Archive for category The Writer’s Life

To Win We Must Lose—Sacrifice, Boundaries & Reaching Our Dreams

Image via "Fight Club"

Quote via “Fight Club”

This post is not a Plate of Cupcake Lessons. It’s a Bowl of Spinach and Kale Lessons. These lessons/habits are probably going to feel very un-fun for a while, but they’re essential for any kind of success. So many want to make success more palatable with sugar-coating and sprinkles. We live in a world of “effort-free, guilt-free, payment-plan options that require no work or pain on our part.”

And like P.T. Barnum once said, There’s a sucker born every minute. 

First, we need to define a few key ideas before we dig in.

What is Our Definition of Success?

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Before we can apply any “lessons” we have to accept a castor oil spoon of TRUTH. If we don’t make our own decision, we’ve still made a decision by abdicating making our own decision. If we don’t define success or happiness or what’s important, we leave a vacuum that other people and things will fill and they’ll be happy to define what our success should be.

A common result of abdication is we end up “living by default” which generates stress because it’s coming from a place of perceived powerlessness.

“Success” is all around us. We see it in magazines, television, on-line. We have more choices than any other time in human history (*cough* publishing). One of the reasons I hate going to Central Market is I can’t just buy SALT. There’s Himalayan Pink Salt, and Grey Celtic Salt, and Hawaiian Black Volcanic Salt, and White Truffle Oil Salt and…*head explodes*. While it IS a blessing to have a lot of choices (especially if one has as many food allergies as I do), all these options can put our brains in a knot.

On top of the plethora of choices, there’s another factor many of us might not appreciate. Due to the interconnectedness of our world, there is far more peer opinion about our choices. Peer pressure is at an all-time high.

The same factor that can be a positive force for selling books can be the same force that keeps us from finishing them, too ;) .

Back to success. What does it mean to YOU? What does it look like? In fact, in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spend an entire section having readers succinctly define what their success would be. Your vision of success is as unique as you are. Being specific in our goals is what’s going to make building a brand simple.

Remember Our Definition of Success Can Be Malleable and SHOULD Be

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Baby Spawn. Cutest priority EVER.

Life situations change. We go through seasons of growing and seasons of drought and seasons where it seems that life is trying to KILL US.

Before I was a wife and mom, being a NYTBSA was the epitome of success. That goal stayed paramount for a long time. Then Hubby had orders to deploy to Afghanistan and we would be without his income. Starting a small business took priority over being a NYTBSA. But, The Spawn was in nursery school six hours a day so this was doable.

Now that I’m homeschooling? I have to revisit “success” yet again. For me, there is NO SUCCESS that can take precedent over my mental, physical and emotional health. PEACE, for me, is paramount. If I cannot have peace, then everything will fall.

I’ve lost sight of this in the last 18 months, largely because of a lack of rest which will scramble discernment. When we aren’t rested, we’re reactionary. I’ve been trying to do what I did back before other responsibilities were on my plate. This is akin to trying to weed 1000 acres of an industrial farm using a garden hoe because, “Well, it worked fine in my backyard’s tomato garden.”

This is why it is so vital for all of us to clearly define success. Then we can more easily define priorities, which makes it simpler to discern when to say yes and when to say no. Also revisit those goals. They will evolve. And when life stacks more on top of us, we can give ourselves more grace because we’re viewing life from the appropriate lens.

I’m not a failure because I’m no longer writing 4000 words every day. Life is different. I’m no longer single and writing full-time. I’m a Mom with a high-energy child and a small business. And maybe I can still get in 1000-2000 words a day, but where am I willing to sacrifice?

Ah, sacrifice, that dirty word. Yep, despite what Madison Avenue says, we cannot have it all.

Choices

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I have a nice home, but many of the rooms still need to be painted and bear murals done by Baby Spawn. My furniture is old and my clothes are tattered and mostly from Walmart. I cook almost all our meals and “eating out” is usually a trip to In-N-Out Burger or maybe a pizza. It’s hard sometimes when I go to church in pregnancy pants under a nice top, when I’m surrounded by so many women who look like they fell out of a North Dallas boutique.

But, we have very little debt. Very little (and I am working on NO debt). We work hard to pay cash for everything or simply learn to do without. The only extra expenses we’ve been willing to take on cost far less than Spawn’s Pre-K tuition and they are only activities that will strengthen us as a family. Martial arts and the gym.

We have a neighborhood directly behind us. HUGE, GORGEOUS homes with unbelievable landscaping and back yards straight out of magazines. Deliveries from high-end furniture stores are the norm. It’s easy to feel the niggle of jealousy, but I have to remember…

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Funny thing is that often Pippa will wake me at three in the morning because she has to go outside to go pee. There are at least four homes behind us where it is extremely common to hear knock-down-drag-out fights until the wee hours of the morning, which saddens me greatly.

I have no idea what the fighting is all about, but I find it tragic that these families aren’t even enjoying a home most of us would love to have.

There Will Be Trade-Offs and Pain

One lesson I’m learning is to “count the cost.” Yes, I can press on and become the biggest NYTBSA EVER, but if I do this at the expense of my relationships, health and peace? Is it worth it? To me? No. My child living in a peaceful home with love and play and joy is a bigger priority. To warn you, this is NOT easy. I love to write. I could stay at a computer for hours, but now I have to work on being more fruitful with less time.

This morning, I told Spawn to let me get my work finished by X time and then I would take him to the pool. I hold to my word even when it hurts. But the pain of not finishing a chapter is less than the pain of Spawn being neglected.

There Will Be Push-Back

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Boundaries are really tough these days. We’ve been trained to be people-pleasers. Standing up for ourselves is “being mean.” I’ve learned the hard way to just put down boundaries early. There is no winning with toxic people, so save the energy.

Cases in Point…

I remember being in a writing group many years ago and no one was attending. I believed that by being president I could change things and make the group stronger. It was a nightmare. I had entire folders of hate mail. Never once in e-mail or person did I respond emotionally or even hatefully to the constant attacks. I simply set boundaries. I had people in meetings scream some of the most cruel and vicious things about me and to me, and I never responded in kind. I think once I cried and left the room (and resigned soon after).

But, when I no longer wanted to be president because the constant mental abuse was too much? I was “mean” for quitting. When I didn’t want to keep driving 90 minutes both ways every single Saturday for 95% of the group to no-show? I was mean.

I had the same thing happen in a community service group where (again) I was made president. *rolls eyes* Yay.

Though our membership had dropped so low we almost lost our charter, I received nothing but venomous e-mails calling me everything but Kristen. Often they attacked me in person and in front of guests and speakers. And while it seems I was a glutton for punishment (and perhaps I was), I’m grateful for those experiences.

These tough times honed my ability to remain professional when I was crumbling inside. To maintain peace. To stick to something even when it was extremely uncomfortable until my term was up.

As the saying goes, A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Anyone can quit when things aren’t fun. Pros keep their word. If I signed up for a year, then a year was how long I would remain. On the other side of that coin? If things don’t change, let go. If the horse is dead? Dismount.

Most importantly, these experiences helped me hone discernment. Just because someone asks us to be in charge, doesn’t mean we should say “yes.”

Most People Want it ALL and DO NOT WANT Change or Sacrifice

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

If we accept this reality, relationships and boundaries become simpler. Reality dictates we can’t have or do everything, but plenty of people will be there to tell us we can.

When it came to the civic group, our membership numbers had dropped off a cliff because we’d been meeting in a hospital conference room for roughly ten years. Originally, the room was easy to access until a major hospital remodel.

Then guests needed a team of sherpas and a GPS to find the room. Membership plummeted from about 45 to around 12. If I suggested moving? I was a jerk. If I made ways we could stay? I was a jerk.

If I said no to 20 different projects we’d once done and tried to pare it down to 5? I was a jerk and a dictator. No one wanted to give up doing what had once been done with 45 members and accept we only had 12. We could do A LOT of things poorly or a few things well. Again, I spent another year filling my folder with hate mail and eventually left an organization I once loved dearly….and was a jerk for leaving.

Why was I a “jerk” in these groups? No one wanted boundaries. They didn’t want trade-offs.

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They couldn’t understand that if they wanted the writing group to continue, we needed people to attend. If they wanted this civic organization to regain members, we had to move. 

Toxic People Use Guilt

When we decide to become writers, we must 1) define success 2) set priorities, then 3) enforce boundaries. All three of these work together. If one falls the others do too. While most humans shy away from change and sacrifice, toxic people do this to extremes. This said, when you decide to make writing your main work priority, you will get grief when you set a boundary. Stand your ground and feel good about your choice. You aren’t being mean, you are being a professional.

If your critics eventually understand and respect your decision, they’re worth having in your sphere. If they’re bitter and hateful and still resent you five years later? Dead weight. Be happy that setting that boundary early culled them out before they could do more damage.

You matter. Your dreams matter. Your peace matters.

And notice I used the word simple through this post, not easy. Simple is NOT easy.  It can, however, become easier with practice.

What are your thoughts?

Do you find yourself chasing your own butt only to realize you haven’t rested? That maybe you need to take some time to redefine priorities? Are you struggling with learning to set boundaries? Are you learning to say “NO”? Are you struggling with feeling guilty that you can’t be and do everything? Have you been through some tough and toxic times where you learned to let go sooner?

Is it tough to not be jealous when you see others who look like they have it all?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce July’s winner later this week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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Reduce Stress, Increase Joy & Productivity—Why Is Simple So HARD?

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Funny how we get the same lessons in life over and over and…over. Maybe not you guys. Maybe y’all are sharper than me. But the thing I keep returning to is “essentialism.” Boil everything down to the basics. Focus on one or even a few key areas with all you have. THAT is the key to success.

So why is simple so hard?

Last week, I blogged about what writing and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu had in common. Much of any martial art is mastery and focus on the BASICS.

Which is why I am no longer LOSING EVERY round. I’m even winning a few *happy dance*.

But I know my life goes through these crazy times. You’ve been there.

The Transition

It happened when I went from being single to married. I am a tad…ok, more than a tad OCD. I once moved and the movers called me, “The House that Rubbermaid Made.” Everything was organized and labeled and it took less than five hours for them to move me and less than four hours for me to completely unpack.

***Note: This phenomena hasn’t happened since *whimpers*.

Why? After that move it was no longer only ME.

I had to adjust to being a writer living with my mom who keeps EVERYTHING, then a wife of a man who is adorable but KEEPS EVERYTHING. Then I became a mom of a newborn and then a toddler, and now that he’s a preschooler? Yeah, I’m happy if I can keep the floors virtually hazard-free and my house not smelling like a crime scene.

But am I happy?

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

The Trouble with “Happy”

Am I happy?

I’ve had to ask that A LOT lately. In the end, happiness (in my opinion) should never be our goal. Why? Well, because the word is tethered to “happenstance.” It’s too wonky. Rather, I choose to do what is right knowing it will eventually produce joy which has a much longer shelf life. Am I happy being up at 3:30 in the morning because the cat coughed up a hairball on me in the middle of some weird dream about The Golden Girls and a money-laundering scandal?

No idea. That was a weird-@$$ dream and good reason not to eat too close to bedtime. BUT, I do know that I’m up for some reason…even if it is to make you feel totally sorry for me :P

Happiness and Joy

I am a NAZI when it comes to language. Seriously. Since we have lost SO many family members in two years, I finally went to a grief counseling group at our church and while it IS awesome and I have made a lot of progress (like finally CRYING) I nitpick about the Scripture. And not to be preachy here, but if you aren’t a Christian, just work with me and roll with it.

We use a lot of the Beatitudes. The translation they use in the group makes me nutso. It isn’t, “HAPPY are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Happy? That makes NO sense to me. I prefer other translations that are closer to the original text, which tell me, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I am NOT going to feel “happy” mourning. It’s awful losing people you love. But, if I learn to cry, let go, remember the good stuff and latch onto the gifts that those people’s lives gave me? I am definitely BLESSED.

Many times we are blessed yet miserable. 

I can think of a lot of super tough times that made me howl to the heavens, WHY ME? Looking back? Those were the times I grew the most. Though I was NOT happy, I needed the lesson. I needed the growth. I needed to let go of baggage, people, situations that I didn’t realize (at the time) were toxic.

I needed to realize my purpose wasn’t selling industrial paper.

Like, seriously.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

So, I do think semantics are key. We live in a world where everything is supposed to make us HAPPY. Well, kiddos, I hate to say it but most of the stuff that is good for us in the end will NOT make us happy. “Happy” is fleeting, joy is far deeper.

Letting Go

I like to believe I am an Essentialist at heart. I lose sight sometimes. We all do. Don’t believe me? Look in your closet O_o. But life isn’t static. We are slaves to entropy. We are changing and growing and shifting and we are wise to stay on top of what is going on. I cannot DO things the same as a Mommy-Writer with an infant who slept most of the day as NOW when I’m homeschooling a zombie-obsessed preschooler who abducts Cheerios in the wee hours and sprinkles them in my couch.

The goal is to always focus on what is essential. DO NOT COMPROMISE. And you will, but you can regroup. Breathe.

WANA has always been essentialist in nature. What is the point of social media? When we realize the core point, it’s clearer that we don’t have to rely on gimmick, automation or camp on top of “our brand.” The CORE of all social media is simply to create relationships. Takes away a LOT of pressure.

The weird paradox is that the more we let go, the more we can hold. We live in a world that tells us we can have it all. We can’t. Not really. There HAS to be a trade-off if we hope to do anything well (and remain sane).

For instance, I can have an immaculate home or a happy child. My son won’t remember that the house was dust-free in his childhood. He WILL remember playing at the pool with Mommy, or wrestling and playing “Attack of the MOMBIE.” He will remember the times at the park. He will remember Mommy suiting up with him in a gi to go learn martial arts.

The dishes? Eh, not so much. And if he does and this scars him? Well, shrinks need to eat too.

He can talk to his therapist...

He can talk to his therapist…

Choose Wisely

Okay, if you are anything like me you will likely goof this up and need retraining. Why? Because in our New-And-Improved-World, EVERYTHING is important. So give yourself some grace if you get it wrong the first couple tries. With all the options flying at us telling us we can HAVE IT ALL, we might struggle with discernment. That’s OKAY. Remember, life is not static. Just change direction. Make a different decision.

Go AROUND the leaf….

But, if we can look to the CORE of life, what is it? Health, Wealth, Relationships (not in any necessary order), priorities become clearer. As a fun fact, the word priority came from the Latin word a priori which was SINGULAR. It wasn’t until close to the Industrial Revolution that the word was ever pluralized into priorities. What this means to me it that most companies have their collective heads up their butts I need to work on discernment.

What is WANA’s priority? Empowering Writers of the Digital Age. Simple. We have classes, conferences, our own social network and all the tools to do ONE thing…empower. We give low-cost and digitally accessible classes and conferences, then we provide social media outlets so anything we can do can be magnified. Anything that does not align with Empowering Writers of the Digital Age? Not even a consideration.

Not that everything’s been seamless, but it’s sure been simpler.

With my life? Which things are priority? I can make a list—oh, can I make LISTS—but I’m better off focusing everything into a singular CORE a priori.

What is my GOAL as a mother and wife? As a writer? As a teacher?

Believe it or not, it’s all the same. Empowering. I can’t do Hubby’s job for him, but I can make our home a place of respite and peace that empowers him to do the best job he can each day. I can’t force Spawn to learn any faster than he does, but I can empower him to learn the best way for him.

Sigh, yes, even if it involves…zombies.

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

I can’t write your books for you or do your social media, but I can teach you all the craft and publishing stuff that tied my brain in knots for years. I can empower you to write faster, cleaner and better and also have a social media brand without going crazy. I can empower you to make the best decisions for your personality and book(s).

Something To Take Away

I am a Work In Progress. We all are. WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have to battle this entropy thing until we die, so what are some tips to keep life simpler? I’ll give a few and maybe we’ll expound later.

No Meddling!!!!

We all have family and friends who seem to collect disaster faster than black pants gather cat fur. BE UNAVAILABLE. I can’t even measure the time I’ve wasted trying to solve other people’s problems when they weren’t interested in solving it themselves. You know who I’m talking about. The people who cry and wail and want advice…and then do what they were going to do anyway and then it BLOWS UP and they need help?

No. JUST SAY NO. Back away. This is just never going to end well.

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When we meddle, we are NOT HELPING. We’re stealing this person’s power. We are stealing the lesson failure provides as well as the feeling of victory they will have by solving their own problems.

And, because most of us stink at priorities and think everything is an emergency, it is likely those around you do as well. So while they’re screaming FIRE!

…it isn’t.

Put down the firehouse and back away.

Take a Day Off

Sunday is my day of rest. Period. I’ve actually only fired a couple of people, but one? She couldn’t follow instructions. Every Sunday she was e-mailing and calling and wanting to talk business despite many times being told DO NOT CONTACT ON SUNDAY. Everything was a priority!

Failure to prepare on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine.

Rest is WORK

In fact, rest is the hardest work we will ever do because we live in a world that frowns upon it. We’re supposed to be doing a zillion things all at once 24/7 and be available all hours all days. And then others wonder why quality suffers.

We have no problems putting gas in our car, plugging in our phones or laptops into a power outlet. Why are we last on the list? We need JUICE, TOO. Recharge and stop running on 3% battery.

Just so y’all know, I have one finger pointed at you and the rest pointed at ME. Lately, I’m learning to say no, turning off phone, doing more yoga and taking more power naps. I NEED for my brain to just chillax.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle and have too many “PRIORITIES”? Do you lose your focus? Do you struggle with energy vampires who always have some new drama? Are you learning to put down boundaries with yourself and others? Do you feel guilty resting, taking a nap or even—GASP—A VACATION! YOU SLOTH! Have you gotten better at making you and your WRITING a priority? THE PRIORITY? What tips or tools could you share?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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56 Comments

Writing, Caregiving & Confessions of a “Recovering” Control Freak

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It’s funny how life has this way of pointing out our weaknesses. We have this delusion that we can keep doing things the way we always have and it will work…and that’s when the pressure piles up. I admit it. I am a control freak and a perfectionist.

I grew up in a family of chaos where the rules changed daily and the only thing I could count on was nothing could be counted on. My family was also rather stoic (likely because we are mostly military and medical workers).

I still tease my mom that she had a saying, “Come home with your lunch kit or ON it.”

Growing up, we went through a lot of bad times and crying was highly discouraged. Second place was the first loser. Failure was not an event, it was who you were.

When Life Lands in the Blender

I try to always walk my talk. When I advise getting out of the comfort zone? I mean it, and I do it. Starting WANA International was terrifying for me. What’s interesting was up until that point, life had been pretty uneventful, even awesome. We’d had wonderful, almost stress-free three years and I ran my life and writing with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.

Then it was as if the second I filed the LLC to start my own business? The Gates of Hell opened.

Now? I’m lucky to have my underwear on correctly. A lot has gone right with WANA International, but just as much has gone sideways. I’m learning a lot about just how much I don’t know. Seriously humbling. I also MUST stop comparing how I ran things before life changed. Sure keeping an immaculate house and meeting deadlines was easier when Spawn was in a PLAYPEN.

But just like our novels run our characters through a crucible to (hopefully) change them for the better, life can do the same to us.

While a lot of what’s happened in the past couple years has been HARD (even devastating) it’s amazing what I’ve learned and how it’s forced me to come up higher and grow.

Learning I am NOT ALONE

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I began the idea of WANA (We Are Not Alone) because I knew what it was like to have a dream of being a writer and be alone with no support. Deciding to become a writer was probably the first time I stepped out in faith that I could DO something remarkable….and it was a beating.

That trial taught me how much support networks are vital for success. They keep us pressing and give us people we can lean on when we’re about to fall apart. I felt writers needed help beyond social media or craft. Writers are people with a lot of stress and life can make us give up the dream. And WANA was born.

We still need to keep stepping out and doing stuff that scares us. I have always been such a workhorse/caretaker that I forget to ask for help. I know none of you have this problem, but I will cop to it  ;) .

In May, (after six deaths in less than two years and two more pending) it all became too much, so I joined a weekly group at my church designed to help those dealing with grief. My pride had kept me away for too long. It’s been…weird. Stripping away the gallows humor. Learning to feel when I’m in the habit of running an endless list of things to do through my head to avoid feeling.

I remember when my dad suddenly passed away, I showed up for work the next day. My coworkers were horrified. WHY are you HERE?

Um, because I am scheduled to work? *confused* It never occurred to me I should stay home. I had obligations.

Control is an Illusion

SO ME!

SO ME!

Part of what I’ve learned is control is an illusion. Often it will get us sidetracked on things that really don’t matter (um, refer to above image) at the expense of doing things that are meaningful.

Yeah, I was in denial. I made jokes about being OCD or a control freak, but recently it’s hit me how BAD I really was (am). So, again, I made a decision to do things differently. So much energy had been focused on the sick, deceased or dying, I forgot to focus on the living. I began doing a lot more with The Spawn, taking him to the pool or the park and enjoying it, instead of working while he played. I joined martial arts with him so he’d have Mommy as a teammate. I abducted Hubby to learn to play D&D.

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

I made friends here locally and have become more comfortable asking for help.

It’s odd how we don’t honestly see ourselves and how that parallels with writing a good protagonist (they really ARE their own worst enemy in the beginning). Last Friday, I was in a rush and my foot met the wrong end of the glass shower door giving me a BAD puncture wound in my foot.

I rinsed it with antiseptic and taped it together and headed out for the church potluck because I promised I’d be there. As I was enjoying the food and the company, my new friend Shannon simply got up and refilled my drink and plate and tended The Spawn…and it stunned me.

People can help…ME?

Weird, I know. But even though I was hobbling around, my nature was to be up refilling and cleaning and helping everyone else. The fact that another person naturally did that for ME?

BIG eye-opener.

Confessions of a Yoga Nazi

Another thing I’ve done differently is I’m back going to yoga. I needed a place to relax mind and body before I imploded from stress. I came from two years of doing Bikram, which is Sparta of Yoga. Very strict.

I’m now doing gym yoga—hot yoga, which is only an hour and only 98 degrees. It’s a lot faster. But people come in the room talking away. Two days ago, I was in the middle of the workout and a woman next to me texted through the entire class. She had her cell on silent, but it did this weird strobe thing when a text came in, then she’d drop to the mat and text back. (In Bikram they would have booted her from the class.)

*me twitching*

It really took a lot of discipline to just let it go and not let her poor manners ruin my peace.

The hot yoga really is metaphoric for what I’m learning. Yes, structure is great, but true emotional or mental discipline doesn’t come from being told everything to do in a controlled environment. It’s having the ability to maintain the calm despite. It’s ignoring the people talking, laughing or texting inappropriately and still choosing peace. Because LIFE is anything but a controlled environment.

Having a Good Cry

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

What I REALLY like about this hot yoga, is the teachers will bring in lessons for the day. One hit home with me. It was about crying. When we stuff emotions and refuse to feel them, these emotions GO somewhere. They don’t vanish. She spoke about the benefits of crying.

Crying, in ways, doesn’t make sense. We feel sad or hurt and our eyes leak?

Apparently scientists tested different types of tears. Tears from cutting onions are very different from tears released when watching Bambi’s mother die.

Emotional tears are extremely high in toxins and hormones produced due to stress. It’s our body’s way of releasing the “bad stuff” and it’s why we feel better “after a good cry.” This made me think a lot about our society. Being emotional is discouraged. Crying is often viewed as weakness. Maybe that’s why a lot of us are too close to crazy these days. We are in a non-stop world moving from task to task to task and never stopping to feel or to even —GASP—cry.

Also caregivers are in a weird position. We have to be strong for others. If we aren’t careful we slap on a smile even when we’re crumbling. Often we aren’t even AWARE we are crumbling. I’m learning that it’s okay for me to recharge. I can’t help others if I’m empty.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.54.19 PM

I left yoga yesterday and saw two quotes that spoke to me.

Nature does not hurry and yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape. ~Anonymous

What to Take Away

When we step out to do something remarkable, expect disaster. Expect failures.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer here, but like our protagonists face trials and threshold guardians when they accept the adventure, we will too. It might be life testing us to see how badly we want the dream, but it’s more than that. Failures and setbacks are simply logical. We’re doing something different and unknown. We’re learning. Failure is part of that. I like to say, Show me a person who isn’t failing and I’ll show you a person who’s not doing anything interesting.

Quitting is easy. Anyone can do that.

Additionally, life doesn’t PAUSE when we decide to reach for our dreams. We must learn to maintain peace in the storm and to remember storms do eventually pass.

Oh, and another storm will come eventually ;).

Resting doesn’t make us lazy. Asking for help or even crying doesn’t make us weak.

My dishes will always need washing and my e-mail will always be a monster. The Spawn won’t remember that the house was perfectly organized, he WILL remember a day at the pool playing Water Zombies with Mom.

Also, some setbacks or bad events in life are worth having a good cry.

Peace is a decision, not a destination.

I’ve learned that $#!& happens. Me freaking out that the AC overflowed and flooded the attic doesn’t change the hefty bill or the mess to be cleaned up. Besides, most of the crap we fret about 1) never actually happens or 2) does happen and in five years we don’t even remember it.

Never underestimate how important you are. The little things are the biggest of all.

The comments on a blog, the funny pics on a FB timeline are all the small actions that keep a lot of us together. Never buy the lie that your actions don’t matter because they are “too small.”

Remember to rest, to cry, to laugh and to BREATHE. Hey, it’s life. None of us get out of it alive :D .

What are your thoughts? Have you been through stressful seasons and realized you were too focused on the problems and not enough on the joys? Do you find yourself holding your breath? Are you a caretaker and feel guilty doing anything for yourself? Do you forget to ask for help? Are you overly critical of yourself and learning to give yourself a BREAK? Can you think of hard times that nearly crushed you, yet when you came out the other side, something in you had changed for the better?

Hey, I am right here with you. We can trade notes :D .

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

Announcements:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

July 19th is my First Five Pages Class  and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on July 26th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

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63 Comments

Zombie School, OCD & How To Keep Modern Life from KILLING Us

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

Back in 2013 I wrote a post detailing The Parable of the King Who Forgot to Pay the Internet Bill and All The Kingdom was Super-Sad….also known as The Parable of TKWFTPTIBAATKWSS. I’ve had a lot of challenges lately. After Spawn being fired from nursery school for his over-zealous love of zombies, I’m home-schooling.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s FUN and Spawn has come LIGHT-YEARS. I take him to the museum, we study space, and explore fluid dynamics using water guns. We built and launched his own rocket (which he christened The Nebula because its mission was to find “baby stars”).

He still loves zombies (a lot). He plays a zombie, shoots the zombies (and sometimes he mistakes ME for the zombie, though that is totally understandable and hard for me to be too judgy). He carries his zombie NERF guns EVERYWHERE. He makes up songs about zombies, poems of zombies, tales of zombies…

I need a nap. I really miss six hours of quiet time to work. Especially because the constant interruptions and not finishing???? *left eye twitches* Yes, I AM SHELDON.

Spawn being home-schooled? Yeah. I get the living room clean, turn and BOOM! My need for closure is being tested to the MAX.

And sometimes?

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 8.01.28 AM

Anyway, my old schedule was already hectic but with Spawn at home? I’m out of my mojo and have done some DUMB stuff…namely when I scheduled the Antagonist Class, I was looking at a JULY calendar.

Seriously? *hangs head*

What a Week

Also, after Spawn got booted from nursery school, I put him in Karate. I then signed up at the same dojo to show Mommy Support (and maybe get a workout). I took Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because I used to teach Jui-Jitsu (though I will say BJJ is very different and I am a total noob).

Last Tuesday, I was sparring and went to pin my opponent in a choke hold. He countered with a leg sweep to escape that I countered…with my FACE, breaking my nose.

S-E-X-Y!

S-E-X-Y!

Now, the nose wasn’t that bad, nothing that some ice, tape and Ibuprophen couldn’t handle. In fact, a broken nose can be awesome family fun. I chased Hubby around going, “My nose is CRUNCHY! Touch it!” And he screamed like a girl and climbed up the back of the couch faster than a cat high on catnip.

…then yelled something about me being a freak and I am rather shocked that after six years he’s just now figured that out.

So last Friday I’m running errands for the other family business and, of course my phone was DEAD because Spawn likely broke into my iPhone to play Angry Birds and ended up booking a flight to Dubai.

…and my class was in our digital classroom waiting. And Jay was calling. And no one answered :( .

Where is Kristen?

Um, duh *rolls eyes*. I was totally preparing for class on SATURDAY.

The ANTAG class is MY FAVORITE to teach, so I’d been looking forward to it more than a 6-year-old wanting a snow cone. Looking back, I probably should have rescheduled the class anyway because I didn’t sleep for three days because I’m a belly-sleeper and that doesn’t work so great with an injured face. But, I tend to just press on (like I continued sparring 30 more minutes even with a broken nose).

Sigh.

I need a cone *hangs head*

I need a cone *hangs head*

Which brings me to a new parable. The Parable of the Teacher Who Couldn’t Read a Calendar and All the Students Were Super Sad. I sent out a mortifying embarrassing professional note of apology to the abandoned attendees *weeps*.

Those signed up will get extra cool add-ons provided they forgive me. But good news is the class is RESCHEDULED for this Saturday and Jay has sent the NSA “Ice Cream Truck” to make sure I’m present.

I know it’s a holiday weekend for Americans, but 1) a lot of attendees are NOT in America and 2) we have a recording if you can’t attend in person. And, if you can? I can think of NO BETTER people to hang out with than you guys on a holiday.

What Does This ALL Mean?

Man, I was hoping you guys could tell me. KIDDING! No, just that the life of a modern writer is uncharted territory. A lot of you are moms, dads, single parents, grandparents, etc. You have day jobs and kids and maybe your laundry also owns cloning technology.

Maybe you’ve been through illness, deaths or are caring for a loved one who is sick. I’m helping care for my grandmother who just had two strokes and has dementia that’s going downhill faster than my heart can bear.

We might be writing late at night or early in the morning. We just about go to pat ourselves on the back that we’ve got everything under control, when something we forgot PATS us on the HEAD…with a hammer.

Some Tips:

Write It DOWN—When I fail to write lists and get this notion that “I can totally keep this in my head”? That’s when I get in trouble. For instance, I might have SEEN the error in dates if it was WRITTEN on an actual calendar.

I can be in the middle of working and be assaulted with a NERF sword. This breaks concentration—Ya think?—and then it goes downhill from there. A written list is invaluable and Jay is going to teach me Excel which, frankly, is like Sanskrit to me

But I WILL say, Modern Society kinda ticks me off sometimes. They hand us an app or a tool to “get more done” and instead of it freeing time? I just get loaded with more stuff to do. When we get to where we’re sorting e-mail in the bathroom? Time to back away from the smart phone.

Okay, I know none of you have ever done that. Just me. I own it.

Delegate/Ask for HELP—I’m struggling with this one big time, but baby steps. I’m a workhorse and I kid you not, it usually isn’t until I’m exhausted and in tears that I realize I could have possibly maybe asked for help.

THIS is how the keys end up in the fridge and the mayo in my purse.

Laugh—Is it embarrassing to make mistakes? OH YEAH. But mistakes help us learn and keep us humble. Just about the time I think I am all super-smart? *winces*

And this isn’t an excuse for me to just goof off and not strive for excellence. But, if I keep focusing on where I blew it? Definition of unproductive.

Give Grace—Every magazine ad or commercial tells us where we suck. It shows us we are old, have too many wrinkles, big thighs, a messy house and our kids aren’t properly prepared for college (even though the kid is only THREE).

The thing I’ve learned is that perfect people are 1) boring and 2) lying. Imperfect people are real. REAL=AWESOME. We have good days and bad days and OMG WHY AM I ALLOWED TO LIVE/BREED days. But it’s just a day. It passes and one day it will be a great story ;) .

…like The Parable of the Teacher Who Couldn’t Read a Calendar and All the Students Were Super Sad.

And if I don’t blog again this week? Happy Fourth of July!

The laaaand of the FREEEEE! And the home of the…

Next.

What are your thoughts? Do you have days where you couldn’t find your own butt with a team of sherpas and a GPS? Do you struggle to balance life, home and writing? Are you sometimes too hard on yourself? Do you have a hard time discerning giving yourself grace versus making excuses? Does modern society vex you too? Oh, there’s an APP for that. How about a NAP APP?

Are you a Sheldon too and when life changes, you have a hard time adjusting? Have you caught yourself answering/deleting e-mails in the bathroom on your phone because it’s the only place the kids/pets can’t chew through the door? Okay, probably just me.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

THIS SATURDAY is my  Antagonist Class  PINKIE-SWEAR!JULY 5th). Use WANA15 for $15 off. This class will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

For more help with your social media/author platform/author brand, please check out Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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56 Comments

Free Falling, Ground-Fighting & Learning to Start Over

Image courtesy of Morgan Sherwood via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Morgan Sherwood via Flickr Creative Commons.

Like all of you, okay most…all right maybe only one or two of you, I kinda wish I had a Delorian so I could go back in time and slap myself. So many things I have done wrong, and still do wrong. I swear sometimes it is a miracle I make it to bed in one piece. This is the great thing about WANA (which stands for We Are Not Alone). We’re a club…or probably a cult.

***Note: We don’t make you dance with snakes until your second third meeting.

WANA is about being smaller than yourself, thus making you greater than you could ever be. When we focus on others and loving others, life is bearable and even kinda awesome, because there are a LOT of un-awesome times we all have to go through. But what I always longed for WANA is it is our safe-haven where we know it is okay to cry, dust off and start anew.

Writing has, historically, been a lonely business and I started WANA because I knew what it was like to have a dream and no one be there.

I was mocked, hated, ridiculed and very, very lonely. And that was just the writing part. Here I was, struggling to do what others thought was a foolish hobby and then life used me like one of those punching clowns that all kids of the 70s got for their birthday that SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF THEM bobbing in the dark at night. The one you punched over and over and it popped back up…until it ate you in your sleep (or deflated).

WANA as a movement has made great strides, binding weirdos great creative people across the globe via a common love for writing. As a business? I’ve tried a lot of stuff and kind of feel like Wile E. Coyote, but am still here. Have some cool ideas in the pipeline, namely WANATeens. There are a lot of kids who suffer from having writer parents and have inherited this madness to combine words into something others might want to pay to READ.

HELP THE CHILDREN

I believe WANA is the best place to cultivate this budding talent, since we used to be those kids…scribbling away on stone tablets beating off Stegosauruses (Stegosaurusi?). I am creating some curriculum specifically for teenagers, since word on the street is that I have the mentality of a 14 year old boy, ergo am PERFECT for the job :D .

The crux of what I want to say is I have been down A LOT over the past months. Ever have one of those days weeks months years? I kid you NOT, we have had FIVE deaths, three major (MAJOR LIFE-THREATENING surgeries) in two years and my beloved grandmother is suffering dementia and has had two small strokes in the past month. I take care of her tomorrow.

On top of this, I FINALLY took a couple days off to get my head screwed on straight and we came home to water leaking through our living room ceiling from a clogged AC unit overflowing. Thank GOD we caught it before the ceiling caved in and the damage was eh…not catastrophic? W…T…H?

All this to say, please feel super sorry for me…wait, no. Um. All this to say LIFE STILL GOES ON. This is what WANA is about. All of us have good times and bad and the bad times can be very dangerous for artists because the first thing to go is the dream. We tend to put the dream on the shelf and dig in to fight the wildfires. But truth is? There will always be wildfires and WANA is here to remind you that you aren’t alone.

Even me. Maybe mostly me.

I love the moniker WANA Mama because it fits. I LOVE all of you and want all of you to realize your dreams. I KID YOU NOT, I sometimes wake up at night with ideas for YOUR novels (Antagonist Class). It’s a JOY to see these cool but amorphous, gelatinous ideas become….a NOVEL. A GOOD novel. A GREAT novel! It’s like being a literary midwife and helping all these cool babies be born into this world, each one with its own unique fingerprints and your DNA. Babies that we will love and maybe who will one day change the world.

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 10.24.59 AM

A Little Side-Story

Due to the freakish amount of stress, I finally made the plunge to go back into martial arts. Part of this was instigated by Spawn being fired from nursery school at AGE FOUR because he loved zombies too much (yes, I am NOT kidding and am framing the dismissal letter because that is SO my kid and will blog more on this later bur for the original rant, GO HERE). I’d always pondered homeschooling but it seemed this amorphous thing in the future that suddenly became the PRESENT.

AAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

So, I did what any (Texas) mother would do, I got pissed and put him in karate where they would appreciate his need to fight the undead and save the day. Long story short, I used to teach Jui-Jitsu and only quit because of a fractured back (was testing for my brown belt). I have been in martial arts on and off since age 5 and studied at least four forms of martial arts and never made it to BLACK BELT.  Which makes me twitch because I am OCD.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 9.17.03 PM

Anyway, I signed up for Brazilian Jui-Jitsu and guess who is a WHITE BELT ALL OVER AGAIN? And there was a time this would have bothered me and ruffled my ego BIG TIME, but now? Eh. Whatever. See, being successful has a lot to do with how well we can begin anew. How humble can we be? Can we let go of the old to embrace something new and maybe even better?

The true mark of a great person isn’t how big they can be, but how small they can be and still have joy.

See, I used to believe I was this uber-talented editor-writer and was so full of myself X-rays demonstrated I had a cranium up my own @$$. Then, I grew up and learned that small stuff matters. Beginning matters and it is OKAY to be NEW. In fact, that is the best time because it means someone is being BRAVE.

I do this Antagonist class and it is my FAVORITE, especially the Gold Level where I work with people one-on-one. And yeah it costs more, but trust me it is a LOT of work on both sides. But why I love it is because there is such a high rate of success.

Most of human history was based on being an artisan. You became an apprentice to a master who guided you. None of this throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks stuff.

Gry is one of my favorite examples. She was a student out of DENMARK and is 19 and brilliant. Anyway, she won the Gold Level from attending WANACon and came to me with this high fantasy that was so complicated it took three meetings (2 hours a piece) to even understand what the hell her story was about. Problem was she’d gotten bogged down with world-building and her core goal was fatally flawed. But, after several sessions, we peeled away the Literary Bond-O and she finally could see the story she originally wanted to tell…and had a viable log-line and PLOT. And her new and improved story ROCKS.

The hardest part? Letting go of all the other “stuff.” Her story was still in tact. This wasn’t a Kristen Lamb retread. It was the story she originally wanted to share, but didn’t understand how to construct. And the coolest part is the excited letters I get from her now that she “gets” the process. I am immensely proud of her and can’t wait to hear she has a book deal. She worked her tail off and I know it was heart-wrenching letting go of a lot of what she’d already done.

Been there.

***Note: That is actually one of the coolest parts of what I do. “My writer baby has a BOOK DEAL!” Even had a writer baby who now can put NYTBSA in front of her name ;) .

Anyway, a great editor takes your lump of shiny coal and chips and polishes until you have a diamond. A great teacher teaches you how to do this yourself.

Free Falling

One of my favorite Bible scriptures talks about how God will give us beauty for our ashes. Thing is, we have to let go of the ashes to get the beauty (which is VERY contrary to our nature). Maybe this is a book that we have been working on far too long. We need to let go, start over, or even let a pro look at it to show us how to reconstruct. Maybe it is an idea of who we were, that maybe we DON’T want to be in sales, telemarketing, ferret-grooming because we want to be a WRITER.

Maybe it’s realizing the public school is going to crush the joy out of your kid, so you now need to figure out how to not damage him permanently teach him from home…and still WRITE.

Change Your Thinking and Change Your LIFE

One of the weird things I’ve had to overcome in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is to reset my thinking. See, in Judo/Jui-Jitsu, being on bottom was generally BAD. It meant being pinned and GAME OVER. In Gracie, this is not the case. The person on bottom has just as much if not MORE power. And in Gracie, falling to the ground offers the best advantage. Watch any MMA tournament and many fighters have one goal, “DON’T GET ON THE GROUND OR IT IS OVER.” Why? Those skilled in ground-fighting know most people aren’t and they can dominate the game.

So when life throws you to the ground? Breathe. You’re a WANA. You got this ;).

I do want to hear from you guys!

Do you have kids who might like to become WANATeens? Some thoughts on classes? Have you ever had to scrape yourself off the pavement and try again….and again? TELLL us your WAR STORIES! We LOVE to hear the encouragement! Are you going through a rough time. too??? Ceiling fall in?I KNOW how you feel.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

TONIGHT is my First Five Pages Class  and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on June 27th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

For more help with your social media/author platform/author brand, please check out Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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45 Comments

Writer Victory!—Yearning, Empathy, & How Political Correctness is Killing Diversity in Literature

Edie didn't care the Johnny was the funniest looking puppy she'd ever seen.

Edie didn’t care the Johnny was the weirdest puppy she’d ever seen.

After deviating last week, today we tackle the final letter in our Writer Acrostic. Thus far, we’ve covered: V is for Voluntarily Submit. Anticipate trials and challenges and understand there is far more strength in bending than breaking. I was for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t fix what we fail to acknowledge. Our profession hinges on us writing better today than we did yesterday. C was for Change Your Mind. We can only achieve what we can first conceive. Make your mind and set it and keep it set.

T was for Turn Over our Future. When we let go of things we can’t control, we’re far more powerful to drive and direct that which we can. R was for Remember Writers are Magicians. This isn’t a hobby or “playtime.” Our society is only as evolved as the artists who drive the change. Show me a country without writers and I’ll show you a country doomed.

Y stands for Yearning. Natural talent has very little to do with being a great writer or a successful writer. We have to want the dream. I can teach you guys structure, technique, POV, etc. but I can’t do the work for you. You have to want it.

Over Memorial Day, Hubby and I watched Lone Survivor. There was a really neat quote in the intro: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.”

A Writer’s Work is Never Done

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Benjamin Watson.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Benjamin Watson.

Unless I’m sleeping, I’m always on the job. Even then, y’all should be privy to some of my dreams. Since my fiction involves a lot of complex science, it’s not uncommon for me to bolt up in the middle of the night with an A-HA! I make a joke that I do my best work while sleeping.

One of the reasons I tell writers NOT to start a writing blog is that teaching writing and writing are two completely different skill sets. Writers are not necessarily good teachers. In fact, I will go so far as to say some of the most brilliant authors I’ve ever met were dreadful teachers.

I remember being at Thrillerfest and one of the mega-authors (who I won’t name) had somehow been coaxed into teaching a class. This was a writer I…worshipped. BRILLIANT man.

I battled for a spot right in the center so I could take notes and learn all I could. The poor author, though? I was waiting for him to chew off his own leg to escape. He kept saying things like, “Well, I don’t know how I do it. I just…do it.” *looks at watch* *looks for fire exit*

Writers (novelists) are not all craft teachers and that’s fine. Readers won’t care about plot or dialogue unless we screw it up. What WE are experts at and what we should be experts at is storytelling. Paying attention to life. We explore questions regular people might not even know they have. They just have this deep dark niggling they can’t articulate. We see what others miss. We make the seemingly trivial relevant. We pay CLOSE attention.

I don’t think it’s an accident that science and art use many of the same parts of the brain. In ways, writers are scientists. We extend the logic.

We ask things like, “What would happen if the government was allowed to completely rule our lives?” “What would happen if suddenly an alien race ‘answered’ all these messages we are sending out?” “Could humans keep their humanity in a world with no food source other than other people?” “How would a Muslim girl cope with trying to balance two vastly different cultures?”

I have been devouring John Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. It has been immensely popular with young boys and male teens, the toughest demographic to get to read. This has inspired me. After I finish the novel I’m working on, I want to write a YA series for boys using two of my son’s favorite things to talk about—zombies and dinosaurs. I want to pen books my son will love.

Talk about a brain-bender. How can I get zombies and dinosaurs in the same book without it being the stuff of Sharknado? What diseases can I use? What disease might affect humans and yet affect reptiles differently? Is it an engineered bioweapon? What timeline should I use? How does the disease work?

Maybe incorporate time-travel? Perhaps unknowingly infected scientists go back to the Jurassic Period to explore and are made into snack food. Infects dinosaurs and immediately alters current timeline for those in the future. Humans now face a two-front war. Bio-weapon has unleashed hoards of the undead and suddenly creatures that should have been dead are very much alive.

How would this affect our world? What would be the bigger “human” question?

I have a log-line:

Borders and beliefs no longer matter. Humanity is now facing extinction from the extinct and the undead.

Maybe it’s lame. Maybe not. The puzzle is what keeps the yearning in me alive. It’s a challenge.

Yearning is vital. It’s what makes us do the stuff we might not like (I.e. branding and social media). Yearning challenges us to grow where we are weak. Yearning keeps us going even when others think we are nuts. Yearning asks WHY, even if the question goes nowhere or the answers are uncomfortable.

Yearning Leads to Understanding

It's good to walk in shoes that aren't ours….

It’s good to walk in shoes that aren’t ours….

After my post The Disease of Self-Importance—Can We Find a Cure? Jami Gold wrote a fabulous follow-up piece about how PC could endanger diversity in books. If we allow PC to reign, will it discourage authors from writing about a diverse mix of characters? I believe yearning is what makes us good at writing other characters.

***And PC kills yearning because it makes us afraid to just talk to each other and ask questions out of fear of “offending” someone and being labeled a racist. My POV.

I have a confession. Y’all ready for it?

I have never been a dinosaur.

Now, don’t tell AARP that or the folks sending me coupons for hearing aids and information on prepaid funerals (I AM ONLY 40!). But, I might make the dinosaurs sentient in my book. I’d have to use empathy to imagine what it would be like to have the brain the size of a walnut (might call Congress for tips :D ).

I’ve also never been SHOT and hope it stays that way. But I have written characters who’ve been shot.

I believe yearning is often what makes us good at writing characters unlike ourselves. I know my male characters are almost ALWAYS better than my female characters. Why? As a chick I take too much for granted. Since I’m 99% sure I’m not a man (or a dinosaur), I pay attention to mannerisms, speech, beliefs, etc.

Same with characters of different racial groups. Years ago, I wrote a novel that won a major award and the BEST character was an African American female. Last I checked? I’m still white.

I’ve won awards on three short stories with protagonists vastly different from me. One was from the perspective of a suicidal middle-aged white male and the other two were love stories from the POV of the elderly WWII generation.

Great writers must have empathy. The stronger the empathy the better. Just like we don’t have to be kidnapped and beaten to be able to write about it, I don’t feel we need to be another race, religion, orientation to write those characters. In fact, if we can’t write characters who aren’t us, we’re in BIG trouble.

Yearning fuels empathy. Empathy leads to appreciation and understanding. We yearn to understand the perspective of another. This is why diverse characters and diverse books are so vital. Rot and Ruin was from the perspective of a young teenage boy, and because I could spend time in that unfamiliar head, the book gave me new insight of how to be a better mother to my son. Maberry highlighted areas that a boy needed that a mom might not be aware of.

Yearning is the fire that fuels the passion and the progress.

What are your thoughts? Do you have to read books or attend conferences to reignite your yearning? Are you always on the job, too? Hubby has forbidden me from speaking during movies. Do you like coming up with insane story ideas and seeing if you can make it plausible without being ridiculous? Do you write characters who are different from you? Do you have the same experience? That maybe the characters unlike you are actually stronger? Do you think PC is anathema to diversity in literature? Maybe makes writers afraid to explore and thus leaves only the stereotypes and tropes (ironically fueling more misunderstanding)?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Note: I’ve just gotten over a nasty bout of bronchitis, so will announce May’s winner later this week.

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Upcoming Classes:

I am running my First Five Pages Class on June 20th. The first five pages are essential and often symptomatic of bigger weaknesses in the book. Hook hard and hook early. For those who want a DETAILED critique of the first five pages, I offer the Gold Level. This is WAY more than simple line-edit and is a thorough analysis of your writing. Use WANA15 for $15 off.

Also running my Antagonist Class. This will teach you how to make sure your core story problem is as strong as it can be and also how to generate tension on every page. Will teach you to become a master plotter and FAST. Excellent class for anyone wanting to write multiple books a year or even series. Again, use WANA15 for $15 off.

I also offer the Gold level for this, which is one-on-one time with me. Clear up a confusing plot, fix a weak plot, plot a series. I am here to help.

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Writer Victory!—Remember Writers are Magicians

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Today we tackle the next letter in our Writer Acrostic. Thus far, we’ve covered: V is for Voluntarily Submit. Anticipate trials and challenges and understand there is far more strength in bending than breaking. I was for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t fix what we fail to acknowledge. Our profession hinges on us writing better today than we did yesterday. C was for Change Your Mind. We can only achieve what we can first conceive. Make your mind and set it and keep it set. T was for Turn Over our Future. When we let go of things we can’t control, we’re far more powerful to drive and direct that which we can.

R—Remember Writers Are Magicians. Words are powerful and those with the skills to use them masterfully hold the power of the universe. Our art is unlike any other. Writing is the only art form with the ability to evoke all senses. By using limited combinations of black letters on a white page, we can create new worlds more real than the one we live in, worlds people love so much it inspires them to rise and change the one where they’re trapped.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

We breathe life into immortal creatures, characters so rich that others don’t want to let them go, “people” who survive centuries. I write “Odysseus” or “Hamlet” or “Huckleberry Finn” and though these people never existed in the corporeal, they live on. We cannot help but miss Narnia, Hogwart’s or The Shire.

And, because these are written stories, we know that so long as books (and literacy) remain, our great-great-grandchildren can visit those same places long after we’ve passed on. Our great-great-grandkids can also push through the wardrobe and take up arms against the White Witch.

Writers are sorcerers who change the world. We see what others don’t or can’t see. That is our gift. Uncle Tom’s CabinTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Jungle, Frankenstein, Brave New World, 1984 all changed perception and then, later, reality.

No Words No Magic

I’ve traveled to some pretty terrifying places. When one comes from the US, it feels like visiting another planet. I’ve lived places where no one joked. Jokes could get you arrested, tortured or shot (and yes, it is amazing I lived to tell the tale). Everyone was somber, serious and afraid. In these lands, no one debates, questions or dares to think beyond what the government approves.

Without hope, the heart hardens and the soul withers. Places with no heart or soul are extremely dangerous. Places with no heart or soul can never prosper. It’s like a body wandering around not yet realizing it’s already dead.

Trust me when I tell you there’s a reason dictators don’t want education and literacy. There is a reason they censor and burn books. There is a reason they shut down or control the Internet. There’s a reason that when tyrants take over, they shoot writers, teachers and librarians first.

Writers are the foundation for moral, social, economic, technological and scientific innovation. In fact, show me a country that doesn’t value creativity and imagination and I’ll show you a country limited in how far it can advance. Often the only advancements come from stealing ideas and technologies from places where imagination is encouraged.

Innovation can only come from imagination.

Sure, math might be a universal “language” but formulas with no context aren’t worth much. Additionally, many scientists and engineers piggyback off ideas first proposed by “crazy” novelists.

Jules Verne extrapolated with amazing accuracy how man would eventually reach the moon.

Proust knew the senses of smell and taste were uniquely tied to memory long before neuroscientists proved these are the only two senses that connect directly to the hippocampus (the brain’s center for long-term memory).

Mary Shelley extrapolated that the body was a bioelectric system when the idea was nothing short of heresy…and now every ambulance is equipped with charged paddles to restart a heart.

From smart phones to space travel to the Internet to cybernetics to equality to children and women’s rights, it all began with a crazy writer.

And here’s the scary part. This is why I believe we’re so often discouraged and mocked and made to feel what we do is silly and doesn’t matter.

Jonathan Maberry has a powerful quote in his fabulous book Rot and Ruin:

“…the only thing more powerful than fear is routine. Once people are in a rut, it’s sometimes the hardest thing in the world to get them out of it. They defend routine, too. They say that it’s a simpler life, less stressful and complicated, more predictable.”

This is WHY no one will throw us a parade when we decide we want to be writers. Humans love the routine and the world they believe they know, even if they sense it needs to change or evolve (or is changing anyway, despite protests). I believe there is a kernel of envy and jealousy for those who don’t feel the magic in their DNA or who feel it and yet are afraid to pursue it.

Remember the word spelling includes the word spell (maybe why typos break the magic, LOL).

So take heart and keep pressing. Keep writing and making magic. Stories change the world and changes minds. It’s the only thing that ever has.

What are your thoughts? Have a new perspective on what it is we do? Does the resistance and pushback you’re feeling now make more sense?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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