Posted in Colleen

Plotting to Music

When I am writing, it helps to listen to music without lyrics. It drowns out- not only the background noises surrounding me- but the messes in my head as well. It helps keep my focus on pushing out the story from my head to the keyboard and onto the screen. Often, I’ll type with my eyes closed as well.

So this got me to wondering… how much does what’s streaming through my earbuds influence the story I’m telling?

Music is a communication medium.  Music inspires. It can change my mood and attitude towards situations and people in life. If I’m in a terribly depressed mood, sometimes music is the only thing that can keep me going.

That being said, what am I listening to while I write? Perhaps it’s an instrumentally inspiring ballad that helps me motivate our protagonist to go on that life-changing adventure. Maybe it’s a piece that keeps me deeply focused and enables me to pour out the heart of a character in a way that will bring readers to tears with emotion. Sometimes a classical piece will inspire me to paint a beautiful setting- complete with Parisian cafés, cobblestone walkways, and lush tulips.

The artist composing the notes that stream through me probably didn’t know they’d be inspiring a captivating story beyond their own. But it’s awesome to be inspired by fellow artists and is something I’ll continue to think about. So the next time you go to plug your ears with something as you write, consider what kind of story you want to tell, and listen appropriately. It may make or break a scene.


Posted in Colleen

The Pros of Clubbing | Book Style

My first experiences with book clubs were back in elementary school. When I was in kindergarten or so, my mom would take my sister and I to Saturday morning book readings at our local library. Librarians would read a book aloud and have us do crafts that went along with the theme. When I got a little older, I joined the summer reading book club as well.

My first experience with a “grown-up” book club was my senior year of college. I was interning at the library in town and was welcomed into a monthly meeting with middle-aged (and older) women to discuss some randomly selected book. It was neat because I’d hear different perspectives than my own- as these ladies were older and had more life experience than I. I would come up with a list of discussion questions that we’d touch on amidst sipping coffee and cookies.

About a month ago, 3 friends and I were talking about how rare it is to see people our age reading anymore. Granted, the four of us are all college graduates and spend our waking hours working, eating, at the gym, or collapsed in front of NetFlix. But still, we thought, why shouldn’t we keep up some sort of community that has a beneficial purpose. And so, after enough talk, we did it.

We started our own book club. And why? Well, because we still like to read and learn. So if you need some motivation to get your peeps together, here’s a list 5 reasons you need to join or start a book club.

  1. Accountability | You know it’s true. Your friends will hold you accountable for reading a book each month- even if it’s something terrible. You’re getting through it together! At the least, it will make for a good literary rant session.
  2. Up Your IQ | Reading makes you smarter. It expands your mind. Talking about what you read gives you new insight to the story and writing. Maybe there’s something that didn’t make sense to you. Your book clubbers can help you figure it out!
  3. Improve Your Own Writing | That semester I was interning at the library, I was also taking my Novel Writing Workshop class. Reading various types of  literature gave me inspiration for my own novel. Whether it’s a writing style you want to attempt or a new genre you’re trying- there really is no better way to nourish your writing than to read some.
  4. Boost Your Mood | After college, I found I could get depressed really easily. The main cause of this is lack of socializing and having intelligent conversations with peers. In school, you have classes (usually) every day and are always learning and be-friending people you have things in common with. There are parties to go to and your friends are usually down the hall or just across campus. Once you leave that atmosphere behind, life can get really dark. Having something to look forward to each month can give you purpose- even if it just seems as small as reading a book.
  5. Good Habits & Addiction | Once you start reading –I’m speaking to my writers and readers here who read this blog because they are already fans of books and stories– you’re going to want more and more. Maybe you’ll start reading 2 or 3 books at once. (I have friends who can switch between 5 or so). Funny example time: As I was reading this past month’s book club book, (Lolita by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov), there were times that I had to put it down. But instead of watching T.V. or getting on the computer, I just grabbed another book I was working on. I still had that desire to read. It reminded me of school- when I’d toss my history book aside to read a play for theatre class.

If you’re interested, my book club’s next book is It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini.


I’ll be posting about it a bit as we go, so feel free to join in! Also, if you guys have more things to add to my book club list, (reasons why they’re a good idea or tips on being active in one), leave a comment.

Write on

Posted in Colleen

An Annual Letter

It’s been some time, guys. I apologize for the lack of blog posts. I don’t have a great excuse besides my birthday (it was on Monday)… 🙂 but I thought this would be a good time as ever to talk about an annual writing goal!

As I sat in front of my laptop, wondering what to talk to you about, the first thing that comes to mind was distance. I thought of how distant I’ve been from my writing, from the writing community, and most importantly- from myself. Writing is who I am and I forget that sometimes…

But alas, I got my kick. The holidays are approaching and crunch time is nearing for the one and only Hathaway Family Christmas Letter! No, but really. This is a thing.

Years before I was born, my parents started a tradition of sending out an annual letter to their friends. My father was in the military so he traveled and met oodles of people over the years. Also, our extended family lives up north so we don’t see them very much. #ArkansasProbs This letter is a way to update everyone on the big things that happen over the year.

So as I sit here, writing and editing, I ponder how I’ve changed this year and reflect on how I’ve grown as a writer. It’s easy to look back at pictures you’ve posted on Facebook and Instagram and get a blips and snapshots of your year. But I’ve realized it’s difficult to remember where I was 12 months ago as a writer. Have I grown? Have I challenged myself? What did I learn?

Writing this letter for my family makes me think about perhaps writing an annual reflection on my personal growth as a writer. It can’t hurt to have something to look back at years down the line. It could help me keep the distance from taking over. Who knows?

Care to join me in writing an annual letter to yourself? It doesn’t have the be pretty and clean or any certain length. It’s for you and it can be at any time and cover whatever you’d like. As you mature in your writing, your letters will reflect that over time. As much as we devote ourselves to our writing, why shouldn’t we paint a picture of ourselves with this gift as well?


Posted in Darby

Still a Virgin

Oh my gosh! It’s my first time, and it is so scary. I’m not sure if I can take on something so substantial. I’m taking about NANOWRIMO. Get your mind out of the gutter!

National Novel Writing Month is upon us, and I have never taken part before. I have, in fact, written a novel. That was over a semester, of course. This time…things are very different. Obviously, I have no tips to give as of yet. Jobe has written an amazing post filled with treasures for you all. I suggest you check it out.

As of now, I do not have a title for my new novel. I do have some notes and a general direction in which to go. There are dozens of write-ins scattered throughout the month all around LA. If you sign up at, you can see what gatherings are going to take place in your area. If you want to follow my progress, you can buddy up to me. Username: Darby Riales. I’m so creative.

I have written about how to guard against writer’s block in the past. Perhaps it might help a bit.

Taylor Hicks, Elizabeth Furrey, Darby Riales, Allison Brass, and Sarah F. Wilson at a Vortex event Winter 2013.
Taylor Hicks, Elizabeth Furrey, Darby Riales, Allison Brass, and Sarah F. Wilson at a Vortex event Winter 2013.

So, this is my first time. That doesn’t mean that it has to be painful. Let’s all try to have fun and make it as memorable as possible. If you wish to share your own personal experiences with NANOWRIMO, feel free to put that comment box to good use.

From the City of Angels…


Posted in Darby

It’s a Love-Hate Kinda Thing

It’s no secret that some of our greatest works of literature come from deeply felt tragedy. Everyone, no matter what walk of life s/he comes from, experiences loss, betrayal, pain, anger, and even hatred. These things make us human, but they do not define us. What defines us is how we cope with life’s obstacles. Some people paint. Some people play sports. Some people meditate. I write.

In this article, I will give my tips on how to convey personal experience into your writing without falling into a pit of despair.

Emotions are raw and powerful things. They can easily spiral out of control when you are trying to recall an intense memory for your writing. When I am about to write a tragic scene, I first recall a pleasant memory. (For Harry Potter fans, it would be like the memory you would choose for your patronus.) I keep this memory in the back of my mind while I dig up the sad one. (The sad memories are like Dementors. They can suck out your soul if you are not careful.) If I feel myself becoming too emotionally compromised, I will simply think about that pleasant memory.  It pulls back from the edge, and I am able to finish my work.

If it sounds too simple, that’s because it is. Our emotions are what make us so great at art and literature. All of our emotions, not just the tragic ones. Love, joy, companionship, just to name a few. So, when you want to go deep into the psychological realm of your character, just keep in mind that s/he should be experiencing all of the human emotions. Even if the story is centered around tragedy, there should be something uplifting in it because life isn’t all tragic. Life is what you are giving to your characters when you choose to put them on paper. The best writers cover all aspects of it.

From the City of Angels

Yours Truly,


Posted in Darby

Creativity Bubbles

Have you ever just not felt like writing? I have, and that is perfectly okay. I used to experience guilt whenever I couldn’t muster up enough creativity to put something profound on paper. There are two problems with that.

1.) Writing is supposed to be enjoyable, especially for someone who identifies as a writer. I have been making up stories for the vast majority of my life. When I was 12, I came up with the idea for my fantasy/adventure series. I had so much fun making maps, character profiles, and small conversations between my characters. Throughout high school and college, it stopped being fun mainly because I didn’t have the proper time to dedicate to my story. I would feel a surge of creativity coming on, but I couldn’t capitalize on it because I was busy memorizing some long forgotten mathematical equation, writing a news article for the paper I was part of, or dealing with some kind of drama associated with being a young adult. Even when I switched to the Creative Writing track in college, my creativity was put into other things. It wasn’t until I took Novel Writing with Dr. John Vanderslice that I had an excuse to aim my creativity bubbles at something I had longed for since the age of 12. Now, I have the second rough draft of the first novel in my series. To summarize, don’t feel guilty about not being in the mood to write. It will pass, and you will find your groove again.

Finishing the first draft of my very first novel in the library at the University of Central Arkansas. One of the happiest moments of my life. Photo taken by Sarah F. Wilson.
Finishing the first draft of my very first novel in the library at the University of Central Arkansas. One of the happiest moments of my life. Photo taken by Sarah F. Wilson.

2.) Not everything you write has to be profound. I am incredibly guilty of this. For example, my post about travel writing was one of my favorite nonfiction short pieces I’ve written. I was genuinely happy with it. I thought I could repeat the same magnificence in my next post about small towns, but I will honestly say that it wasn’t as good. That’s okay. I would much rather be a writer known for a few amazing works than a dozen subpar ones.

Everyone has a muse. Luna is mine. I'm also a bit old school when it comes to taking notes for my stories.
Everyone has a muse. Luna is mine. I’m also a bit old school when it comes to taking notes for my stories.

One never knows when the creativity bubble is going to show itself. We also can’t tell when it’s going to burst, so better to get at it when we have it! I write in bursts of creativity, not a constant stream. I would love to know your thoughts and even your own creative personality types. Feel free to tell me about how creativity comes to you in the comment section below.

From the Golden State and the City of Angels,


Posted in Darby

Three Digits

The world is a small place. It’s true. One may travel across the sea and happen upon a former classmate, an old neighbor, or even a step-sibling’s first grade teacher. It happens. True adventure does not only come from visiting the most grand places around the globe. One may find a spark of inspiration from the tiniest of towns, a road less travelled, or an unattended field.

A friendly reminder, a stern demand, or a firm warning?  You decide.
A friendly reminder, a stern demand, or a firm warning? You decide.

Three digits. My favorite places to visit tend to have a population of three digits. I find that it is just enough to teeter on the brink of a Ghost Town while still maintaining culture and life. On my recent road trip down Route 66, I drove through many intriguing places. Some had long since been abandoned. Others simply had one working gas station, a dinosaur from the good ‘ole days. There were a few who had managed to survive the building of the Interstate. Not thrive, mind you, but they did have a steady pulse.

Williams, AZ. How desperately it wants to be Las Vegas without gambling, 5-star hotels, or anything relatively fun to do. Williams had a nightlife of neon proportions. BBQ, live music, vintage Coca-Cola, and gift shops galore! Not a place for a vegetarian, such as myself, but a place nonetheless. I found great joy in rummaging through postcards and snapping photographs of antique signs. I can use these. After finishing up at the Grand Canyon, I made the two hour trip down to Williams. It isn’t too far from Flagstaff. Being extremely exhausted I didn’t have the energy or will power to fully enjoy the experience of the town.

Didn't realize how difficult it would be to catch a good shot of a neon sign.
Didn’t realize how difficult it would be to catch a good shot of a neon sign.

Seligman, AZ. This may very well be my favorite stop. On the journey back to Los Angeles, I made a point to spend some time here. I had driven through on my way in and took note to come back. What a grand little place. Time disappears. I found myself entranced by the endless photo opportunities. (Always take the time to snap that picture.) I lost myself in a spectacular gift shop where I spent over $200 on postcards, magnets, Route 66 merchandise, and an $80 Western Cowboy hat. So that’s how they maintain their healthy pulse! A band of Harley Davidson riders mowed through, stopping for some ice cream before heading back onto Route 66. In their own way, small towns are just as intriguing as big cities. While one may run out of things to do in a small town, one will never not have something to look at.

How could you not spend $200 in here?  I mean, there's an airplane lodged in the the second floor.
How could you not spend $200 in here? I mean, there’s an airplane lodged in the the second floor.

Next time: Writing in Bursts

From the City of Glitz and Glamour,