New Author Tip: Don’t Just Write More, Improve as You Write

Indie Author Basics

I’ve heard it over and over again: “The more you write, the better you become at it.” I get it. It’s practice. The more you do something, the better you become at it. When it comes to writing though, I think there is more to it than that. You can write and write and write but if you’re not correcting your mistakes as you write, you are not necessarily going to become a better writer.

My new author tip for you today is this:

Learning and applying what you learn as you write makes you a better writer not just writing for the sake of writing. You don’t have to write every day to become better. Understanding what needs to be improved on and correcting it as you write, makes you better. Otherwise, you’ll keep making the same mistakes and thus, produce the same kind of work. This means that if you’ve been producing mediocrity unless you correct yourself, you’ll just continue to write and produce mediocrity. It’s that aged old saying, “insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results.”

I have been writing and publishing books for over ten years. In this time, I have remained true to my authenticity, my morals and values. I have sat down to write what I wanted when I wanted. However, my years in publishing doesn’t mean that I am a better writer. What makes me a better writer today compared to ten years ago is if I have been applying what I’ve learned to the skill. I measure my progress not by how many books I’ve published or how many years I’ve been publishing or how many reviews I have. I measure my progress based on how well I’ve been able to correct the mistakes pointed out to me.

With the help of my beta readers and the WordPress blogging community, in general, I’ve been capable of recognizing and understanding so much more about writing than I ever have in the years prior. While I have a long way to go, the books I published in the years I’ve been blogging are noticeably better, in my opinion than the ones I published before starting this blog. I credit this to nothing except for applying many of the things I’ve learned from others who are more knowledgeable and skilled than I am, to my work. I believe that as authors we have to be very intentional about this and very aware of what works for us and what does not work for us. Don’t just assume that people are always hating on you or don’t understand you or don’t like you. Consider all feedback as constructive to the process.

In these past few months (where I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people face to face, consultants, bookstore owners, and their reviewers,) I’ve come to understand that the more aware I am of my strengths and weaknesses, the better I can build on those strengths and improve on those weaknesses. The more aware I am of what needs to be corrected and the more intentional I am to actually correct it, the better I become as a writer. Not just writing alone, but learning and applying that knowledge to my writing and to the publishing process as a whole as I learn and as I grow.

Be sure to check out more Indie Author Basics by visiting the Writer / Tips and resources page!

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Pay Attention

Don’t forget to clean up your environment. Pay attention to how being around certain people makes you feel. Do you suddenly feel drained or negative? Mad? Irritated? Are these people always complaining? Do they reach out to you just to share bad news? Is it always about them? Are they interested in your life at all?  Remember that we cannot grow in the same environment that broke us. Only surround yourself with people who lift you up, empower you and challenge you to become the best version of yourself.


I am thankful for my struggles because one thing they have taught me (the one trait I strive to maintain as part of my character) is humility. I understand that I am flawed, that there were a series of awakenings that ultimately led me to the truth, and that freedom didn’t find me whole, but in pieces. I don’t worry what others think of me because YAH is my only judge and I am allowed to be a work-in-progress. For this, I strive to have as much compassion on others as I can because I don’t have it all together and I will never pretend to. I didn’t wake up automatically understanding who I was. There were stepping stones to this. When dealing with people who may not know what I know, I remember that my resurrection happened in stages.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – 3 Facts You Should Know About the Black Panthers


With the success of the Black Panther movie based on the super-hero comic, I am re-posting this Black History Fun Fact from two years ago based on real life super-heroes for those of you new to this blog (or who missed it the first time around). To understand our present, we must understand our past so that in the future we do not make the same mistakes. The Black Panther Organization actually did more community-outreach than they did protest. The protest is what we saw the most on television however it is not the bulk of their work. They were not a hate group, they were not supremacists and they were not a “black only” group. The Panthers promoted ALL POWER to ALL PEOPLE with an organization comprised of many nationalities of people.

Has history been accurate in its portrayal of the group affectionately known as The Panthers?

In Whitewashing the Black Panthers, Michael Moynihan argues that PBS’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard for The Revolution, tries to excuse a “murderous and totalitarian cult” saying, “Almost anything that reflects poorly on the Panthers is ignored or dismissed and no critics of the party are included. The story is told entirely through the testimony of former Panthers and sympathetic historians.”

(Umm, so is every European, Western focused story ever made, but we won’t go there).

Often portrayed as a militant, black supremacists hate group, it’s amazing to me that this group of people wrote a ten-point program outlining the details of their belief system and there are still misconceptions about who they were and what they stood for.

For the record, I did not set out to write about The Panthers based on Michael’s article (I actually came across it much later), or because of the documentary. After doing some reading I decided today’s Black History Fun Fact Friday will focus on three basic principles that everyone should by now, understand about The Panthers. But first, we must cover some additional facts.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – 3 Facts You Should Know About the Black Panthers

The Freedom Movement have always been portrayed as a southern only movement on television and even in some books. Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia are states where trees no doubt bore the remnants of strange fruit. We could see it on the news, the newspapers, and from the mouths of relatives who grew up there. If we didn’t see it, the whole world did when Chicago native Emmett Till went down south and never came back and the whole world saw the ugly face of America. In that time, I am sure, we all had the same consensus on our hearts (among other things): “If only he’d stayed home, this would not have happened.”

This is because seldom did we then, and even today, hear about the racism and discrimination that took place in Northern cities like New York, Chicago, and California. Many blacks, no doubt, escaped the southern states for better opportunities in the North. Still, even this part of history is only a half-truth as not all blacks left because they did not have.

There were many African American’s who, after slavery, suffered tremendously economically but not all of them. Not every black family sharecrop or endure poverty but many families started their own businesses, educated their own people, and founded their own communities. From the Mound Bayou in Mississippi, Blackdom of New Mexico or the famed Black Wall Street in Tulsa it is clear, not all blacks were financially incapacitated. For this, it is only a half-truth that blacks escaped the south for a better financial and economic opportunity in the North and it is only a half-truth that they all left to escape Jim Crow. In truth, many of us sold what we did have to flee North because we were told (both by whites and black elites) that it was better. Many blacks were told that the North was the land of “Milk and Honey” so we sold our land, packed up our families and left the Jim Crow South only to run into the police brutality of the North.


Martin Luther King, Jr., is hit in the head with a brick Marching in an all white Chicago neighborhood

It was Martin Luther King Jr., who said his trip to Chicago’s segregated Cicero was worse than Alabama and Mississippi. “I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” King told reporters. That statement is saying a lot considering what we know about the brutality of these states and had I not been born and raised in the city (Chicago), I’d doubt King’s words were true. But as I was born in Chicago and spent the first nine years of my life in the concentrated poverty-stricken projects of The Robert Taylor Homes on Federal Street, the most segregated and poorest urban city in the United States at the time, I can tell you that what King said was no exaggeration.

The truth is that while many segregationist laws were abolished in the South, poverty increased in the North. Black unemployment was higher in 1966 than in 1954, 32% of Black people were living below the poverty line, 71% of the poor living in metropolitan areas were Black, and by 1968, two-thirds of the Black population lived in ghettos, or impoverished communities, also known as slums. And so, it was for this hushed truth concerning the brutality of northern cities that two young men from Oakland California founded what would one day become the most hated black revolutionary organization of its time.


Founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland California, The Panthers took notice of the police brutality taking place in their own lives and in the lives of members of the black community. They saw black men, and women, being beaten (some of them to their deaths) and nothing being done about it. They saw children who were malnourished because they didn’t have food at home and families denied access to proper medical care and education. Having met at The Meritt Junior College and being active in political movements there, Seale and Newton came together to form the Panthers. Following the passion of men like Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, who were against the passive resistance movements of men like King, Newton, and Seale set out to be examples of what they saw was needed.

This leads me to three basic truths concerning why The Black Panthers were started and while I’m obviously not a black panther or black nationalist enthusiast (nor do I agree with their beliefs), I thought this would be a great way to re-introduce to you what this organization was initially built on and the things that they did that rarely made, and rarely make, the news:

Community Protection


One of the first reasons for the organizing of this group was to assist in the protection of members of the black community. Specifically, the Panthers wanted to protect blacks from police brutality, whether it was literally helping the elderly across the street, being human traffic signals, or literally standing between police and civilians to ensure the laws of California, of the time, were being adhered to. Being students of history and discipline, The Panthers were aware of the laws governing where they lived and they made sure both civilians and the police understood those laws and acted accordingly. Bobby Seale recounts, in Seize The Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party:

“He (Huey) defended himself in court and had beaten a petty theft case, and he was running it down how he got Olsen. Olsen was the dean of Merritt College. Dean Olsen had got up on the stand and testified to the fact that he had called the police in to have Huey P. Newton arrested, and had the police bring Huey to his office because some paddy boy over in the store had accused Huey of stealing a book. Huey explained to me that Olsen had asked him if those were his books. Huey said:

“Yes, this is my property.”

Olsen: “Well, I’ll just keep these books.”

Huey: “No, you won’t keep those books. That’s my property and I’ll keep them myself. You called me in the office for something. I don’t know what you want me for, but I’ll keep my property.” And Huey snatched the books back out of his hand and said, “If you want to arrest me, you’ll have to arrest me, but I’m not going to stand here talking.” And he walked right on out of the office. So, the same thing came up on the stand, and Huey asked Olsen on the stand, “Dean Olsen, why didn’t you have me placed under arrest if you thought I had stolen the books?”

Olsen: “Well, at that time, I just didn’t know my rights as to whether or not I had the right to arrest you.”

Huey: “Mr. Olsen, you’re a dean at a college; have a Ph.D. in education. Here I am a student in the college, learning my rights, and you’ve got a Ph.D., and you tell me you didn’t know your rights?”

(Caution. Dear Young People, I post this excerpt as an example that The Panthers were aware of the laws of their state, not for you to show how hard you are and try and mimic this. You must use wisdom in all that you do. With the number of black men gunned down for nothing, do not try this at home. This was in 1966, this is 2016. I would not want anyone being hurt for trying to mimic the actions of Huey as stated above. It’s important to obey the governing authorities, diffusing the situation if it is at all in your power to do so).

Free Breakfast Program and Medical Care

In 1966, students were not given free lunch like they are given today. Part of that revolution was due to the free breakfast program set in place by The Panthers where they fed children who would otherwise not have anything to eat. The Panthers had a lot to do with why the Public schools offer free lunches to students today. In addition, they implemented their own schools and system of medical care. The Panthers were, in short, of service to their community for no one knows the trouble we see and no one knows our sorrows. Preaching can only go so far, for if a man is hungry physically he won’t hear you spiritually. There must be physical action to accompany the spiritual and that is what The Panthers instilled in their communities: Physical and practical action.

All Power to All People


I do not want this article to be too long as I believe I’ve said enough, but I don’t want to leave without reiterating that despite all the black, The Panthers were not a black only organization. Having recruited members of all nations they recounted repeatedly that they stood for restoring “All power, to all people”. In fact, they were separate from the black nationalist groups often associated with them and conflicted often with them. In his own words, Bobby Seale states: “Cultural nationalists and Black Panthers are in conflict in many areas. Basically, cultural nationalism sees the white man as the oppressor and makes no distinction between racist whites and non-racist whites, as the Panthers do…Although the Black Panther Party believes in Black nationalism and Black culture, it does not believe that either will lead to Black liberation or the overthrow of the capitalist system and are therefore ineffective.” – Bobby Seale

The truth is indeed stranger than fiction and for that most conscious grassroots organizations have to be deemed cults and militant to prevent, what Cointel pro deems, “the rise of a black messiah”. The Black Panthers were  seeking to empower black people and that in itself is dangerous, for in the words of the poet Brook Yung, “They used to put to death people like me.”


To learn more about The Panthers, Lilly Workneh, Senior Editor of Black Voices and Taryn Finley, Associate Editor, wrote in The Huffington Post 27 Important Facts Everyone Should Know About the Black Panthers.

10 Ways to Write an Unforgettable Memoir | Shayla Raquel


Check out this most excellent post from Shayla on writing a memoir. Number One is a most important point. I always wanted to write a memoir but I stopped writing the drafts and deleted the sneak peeks I’d shared with my email list (so embarrassing lol) and decided to start over. I’ve learned so much since then with one of the major things being the difference between a memoir and autobiography.

1. Learn the differences between a memoir and an autobiography.
A common mistake is to pour your heart and soul into a book and market it as the wrong genre. An autobiography is a chronological telling of your life, but a memoir hones in on a specific timeline or event. It doesn’t mean you can’t have flashbacks or backstory; you can. But you must understand the big and subtle differences between the two before you write, publish, and market your story.

Ask yourself:

  • Does my story reflect on my entire life (autobiography), or a key aspect, theme, or event (memoir)?
  • Does my story start at the beginning of my life and progress to the end (autobiography), or does it start anywhere and move around in time and place (memoir)?
  • Does my story require hours of fact-checking (autobiography), or is it more personal, requiring less fact-checking (memoir)?

“A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

—Gore Vidal, Palimpsest

Read more of Shayla’s Guest Post by clicking through to the original post here.

Can we Live?

We wake up just enough to stay woke but not enough to live. We live on hours and minutes and second hands, gas, and expressways. Espressos and Starbucks. From the bed to the car to the job, back to the car to the house and to the bed where we will lie down again so that we can wake up and exist again. Begin again. Breathe again. Boldly expecting these bodies to be there to back us up again. Do we ever back up? Can we stop? When was the last time you experienced something beautiful and told no one? Can we be beautiful without filter? Can we examine this breath? This gorgeous breath. This inhale and exhale. This miracle that is in us. Can we examine these lungs? Let the seconds and minutes and hours add up, can we forget about time? Let it pass. Watch the orange and yellow rays of the sun bleeding into the sky. Can we experience the day passing onto the next? Can we catch it moving? Can we listen to the sound of quiet? Do we even know if silence has a sound? Can we listen to the birds sing for hours at a time and let the leaves change and crumble into colors? Can we let the wind blow dust onto the windowsill, can peace be still? You have to wake up before you can stay woke. Can we live?