Posts Tagged Kristen Lamb

How To Become a Lean, Mean, Writing MACHINE

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In my most recent branding and social media book, I talk about blogging and teach how to do it well. I’m a HUGE fan of the blog for a number of reasons. Blogging is fabulous for platform-building, cultivating a readership, and streamlining our writing. Blogging is the most stable form of social media.

Unless the Internet implodes? Blogs will remain. But blogging offers writers a significant edge beyond the platform.

Getting in THE ZONE

When we’re new, it’s tough to filter out the world and “get into the zone” where words begin to flow. We might futz with the coffee machine, check e-mail, tidy the kitchen and do everything but write. If one looks at a lot of the big name writers, many were originally doctors, lawyers and journalists.

Blogging is journalism of The Digital Age.

Many of the most effective, prolific and most highly awarded novelists began in journalism—Jack London, T. Jefferson Parker, Jonathan Maberry are the ones that quickly come to mind.

Journalists possess unique skills that can make us stronger and more successful writers. A journalist can’t wait for the muse to visit to write about that big chemical company fire. They write whether they feel like it or not. They aren’t playing for fun, they’re “playing” for keeps.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Many of us are working multiple jobs and serving in numerous roles—caretakers, employees, spouses, parents, grandparents, etc. The world’s job is to stop us from writing. Our ego is our enemy. Our insecurities would love to burn us and our dreams to the ground. Friends and family are often enemy agents. Not being a pessimist, just a pragmatist,

Steve Pressfield calls it The Resistance. Seth Godin calls it Retile Brain. When I started blogging, it took HOURS. I perfected every word, every line. I had the attention span of a gnat with a bad crack habit.

Now? I homeschool, have four cats and a dog and run two companies. When I’m writing, I’m present, vested and bulletproof. I’ve literally continued writing with a kitten scaling my back and Spawn whacking me with a NERF sword while Dora the Explorer blares in the background. It no longer matters.

Right now? I have Shingles. Does it hurt? Like hell…but not right now. I’ve blocked that. I’m writing.

Did this happen overnight? NO. It took practice, but this is why I’m fond of blogging. It can be a warmup. It’s running lines or spending time in the batting cage. It hones our focus and trains us to put on our game face instantly and remain fully in the zone until the play is complete.

Journalists get the story. They can think when bombs are going off and gunfire is all around. They can be pushed, shoved, beaten and only the story matters. When they’re on, they’re ON.

Tighten the Writing

Great journalists learn to hook early, get to the point ASAP, captivate attention completely and then end. We can take a lesson. If we can say it in one sentence, we don’t need five. One powerful word is better than three inferior ones. Journalists cut the fluff and go for the guts. So do superior writers.

The car hurtled west towing a swirl of black exhaust into the light of day. It was low and old, with Baja plates and a loose muffler that dangled and sparked on the dips. ~T. Jefferson Parker Iron River

Look at HOW MUCH information we glean in TWO sentences and how many questions are raised in the reader’s mind. Why are they speeding? The condition of the car. Location. Time of day. Something important is making the driver ignore a muffler that would make the rest of us stop and find a coat hangar or a mechanic. But not THIS driver.

Why?

We are ALL works in progress. I’m always hunting for ways to streamline and say more with less.

Journalists also see details others miss, meaningful details. Blogging will make you notice people and the world in a whole new way. While other writers offer the obvious—“He had dull brown hair, glasses and wore a polyester suit”—we’re offering the meaningful. “He had the kind of face you forgot even while you were still talking to him.” (Daniel Suarez, Daemon).

The Office

The Office

Immaculate Deception

Journalists make deadlines. They ship. Perfection is an illusion. We could all edit our WIPs forever and someone will not like our work. No work will be “immaculate.” That’s a lie. We cannot write books (or blogs) by committee. It’s a good way to go crazy. Just accept not everyone likes what we have to offer. Not everyone likes my blogs (GASP!). They’re too long, too short, too conversational, etc.

I got razed on a Huffington post because I used the word “awesome.” Really?

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Am I going to quit using the most awesome word in this awesome world because one person thinks the word awesome is “unprofessional”? Nope. I think that they should find another awesome blog and have an AWESOME time reading something that appeals more to their ridiculous and boring preferences.

Blogging builds rhino skin and fires out perfectionism. Writers that make a living write a lot. Let go, move on, write more. The great part about blog-training is you’ll write leaner and faster and only get better over time. The last book I wrote? The editors I hired were thrilled because they could edit the meat of my work because the draft (although imperfect) was already clean. 

Yes, there are other ways to train/hone the same skills, but I am all about doing MORE with LESS. Blogging builds the platform, reaches readers and cultivates new fans, all while helping us become better today than we were yesterday.

What are your thoughts? Are you struggling with getting in and remaining in the zone? Find it difficult to filter out distractions? Are you seeing ways you can hook earlier, end stronger? Say less with more? Are you improving when it comes to procrastination or excuses? What other ways have you trained yourself to be a better writer?

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).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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97 Comments

3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing & Increase Sales

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Today, I’m going to give you three ways to instantly improve your writing and sell more books. I’m blessed to have a broad base of experience/expertise which includes corporate consulting and branding. I also spent years in sales and can honestly say, Coffee is for closers. 

What Do You DO?

Last year, I accepted a leviathan project to redo copy for a website and rebrand a struggling company. I first explained my plan and reasoning in a detailed SWOT analysis. The owner was on board and signed off. The existing copy was outdated, bloated, confusing, and failed to appreciate the vast changes in our millennial culture.

I hacked through, reduced as much as possible and reshaped until the site showcased a truly fabulous company. To my horror, the owner came back and wanted me to add a deluge of changes which included mass amounts of extraneous information, charts, etc. and all of this content grossly deviated from the agreed rebranding.

I politely declined and we parted ways.

***What’s funny is the owner never got around to changing the site from my version and was recently approached by a Richard Branson-type investor for potential partnership. Ironically, part of what piqued his interest was the site ;) . Unlike the competition, the site I designed was visual, brief, and powerful, whereas the competition was like reading Wikipedia Articles from Hell.

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This desire to cough up too much and “oversell” is common (namely because regular people believe writing is easy and fail to hire a pro). Business owners are passionate and so they want to tell EVERYTHING about their services, industry, product, whatever. Also, overselling is a mark of the insecure. Think “padded resume.”

Attention spans are shrinking. The average time spent on a website is roughly 3.5 minutes. I’d wager most people give a website 3.5 seconds to catch their attention and that 3.5 minutes only applies to those browsers who happen to stay.

We can apply these business lessons to our writing, because we writers also have something to sell.

Our job is far tougher because 1) discoverability is a nightmare 2) less than 8% of the literate population are devoted readers 3) the remaining 92% equate reading with homework and a chore. Thus, we have the task of convincing 92% of the population to spend time they don’t have engaged in an activity they believe they dislike…and spend money to do it.

The other 8%? Sure they like to read books, but why yours?

Omit Needless Words

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. ”~ Strunk and White

Trust the reader. If a character opens a door, we know he “reached out his hand” to do it. We assume he isn’t blessed with telekinetic powers unless we’re told otherwise.

Resist the Urge to Explain

Image via "Office Space"

Image via “Office Space”

This tenet applies in a lot of areas. We don’t need flashbacks or lengthy details of why a character thinks or acts a certain way. The more we leave to the imagination, the better. Hubby and I have fallen in love with a new mini-series Defiance. We ate through Season One and began Season Two.

Interestingly, Episode Zero was a compilation of all the flashbacks cut from Season One—the explaining how and what and why…and it was painful. I just wanted to hit stop and move onto the new episodes. The flashbacks added nothing and only wasted my time. The series was better without backstory being spoon fed to me.

I got it.

This over explaining happens a lot with characterization, but sci-fi and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. I recently had a client who took four hours to explain all her world building. Most of this information was for her, not the reader. She didn’t have to explain how this world had humans and elves.

It just did.

Think about cartoons. Kids accept that a group of dogs can be public servants, talk and operate heavy equipment (Paw Patrol) or that a sponge with tighty-whities can work a burger grill at the bottom of the ocean (Spongebob Square Pants).

Belief is already suspended.

Value the Reader’s TIME

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Get to the point quickly. The first sample pages of any book are our greatest selling tool. When I hear, “Oh, well the story really gets going by page 50″? My instincts tell me we probably need to cut 49 pages.

Remember earlier I mentioned that we’re artists, but we also have a product to sell. In fiction, we’re selling escape. So think of it this way. How are you helping your customer escape reality?

Route One

First, my dear (potential) reader, I need you to pack this list of gear, then sync this app on your smartphone. After that is downloaded, I’m going to text you coordinates for a geocache. Use the app to locate the cache, dig up the key, catch the L Train, wait for a guy with a blue hat and the code phrase is, “Duck, duck, goose.” He’ll then hail a cab and take you to a wonderful place you will enjoy.

Route Two

Open a wardrobe and step through.

Which would you choose?

What are some ways you refine your work? Are you guilty of overwriting? I know I’m working super hard to lean down all my writing. It is NOT easy. Are there areas you could condense? Stage action or explaining that could be chipped away?

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).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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85 Comments

Professional Authors Need H.E.A.R.T.—What It Takes to Make It In The Digital Age of Publishing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Sorry I’ve been lax about posting. The Attack of The Peanut cascaded into a splendid ER visit and a bad case of Shingles. Nothing to make a gal feel young like a case of Shingles. I now need denture paste and glitter. I am sure there is some mayhem I can create with that ;) . Oh, and I want an obnoxious pink cane with a tennis ball on the end so I can sit in my driveway and yell at people that they’re driving too fast.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, was going to chat some about writing (in this weird gap I get between waking up and pain meds kicking in). No precise time when THAT happens so should be FUN. Being laid up in bed doped on pain meds gives you LOTS of blog ideas…and seriously weird dreams. How does one translate competing in ice skating against Nancy Pelosi and she wins because she has the better Monster Truck?

I REALLY want a Monster Truck.

Anyway, WRITING.

Today we will use an acrostic because they’re cool and keep this ADD teacher/blogger on SQUIRREL! …um, task.

Writing takes H.E.A.R.T.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Hard Work—Yep, no magical program that can whip out a NYTBSA. But frankly, would we want one? Those in writing for the wrong reasons (make a quick buck) abound. Some succeed but they’re rare. Most of us do this writing thing because of LOVE. We love to write, to teach, to share, to tell stories. We are explorers who can venture into the human mind or into galaxies never before imagined. And no matter where we go, there is coffee.

That’s a perk *bada bump snare.*

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One thing that CAN feel weird though is often what we do doesn’t feel like work so it freaks us out that we’re being lazy. No, trust me. Reading books, watching movies, series, TV IS work. We’re studying the craft. And others can laugh at you, but who mocks the NFL player who watches the same football replays over and over? Or plays Tic-Tac-Toe and no one wins? I have yet to see them draw a line through any of the Xs or Os. *rolls eyes*

Ok. We laugh at them. But they don’t care and make millions for throwing a ball. Take a lesson.

We might be weak at something. Remember that our greatness is only limited by our strongest weakness. We can be a pro at dialogue, but if we have no clue how to plot effectively? We can limit how well we connect to the reader. Still focus on your strengths, but acknowledge and develop your weaknesses so your writing is balanced.

Allies—Again, this is why I started WANA. I knew what it was like to be completely alone trying to do this writing thing. I might as well have told friends and family I was pursuing a career in coloring books.

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

The world oddly devalues what we do, yet they spend most of their disposable income on what artists create—music, movies, books, video games, TV, TV series. Writing changes the world. It’s ended slavery, given hope to the hopeless, been the greatest catalyst for equality and often is the spark that lights the scientific innovation. *cough* Star Trek. Thank Gene Roddenberry for that smart phone the world is addicted to.

But you will need others to remind you that what you are doing is important. Also, learn to spot allies versus energy vampires. We all have them. People who have problems they want us to solve and then they do what they were going to do in the first place.

Use those words wasted on someone who won’t listen anyway and put them on a page. Also, learn to say NO to time-suckers and YES to allies. No is rarely popular, but I’ve learned I would rather be respected than popular.

Empathy—The mark of an excellent writer is how well she can get in a character’s skin/head. Study people. Listen. Pay attention. Get in another person’s head/heart for real. What would they think, say, feel? If we fail to do this authentically, readers will spot it.

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Rhino Skin—I wrote an old post about critique groups someone stumbled across. I mentioned that we gutted each other’s work. This vexed the commenter, but why? I would rather someone be hard on me in private than get slayed in reviews that are for public view permanently. And even if the person is a total jerk? Great training for this thing called reality. There are some reviewers who will post venom for the sole purpose of being mean. I don’t know why. But bullying has always been around and likely not going away. Though I’ve been blessed with wonderful, thoughtful reviews on Amazon, there are people on Goodreads who clearly never read my book who gave me one star just because they could.

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

But, if you’ve been in a critique group of respectable peers who give tough love? @$$clowns are easier to write off (or write INTO a novel).

If you can possibly find and join and RWA group? DO IT, even if you don’t write romance. This is the greatest collection of pros you can hope to find.

We have to develop discernment (which comments are crap and what’s worthy of looking into), but even if it’s pure jealous hate B.S.? Still useful. Hey, we always need someone to shame/torture/kill in our next novel, right?

I won’t sugar-coat. If you write anything, especially anything worthwhile? The haters will flock to you. You are the light that reveals their fear and suckiness. Actually hate is proof we are doing something right. But it will still hurt. I’ve been in martial arts my whole life and getting hit in the face still hurts. I just no longer take it personally.

Same with writing. Feel the sting, then let it go….until you can create a plot involving a serial killing H.R. Manager with tragically small man parts or a former coworker with terminal cellulite.

Time—Rid THIS phrase from your lexicon. “I can’t find the time.” Time is not the remote control hiding in your couch cushions. Pros don’t find time, we make time. You are a priority and so is your writing. Again, it is better to be respected than popular. I’m not saying these can’t coexist. But, those close are NOT writers. They do NOT understand us and won’t. Most people have no clue why anyone would write anything unless there was a grade at the end or a boss expected it.

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We will have to say NO. Guard your gift because I can’t do it for you. No one can. As the late great Robin Williams said, “It’s like partial circumcision. Either go all the way or $#@%#@$ forget it.”

Before we go, I AM going to mention a series of classes I have coming up in early September. I call them the Going Pro Series. Back to School for AUTHORS. There’s Craft, Branding/Social Media, and Business (which publishing path might be the best fit for YOU/your work). Often we make stuff too complicated. Hey, we are writers. It’s our thing. I am here to help.

These classes are designed to streamline ALL you do. In craft, you will learn essentials, how to plot leaner and meaner and write better and faster than you might believe you can. Branding/Social Media? It’s simple and doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as some might tell you. Business? We writers are in the Entertainment BUSINESS. Which path is a good fit? Not all writers were meant to self-publish. Not all works are good for traditional. This series is a guide to help you accomplish much more with far less effort. Feel free to take one (use WANA 15 for $15 off), but if you take all three in the BUNDLE? The cost is a lot less (and notes and recordings are provided for free for all classes).

Anyway…

What are your thoughts? Which parts of the H.E.A.R.T. are hardest for you? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of writing? Are you feeling pressured and strapped for time? Need help going a thicker skin? Feel at war with family or friends over your desire to write?

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).

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.

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49 Comments

Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh

 

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Suicide. It’s a topic that’s been on most of our minds as of late. I was BROKEN when I found out about Robin Williams. It’s like this bright shining star just snuffed out, leaving only a black hole of crushing emptiness behind. I feel terrible for taking him for granted, selfishly assuming he’d always be around.

I haven’t yet cried because I’m afraid I might not stop. My fondest childhood memories involve Mork & Mindy. Growing up, I’d watch Williams’ comedic acts over and over and over, studying his timing and how he could do what he did, because to me? It was MAGIC. In fact, I can honestly say he was my earliest mentor. I learned to laugh and make others laugh, and, since home and school were living nightmares, laughter was my lifeline.

I’m no expert aside from having suicide issues in the family. Also, years ago, I suffered horrific depression after being on the phone with my father when he unexpectedly died. No one realized he had cancer until after the autopsy, because he was always making everyone laugh, always smiling and making us smile…until he was gone.

While I won’t get into a discussion regarding suicide and depression, I’d like to address some reasons many were so sideswiped when Robin Williams took his life. Obviously I can only speak from my own perspective as a humor author and chronic class clown.

Humor is Birthed From Pain

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Ever notice the high mortality rates among comedians? Self-destruction is common. One reason is that humor is an amazingly powerful defense mechanism. I switched high schools six times and was poor, thus the target of every group of Mean Girls (which come standard). In my freshman year I turned inward and fell into terrible depression. Then I learned how powerful humor could be. It could be a weapon.

The right turn of phrase could decimate an attacker.

Humor can also be body armor. Funny people use laughter to minimize pain so we can cope. Maybe we come from a background where we aren’t allowed to express hurt, pain, sorrow, disappointment, and so making jokes becomes a way of staying sane. Or maybe there is so much pain that humor is the only way to keep from overloading. This is common among police officers, soldiers, doctors, and any profession bombarded with tragedy.

Gallows humor.

Never Let Them See You Sweat

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Yep, my family, LOL.

I’ve been guilty of this (being the comedian of the family). I love making others laugh and never lose my sense of humor. When I was admitted to give birth to The Spawn, the attending nurse crashed every single vein trying to get an IV in me (until I politely asked if my mom could do it—she is an RN). The nurses missed inserting my epidural (the needle that goes into the spine) seven times. Yet, to the end and through every contraction, I had everyone laughing, even though I was in agony.

When I was 22, I finally had to have four impacted wisdom teeth removed. I couldn’t afford an oral surgeon and so the dentist gave me the anesthesia and proceeded to chisel all four teeth out of my jaw. My roommate who brought me said all she could hear from the room was the staff laughing to the point of tears. Apparently through gauze and anesthesia I was still a riot.

Laughter has been there to help me contend with the fear and pain, but this coping mechanism has a dark side.

False Assumptions

S-E-X-Y!

Making light of my broken nose. Hey, it was kinda funny…

I know it’s my own fault others don’t necessarily take me seriously when I’m hurting. How could they? I’m cracking jokes and making everyone happy. I’m a giver. I don’t know if life is worth living if we aren’t laughing. And if we’re going to be in pain, why not bear it with a smile? People & circumstances can take away anything but our attitude, right?

The problem is that others see that smile and might not understand that we do need help and likely aren’t going to ask for it. Or us being “funny” might make it seem we’re not in as dire of a situation.

Just ask the people who tried to get me to an ER last week when I had my first violent reaction to peanuts.

Givers love to give. Comedians live to make others laugh. We love it so much we’re often blind to when we are empty and the darkness is there to pounce when we’re at our lowest. As a community, one of the things we can all do is learn to be better at actively listening. WANA was built on this principle—WE ARE NOT ALONE.

I’ve been doing this myself. Talk less, listen more. Joke less, hear more, be honest. Listen for subtext. If we ask someone, “How are you today?” at least stick around long enough for an answer. Ask the next question.

Lack of Boundaries and Rest

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I find it interesting how the corporate world expects to be able to reach us 24/7. Meetings and “work” creep into our Saturdays and even Sundays. But how would our job feel if we showed up with our kids to work? What if we read a novel or took a nap?

Oh, what? No quid pro quo?

My husband gets business calls before we are even awake. 99% of the time, it’s over matters that could wait. We’re interrupted at dinner, on weekends, during church. When are we going to say NO? I now turn off my phone on weekends. I just…can’t.

Most of us—even the funny folks—are running around on fumes. This is when depression sets in even if it isn’t clinical. Humans were not designed to run fill tilt 24 hours a day. Those of us with a gift for making others laugh likely just don’t show symptoms as early or at all. A lot of us “don’t want to bother” anyone.

Also, a lot of us jokesters have set up expectations in others that we will always make them smile. When we can no longer do that—when we are too spent or hurting—we retreat. We don’t want to disappoint.

Situational Awareness—Take It To H.A.R.T.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Are we hurting, alone, resentful, or tense? In this go-go-go-go life, we should be mindful to stop. Take a break so we can check our condition. We wouldn’t drive a car and ignore red lights flashing. CHECK ENGINE. FUEL LOW. NEED AIR. Why do we do this to ourselves? And for the other funny folks out there, joking about the CHECK ENGINE light is no laughing matter.

This is why I’m so tremendously grateful for all you. I might hurt, but I’m never alone and you guys keep me company so a lot less tense.

The hurting? Yeah. Covered in hives and want to scrape off my skin with a carrot peeler (go to doctor in an hour). Resentful? Benadryl kinda making me resent everything, including sounds, light and those annoying air particles that insist touching me. PERSONAL SPACE! And bugs farting. How are the spiders and fruit flies so flatulent?

What are your thoughts?

Do you do tend to minimize by joking? Maybe laugh off things you shouldn’t? Do you retreat if you can’t be entertaining? Do you feel desensitized to pain because of coping so long with humor? Do you have friends of family who are like this? Maybe that you need to watch more carefully?

I miss Robin Williams. The world is a far darker place without him. I hope he’s somewhere he can see how much we all loved him and how devastated we are to be without him.

 

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67 Comments

The Kiss that Nearly Killed Me–Why Peanut Allergies are DEAD Serious

I am reticent to write this blog, namely because a lot of the content I’ve shared lately has involved a string of injuries. I am a 40 year old woman who practices Brazilian Jui-Jitsu and it’s a contact sport. Stuff happens. I’m also the mother of a 4 year-old. Trips and falls over the hidden Matchbox car or lurking Legos happen. If fact, I’m not particularly worried about burglars. If they can make it through my living room in one piece?

Feel free to have the ten-year-old television. You earned it.

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But, despite this being embarrassing, I felt it was a vital topic to address. Recently, I blogged about empowering my little one to do things on his own. A big step? Making his OWN PBJ sandwich. Since I already know I have a zillion food allergies and intolerances, I’ve avoided eating peanuts, because I know that people with current allergies are far more likely to develop others.

I’ve been very grateful that my allergies—gluten, dairy, soy—are fairly easy to monitor. I cook most of my own food. Also, these allergies might make me miserable for a few hours or days, but getting into gluten isn’t life-threatening.

The Deadly “Peanut”

I’ve heard the “urban legends” about how dangerous peanuts in particular can be. It did seem odd that schools and airplanes were banning them and that responsible restaurants began posting warnings. I respected that because, an allergy of that magnitude? Better safe than sorry. But it’s one thing for a concept to be in our head and quite another to experience it first hand.

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For the past two weeks, I helped Spawn with his sandwiches. I never ate any of the peanut butter and would wash my hands. Then, about a week ago, I started getting these weird itchy bumps on my left ribs. I assumed a mosquito had tried to escape my cleavage and was pissed off after being smothered by the underwire in my bra.

What struck me as odd was that normal itch creams or lidocaine didn’t dent the itch. Another weird thing was that HUGE patches of skin lost all feeling.

Then a day might pass and no itchy bumps or numbness. But, each time the bumps came back, they were worse…and on the left side on my bottom ribs. The odds of catching a mosquito or lost fire ant on the same side stretched believability. Thus, I relegated this odd phenomena a heat rash or perhaps the washing machine hadn’t removed all the soap. I changed detergents and made sure to increase the rinse cycle.

Yesterday morning, I awoke and helped Spawn with his sandwich and Hubby called me for something. I skipped that vital step of scrubbing my hands and just did a half@$$ rinse. I took Spawn over to my friend Shannon’s house feeling fine. I kissed him goodbye to go to my bible study. On the way to church I began to wheeze, cough and sneeze.

Okay, I’m in Texas. Allergy Capitol of the WORLD. Pollen.

By the end of bible study I was really coughing and my side was in terrible pain. I went to the restroom to check my side in the mirror.

 

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Then this (above) quickly became THIS (below).

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My whole left side and part of my back were covered in massive angry hives and I couldn’t feel any of the skin around the hives. Most of my mid-section and back were completely numb. I scrubbed my hands thoroughly thinking maybe I’d left some of the peanut butter on my hands and that I’d be fine with some Benadryl.

As I was driving Shannon home, the wheezing increased, the hives spread and suddenly I was missing turns and completely disoriented and confused. My blood pressure bottomed out. I didn’t know where I was. Shannon guided me to pull over and drove me to her house where I took a megadose of Benadryl and a couple puffs of albuterol.

I was slurring my words and still very disoriented. They wanted to call an ambulance, but the Benadryl was kicking in and, though I still felt like crap, I was improving. Shannon called Hubby to come get me and take me to a hospital.

By the time he arrived, I could breathe again and the swelling had diminished, but I was loopy and talking like I’d had a stroke or a few shots of Jaegger. Since anaphylaxis is the main concern for this kind of reaction, I refused a hospital visit.

Good thinking. You took Benedryl and used an inhaler. You’re fine now. Here’s a prescription for an epi-pen and that will be $1000.

Since I was finally breathing and throat was no longer swollen, I asked Hubby to take me home (and I plan on following up with an allergist to get an epi-pen).

Here is The WEIRD Part

I staggered inside and sat at the table. Though moments earlier, I’d been feeling a lot better, I suddenly began to wheeze. The peanut butter sandwich left on the table three feet away from me was causing me to react. I took more Benadryl and went to the bedroom until Hubby could decontaminate the kitchen of all the peanut butter.

Today, I’m fine (aside from a SERIOUS Benadryl hangover and really, really itchy hives).

But what kicked off the first part of the reaction? Pecking a Mommy Kiss on her kiddo (who’d just eaten a PBJ). The second phase? Touching my skin that was itchy and blowing my nose with hands that still had some peanut butter on them. The last phase? Sitting only a couple feet from a sandwich.

Ok, I am NOW a believer and can attest that this is NOT urban legend.

Why the Hate?

Something disturbed me when I was researching about this allergy. There is a terrible animosity toward those with peanut allergies. Numerous blogs dripping with venom and ranting about how their kid shouldn’t be deprived of a PBJ at school because one sissy@$$ kid has an allergy. People have found it funny to spread peanut butter inside the door handles of places that post warnings about peanuts. Flick peanuts at kids they know are allergic.

Sadly, THIS seems to be a very common sentiment:

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And what bothers me is that most of these allergies have been created due to gross irresponsibility of the food and medical community. For YEARS, doctors overprescribed antibiotics in situations where they weren’t required, thus creating a generation of people with penicillin allergies or antibiotic resistance. Doctors not poor genes created superbugs requiring Godzillacillin.

The food industry is not held to a strict standard of truth in labeling. Gluten hides under a lot of names. Europe refuses to buy American wheat. I have family members who live in Europe and eat bread all the time. They can’t eat our bread or pasta without getting ill.

There are good reasons for this explosion of food allergies.

First, I believe GMO is not as “safe” as scientists claim. And maybe I’m a jerk, but these “super smart scientists” were the same folks who claimed that hydrogenated oils were so much healthier than butter, olive oil, or coconut oil (even though ROACHES wouldn’t touch it).

Oh wow, trans fats? Oops, our bad.

Also, even if I am wrong about the GMO thing, in our modern society we eat out far more often and rely more on packaged and processed foods than ever in history. I’m old enough that I had a mom at home who cooked our meals. Eating out was a treat.

Yes, I ate PBJs, but the only time I ingested peanuts was when I was eating peanuts. Now that cookies are bought off a shelf instead of homemade? And more and more foods are all processed in the same place, on the same equipment? The general population is regularly being exposed to all the MAJOR allergens at a far higher rate. This means over time these allergens build in our systems and suddenly BOOM, we have an allergy.

In 1950, you got “gluten” in your bread. People knew they were eating wheat. People didn’t have to check the spices, soups, salad dressings, and lunch meats. In 1950, ham on your sandwich was HAM.

The Message from the Mess

Just know that when people get uptight about a food allergy, they aren’t meaning to be high-maintenance. It is a real hassle to have allergies. And to some of us is IS a matter of life or death.

I’ve been poisoned at conferences, stranded at airports for 15-20 hours with nothing to eat (I now bring supplies). I’m the “pain in the @$$” to the waiter (though I am kind and tip extra). People resent you because you can’t go to the restaurants they would prefer, or you when don’t order anything to eat, you’re then judged and treated with hostility.

I hate having allergies. Sometimes, it would be nice to just eat where I want and what I want to and not read every label like I am researching for a dissertation.

I’m very happy that discovering my peanut allergy happened as it did. I could have been on my way home with Spawn in the car when it hit full-force. Or at home alone with a 4 year old. OY! I might not be here to write this today.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

But, I’m still here. I have a newfound respect for those with the serious allergies and just want to let people know just how dangerous this allergy is. This allergy really scares me because it’s beyond my control and relies on others respecting how deadly this allergy can be.

It isn’t a joke or us wanting attention…though Hubby did do the dishes and clean the house :D. If you have allergies, I totally feel for you. But maybe this trend will make the food industries start being more responsible and the same peanut allergies they created can be eliminated (FYI—peanut allergies have risen almost 20% since 1997).

I also found this COOL site for those with allergies. It also has a section for parents. Since little ones don’t have the same vocabulary as an adult, they have a list of common things a small child might try to tell an adult when they are having a reaction.

What are your thoughts?

Yes, I am a delicate flower. Sigh. Do you struggle with allergies? Do you find people are flippant or even rude in regards to your allergies? Have you ever had a scary experience with an allergy? Are you a parent of kids with food allergies? What are your experiences? Suggestions? Tips?

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).

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146 Comments

Making Writing a Priority & When Helping is Hurting

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The weird thing about the new paradigm of publishing is the Digital Age Author is a very different creature. She might be a single mom trying to squeeze in a couple hundred words before the kids wake up or a husband struggling to fit in a writing burst during a lunch break. It can be a dad striving to finish his book while still caring for his family. Maybe it’s a retired person balancing FINALLY pursuing that dream of writing…while caring for grandkids.

Which is to say that a lot of part and full-time writers are also caregivers. Many of us wrestle with guilt. I do. I love writing SO MUCH and it is SO FUN.  But if I write instead of finishing laundry I am “bad” :( .

I’ve learned a rather weird lesson lately and I believe it’s worth pondering. We talked about workaholics the other day. It is no great feat for us workhorses to take on MORE WORK. The true challenge is when we’re given the choice of a great opportunity and a nap and we are directed to take the NAP.

AAAAGHHHHH!!!!!

I am learning the same thing with givers. WANA is truly unique and I don’t say this because I started it (because frankly, I didn’t). WANA was actually birthed by people who took my classes. They were natural givers. The only “special” thing I did was spot this phenomena and then nurture it. WANAs are SO generous and kind and supportive and it is the greatest collection of amazing individuals one can find.

But lately I’m starting to see the dark side to giving. Every strength has a blind spot. Remember this when creating characters ;) .

And the easy blind spot for givers is that we overdo it and wear ourselves out. Yeah, I saw that too. But one that snuck by me is that giving is not always good. NOT GIVING can be the greater gift.

I grew up with a Scandinavian mom and Norway is the motherland of OCD. Work was what we did and we made it fun. But I recall being 4 and making my bed. Mom would praise me, then remake my bed so it didn’t have all the lumps and the bedspread was even. Later, when I was 8, I loaded the dishwasher. Mom would thank me…then rearrange the dishes to wash more efficiently. I’d organize a closet and she’d be THRILLED…then redo it. Finally, in 2009 I made a Christmas dinner and Mom tasted it, and then reasoned everything and I snapped.

Why must you redo everything I do? Why isn’t what I do ever good enough?

My mom was speechless (which she’s like me so that’s actually a HUGE deal). In her mind, she’d been “helping” me.

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I have family and friends who are in real rough spots these days, people I sacrificed A LOT to “help.” In retrospect, I should have left it alone. By helping, I didn’t allow them to fail and learn lessons when the lessons were far smaller and the consequences for failure far less painful. I also stole the possible victory they might have enjoyed if they’d accomplished “whatever” on their own.

I didn’t mean to. I was “helping.”

So what I’m challenging all of us to do is to look for ways to give by NOT GIVING. Write the book. Don’t “fix.” Don’t “do” beyond the writing. Once the words are down, have at it.

The other day, I sent Hubby to the store instead of doing it myself. Did he shop the way I would have shopped? No. I can make a penny scream. Hubby pays retail *twitches* But he did it and I kept my mouth shut when I SO wanted to tell him how he could have saved money by doing this or that or go to this store instead of that one and NEVER THAT one, they gouge!

I also asked Hubby to help Spawn with his martial arts in the evening so I can write. And this is excruciating because I taught martial arts for years. I need to mentally duct tape my mouth shut and not correct how Hubby’s teaching him and show a “better or easier way.”

Me doing everything is not a gift. It’s control. It can disempower others. It also steals the joy of contribution and the thrill of accomplishment.

When a friend has a problem, resist the urge to fix. Instead, say, “Wow, that’s a huge challenge, but I know you can figure this out. You can do it!”

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This morning, I let Spawn make his own PBJ sandwich instead of making the “perfect” sandwich served on an adorable clean plate with decorative garnish. I even said nothing when he piled on half a jar of jelly. I merely smiled and exclaimed, “Great job!” ….then walked away before I scraped most of the jelly lump back in the jar.

Writers crumble at building a brand or doing social media and writing. Why? We fail to see we have help. Outsource. Maybe see if there are ways that we can make our family part of our publishing team. Let the teenagers find the funny memes or videos to use on a blog. Let them be part of the success instead of shouldering everything alone. Let Hubby go check out book covers and see which ones catch his eye. Maybe let a family member do some research for you. Also, let them know that when they leave you to write, they are helping write the book. They are helping the creation process.

This is a lot to ask. Of you of me…and OH DEAR GOD SPAWN IS NOW MAKING A JELLY SANDWICH WITH NO PEANUT BUTTER! HOLD ON! ….*breathes* I’m cool. Still here.

What are your thoughts? Do you suffer from Compulsive Helping Disorder? Are you struggling to let others help YOU, to ask for help? GASP! Did you ever think your helping could be hurting? I didn’t until recently so it’s okay. We are all friends here and I have jelly in my curtains and I am OK with that.

****Please pray for me *head desk*

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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94 Comments

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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45 Comments

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