Musical Accompaniment For Your Everyday Writing Needs

Between all of the writing that we ladies of VALCANA do, sometimes silence just won’t cut it. While silence is golden, it can also be as distracting as a cacophony of sounds. Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, sometimes it helps to have a bit of background music. Here are some of my personal favorites.

Broadway/showtunes – Stephen Sondheim. Rogers and Hammerstein. Jason Robert Brown. If it’s been on Broadway (or even off-Broadway), chances are I’ve heard it. I would suggest a word of caution with this particular genre — I have caught myself typing lyrics (or even singing them aloud). Not a bad thing, but it can be a touch distracting if you aren’t concentrating.

Vitamin String Quartet – I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am a sucker for string arrangements. String arrangements of pop music in particular are a thing I didn’t know I needed. And if you don’t feel like shelling out money to buy music, you can try the magical world of YouTube (they have numerous playlists on their channel), or give them a listen to on Pandora.

Movie Soundtracks – I defy you to write anything mundane—an email, a Google calendar entry, a grocery list—whilst listening to the soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings or The Last Of The Mohicans. It can’t be done—you will feel like you’re soaring, I guarantee it.

Electronic (Ratatat) – For those days when you want something a little funkier than strings or orchestras, and I’m not suggesting dub step by any means, but something like Ratatat or Daft Punk can add a harder (better, faster, stronger) edge to your writing (and you may find yourself having a mini dance party at your desk—always a plus!).

Opera – If you like some soaring vocals with your orchestral arrangements, look no further! And if you think you don’t like opera, deep down, you probably do, at least a little bit. And what’s nice with this as compared to musical theater, is that I’m less likely to sing along (mostly because my vocal range is not nearly large enough to pull off the typical aria, and in most cases these divas and their men are singing in another language).

So, there you have it! But enough about my favorites—what sorts of music do you all listen to?

Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

4 Tips to Befriend Your Coworkers

As you know, I recently started a new job. When leaving JCC Association, I knew that I would probably never again have a team of such epic proportions. I will probably never have a boss who I not only respect as a colleague, but consider to be a close friend. I knew that, more than anything, I would miss my coworker soul-sister, Mackenzie, who had become my confidant and lunch buddy and mutual stress reliever over the course of almost two years.

Starting in a new office, on a team of five and within a department of twenty-five, meant I would have to break in to pre-existing social circles. Unfortunately, I can’t rely on my wicked PHP skills to make friends.

To those who know me well, it might come as a surprise that I didn’t immediately pick up some new friends (who am I kidding, it surprised me the most). I know very well that it can take three months to start to feel comfortable in a new place. I know it took me four months to meet Mackenzie and another two to get the courage to make her be my friend (though she’d say I didn’t “make” her do anything). That being said, I came in wanting people to like me and be my friend. I’m nice! I bake things! Be my friend and I’ll make you awesome cookies!

Ok, maybe this is extreme.

Ok, maybe this is extreme.

I’ve been here for a little over a month, and it’s time for me to take some real initiative to make friends. These tips are as much for readers as they are reminders for myself that friendship is a two-way commitment. I can’t just expect people to invite me to lunch or happy hour.

Tip One: Ask questions

Of course, this starts with your coworkers’ names. If you’re anything like me, you may need reminders of names. But once you’ve got that down, learn about who they are. Your coworkers are more than just their position within the department. Find out about their hobbies, where they went to school, what they were doing before their current position, etc. This is an opportunity to find things in common with your colleagues and to plain and simple listen.

Tip Two: Spread the love

Personally, nothing brightens my day quite like an unexpected compliment. Compliment your coworkers on a piece of clothing or the way they’ve decorated their cubical. Remember to be genuine. If you say that you love that bracelet, actually mean it. Don’t Regina it.

I Love Your Bracelet

Tip Three: Be helpful

Offer help for everything from collaborating on project ideas, taking on projects that seem to be dejected by your colleagues, or even just giving advice on where to go for brunch. When someone approaches you and asks for help, do whatever you can (within the confines of your position and the law, of course) to help. Better yet, help with a smile. You’ll become the person who is known as friendly and eventually, people will come to you with more than just work help requests.

Tip Four: Invite them out

At the end of the day, you have to be the one to take initiative. Even after you’ve learned all about the person, spread the love, and were super helpful, you may still be the one who has to offer the invitation. Plan in advance, and invite them for a future date. Be open to scheduling something in the future and be conscious of their work schedule. If your colleague is staying late every night working on something, perhaps offer to schedule for a future date.

That being said, if you get a clipped decline instead of reception to rescheduling in the future, respond warmly but without attempt to change their mind. It may be a sign to let them come to you in the future instead of forcing something that may not be meant to be.

Nothing wrong with alone time.

Nothing wrong with alone time.

At the end of the day, you still may not end up becoming friends with your coworkers. It may never go beyond friendly hellos and head nods. You are at work to focus on, well, getting work done (getting that paycheck, advancing that career). Remind yourself that you tried your hardest, but sometimes it just isn’t meant to be.

Don’t give up all hope. Remember, if you’re awesome, eventually people will come your way.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

On Gratefulness

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about “emotional wellness.” Partly because I’m so bad at it and because I have to. At work yesterday though, a colleague finally said something that resonated with me: “Be grateful everyday and tell people how thankful you are for them.” It may not be the first time I’ve heard this, but it was the first time I was told to be grateful for everything from a cold turkey sandwich to having a family that loves me.

It’s probably just a unique personality trait of mine that I’m rarely content with my life in the moment. I’m constantly thinking about what I don’t have or what I have left to accomplish. I really got to thinking though and think that the latter at least is a trait most writers have.

I mean who else would be masochistic enough to spend hours on end editing something until perfection, knowing perfection is unattainable? Who else would knowingly spend their time on projects that have high probabilities of never being successes simply due to circumstances? It takes quite the personality to deal with being a writer. That said, I still think it’s important and also liberating to be grateful for everything all the time.

So, here’s what I’m grateful for:

My freedom,
Having forums where I can bitch about the patriarchy,
Being surrounded by individuals who believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself,
Video chat,
And this lovely blog that brings me so, so much joy.

So, I’ve got to ask blogosphere what are you grateful for today?

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

What I’ve Learned From Reviewing Books

If you know anything about me at all (and if you don’t, that’s cool too, you’re about to learn), you know that I’m a writer. Poems and short stories, yes, but also novels. I someday want to sell these novels and, if I am very lucky, make a living off of that.

So I write. I attend a writing group. I have a personal blog. I participate in NaNoWriMo. And I also write book reviews. And, as it turns out, writing book reviews has been great for more than just getting my name out there. My writing is improving, I’m reading self-published works and books I wouldn’t pick up on my own, and I’m storing away valuable information for future use.

Future and current novelists will, at some point, have to email people and ask them to kindly review their book in exchange for a copy of the book. There are  ways to find people to review your books (users on Goodreads, reviewers on specific websites, etc., I’ll let you do the research). Users find me because I’m listed as a reviewer on

Here are some things to take note of when asking someone to review your book:

Be Personable But Quick
Take the time to craft me a personal email. Say, “Hi Vanessa.” Tell me your name and what you want. Don’t ramble and tell me too many personal facts about yourself, don’t put yourself down (“I am but a humble self-publisher…”). I want you to get straight to the point. I have a lot of these emails to go through, and I would rather you didn’t waste my time.

Watch Your Grammar
If you have grammar mistakes in your email, you likely will in your book. I’m not interested in reading your novel if I’m stumbling through your email.

Include Synopsis and Information in the Email
I really don’t want to download the synopsis you’ve attached in a Word doc. I don’t want to have to search Goodreads to find your novel. Give me links. Include the synopsis right there. The more work I have to do, the less inclined I am to do it.

Don’t Bug Me
If I politely say no thank you to your novel, do not ask again. Do not say, “Are you sure? I’d really appreciate it.” I will delete your email and never respond to you again because you’ve clearly disrespected my response (and annoyed the crap out of me). However, if I say “no thanks” to your email, there’s no harm in responding and thanking me for my time. A rejection doesn’t mean I’m not open to future requests, just that I can’t review the novel at this time or it isn’t my kind of book.

Your First Chapter Best Be Good Great
I can read the first chapter of most books on Amazon. If your email piques my interest enough, I’m heading to Amazon. If I read the first chapter and I am sufficiently intrigued and your writing is good, I might write a review. The first chapter of your book needs to make me want to read more. It needs to have a solid concept, interesting and realistic characters, and writing that is neither cliché nor redundant.

Here’s an example (details ommitted) of a book I recently decided to review:

Hi! My name is John Doe, and I’m the author of A Really Cool Book, a fantasy novel recently released by Publisher. I would very much like to send you a copy to review for SF Book Reviews, if you’re interested.


Any other information you wish to include here. Some include links to Goodreads/Amazon (helpful), others include a link to the book’s page on their publisher’s website, and others include a note about the content (whether it is violent, contains profanity, etc.).

Please let me know if you are interested in getting a review copy or if there’s any more information I can provide.

Thank you for your time!

Any other questions? Leave me a comment, I’m happy to chat.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.

On wanting to be/actually being a grown up

Here’s an announcement I would like to make to the world: I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult.

I can hear the applause from all of you and, really, it’s heartwarming.

But why is it so easy to say, and so hard to actually do? As much as I’d like to think I’m a grown up, there are many things in life that make me feel like it is otherwise.


Apartment (with a pantry! And a washer and dryer!), check. Car, check. Big girl job, check. Macaroni and cheese every single night for dinner if I want (and, let’s be honest, I always want), check. Lots and lots of bills, check.

Maybe the bills aren’t exactly awesome, but they are a constant reminder of how on my own I am. No longer do I have the convenience of sweet-talking my way into my folks paying for my gas, or for my electricity to be free when living at home. I have to pay for what I use, and it’s liberating in a weird sort of way. I have bills because I’m an adult, and being an on-my-own-in-this-big-bad-world adult is kind of awesome. Plus, it reminds me that the reason I’m able to afford these bills is that I am #blessed to have a pretty awesome job at a pretty awesome place.


I can announce to everyone that I’m 24, and therefore am old enough to be “on my own.”

Getting people to believe me is a different story.

Case in point, my lovely parents. Lately, I feel like I’ve been having an uphill battle to prove myself, despite all of the Medals of Adultdom I have achieved post-grad (and even during school). There are points where I want to scream that they can’t tell me what to do. There are points where I could pull my hair out at my frustration of what feels like this ever-present leash.

There are times I wish I could say “I’m still your child, but I’m not a child anymore,” and have it actually mean something.

They are my parents. I respect and love them wholeheartedly, but I am struggling with stepping out from underneath their shadow and doing things that I want to do, apart from things that are parent-approved. If I want to spend all of my savings on a trip to Europe, then I feel like I am old enough to make that (potentially stupid) decision and go. If I want to chop off my hair or get a tattoo, then I should be able to without having to feel guilty because my mom will look at me with those sad, why-have-you-hurt-me-so puppy dog eyes.

I guess what I’m struggling with is: how old do I have to be before my parents, and the whole world, realizes that I’m not a kid anymore? How old do I have to be before my parents take a step back and really and truly mean it when they say “We have X, Y, and Z concerns, but you’re old enough and we trust you”? At what age does it suddenly become okay to make potentially life-altering decisions—a trip to Europe! buying a car! getting married!—without them having a (literal) panic attack?


I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult. I realize I have a lot of growing left to do. I realize I’m probably going to make a lot of stupid mistakes in life, and some of that will ease as I grow older. I also realize that, at 24, I’m not doing half bad for myself, and many of the decisions I’ve made so far have actually been pretty good ones.

Alexandra tells me that: maybe the point is that my parents may never actually accept me being a grown up, sadly but truly. Instead, I have to accept that that’s in fact okay. I will do what I am going to do and that’s a part of what being a grown up is.

Lauren is a social media professional/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

Hang In There, Folks

In the last couple of weeks, two of my favorite actors passed away. All hell broke loose in a Missouri town after an unarmed teenager was shot by a police officer in broad daylight. I began the process of moving to a new apartment. My older sister is now engaged to be married. My parents are in the process of putting the house I have spent the majority of my life in on the market as they prepare to move to Grand Rapids. My baby brother is about to be a senior in high school, and my younger sister is entering her final year of college.

In short, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. Most of it good, some of it not-so-much (I could write an entire post about my feelings about just the loss of Robin Williams or Lauren Bacall, and don’t even get me started on what’s happening in Ferguson). My family is on the brink of quite a bit of change (again, most of it good), and I consider it very typical that all of it should occur within the next year or so. As with most big changes in my life, I’m turning to writing to sort out my thoughts and make sense of what I’m feeling.

Here are a few things that I’ve found so far:

We can try to change the conversation about mental illnesses such as depression, and stress the importance of seeking help and treatment. We can be supportive, and non-judgmental. Everyone is going through something no matter how they may seem on the outside.

We can continue paying attention to what’s happening in Ferguson (and in other areas of the U.S. where this type of flagrant disregard for human decency continues, sadly unchecked in most cases). We can offer sympathy, donations, offers to help in whatever way we can to those affected by the violence and strife.

We can remember that sometimes it’s necessary to reinvent ourselves, to pick up the pieces when our lives are shaken up in some way, and to continue finding work and causes that mean something to us.

We can plan ahead, but we also need to be able to take things as they come — you can still be expected to make big changes no matter how old you are or what your position in life is.

We can continue to learn and stay curious about what’s going on around us, whether we’re in a classroom setting or about to leave one for the first time.

And we can always remember that no matter what is going on in the world, life goes on.

Of course, many of these things are easier said than done, and nothing can be completely fixed or righted overnight. But (and I know this is naive and probably foolish for me to say), I have to believe that it will all work out in some way. So, hang in there, everybody. We’re going to be fine.


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

Interview Insight and My New Job

Yesterday, I had my first day as web developer at WNET, New York’s PBS affiliate. The interview process took about three weeks, and started several weeks after I submitted my application. I had passed it off as a long shot, such a big company with that big title I’d been hoping to achieve: “web developer.” After applying to new positions for what seemed like forever (though, in reality, it had only been a couple of months), I was ready to give up on that dream. I was ready to go back to searching for community manager positions and digital marketing. I knew I was good at it, and I knew that my resume could really show those skills off, despite hoping to break out.

Wow this GIF is actually relevant now that I work for a PBS producer.

Wow this GIF is actually relevant now that I work for a PBS producer.

I finally got the call for a web developer position. After a phone screen with HR, I quickly met with Brian, director of technology, for an in-person interview. We went through the typical interview questions and a bit of minor code testing. The question I hadn’t exactly prepared for, though should have been completely expected, came up last: “What sets you apart from the other candidates?” As I answered, I realized how much it impacted all of my decisions. I realized that I couldn’t stop pursuing web development, and that I would do whatever it took to get this position.

What was that answer? What made me different from all of the other candidates?

At my core, I am a professional writer. I think about my work through an editorial lens, needing a strong backbone and support structure to hold up the work. I am consciously commenting all of my code to make it easier to read and to understand.

I did it! I'm a developer!

I did it! I’m a developer!

Being a writer gives me a strength beyond my technical skills. Yes, I need to be able to actually build. Yes, I’m tested to show that I can put the pieces together in a way that makes sense and functions. Beyond that, however, I can actually articulate what I’m doing. I can explain how the pieces work in a way that makes sense to those who haven’t ever touched the console or the backend of a CMS.

If you had asked me four years ago if this would be what I would do for my career, I think I would have laughed at you. No freaking way. Bold tags do not equal developer. And now, I couldn’t be prouder of myself. I have moved beyond my expectations of myself and to something so much better. My brain is constantly being challenged, and I’m pushing myself to learn more. I’m officially a woman in tech.

This also doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing. I just write in a new way, in a different way. Spelling mistakes matter more now than ever before and structure is imperative.

I look forward to the upcoming weeks and months as I expand beyond my very specialized knowledge and become a full fledged front-end engineer.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.