How To Make A Writing Space: Part 1; Physical space–Think outside the desk

I like to think of my writing space the same way I do my altar space–you can make anything work with the right setup and a bit of creative thinking. My altar has been on my dresser, on top of a wardrobe, and at one point a tiny decorative box next to my bed, behind a couch, on a living room floor (ah, my first year on my own). My writing space is no different. Your writing space does need to have a few requirements, just like my altar does, but A Real Desk is not one of them.

This is going to sound a little weird to some of you, and to others it’s going to make perfect sense. You need to feel safe where you’re writing in that if you have a bad day, or you’re feeling anxious, or you simply dig into The Real Life Experience and start crying uncontrollably, you can do so without feeling awkward or out of place. Writing is digging, sometimes you’re pulling out some heavy emotional shit, and you can’t do without a safe environment.

You need to be able to work without noise. You do. Even if you think you don’t. Writing happens when you’re in control, and you don’t want someone watching TV in the next room to throw off your rhythm. For me, I need to be in control of the noise being made, but I need my own noise to make the world noise fuck off. This alternates from my 8tracks collections (link to my personal account) to ambient noise (link to slytherin house). You can also do this by simply putting in a pair of earplugs. If you’re going to be writing sans computer, I highly recommend the Relax Sounds app for ambient noise. For music on the go, 8tracks has wonderful playlists themed just for writers. You can save them all into collections for hours upon hours of mood music.

Your space needs to always be available to you. You don’t want to be working around a weird schedule and then get thrown off because Life Happened or your boss changed up your hours so now your coffee house or library or what have you is closed. You don’t want to be scheduling around your roommates for common space–trust me, you don’t. You want to be able to write whenever the mood strikes.

It goes without saying that you need to be comfortable while you write. This could mean investing in a nice pen or a good keyboard. I recommend something with a good grip like a SARASA or even a fountain pen (the lack of pressure needed to write helps my hands a lot) or the Logitech Wave keyboard for typing. You need to have good back support–you don’t want to hurt yourself for your art (its not cool kids its just bad for your health). You also need to be warm/cool, so if you’re planning to carve out the garage or a shed, be prepared to have a really safe heater and a really nice fan.

Where do I write: in my bedroom. I have two desks–neither of them are for writing. Neither of them are in my bedroom. I have my lovely glass Z-line desk for editing–its got a Serta office chair that keeps my bad back in line. I have an old wooden desk that I picked up at a Goodwill with lots of drawers and a nice lip around the top to keep things from rolling off–thats what where I do my engraving and other jewelry work, as well as clothes studding and patches.

My writing space? Its my bed. With one of those Sit Up pillows. My bed has all of the above. I have slippers and blankets to keep my warm, and cat cuddles for comfort. It’s always open to me, and I can work for hours here without disturbance. While I will do revision at the desk, simply because I like my keyboard settings for this specific task, I write most of the time on my Toshiba laptop, and so that is in essence my writing space.

If you’re feeling a little out of it stressed or lost for inspiration, you can always get out of the house. My personal favorites are my local library–there is nothing better for me than to walk into a library and be reminded that I too can get on these fucking shelves if I just keep working at it. You may even be able to find a copy of a great writing magazine to thumb through if you need a little pick me up. If the weather happens to be cooperating (I live in Massachusetts, so this is as rare as a white tiger) I will go outside and write on my deck or my yard or the local park. I don’t do coffeehouses–too many people for me. But if it works for you, fucking do it.

None of these places have a writing desk.

And thats the point. You don’t need a writing desk, or a battle shed (though damn, wouldn’t that be great). All you really need is peace and quiet, some place comfy, and the basic tools of the craft. Your physical writing space doesn’t need to be your bed. It can be a chair at home in a corner you like with a collapsible table you bring out when its Writing Time. It can be a seat at your kitchen table (if you live alone or with people who are quiet as mice). It can be anything, anywhere, that suits your needs.

If you like what you’ve read here, be sure to subscribe to our website here at Word Vagabond, and stay tuned for our next installment–all about carving out a digital writing space, completely organized and custom tailored for you.


Critique is Crucial: Seven steps to a great writing group

Writers love writing; we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. What writers don’t love (for the most part) is sharing their writing.

Sharing your writing is terrifying. There’s no bones about it. Your words could get torn apart, or worse–stolen. It’s baring your precious darling to the world and praying it doesn’t get hurt. This is why authors need great editors to insure your book is as perfect as it can be.

This is also why authors need writing groups.

Writing groups can be many different things for authors. They can be a safe place to get your butt in the chair and just write (these are called write-ins). They can be sounding boards where you talk business and marketing and the craft of writing (Writers Coffeehouse on Facebook). And they can also be a place where you can find out for certain if your book will make it or break it in The Real World.

The last is the hardest by far to find, but it can also be the most rewarding. If you’re ready to put your work on the chopping block, you can begin the work of making the perfect critique group in seven easy steps.

  1. Find People You Trust
    You don’t have to be close friends with your group members; it’s better if you’re not. But you need to be bale to trust their opinions on your work to be honest and backed up by something other than personal taste. For example, if someone is saying the sexual assault scene doesn’t seem very accurate, they have to tell you why and back it with reasoning and research.
  2. Find People Outside Your Genre
    Your first instinct may be to invite all of the people you already chat with in your genre–don’t do it. People outside your field will be more effectively critical of your work. They catch things that you wouldn’t, and you’ll do the same for them/ If it all possible, find people who each writer very different genres and styles. You may be surprised how each person in your group will catch something very different. The result: well-rounded critiques for all! Like the Oprah of editing–all for free.
  3. Have A Set Deadline
    The best critiques come over time, not on the spot. As you’re creating the schedule for your group, be sure to also have a set deadline for sending in your work atg least one week before the group meets. This gives everyone time to review each other’s work fairly.
  4. Have A Limit
    No one wants to be that asshole who submits a 15k story, when everyone else’s subs are only 3k. Have a cap for how many words and stick to it. Remember that if you want your group to to work on longer pieces, you’ll need to set your submission deadline accordingly. 10k subs should have at best two weeks to go over them before your group meets.
  5. Be Kind
    It’s easy to be critical, but don’t forget to point out the good too! If something made you laugh, made you smile, made you horrified, say it! Kind words help authors remember that their story isn’t all bad–even if it does need a lot of work. Offer suggestions as well, as these can help to bounce ideas around and move their story in the right direction.
  6. Food Is The Best Break
    Your group might not always see eye to eye, but even if you disagree on an opening, you can always agree on where to order take out. Planning your meeting around a meal time gives everyone something to look forward to, even if their nervous about well their book was received.
  7. Don’t Forget The Doorknob Questions
    Always ask whoever’s on the chopping block if they have any questions before you move along. This way, the author always has a moment to explain their choices or even just everyone’s thoughts on an aspect of the story that went unaddressed. This one simple question insures everyone gets the feedback they need to make a better book.

A writing group can be an invaluable resource to authors at all stages of their careers, provided you stay on task and put your own hard work into it. Stay on task, take careful notes, and bring dessert for back up.

Small House, Big Competition: the evolution of publishing as we know it

Before we begin the learning portion of today’s exercise, I would like to open with the following statements:

If you think e-readers are the downfall of civilization and the writing industry as we know it, turn back now.

If you think self-publishing is only for People Who Can’t Write, there’s the fucking door.

If you think getting published is a lot harder today, sit down, grab a cup of tea – we have a lot to discuss.


For those of us new to the world of publishing, the grand scheme works something like this. You, the author, write things. You go out and find a literary agent, whose job is to help you make money from these things, because they don’t make money until you do. They try to find your book a home at a publisher. The publisher’s job is to make money, regardless of whether you do or not. The publisher then has to get a distributor to actually create your book and spread it amongst book stores, shopping centers, etc.

As a diagram, it would look something like this:

Author -> Agent -> Publisher -> Distributor -> THE WORLD (hopefully).

As with much of the world’s industry, the Powers That Be of Publishing are down to the Big Five. These guys have gobbled up most of the underdogs, including a major merger four years back of Penguin and Random House. Many of the presses you’ll see on books are imprints owned by one of these conglomerates. For example, Delacorte is a big name in young adult titles, and is part of Penguin Random House.

Due to this shift in the publishing industry and the rise of e-readers, I hear  authors complaining constantly at conventions and meet-ups that it is next to impossible to become published today.

Dylan eye roll

It is not impossible. It is harder to be published by a Big Five publisher, but Big Five is not the end all be all of traditional publishing.

What?! But in school, I was taught that there was only Big Publishing, evil Vanity Publishing run by Satan, and You’re Better Off Not Bothering Self Publishing.

I know – I was taught the very same thing. But I graduated in 2012. The world of publishing is a very different place today. Thanks in part to the challenges surrounding the Big Five of NYC, middle-sized, small-press, and independent publishing houses have risen up to take it upon themselves to change the face of publishing. These houses are unique in that they will often focus on the niche of your novel, such as sci-fi and fantasy publisher Angry Robot, or the young adult audience of Leapand of course, the godfather of independent US publishing: Kensington.

But how can a small or middle-sized house reach people like a Big Five can?

Easy – they use the same distributors as the big guys do. That means your book can still get into Barnes & Noble and everywhere else fine books are sold, without having to sacrifice a new born to get into a Big Five house. Not all major publishers have great promotional teams, and a big house does not mean a safer or better contract. (Seriously. Don’t sign the dotted line until you’ve read every square inch of it.) The key to selling a book well is not necessarily to get into a Big Five publishing house, but rather to have an excellent PR rep and a great distributor.

Now here’s the part where I ask of you, dear reader, to drink deep of this fine, indie publishing Koolaid and tell you one of two things.

First – you don’t need an agent to get into a small or mid-sized house. Many of them don’t require one. All you need to do is do the work of the agent yourself – that means going over your contract with a fine-tooth comb, and maybe contacting an author-friend or two before you sign anything.

Take a sip, and let that sink in.

Are you sitting? Have you tried the Koolaid? It’s actually herbal tea, but who needs the sugar really and all that fake coloring is just – I digress.

I’m going to tell you about a book. A very special book for many, many reasons. It’s a book I don’t order for my little book store through MacMillan or Edelweiss, aka the long arm of Penguin RH (brownie for you if you say Edelweiss with a heavy german accent). I have to go through Bookazine to get it because it’s published through an independent house. It’s gone again in three weeks or less, and I order them all over again like clockwork. Fabulous, profit increasing, indie bookstore supporting clockwork. The title is a middle-grade to young adult series called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The author is Ransom Riggs. The publisher is Quirk.

You don’t mean the new Tim Burton movie that’s coming out this summer!

Oh, I do.

Because of this one book, Quirk, who primarily doth not tread in younger audiences, is now taking on middle-grade and YA titles.

So before you give up on publishing that book, before you heave that big ol’ melodramatic anti-hero sigh and decide that maybe getting published traditionally just isn’t for you, consider all of your options first.

I sense a change in the Force dear reader, and it’s bad news for Big Five and fabulous news for the writer’s market. Because if stories like Miss Peregrine become A Thing, stories where books from non-NYC based houses are given their due diligence, Big Five publishers are going to have to change the way they do things.

I see a better world for writers, one where alternative presses and small/mid-size houses actively compete in the land of publishing.

Think I’m crazy?

Keep drinking the Koolaid, and talk to me when Miss Peregrine hits theaters.

cheers McFassy

Let’s Talk About Sex, Part 3: Be Explicit

by Suzanne Lahna

In this, our final installment of our ‘how to write better sex’ series, we will be discussing the finer points of this unique body of writing. Part One discussed researching the science of sex; Part Two illustrated the many ways which authors can write sex in character. We wrap the series the best way we can to prepare you for the work ahead: the execution.

all the good things and the bad things

For many of us, talking about sex with friends and loved ones brings anxiety and discomfort, which can make writing sex scenes themselves no different. Like any type of writing, crafting the perfect sex scene for your story takes practice, numerous drafts, and the use of sensory details.

Sex is a very powerful moment for anyone who chooses to engage in sexual activity (note- sex is not for everyone and we will never say it is, asexual characters should be allowed to remain ace and stay true to character). These moments engage all five senses, and even additional ones when a moment of spiritual or emotional connection takes place. Remember the one and a half pages we talked about in Part One? This is where you find them.

The third and final rule of writing erotica: don’t be vague!

We are all adults here, so write like one. Talk. About. Sex. Talk about how a person’s pulse races when their partner gets closer to them, how the anticipation mounts when the partner’s hands slip under their shirt. Talk about how the temperature rises, how the world fades out as the senses become overwhelmed. A great sex scene, just like great sex, should leave you breathless.

it feels like the first time

The visual sense is the one writer’s most often work with, as we view the scene in our minds often as a short film or television episode before us. But for a great sex scene, you have to utilize the other four. Talk about how their skin tastes. Maybe their using a flavored lube or massage oil, maybe your characters breath is minty from the gum they chew or the mint they popped earlier or has the aftertaste of an alcoholic drink. Does the characters skin feel soft and smooth, or are there scars that feel rougher or smoother depending on the injury? Think about what your character wears for perfume or cologne, or how they keep their home smelling nice. If they’re in a hotel room, are the sheets musty or do they smell of bleach? As for sound, we always hear about the noises women make, but male partners are never perfectly silent either, so let your audience hear them too! Even if it’s just gasping for breath or low moans, these are the details that matter.

fat amy better not betterBut just as you want great details in your sex scene, there are also words you should avoid. Here are a few that confuse editors and befuddle readers everywhere:
Velvet glove
Throbbing member
Love stick
Man juice
Back door
Moist folds (moist in general really should be avoided)
Mound (not always avoidable, but do try)
Cum (as your editor will one day tell you: come, not cum)

There are a few simple and effective ways to keep your sex scene properly worded. If the phrase springs to mind the need to seek medical attention immediately (members don’t throb, please see your doctor immediately if yours does), or if it can easily be mistaken for anything other than a sexual term, don’t use it in your sex scene.

Words that you can always stick by: cock, dick, core, clit, entrance, dripping, come, orgasm, release, bundle of nerves, slick, ass, nipple, and breast. Keep it simple. Simple is effective. Simple gets the point across and lets you add more sensory details without any confusion.

Also, as an ending thought, as a woman who’s read, edited, and experienced a lot of sex in her life, can we stop with the phrase “You’re so wet!” as an exclamation of surprise? She should be wet, dude. If she’s not wet, you’re not doing your job, or otherwise has a medical issue requiring the aid of lubricant, which should have been discussed prior to the sexual encounter. Also, a woman’s vaginal fluids should not smell sweet or taste like honey; I know that’s the feminine myth at work, but resist! Keep it realistic.

In closing, be an adult. Keep it simple, but explicit. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as we have writing them.

snooch time Iliza

Coming up next: Prepping for Nanowrimo by finding the right word processing program for you. We’ll go into some of the biggest names in the business, and even revisit a new trend on an old piece of technology, to help you find the perfect fit to Write The Damn Book this November.

Let’s Talk About Sex, Part 2: Stay in! (Character)

by Suzanne Lahna

shorty get down

One of the things that Alexis and I come across when editing manuscripts is this weird sort of habit – I’m not sure if writers even realize they’re doing it – where the names of the characters almost never come up during a sex scene.

Pull up your MS, erotica writer, and take a look at that scene. Why is it that you say he and she throughout every single paragraph of the sex scene? This is something we’ve been encountering across the board, and it seems like it might be the symptom of a larger problem. When you’re writing a sex scene, are you just plugging in some generic “tab A into slot B” to boost book sales? Or are you actually taking into consideration how your unique characters, with their personalities, backgrounds, and storylines, would go about getting it on?

Rule the second: thou shalt STAY IN CHARACTER.

When sitting down to write your sex scene, before you begin to contemplate positions or type of sex, I want you to think about the backstory and personality of the people involved. If you’re writing for paranormal romance, your character may come from a tragic past or have been harmed in some way before, whether physically or emotionally. This can mean that certain positions are emotionally jarring; for example, ones that don’t allow them to look at their partner’s face throughout the scene.

Your character may also have certain physical triggers that they cannot handle in the bedroom, like being held down or even simply being on the bottom. Do they need to be in control? Or are they craving to hand the reigns over? Bringing conflict into a sex scene can make for excellent character development, and even help with your pacing! All conflict is good conflict, whether it’s a huge scary plot monster or a series of awkward moments in the bedroom. How character B negotiates character A’s bedroom don’ts can go a long way to showing the depth of their sincerity.

Pitch Perfect all through the night

Another thing to consider is how your character feels about their body. Is there anything they’re self-conscious about? Even the most conventionally attractive people have hang-ups: that pudge around their waist, a scar, something  a previous lover said they didn’t like. Be conscious of bringing this aspect of personality up in characters of any and every gender.

Another important aspect of staying in character is dialogue, both internal and external. Beware of words used to describe the human body during sex that do not fit the perspective of the character!
These are words that women do not ever use. Ever. Think about it. When was the last time you heard either one in polite conversation with a fellow babe? Never.  No woman has ever used these words to describe their body. Why? Because it’s degrading as hell. So if your sex scene is coming from the perspective of a female character, just say “breast.” It will be fine, I promise you. (we will have a whole section devoted to “Words to Use and Words to Avoid Like the Plague” in Part 3!)

Back to your character: let’s talk about kinks! Kink negotiation should happen anytime your characters have sex for the first time. It doesn’t have to be a paragraph of pace-destroying dialogue before the main event; it can occur naturally during. When Character A removes their shirt, Character B may say they like to keep their shirt on, because maybe they’re trans and wearing a binder. Maybe Character B says they’ve had a vasectomy and don’t wear condoms, but gets tested every month and are clean, and will show you results if needed, while kissing character B’s collarbone. (You get the idea!)

pitch perfect s & m

Don’t avoid writing a kink that you think your character will be into simply because you’re not knowledgeable about it, just do some research! You wouldn’t write a detective series without researching police procedure and standard weapon carries – don’t write erotica without knowing what you’re writing about. Every erotica writer should know the differences between vanilla sex, rough sex, and BDSM. If Character A is really into anal, you should be looking into the best lubricant, learning how the anal cavity actually stretches wider than the vagina, and get comfy writing about plugs, vibrators, and dildos designed for people who like “a lot of gaping” (research gaping, decide if this is a thing your character likes or not). If for some reason you’re uncomfortable researching a kink that your character is into, close your writing program now, and walk away.


Erotica is for adults, written by adults – get a grip and be mature about it. There’s nothing wrong with writing PG-13 romance if the down and dirty makes you squirm! Knowing your strengths and playing to them is an important part of the writing process.

And on that note, I conclude part 2 of Let’s Talk About Sex. I suggest you sit down and have a chat with your characters. Discuss what their preferences are in the bedroom. Have that kink negotiation. And above all else: STAY. IN. CHARACTER. (and stay tuned for part 3 next week!)

Let’s Talk About Sex! Part One: Size Matters

by Suzanne Lahna
Pitch-Perfect-Stills-and-Gifs lets talk about sex gif

It’s no secret that the last month of summer is always the hottest; that’s why Word Vagabond has chosen August to share our three-part series on how to write the hottest sex scenes. We’re going to walk you through step by step to show you what to do – and what not to do – to make the sparks really fly the next time you sit down to write an erotic scene.

First off: Yes, bigger is better. And no, I’m not talking about male genitalia, I’m talking about your sex scene.

Rule the first: thou shalt write a sex scene that is no less than one and a half pages.

If you can’t pull that off, go back to the drawing board. Sex with your characters should be about passion and desire, and occasionally emotions at varying levels of depth. If it’s all three, you will have no trouble at all making the cut. A paragraph is not a sex scene; that’s a cop-out for a ‘fade to black’ (which is fine if the sex is necessary for plot, not character development; do this to up the pacing when needed). If three to twelve minutes has been your average in the bedroom, fire your partner. If you are this partner, fire yourself immediately.

And on that note, let’s talk about foreplay!

Foreplay is a wonderful and beautiful thing that can be used to show how well your characters know one another, and should always include moments of consent when the situation calls for it (i.e., anything that would not be dub-con or non-con. Your happy PNR pairings should have A LOT of consent). If they don’t know each other very well, let it be awkward. Awkward is the new adorable, trust me on this. Humorous sex scenes are incredible on paper; they read real and true.

On the ‘science of sex’ side of foreplay, always prepare the partners if any type of penetrative sex is happening. This goes for both anal and vaginal. Sex should not be painful for a woman, even if it is her first time or if he has a wider-than-normal cock.

Let me repeat: There is no reason for sex to be painful for women.

yes water based lubricant sex scene 1

A fair amount of fingering should be involved in the proceedings, always starting at one and working your way up if it is their first time having penetrative vaginal sex, or if you’re having anal sex. If lube is required, the lube should be water-based, and never ever flavored. Always remember that the g-spot is to women what the prostate is to men, and work to include this erogenous zone in your scenes. Also, weird but cute erogenous zones work great for the awkward couples, like behind the knee or that spot by your hip.

Your foreplay should last at least five to fifteen minutes; aim for ten. Foreplay includes kissing and working up into sex, as any couple or group would.

Anal sex with any gender will require a fair amount of preparation: usually slow and methodical, and at least three fingers before a penis should enter anyone’s ass. Again, water-based lube is the best all-purpose choice, though a silicone-based is longer lasting and more suitable for anal sex.(Do not sit there and tell me you think saliva can be used as lube; it cannot. It will hurt and be harmful. And STAY AWAY FROM KY. It contains awful things which you can read about briefly here, and in detail here.) If a man is participating in anal sex, always include the prostate. And please, if you’re going to do anal, think about rimming. It’s a wonderful part of sex and really should be brought up more in anal sex scenes (thank you How To Get Away With Murder).

But of course, I cannot write this post without bringing up actual sizes, so let’s roll out a bit of science for all of us to remember the next time we’re taking our characters’ clothes off.

For the ladies: the average depth of the vagina is only three to four inches. In some abnormal cases, the vagina can be five to six, but this is RARE. This is why a ten-inch penis is not only uncommon, but if encountered could be painful and would definitely not fit into a woman’s vagina (massive dildos are designed for anal sex, not vaginal!). Yes, it stretches, but it’s not a pocket universe; there’s only so much you can fit in there. Remember this when you’re writing the next part!

For the boys: the average penis is six inches long. That’s it. Also, girth. Girth is the circumference around the penis, and anything pushing five inches is going to take a lot of prep work and simply doesn’t happen often in nature. Remember – girth is circumference, not width!
For an average male: six inches long, with maybe four inches of girth (or one and a half to two inches wide).
For a very hung man: eight inches long and six inches around (no more than three inches wide) is well within the realm of possibility, while still requiring a fair amount of the previously mentioned foreplay.
(I like to keep width below three inches, because anything beyond that sounds absolutely terrifying and simply unrealistic).5.5 inch dildo from love honey sex scene 1

Obviously, you can go bigger, but as a writer and editor, I would save the ten-inch dicks for seriously out-there paranormal romance. Leave the unnaturally large genitals to the super-human characters; it will make for better writing.

Want to know more about what a penis of such-and-such measurement actually looks like in relation to the human form? I highly recommend you take a trip to the nearest sex store, check out the dildo selection, and see for yourself. If you don’t have one near you, go to and check out the videos on each item to see how it stacks up against the average hand (just like the photo above, featuring a 5.5″ length or Penis of Average Size). This will give you a much better idea of what you’re actually dealing with, regardless of your sex life.

Sex scenes are like every other aspect of writing – research well and practice often!

Part 2 will post by this Friday, and Part 3 will be up next week! So stay tuned for more sex scene tips and tricks!