needed space to operate, and I simply wasn't letting that happen. Instead, I was acting like a "deliberate" creator, drafting words before the ideas were fully grown -- before I'd allowed my subconscious mind to think through & evaluate every possibly story solution.

It is also why, 1.5 years into the process the Right Story did come along (in a summer full of glorious AHA! moments), and once I had those ideas, the words weren't so agonizing to get down. I still wasn't fast, but I didn't throw everything away over and over again.

So what have I learned?
  • I am good at seeing what's wrong in a story -- and I'm good at articulating them too.
  • I am good at assembling stories like a puzzle for the most satisfying, unique outcome.
  • And most of all, I enjoy staring at all the seemingly disparate ideas and pictures and scribbles on my white board until I see how they all connect.

Why, then, am I avoiding that and trying to force myself to "just hammer out a draft as fast as possible and fix it later?" That will never end in a good product for me! Instead, it will end in a series of false starts, thousands upon thousands of wasted words, and ENDLESS MISERY.

Right now, I'm working ona new project in the Witchlands world. I tried to write this story 3 years ago, but like Windwitch, it simply wasn't ready and I threw out tons of false starts.

Now, 3 years of incubation later, this sucker IS ready. It has evolved into something so different from what I originally thought it would be -- a sign my subconscious has been one busy bee. Yet I know this is the Right Story because the ideas have been coming so fast I'm actually struggling to keep up. I literally fill my white board, snap a picture of it, then erase and start again.

Idea, idea, connect, absorb, idea, idea.

Oh, it is pure magic. I feel as if my heart is actually singing as I race to get all the ideas and connections down -- and is that not the same feeling that writers-who-love-to-write feel when they fall into creative flow?

And no, the actual words still aren't tumbling out of me. I manage only 500-1500 words a day, but I can feel that this is the Right Story. Other than polishing prose and other scene-level tweaks, I think maybe...dare I say it? I think maybe FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE, I will not need to rewrite the whole book once I reach The End. Because for the first time ever, instead of trying to force myself to be something I'm not, I'm leaning into what I'm actually good at and what I actually love.

That, my friends, is pretty incredible.

Upcoming Events:
Joseph-Beth Booksellers (with Emery Lord!)
Feb. 26, 2017 at 4PM
Cincinnati, OH

Brookline Booksmith (with VE Schwab!)
Feb. 27, 2017 at 7PM
Boston, MA

Books of Wonder (with VE Schwab, Kim Liggett, & Erika Lewis!)
Feb. 28, 2017 at 6PM
New York, NY

Barnes & Noble, Neshaminy Mall (with Elise Kova!)
March 1, 2017 at 6PM
Bensalem, PA

One More Page (with Jodi Meadows!)
March 2, 2017 at 7PM
Arlington, VA



Link Roundup:

As always, here are some links for your weekend! Thank you, as always, for reading!


photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2017
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, a fangirl, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.