Progress: Getting organized after losing a job

This little reunion was one of the best ways to start the new year.

Over the last month, there was a lot for me to be happy about. Christmas with the family had been wonderful. Progress on The Thieves of Traska was in an excellent place. I went to Albany to see a friend and go to a concert.

For a little while, I got a better handle on my stress at work. Some good opportunities were headed my way. I was even going to resume my classes in the spring. And then I lost my job last week.

It shocked many, but surprised very few. All the well-wishes and support I’ve received from friends and family have almost entirely included some form of congratulations. It’s been no secret how much stress I’ve been under.

Just before all this happened, I’d read Tee Morris’ blog post 3 Tips on Getting Back on Track When Life Knocks You Down. His post was so helpful in calming me down and finding what I should do next, I emailed him a thank you. He was kind enough to reply with another invaluable blog post: 5 Things to Do After You Lose Your Job.

His point about avoiding a social media meltdown made me reconsider whether or not I should write this post. But I’m not here to rant or make my former employer look bad. In fact, I still have a lot of love for the company. I want to follow in Tee’s footsteps and use this experience as a chance to maybe calm someone else down and help them figure out their next step.

Both of his posts stress the importance of getting organized again. I’m not sure it’s what he had in mind, but my first step was moving my furniture all around and sorting out my physical space. At the very least, I got to use up some energy shoving my massive dresser back and forth across the room. Progress is progress, right?

Then I reorganized my time, taking some of my old routine to structure a new one. Bianca gets her insulin shots at the same times as before. I start the morning with a cup of tea, then work on writing for a few hours. Just before noon, I get coffee, take care of a few chores, and then turn to the job search. I trade off days searching and applying. At 3 p.m., I get the next cup of tea and start catching up on reading news and blogs. After 5 p.m., the focus is on dinner and relaxing. I can read, watch a movie, catch up on a TV show, play video games, or work on some art.

Bianca’s just happy I have more time to rub her belly.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of creating this kind of schedule is that it cuts down on panic. Every time your brain starts demanding when you’ll have a new job, you can calmly remind it, “We found some excellent opportunities yesterday afternoon, and we applied to them today. Tomorrow we will find more.”

One of my favorite professors always talked about the importance of self-discipline. It’s what makes you consistently early to class or work. It’s what keeps you from binging articles instead of writing or applying to jobs. It keeps you making progress.

Twitter etiquette: Is it necessary to thank everyone?

When I started participating in the many writing challenges and prompts on Twitter, I sent thank-yous without a second thought. That was what I saw others doing. If someone liked or retweeted me, I tagged them in a new tweet thanking them. And if multiple people engaged, I ended up with tweets full of @-tags.

Twitter, thank you, ajswitzy
Not pretty, but it gets the job done.

Then I saw someone tweet the question (to no one in particular) if all the mass thank-yous were really necessary. It made me a little self-conscious. He raised an interesting question: Was thanking everyone individually the right custom, or was it spam? Did I like being @-tagged and thanked for whatever support I’d shown?

Yes, I do. Still, I tried a more generic mass thank-you, one without specific users tagged.

The result: no one really cared. Not only do the people you’re thanking have a low chance of seeing your tweet, but it feels insincere. It’s like sending one thank-you card to a relative and asking them to pass your sentiments on to the rest of the family.

Not only is it a polite, sincere expression of gratitude; it’s a way to be social with your Twitter network. They are real people putting in a real effort, and it deserves recognition. The same sort of recognition they gave you when engaging with your content. Without them, you’d have no reason to tweet at all.

After experimenting for a few months with tweeting my thanks and not acknowledging likes and retweets altogether, I can say there is merit to sending all those thank-yous. More people followed me after I thanked them than if I said nothing. And of those who followed me, more of them remained followers after I thanked them.

It may be tedious. It may look like spam. It may even irritate some. But an @-tagged thank you is more powerful than a generic, all-encompassing one. It is far more powerful than silence.

Happy tweeting, friends.

Call for beta readers: The Thieves of Traska Draft 6

This is it, my friends: the official call for beta readers. Last time we were here, I was absolutely terrified. Only one friend had read most of The Thieves of Traska by that point. If my readers didn’t like the story, I might have spent a significant amount of time crying and maybe given up on it altogether.

But my readers liked it. Some even loved it.

For the second time, I ask for volunteers. The Thieves of Traska now has nearly 300 pages, and more than 86,000 words.

If you want to be a beta reader…

  • Comment on this post, tweet at me, or email me at Amanda (at) ajswitz (dot) com by Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017
  • Specify your preferred format for reading (Microsoft Word document, PDF, .mobi, etc.)*
  • Please briefly explain your interest in being a beta reader


If you provided feedback on Draft 4 last year, you are eligible to receive a professionally printed and bound copy of Draft 6. The number of printed copies I order will be based on the number requested. If you would like to receive a printed copy, please notify me no later than Jan. 15, 2017.

Beta readers should prepare to provide a thorough, honest critique beyond “good,” “bad,” or “x/5 stars.” To avoid interfering with your reading process, I will save specific questions until after you’ve finished reading.

For a brief description of the story, check out the new Books tab on the top of the site!

2017 brings beta copies of The Thieves of Traska!

I’ve been writing 2017 instead of 2016 on my notes since mid-November. Finally, that can stop being a mistake. Happy New Year, everyone! We have a few exciting announcements to start the year off.

First: I quietly finished inputting the edits I received from beta readers early last year. Even though no one said extensive edits were needed, they happened. Since readers last saw Draft 4, eight chapters have been added, and more than 30,000 words.

Draft 4, Draft 6, beta copy, comparison
A few more edits than I meant to make.

Your positive feedback assured me that I’m not half bad at this whole writing thing. There was also an unexpected side effect: I rewrote the plot for the rest of the series. You’ve all helped me make this a story worth reading.

Our second announcement: now that Draft 6 is complete, I need another set of beta readers! Anyone interested in reviewing a digital copy is welcome to comment here, shout out to me on social media, or email me (amanda AT ajswitz DOT com) at your convenience. I’ll be posting an official call for beta readers next week.

Besides having more content, this draft is special. It is, perhaps, THE DRAFT. The one that will be submitted to agents and publishers. Of course, there are sure to be more edits. But The Thieves of Traska might just be ready to seek publication.

And that brings me to the third announcement. A limited number of print and bound copies of The Thieves of Traska, Draft 6, will be ordered this month. Certain readers (some who read the previous draft, some who haven’t read any of it) have difficulty reading the story as a book when it’s not in book form. For some, a print version — that isn’t a 300-page stack of copy paper — would be most convenient.

A photo posted by Amanda Surowitz (@ajswitzy) on

That’s a daunting read for anyone.

A friend brought another use for these printed copies to my attention when I asked for help formatting the text. Potentially, this could appeal to agents and publishers and help get me published. Whether or not it helps, I will share what I learn in later blog posts.

This is an out of pocket expense for me. Due to the cost, there won’t be an open call for requests for a printed copy. Only those who provided feedback on the previous draft are eligible to request the printed copy of Draft 6. For my overseas readers, have no fear about your own eligibility. One copy is already destined for the UK. International shipping is not a concern.

As this year is already off to an exciting and productive start, let me once again wish you all a happy 2017!

A lucky find at The Book Lady Bookstore

Over the weekend, I went to the latest Seersucker Live reading in Savannah. It was my first in a while, which I was shamed for, and I brought my brother along, too. We arrived early and poked around the back shelves of The Book Lady. I ended up in the cooking section, trying to diffuse my irrational panic over my own fledgling collection of cookbooks. On the top shelf, a dark green spine with shiny copper letters made me laugh quietly.

Julie and Julia, first edition

Julie and Julia. I’ve never read Julie Powell’s book, or the original blog. But the movie has a special place in my heart. I remember seeing it with my mom when I was 16, just before my senior year in high school. So many quotes have become inside jokes with my family — reverently whispering “butter” whenever we use it; almost always pronouncing “surprise” as “supreese”; and chanting “lobster killer, lobster killer, lobster killer,” whether or not it makes sense in the moment.

It’s also one of the main reasons I have a blog. From the moment I watched Amy Adams punctuate the air with her knife as she declared, “I could write a blog — I have thoughts,” I figured I could, too.

Flipping through the book, I fell in love with the chapter titles. They are as charming and hilariously honest as the rest of the parts I skimmed. While the voice in the back of my head told me I don’t need to buy more books right now (probably the voice of the stack of yet-to-be-read new purchases), I was reluctant to put it back. I remembered looking for this book after I saw the movie, but I either couldn’t find it or, since I was unemployed that summer, couldn’t afford it. And here it was. Just to entertain the thought and try to rationalize with that voice in my head, I checked the price in the front.

The Book Lady, Seersucker Tots, Lucy Artigas
By sheer luck, a photographer for District captured me trying to make up my mind in the background of her photo for an article on the reading. What you can’t see is my brother behind the shelves, trying to talk me into buying it. Photo by Lucy Artigas, used with the photographer’s permission.

Not only did the price surprise me — $6.50 for this hardback beauty?! — but so did the words “First ed.” written underneath it. Normally, I’m not one to get giddy over touching a first edition. I just get giddy over books. New, used, hardback, paperback, like new, or dog-eared and annotated, I love books. And this first edition copy of a 2002 book I’d never read felt special.

Next to its empty spot on the shelf, a later edition of the same book sat. Bright yellow paperback spine, title in red script — it might’ve even had the text “NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE.” I didn’t touch it.

What little edits and addendums might be in that later edition, besides a flashier cover? It wouldn’t have made the story any less real, or the book any less valuable. But my crazy brain decided that the book in my hands was The Original, and therefore held some elevated status.

If not for my brother, the voice of my other unread books might have won out. I might have returned at some later date, hoping to find it again. Or life could have swept me away, as it tends to do, until I forgot what I found. But now Julie and Julia has a place on my shelf.

Grad student report: Week 1.5 of 10

Hello, friends. I have officially spent a week and a half as a grad student. Prior to class starting, I was asked by a few people to let them know how it is balancing a full-time job with grad school, plus blogging and working on The Thieves of Traska.

I’m happy to report that Thieves is chugging along (just passed 300 pages and the word count is inching closer to 90,000). I also have an A in my only class, and I’m still able to do all the work things at my usual level of efficiency. There are 8.5 weeks left until the end of my first quarter as a grad student.


Before any exhaustion and midterm madness kick in, I would like to say I’m glad to be in school again. I miss being a student. I miss discussions based in discovery. Homework is actually kind of a soothing evening activity now. Within the next weeks, I’ll likely question my sanity and curse the day I decided to be a grad student.

As the quarter goes on, I hope there are lessons and fun anecdotes I can share. For now, I encourage you to laugh at the huge nerd I am. I am unreasonably excited to discuss résumés in class. Of all the things in a Professional Writing for Business Applications course that could excite me, it’s the résumé.

Ending the first novel in a series

As I near finishing draft five of The Thieves of Traska, the ending is a problem child again. How do you end the first novel in a series when the story isn’t yet over? The end is supposed to tie up all those pesky loose ends and satisfy the reader. But now it also has to entice the reader to obtain the next book and continue the adventure. Yikes!

Just about every how-to I’ve looked at says the end of book one should feel resolved, but still have a few loose ends. That way the reader can be satisfied, even if they don’t go on to the next book. In theory, that makes perfect sense. In the trenches of novel-writing, however, it doesn’t offer much direction. Which part is supposed to be resolved? Which part isn’t? Does that mean I have to do a cliffhanger?

I’m of the opinion that the ending of the first book should not be a cliffhanger. Leave readers wanting to know what happens next? Yes. Introduce a new, life-changing problem at the end and make the reader wait through a whole other book to resolve it? That’s better suited for book two. So let’s take a look at what to close and what to leave open at the end of book one.

Resolve: What brought your character into the story?

Your inciting incident gets your hero involved in the events of the story. It might relate to the overall plot, but it’s also personal to the hero. Why else does he leave his old life behind? I refer to this as the character’s selfish goal.

Why “selfish” and not just “personal,” like so many others call it? It’s a simple goal ignoring the reality of the character’s situation, and how it affects others. Your character has three ways to resolve their selfish goal:

  • Achieve. One option is to have the hero get what he was after in the first place. It resolves the main conflict of this installment, but not the series plot (winning the battle as opposed to the war). For an ending, it’s the point where the hero could stop and still be satisfied with their accomplishment (just like the reader). But there is still much to do, and the hero has made the big problem his problem.
  • Abandon. Another way to resolve the hero’s selfish goal is to have him abandon it. The person/thing he’s been searching for is dead/destroyed. He decides not to take his revenge. Like the previous option, the hero’s main conflict is resolved and the series conflict remains for the later installments. He lost the battle, but the war is still ongoing.
  • Postpone. At first glance, this resembles the previous options. As far as the reader knows, the hero has either achieved or abandoned his selfish goal. But they are in for a surprise. That person isn’t really dead! It was stolen, not destroyed! He had it with him all along! They caught the wrong culprit! But all that happens after book one.

Leave open: What keeps your character in the story?

Remember, the ending of book one is where the hero got (or thinks he got) what he wanted. He could turn away from the greater conflict, but then there’d be no need for a sequel or two. This is where he declares his heroic goal. It’s the daunting, nebulous task the hero chooses to take on.

Just because I call it “heroic” doesn’t mean that goal has to be saving the world. If you’re working with an anti-hero, the heroic goal could involve revenge or something equally not so goody-goody. It could be a broader selfish goal, like rising in power or conquering an enemy.

Whether your hero decides to do something good, bad, or a bit of both, he should have some vague idea of what that thing is. The “why” should already be answered by the events of book one. The “how” is the plot of the rest of the series.

This declaration is an invitation to the reader to proceed to the next book. The ending answers most of the questions, so the reader could stop there. There are just enough unanswered questions — about how the hero will reach his heroic goal — to interest readers in the next installment.

What are your hero’s selfish and heroic goals?