Posts Tagged WANA

Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

One of my AWESOME on-line pals posted something troublesome on my Facebook page. Apparently there is a recent article in a major writing magazine that declares social media does not sell books and, in a nutshell, isn’t worth the effort. I’ll warn you guys ahead of time that I went hunting for the article—at the last remaining Barnes & Noble within a 25 mile radius of my home—and couldn’t find said article (and have asked Kim to get me the specific issue). But, since this type of commentary is prevalent enough in the blogosphere, I feel I can address the overall thesis accurately enough.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC three years ago and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Could feel like THIS?
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (Osama bin-Laden captured) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have the article (sorry), I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume there was no panacea offered to replace social media. If social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores will have a resurgence, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. I saw this in the cosmetics section of my grocery store a few months ago. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.23.38 AM

Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over two years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time? Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).WANA ways WORK but they take time. ROM has a step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I just care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings. Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ;) .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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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112 Comments

The Future of Fiction–From Tiny to Titanic, How to Claim Your Niche

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.27.33 AM

Last post, I talked about the increasing popularity of series, novellas, shorts and “episodic” writing. Of course, this assertion probably stirred panic in those writers who simply aren’t wired to write series. Personally, I would like to try writing a series, but we’ll see. I might be a stand-alone gal, too.

Let me offer a bit of comfort. The rule that we shouldn’t write to the market still holds true in this case. Just like we shouldn’t decide to write a Vampire-Post-Apacolyptic-Self-Help because those are hot, we shouldn’t take on shorts or series if they aren’t our thing.

Epics, Shorts, and Series are NOT New

What many people might miss is that epics and shorts are not new. With the advent of the nifty thingamajig—the “printing press”—pamphlets were all the rage back in the 1800s. In fact, if we look at early writing, we see two very divergent sizes. On the end of brevity? Ben Franklin Poor Man’s Almanac or even Sir Author Conan Doyle’s short stories. The deep end? The breathtakingly-long-and-detailed-OMG War and Peace by Tolstoy—which demonstrates clearly that, when an author is paid by the word, he will pad that sucker more than a freshman term paper.

Even Charles Dickens danced both sides of the length-spectrum. A Christmas Carol versus A Tale of Two Cities.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the early 20th century, pulp fiction was extremely popular. People loved short works that fit in a pocket, ergo, the term “pocket books.” But, as the traditional publishing model evolved and books became bigger business, publishers realized they could charge more money for a longer book. This didn’t mean the audience for short stories and novellas suddenly went away. It had more to do with a business model than reader preferences.

We see the same with epic high fantasy and science fiction. When I was a kid, books big enough to brain a burglar were hot. Um, Clan of the Cave Bear? Ah, but the publishers realized that long books presented a couple of problems.

First, if the word count got too big, the font was so small readers needed a microscope to read it. Secondly, a big fat honkin’ book took up a LOT of shelf space. Why would a publisher bank on FIVE 140,000 word books when they could encourage writers to limit word count and be able to shelve and sell TEN 70,000 word books?

But again, shelf space, cost of paper/shipping/shelving, profit-models didn’t mean that readers who loved 140,000 book died off or evaporated.

The Digital Paradigm Revival

When I began as a writer, agents were quick to turn down short stories, novellas, epics, poetry, etc. It wasn’t because there weren’t readers for these types of writing; it was that the profit simply wasn’t there in a paper-based-brick-and-mortar model. And, to be blunt, I can’t blame New York. I remember being a young whipper snapper inhaling Tolkien, but my eyes were better.

By the time I reached my adult years, reading 1200 pages with 9 font was far too grueling.

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier

The e-reader has solved this problem. It’s made short works profitable. For those who are great at writing shorter works or serialized works, you can now access the audience that loves them and in a way that doesn’t automatically land you in the red.

For those who are strong at more epic fiction, now you can either publish one long book or break it into installments. I know I never would have been able to read Game of Thrones in paper without going BLIND. With my Kindle? I can now enjoy those super long adventures I adored in my youth.

Yes, there is a lot of chaos, confusion and growing pains as the publishing world shifts and grows and molts the old skin that no longer fits. In the midst of this, however, there is now room for more writers, more works, and more types of work, which should be very encouraging.

Also, writers can now enjoy far greater flexibility. Sure, if you want to publish traditionally, you can! But if you have the right contract, there is nothing stopping you from writing shorts or novellas or series or testing other genres in between books if you want to. Keep the fan fires burning in between.

There is ALWAYS an Audience

If you want to write stand-alones only? Great. Do it. That is your strength. Don’t feel that because series are hot you need to suddenly retool everything. There is just as much of an audience for the stand-alone as there is for the shorter or way longer stuff. The only difference is that publishing has been feeding your audience for the past couple decades, whereas those who liked super-short or uber-long had to read older books or look to magazines or e-zines.

If you DO, however, want to write a series, there are some fundamentals to ensure that your plot skeleton is strong and compelling. Plot is the delivery mechanism for character. Our characters can only be as strong as the problems they face.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.26.10 AM

Last post I talked about loving Battlestar Galactica. I can SEE why this series is so iconic. Hubby and I went back and watched Caprica because we were interested in what happened before the Cylon revolt. How did the Cylons come to be? The first few episodes? LOVED them. Now? I can see why the series wasn’t renewed. The overall plot problem is too small and too weak. There is no impending threat, so the series, for me, is fizzling.

Also, without a BIG and COMPELLING story problem, the individual characters aren’t as strong. The pressure is weak, thus the characters are too. Instead of truly heroic feats, I am seeing more and more melodrama and getting to where I hate almost everyone. Why? Because in Battlestar Galactica characters did awful, bad and stupid things, but we could forgive them. They were running for their lives and staring into the face of extinction. The story PROBLEM permitted us to give them grace.

In Caprica there is no large problem so this makes the characters petty and unlikable. Also, in Battlestar Galactica we knew the log-line. The human race must destroy or evade the Cylons and find Earth before they are rendered extinct by their own creation.

The audience in ONE SENTENCE knows the story, whether it is three episodes or thirty. GOAL: Find Earth. Every setback that keeps Earth out of reach or dashes hope of even finding Earth or any hint Earth might not exist makes us nervous. It is true dramatic tension.

Caprica? Once I got an idea of how the Cylons came to be? I grew bored. There is NO imminent threat, no crucible, no idea of an overall problem in need of solving. Each episode is just “stuff happening.” It is breaking one of the core rules of a good series. Every episode should be able to stand alone. Every episode should have a clear smaller goal that is a step toward reaching the larger goal.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

And, to be blunt, Caprica might simply be facing the problem most prequels have. We already know the end. We already know the Cylons will rebel and wage war and nearly wipe out humans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I watched Caprica because now I understand the Cylons more and the humans sorta deserved what they got. But, it is tough to have a ticking clock and a disaster to be averted when the audience already knows the humans will “lose.”

Whether we write short works, long works, in-between works, serialized or unserialized, the same “rules” apply. We’ll talk more later about how to write a strong series, but a great start no matter what kind of story—short, long, in-between, connected, unconnected—is to create a clear, compelling, story-worthy problem.

What are your thoughts? Do you have series that fizzled for you for the same reasons? There wasn’t a strong problem or a clear problem? Can you think of stories you loved versus ones that lost your interest because it devolved into confusion or melodrama? Are you contemplating a series? Why?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

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66 Comments

Why Series are Becoming Hot, Hot, HOT! How Dragging Out the Pain is Good for Your Readers

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

Every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. I love these words. No idea who said it, but it rocks. Life has a way of being awesome, amazing, fantastic…and a ROYAL @$$whipping, too. Not only is this quote great to hold close to our chests when life has us on the spin-cycle, this is a FABULOUS mantra for writing memorable, epic stories.

Hubby and I just finished a marathon session of gorging ourselves on Battlestar Galactica and are now careening through Caprica because it is backstory for BSG. I refuse to watch any show that doesn’t have at least four seasons complete, namely because, if I like a new show? Apparently it spells its DEATH for the new showThus, I don’t like getting too attached. I wait, then inhale an entire season a day.

Don’t judge. I know you do it too O_o.

I feel that series, complex series, are actually the way of the future (and have felt this way since roughly 2004). There’s a fantastic book that explains why, called Everything That’s Bad for You is Good (and I strongly recommend it). In a nutshell, popular opinion seems to be that, as a society, we are getting DUMBER, spiraling toward an Idiocracy.

In the face of Honey Boo-Boo and The Bachelor, it’s tough to argue. But those shows are mindless brain junk food, and thus we’re comparing apples to oranges when we place them next to Breaking Bad or Walking Dead. Those other shows aren’t storytelling. Don’t tell The Real Harpies Housewives of the OC.

*shivers*

*shivers*

From Big Screen to Small Screen

When I was a kid, all the best actors (acting) were on the big screen. To see an actor go from movies to television was a clear sign they needed to stop doing drugs fire their agent their career was likely over. Television equaled death. Now? We see the opposite. I’ve all but given up on most movies. They bore me into a coma. Most are abysmally predictable or just showing off CGI skills instead of telling a great story. My opinion? Television is now where we are seeing the most successful stories and the most talent (been that way for a while).

Why is That?

Audiences, despite what people might want to believe, have become far more sophisticated. If we had a time-machine and could transport an avid TV fan of Gilligan’s Island to 2014 and sit him in front of Game of Thrones? His head would explode.

Boom.

Ugly.

Anyone got a squeegee?

Modern audiences love a complex plot, numerous story lines, and obscure references. We want a large cast to fall in love with or hate. 

We watch certain movies/shows over and over because there are jokes, innuendo or backstory we missed. Seinfeld is a great example. Every episode had its own plot and humor, but if one hadn’t watched the other shows there were a lot of jokes one simply would NOT get.

Shows like Seinfeld were revolutionary this way. It had never been done before. I Love Lucy was all contained to each episode. Every episode stood alone.

The greatest comedic writing out there is great primarily because of the obscure wink-wink-nod-nods to other iconic movies. For instance, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Scary Movie 5. But if you aren’t a horror fan, it won’t be nearly as funny. Same with Tropic Thunder. One has to have seen Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Tears of the Sun etc. in order to understand the movie and “get” the jokes.

The Simpsons, South Park and Pixar employ a similar tactic by threading pop culture references into the stories.

Finding Nemo has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Now, The Spawn has loved this movie since he was two. There is a level of humor that renders a toddler a quivering puddle of giggles. But, at a higher level what adult hasn’t lost it in the Shark AA Fishaholics meeting scenes? A toddler has no concept of a Twelve-Step Program, and yet as adults? WE GET the reference and so it launches the humor over the top.

These factors are why many of these movies (or series) are worth buying. We see something new every time we watch. We peel back a new layer, spot a new subplot, finally “get” that double entendre. We can rematch Battlestar Galactica with a fresh set of eyes and see new territory. 

Modern audiences are growing increasingly sophisticated and they long for the mental challenge of keeping up. One can watch BSG and have to recall some detail from ten episodes earlier. We LOVE the mental challenge and this is why the big screen won’t last for the adult audience. The main factor working against movies is TIME.

Most people are pushing it to sit through a three hour movie. A screenwriter, director can only do so much plot or character development in three hours or less. Compare this to a TV series with a hundred hours. We have the time to get to know more characters, more backstory, more subplots and our brains crave the challenge.

What does Twitter and Game of Thrones have in common?

There are 140 characters and everyone is pissed off :D . *bada bump snare*

Ah the Setback

I began this post with a killer quote and I want to use it to show why series are becoming hot, hot, HOT. With a series there is, bluntly, more time and more opportunities to 1) generate love and affection for a wide cast of characters and then 2) torture them then 3) wait for the comeback. Some of the finest series out there will wind your nerves so tightly you feel like you need a drink and a Xanax to get to sleep.

WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN? :O

Is Starbuck alive? Dead? Is she real? A Cylon? Ok, I can sleep WHEN I’M DEAD *clicks for “Next Episode”*

The same urges that drive viewers to lose an entire weekend or night of sleep dying to find out what happens on a show (or video game *cough* Gears of War) is the same phenomena that is driving series and novellas to greater popularity.

For Those Who Want to Write Stand-Alones

If series aren’t your thing. Don’t fret, but remember that every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. The greater the setback the better the comeback. Fiction is the opposite of functional sanityNormal human beings seek to maintain peace and healthy relationships. Your job as good great superlative writers is to maim, torture, crush and kill. Find that shiny thing. Get the protagonist sooooooooo close they almost…have….can…touch…..the edges……..

….and then SMASH IT. SMASH IT, KILL IT….BUUUUURRRRRNNNN IT!

Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Your readers will hate you, but it’s good for them. Do NOT protect your characters. Screw up their lives more than a meth-addicted multi-personality mother-in-law. Your characters NEED a crucible. No one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, maybe I have a pride problem. I should totally work on that.” NO! Instead of that promotion they know is in the bag, they get FIRED. Worse, they get blackballed. Worse, they have to apply for food stamps.

Worse, the person at the food stamp office is the very person they were horrifically RUDE to and now they need this person’s mercy. Do they get it? NO! ARE YOU HIGH? STOP BEING A SOFTIE. Do you want to be a WRITER? Then lose that soul and sense of decency (for a bit).

Take the food stamps away! Get them a job at McDonalds and they get fired from THAT TOO. IN THE RAIN!

Run over that character with an emotional panel van, then back over them, then run over them and repeat until they are a pile of GOO.

Gee, I wonder why people feel nervous around writers? :D

Ah, but once that character has withstood the tests…you as Author God then can give them a new shiny and a better shiny. Show them they shiny they wanted in the beginning was Fool’s Gold and let them earn the real deal.

And your readers will then forgive you for the torture.

Series are simply becoming more popular because there is an increased demand for entertainment and people are spoiled with a lot of variety. We are also masochists. Fiction shows us our ugliness, but unlike life? There is a resolution. And, that, my friends, is why we all love a great story.

What are your thoughts? Are you too easy on your characters? Do you have a tough time taking away the shiny? What TV series do you love and why? Are you losing interest in the big screen, too? What are some of your favorite characters from a series and that you might never have known intimately if it were a movie (um, SPIKE)? Do you agree/disagree that publishing is now favoring the series? Are you a series-gorger, too? Do you kill new shows if you like them?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

Winner for March’s  Contest–Aaron Davis. Please send your 5000 word Word document to kristen at wan a intl dot com or a 1250 word synopsis or 250 word query.

 

 

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115 Comments

Don’t Freeze Your Family—Physics PROVES Why We Writers Need to Lighten UP

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Many of us are running around like a one-legged man at an @$$-kicking contest. Writers juggle a lot of things at the same time—day jobs, family, laundry, dishes, finances, family, sickness, loss, and THEN there is the actual WRITING. I’ve come to understand that most of us writers live in two opposing states of being:

The State of I SO ROCK Narcissism and The State of I Don’t Deserve to LIVE, What the Hell Was I THINKING?

We write a few pages and think: “OMG, this is AWESOME.”

Next Day: I suck *hangs head*. Where is that brochure for dental hygienist school?

We revise and revise trying to make our work perfect. Whether it’s a book, parenting, or doing bills many of us hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We just about get the house clean and then…the family comes home. Just finish the dishes and…time to start dinner. AHHHHGGGGGG!

We wonder if it’s illegal to cryogenically freeze our spouse, kids and pets so we could have JUST ONE DAY that everything stayed CLEAN. Can we stop time and bask in loving what we just wrote? Didn’t we just DO laundry? Is that ketchup stain we ignored in the refrigerator trying to open a portal to a demonic realm? O_o

I just CLEANED THESE!

I just CLEANED THESE!

As a recovering perfectionist, I’m here to “scientifically” prove why we all need to lighten the hell up. How am I going to do this? Using tinfoil, swizzle sticks, glitter and the Three Four? Laws of Thermodynamics. And every reader who is a real scientist can just chillax.

This is “science.” Don’t argue.

(All “actual” laws contributed via Wikipedia)

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics

If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they must be in thermal equilibrium with each other. This law helps define the notion of temperature.

Zeroth Law means that temperature/energy will always seek a way to equal out. Two hot bodies (steaming EPIC tamales) placed next to ICE COLD margarita long enough? Margarita will suck heat and cool off tamales….leaving tamales too tired to finish revisions.

Life Application: This is empirical “proof” that yes, we parents were correct. Toddlers do drain energy. This also “proves” that children, as they get bigger, drain even MORE energy. Think how fast a 98 oz. margarita would chill your tamales (being “Tamale Mom” and “Tamale Dad”) and this explains why teenagers drain energy faster…unless the 98 oz margarita  teenager wants to date or wear too much makeup and that will temporarily heat the tamales parents.

The Spawn and his minion Lazr Cat.

The Spawn and his minion Lazr Cat.

Also, the hotter the WIP and the tougher the editor, the more we the writer will want a margarita. Told you! SCIENCE :D .

But don’t get too excited, there are three more “laws.”

The First Law of Thermodynamics

Because energy is conserved, the internal energy of a system changes as heat flows in or out of it. Equivalently, machines that violate the first law (perpetual motion machines) are impossible. Heat is the flow of thermal energy from one object to another.

Did you catch that? Okay, so maybe it was the only part of this I understood. Perpetual motion machines are IMPOSSIBLE. Gee, I wish I would have learned this last Thursday. Okay, Thursday of somewhere in 1992. We can’t do it all. Heat is synonymous with energy and as we expend energy, we um—Aw crap, hold on *finds Thesaurus function for another word for “expends”*—oh, there it is. WE LOSE IT. WE LOSE ENERGY and cannot run on Red Bull forever.

spawn2

Life Application: Apparently, despite what the world wants to tell us, we are incapable of doing everything forever. Yes, there are gizmos, gadgets and apps that “promise” us we can have six-pack abs, a refrigerator that doesn’t make us shriek little a little girl when we reach into the vegetable drawer, and write a perfect book in two weeks. But physics proves they are LYING.

Next time someone complains you are taking a nap, tell them physics has proven you need one.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The entropy of any isolated system cannot decrease. Such systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy of the system. Equivalently, machines that violate the second law (perpetual motion machines) are impossible.

In English? Everything is hurdling toward chaos. If you have kids, a closet, a heartbeat, you have a lot of experience with entropy. It’s impossible to isolate any system. I’ve tried! Banning the toddler from walking across my freshly mopped floor only attracts a cat to puke on freshly mopped floor.

This means….we need to just suck it up and expect some imperfection.

Life Application: This also goes for our art/craft. It is called a creative PROCESS. Sure, we can write the “perfect book”….if we are stranded on a desert island and somehow found a way to power up our computers using coconuts (Heck, they did that on Gilligan’s Island). The problem is that this perfect book is likely something we want to sell and make a living off of. Which—DANG IT—requires other people part money and time to buy it and read it and love it.

Problem is, readers can’t be sealed away (legally—I know, I checked) and thus tastes, preferences, ideas, passions are ever-shifting.

My advice? Give up on a perfect book and settle for a finished one. Finished books DO exist, perfect ones do NOT.

Also, again, notice the reiteration that a perpetual motion machine is impossible because it violates this Second Law. So take that nap. You’ll thank me later.

Third Law of Thermodynamics

The entropy of any pure substance in thermodynamic equilibrium approaches zero as the temperature approaches zero. The entropy of a system at absolute zero is typically zero, and in all cases is determined only by the number of different ground states it has.

We can never cool anything to the true point of Absolute Zero (no energy), only get close enough for government work.

Life Application: Do NOT freeze your family. I triple-checked and yes, it IS illegal and your house will still be a mess so it isn’t worth the legal bill.

Freeze some ice cream or a daiquiri instead.

Don’t y’all feel smarter already? I really wish I’d paid more attention in high school.

As we all collectively learn to give ourselves a bit of slack, we can know that science has our backs (unless you are Pluto and then you got screwed). Enjoy your family, your writing, your friends and life and just roll with it. Embrace the imperfections and laugh. Laughter increases energy and warms up the “bodies” around you, staving off entropy for at least a little bit ;) .

Throw a PARTY!

Speaking of a lot of energetic bodies together in ONE space, I am finishing this post out to invite ALL of you to come and celebrate my 40th birthday with me this Sunday (even though my birthday was a week ago, but entropy tried to kill me so the party was moved).

It is a virtual party in one of our WANA International classrooms, and, if the WANACon after-parties are any indication of how fun this will be?

We might very well break the Internet.

But most of the people I love and care about are on-line. Since kidnapping air-fare for people all over the world is more expensive than the legal bills after freezing one’s family, my attorney has advised me that a virtual birthday party is the best option.

THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 6th from 6:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. Central Standard Time (or 7-9 NYC time) we are having an 80s themed party. So bring your sky-high bangs, and favorite A-Ha videos. Also, for the moms who have accidentally worn their bra on the outside of their clothes, remember, Madonna did it, so now you are “fashionable.”

To attend this party, go to the WANA International home page at the time of the party (we will open the room 15 minutes early for those who wish to spike the digital punch). Off to the right, you will see the WORDS Big Blue Button. There is a selector. Choose the room named “Birthday Party” and the password is “Big80s”.

What are your thoughts? Feel better now that physics has “proven” you can relax a little? Do you find yourself swinging between GOD-LIKE CONFIDENCE and wondering why you wanted to write?

What are some of your favorite 80s memories? Songs? Fashions? I always wanted a SWATCH, but we were too poor. Favorite 80s movie? Best love songs of the 80s?

Are you an 80s kid and wonder how the heck you SURVIVED? We drank out of hoses, played on playgrounds made of INDUSTRIAL STEEL, and streetlights were our curfew. How any of you are even around to attend my party is frankly…amazing. And if no one shows, I will assume you likely died in a Slip-and-Slide accident when you were eight.

Will announce winner for March next post.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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56 Comments

Is Your Life Out of Control? What Can We Do When Nothing is Going Right?

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

One of the things I’ve strived for with WANA, this blog, my teachings is to offer practical lessons, honesty, tools for growth and change and support. Change is tough, right? I love to serve, to help, but I’m challenged daily to live the life and walk the talk. I have good days and bad days and OH DEAR LORD IS THERE A REWIND days (been having A LOT of those recently).

I believe our character will impact our dreams, our relationships, our well-being. And I would love to tell y’all I’ve got it all together, but I’ve been struggling…a lot. And I have some seriously clever excuses involving alien abduction, but….sigh. Tempting as it is, I won’t go there.

The Infestation

I remember a dream I had in 2008, and it’s been such a guide in cleaning up my behaviors and attitudes. I dreamed I inherited a beautiful cottage-home. From the outside it looked almost perfect. Just needed a little bit of paint…

.…yeah.

So in the dream, I begin to paint and notice the wood is loose. I know I can’t paint bad boards, so I pull them back with a pry bar.

AAAAAGHHHHHHHH!

Vermin everywhere. I scream, get them cleaned out and prepare to paint. But then I open the cabinets. WTH? OMG! You guessed it. More rats, roaches, termites. I’d just about get it pretty then see another layer and another and another. I couldn’t even DO any of the fun stuff—painting, decorating, picking out cute curtains—because what was “beneath” was infested and rotten.

My subconscious knew me better than I did. Pretty on the outside, but LOTS of problems on the inside.

It sounds strange, but I’m happy I’ve had to earn things the hard way when it comes to being an author. Growing up, I was naturally smart, the person who didn’t study and made As. As much of a blessing as it was, it was really a curse.

I could cruise through “appearing” to have it together, but it created a lot of BAD habits and rotten attitudes and behaviors. I’ve cleaned out a lot of the “infestations” but there are always more. Also, even if we do rid our “homes” of rats, mice, roaches, termites, we have to be in a habit of keeping the place clean so we don’t invite in new unwanted guests.

Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.

Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.

Living Mindfully

There are dumb things we can do that can have serious consequences. For instance, out at our ranch, one of my relatives forgot a bag of feed corn on the porch. When we got out there, there was CORN EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t open a drawer, a cabinet, a closet that there wasn’t some well-fed family of mice with a lovely stockpile of corn. The mice chewed through wiring and the hoses on the dishwasher…which then spewed water all over the floor.

A momentary lapse of mindfulness created hours of expensive, dirty and dangerous work. Not only that, but guess what LOVES to snack on mice? Rattlesnakes. Snakes that normally would have been quite happy out on the property discovered there was a SWEET buffet at the Lamb Ranch if you hung out on the PORCH.

Hubby and I spent an hour trying to coerce a rattler off the homestead property. I have this hysterical video of Hubby flinging a very annoyed rattler through the air. And yes some people would shoot the snake, but why? We invited him for dinner. Snake was just doing what snakes do.

And there is one brain-damaged snake now wandering our property with head trauma and a grudge.

Which is to say that life is always moving forward. We think life is a static picture like a magazine, but it isn’t. The kitchen will always need cleaning, there will always be more laundry and more bills. We need to shower more than once in a lifetime, and this also applies to our attitudes and habits.

If we slow down (and I am LEARNING) we can be more mindful about where we commit, what we start, or what we need to finish. Give ourselves grace, but be brave enough to address small problems early before they rage out of control.

Name It and Claim It

We can’t change what we won’t face. I have a saying. Name it and claim it. To offer a bit of insight, this has been a rough couple of years. It’s like everyone in my family is getting sick, ill, injured or dying. We’ve lost four family members in just the last year. Five in the last two. FOUR major surgeries, three of them life-threatening. As a person who loves and honors family I chip in to help the best I can.

I’m sure you guys have been through seasons like this. It’s as if life DOG PILES you and just about the time you come up for air, you get hit again.

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

But the thing is this is life. When I became published, no cute forest creatures showed up to style my hair and help me clean.

LUZRS.

Times of trial can be crucibles that reveal our weak points. I used to be a MAJOR WHINER. Oh poor me. I just about get going the right direction and SOMETHING happens. I was at the mercy of situations.

What these recent life events have shown me about myself are embarrassing, but I have to face these flaws even though truth stings.

I need to be better at communicating. For some weird reason, I will work myself half to death before I think, “Hey, I could possibly ask for HELP. Whouda thunk?” I’ve come to see that I overcommit. That is a BAD habit. If I give my word, I need to follow through because I want to be a person of integrity. This means I need to strive to be better at saying, “Let me get back to you.”

I’ve also developed this awful habit of cramming my schedule to the point that I can DO everything…so long as everything goes smoothly and the planets perfectly align. They WON’T. We NEED margin. If the Internet goes out, the weather goes nuts, the car breaks down, the business hits a rough spot, the kid gets sick, a spouse loses a job, it will affect everything else.

I’m working diligently to be more honest and realistic. Sure, I want to help people, but if I just flake out, forget, lose stuff, I’m doing more harm than good.

Yes, I need to give myself grace, but I can always seek to come up higher, too.

We NEED a Support System

Stress is a lot like being drunk. Our bodies default to limbic brain. We run on adrenalin. As a survival mechanism, we cannot harness our higher thinking centers. Apparently pondering Nietzsche while running from a bear is BAD. Yet, in modern society, we have the equivalent of bears all the time (and they look a lot like the unfinished WIP, piles of toys, a stack of bills and the IRS :D ).

This is why we need the similar equivalent of a Designated Driver. We need people who love us and are honest enough to say, “Go sleep. Say NO. Finish what you promised.”

Jay Donovan is a fantastic friend. Why? He encourages me. He is there for me. But, he’s also unafraid to send me a kind but scathing e-mail when I need my butt kicked correcting. I have a looong list of stuff to finish, but baby steps.

You guys have been an amazing support team and I’m so grateful. When I was up all night with The Spawn in the ER because he knocked out all his front teeth, people on-line were there to keep me calm and offer prayers, love and support. Same with the deaths, etc. You are the voices that make the world more lovely and never lonely.

WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.

WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.

But last week I had a major revelation. My husband, The Spawn and I are too isolated. We have family, but no one who lives nearby. I have no one to lean on when I am sick, worn out, overloaded or on the verge of just crying for a month. We’ve lived in this house for almost five years and know none of our neighbors. We don’t have any friends in the local community.

Last week, I stepped out of the comfort zone. I needed more. I NEEDED people close who might let me have a day where I can take a long nap. I can’t run forever on sheer force of will. As much as I love social media, it can’t be our only resource of support.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a GREAT resource, just like chainsaws are AWESOME for cutting up trees downed in a storm (but not so great for hanging pictures on the wall). We need to diversify our relationships. I need to as well even though I am an introvert. On-line friends are far less terrifying than talking to…*shivers* neighbors.

But, Suck it up, Buttercup.

It’s OKAY to BE WEAK

We aren’t robots. We live, laugh, love, screw up, start over, do better, blow it, then try again. I do. And there is a blessing to being weak. It offers others the gift of being strong for us. When we allow others to help us, we are giving them a gift. We feel good when we can help others. Why would others be different? So many of you take time to comment, encourage, offer help and you guys make me better each day.

We are not alone ;).

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like renovating your attitudes, habits, behaviors is overwhelming? Do you get discouraged too? Are you bad about overcommitting or not stopping to realize maybe you could kinda-sorta-maybe use some HELP? Are you hesitant to make friends with neighbors? Do you work your schedule off plank time? LOL.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

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65 Comments

Pride, Perfectionism and Anger—Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

I am one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable. But I know that all of us struggle and fail and fall and often what keeps us pressing is to know others have been a mess (or still are one). It’s why I’ve branded everything I do under We Are Not Alone.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are much rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we will touch on the highlights.

And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know ;) .

Perfectionism

I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need love more than “help.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.46.35 AM

I was fraud.

On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect’” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.

People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?

Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof), my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?

I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….

BLURGH!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.

What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success (Yes, I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately). Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.

We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.

Pride

An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.

Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.

Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. Others won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company. 

In the United States, the average household has SEVEN credit cards. Out of your hundred closest neighbors, four homes are on the verge of being foreclosed upon. How many of us buy into the lie that others care that much? We run and scramble to keep up with the Joneses when we aren’t seeing the Joneses are BROKE, hurting and miserable.

I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?

Probably nothing, LOL.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.49.52 AMThe funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale ;) .

Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.

Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!

Stupid, I know.

But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?

These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.

Whoud’a thunk?

Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck :D . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.

*shivers*

I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. I love to help. This is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.

Then BOOM!

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Three of my best friends, Ingrid Schaffenburg, Jay Donovan and Piper Bayard pointed this out (among other things). It hurt. I defended. I railed against the unfairness…then realized *sigh* they were correct.

What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

We need to let people in and out and through, but this doesn’t mean we offer them permission to dump old tires and toxic waste into our space. I was letting others bring in junk and saying, “Oh, it’s okay, set the rusted emotional refrigerator there…but next time.” No, it isn’t okay. It wasn’t okay. This led to anger, resentment and then an outburst.

HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you…. Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you….
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

I’d explode, then justify. Then talk about it over and over and over as if this replay made me being an angry jerk okay (Hint: It didn’t). And then I’d think about it over and over and that’s when anger had a chance to take root. I didn’t know how to forgive, thus adding to my Supreme Jerk Status.

Are We Ringing the Bell?

I used to believe that forgiving others gave them a pass, that they were somehow “getting away” with something. Unbelievably, I’d somehow forget about all the times I’d shown MY butt and wanted grace. I was wanting from others what I was unwilling to give in return.

Then I heard another story and it changed me (because I dig anecdotes).

There once was a young monk who’d been terribly wronged by another. He prayed and prayed but the anger never went away. He could not forgive no matter how hard he tried. So, he went to the old parish priest and asked for advice. The older priest knew the young man was in charge of ringing the bells for service. He said to the young man, “When you pull the rope to ring the bell, does it only sound once?”

The young monk replied, “Well, no, it keeps ringing.”

“But the ringing eventually gets softer then fades and finally stops. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“My son, anger and forgiveness is the ringing of the bell. The pain will be deafening at first and will take time to fade. Our job is to not continue to pull the rope.”

I used to believe that if I forgave, that magically-mystically the pain would go away. It doesn’t. It takes time. This is why my family was so angry (and many still are). They are still talking about when Such-and-Such did this or that and how awful they were and GOOD GRIEF that person has been DEAD for 15 years! Enough already!

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.01.45 AM

Maybe some of you have relationships where you aren’t in trouble for something you just did, you are still getting hammered with how you failed a month ago, a year ago, or when you were FIVE.

And the bells still ring.

I didn’t realize I was doing that to others. To make my poor behavior somehow better, I’d talk about how Thus-And-Such did this or that and HOW AWFUL and poor ME. Then, I was oblivious to why I couldn’t have solid relationships.

Here’s the hard news. All of us will be hurt and all of us will hurt others. It’s life. With some, we need to stop ringing bells. I was terribly abused by certain people and I had to discipline myself to let it go. I was letting someone rent space in my head for free. Failing to forgive was like drinking poison and hoping the other person would drop dead.

And this is why the gate is vital. We need to forgive. Forgiveness is for US. This doesn’t, however, mean we allow the person free reign to trample though our garden. Some people might never get to come through the gate. This doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven or are still angry, it means we are setting a BOUNDARY.

For instance, I have a family member who is like living with Mt. Vesuvius. Everything has to be HER way and she looks for opportunities to create strife. I recall the family throwing a birthday party and, as par for the course, this person arrived and within minutes, the conflict began.

In the old days, I would have bitten. It would have become a Jersey-Shores-Jerry-Springer-Argument over who’d done what or worse or whatever. We’d have fought over a list of wrongs reaching back to the 80s.

This time? I didn’t. I calmly said, “I understand you’re upset. Please go take ten minutes to cool off. But, we are here for a birthday celebration and we still want to be. But, if you are going to act this way, then I’m afraid we will have to leave. I hope you choose to let it go and enjoy the fun we’ve prepared.” And the difference this time was I was calm, but I was also FULLY prepared to leave.

As a recovering jerk, I was unwilling to take the bait. I’d learned that if I maintained peace, the offender would be the only jerk left standing. Jerks can be like a hurricane. They NEED that hot-moist air to fuel their raw powers of destruction. If we refuse to fuel them, they fizzle.

Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.

The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. To change, I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison.

We Are All Works in Progress

We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.

But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better. We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.

I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you :D .

What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?

Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

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126 Comments

Lessons from Oleander–The Dangers of Premature Editing

Please don't kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost five years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic. Normally, oleander this size were over $100 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage. Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death. In the novel I just finished, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I am. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

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120 Comments

Can’t Find Your Butt with Google Maps? A Powerful Tool that Can Help Writers Become Organized

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

If you are anything like me, you VOW EVERY NEW YEAR’S DAY that THIS YEAR you are going to be more organized. Six months later we can’t find the Post-Its and the bag of paper clips have been sucked into the same vortex that eats half the socks. Our treasures purchased at The Container Store on January 2nd are lost (likely still in the BAG) and our cute pocket organizer hasn’t had an entry since January 15th.

*head desk*

*Note to Self: Dust Pocket Organizer*

As writers, we need to research and to be able to keep track of that research. We also have lives. Many have mates, pets and kids who’ve grown accustomed to being fed *rolls eyes*. So needy. We’re juggling so much that we actually hope a fanatical fringe group of Calgon Terrorists really will “take us away.”

When I launched my business WANA International, I was on the hunt for the best teachers for ALL aspects of a writer’s life. Since organization is a big part of what will help us be successful and accomplish more in the finite time we’re given, the choice for the best teacher was crystal clear.

Jenny Hansen writes, blogs, works multiple consulting jobs, teaches, gardens (and then flaunts her KALE on Facebook). She balances so much and is happy, generous and fruitful. She is also one of the few people on the planet who has the talent to teach technology and translate into Writer-ese.

Feel free to set down your paper bags as Jenny takes us on a brief tour of one of the most powerful tools we have for keeping everything organized and accessible in ONE place. I know that I used to use OneNote before I switched to Apple and it was fantastic. I’m thrilled to hear it’s now available for Mac products and will be with you for Jenny’s class because my keys can only end up on the freezer so many times….

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I’m a software trainer by day so I have several “true loves” in the software realm. But as a writer, my hands down favorite is OneNote, especially after this week’s announcements:

  1. It’s now free across all platforms.
  2. Yep, you heard me…it’s now available for the Mac. (Move over, Evernote!)

To put it simply… I. Heart. OneNote.

And I know what some of you are asking: What is it, and where do you find it?

OneNote is a planner and note taking software. It lets you easily capture text, images, video and audio notes, and keep important information readily available across all devices.

If you’re the organized type, it’s likely that you have a binder with all of the research information and pictures for your book. OneNote allows you to keep this information in the same format electronically so it’s searchable.

You’ll find OneNote in your START menu.

I could do several posts on the topic (and I probably will) but when I stopped to think about what I use the MOST in the program, it was pretty easy to come up with my Top Ten Fave Features.

#10 – ToDo Lists

OneNote allows you to insert handy checklists. You just check off the item when you’re done and you can keep it for posterity or edit the list as you move to a new day.

How To Do a Check List:

Click to type in your OneNote notebooks page (top tabs are sections, right side tabs are pages) and type “Ctrl+1”

  • In the top middle of your Home ribbon in OneNote, there is a “To Do” button
  • Type your ToDo
  • Hit Enter
  • Use the Ctrl+1 shortcut key again to add more checkboxes

Click here for the latest OneNote and Microsoft updates that affect writers.

#9 – Tag and Find Important Items

Why is this exciting? One Note has a series of Tags that you can add to any page that are easy to search by with the “Find Tags” button on the ribbon. I’m copying and pasting a screen shot of the Tags drop down to the right but there are even more than are listed. This feature makes me SQUEE!

#8 – Sync Up OneNote Between Your Phone and Computer

Yes, you heard me! If you have a smart phone, it can synchronize with the OneNote on your computer. Sign me up!!

Note: You need to first set up the app on your smart phone and you must also set up OneDrive (used to be SkyDrive), which is helpful to do anyway. OneDrive is only available with OneNote 2010 and later! It will not work with the older versions.

Tips on setting up your OneDrive in OneNote and getting the iPhone app are here (along with a ton of other amazing OneNote answers).

#7 – Ink to Text (There’s also “Math to Text” now, but hello? We’re writers!)

Ink to Text is a gift for creatives. You could go one further and get a Livescribe pen if you want to be able to upload longhand writing to OneNote first. If you have a tablet with a stylus, you can write right in OneNote, highlight it and choose Ink to Text to convert your scribbles into searchable text.

There are many, many ways to take notes, as you can see from the graphic below:

OneNote_ManyWaysToNoteTake

#6 – Hyperlinks to Anywhere

You can copy or create hyperlinks from any page, anywhere, and put it in your notebook page. I’m thinking of keeping an active writing notebook with tabs for each topic to store the amazing links that I run across in my web surfing. My bookmarks tend to get lost because there’s so many.

#5 – Print to OneNote

When researching, you can send a whole page or part of a page directly to OneNote. Choose File > Print and your page is sent to an unfiled note in OneNote, which can be moved to any section or page.

#4 – Send Whole or Part of Any Page to OneNote With a Shortcut Key

Imagine surfing the web and pulling up a side note by either pressing the Windows logo button + N or clicking the N (OneNote) icon button in the task bar (down by the time) and being able to jot down your notes to keep in your book’s OneNote binder. This shortcut automatically files it in the Unfiled Tab in OneNote, which you can move around.

#3 – Audio and Video Files

OneNote will also add audio or video files to your notebook pages. It can even record the same right into a page! Now that we’re in conference season, I’ve made the goal of adding my meeting and class notes into OneNote, and then recording those extras things that I didn’t get down in my notes.

#2 – You Can Attach Files to Any Page in OneNote

Can you writers say character charts? Photos? I thought of moving this higher on the list, it’s so sublimely amazing.

From your Windows Explorer, click and drag any file onto a OneNote Page. You will get the following dialog box:

You can insert a hyperlink, or choose the second option to have an icon on your page that you double-click on to open the file. But the last choice (to insert the file as a printout)? LOVE IT! I used this with a conference handout to make my notes next to the speakers content. It saved me a ton of time.

And My #1 FAVORITE thing in OneNote is:

OneNote doesn’t have a Save button. OneNote automatically saves your work on an almost constant basis in the background. This means I don’t lose work, even if forget to save.

Helpful Links:

Does OneNote sound like it would be helpful to you? Do you have questions, or shortcuts you’d like to share? We’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Where can you get more of Jenny?

Her blog information is below, but she also teaches online. For all you writers and OneNote/Evernote fans, in fact she is teaching a class for WANA next week!

Next week’s class details:

      • Course title: OneNote: The Simple (Kinda Sexy) Organization Tool
      • Course time: webinar next Monday March 24th at 7 pm EST – it’s available OnDemand afterwards, so don’t worry if you can’t make it.
      • The initial webinar is followed by two weeks of online time where we cover the material and create notebooks. We finish with another quick webinar recap.
      • There are various levels for the class, depending on if you just want the knowledge or if you need active one-on-one help setting up your notebooks. Be sure to click the course title link above to see what’s included for the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels.
      • Use the discount code MORECOWBELL for $10 off!

Lastly, we’re going to have THREE special things for this kickoff class:

      1. A member of the Microsoft OneNote team will audit the class to answer any questions on the technologies and features that are still new.
      2. A drawing will held to give away a subscription of Office 365 to one lucky attendee.
      3. Any interested authors will be entered into a drawing to be a guest author for the Office blog – in return for the description of how OneNote helped you “get it done,” Microsoft will promote the winner’s novel at the bottom of the post.

Really, y’all…how can you beat that? (You can’t! This inaugural class is the only one that will have all this, since it comes so quickly on the heels of Microsoft’s rollout.) Click here to sign up!

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Thank you, Jenny! Are you like me and struggle to keep organized? Do you have passwords for your passwords? One giant bag with all the mail so you have at least a good starting place for locating the electric bill? Or do you use OneNote and can attest to its powers? Do you have questions for Jenny? Confessions?

I LOVE hearing from you guys (and comments for guests count DOUBLE)!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA and at Writers In The Storm.

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75 Comments

Myth-Busting—The Real Difference Between Introverts & Extroverts & Meet the Ambivert

Actual photo of Kristen in high school (Image via Flikr Creative Commons wwarby)

Actual photo of Kristen in high school (Image via Flikr Creative Commons wwarby)

I made it home on Monday afternoon from presenting at the Tuscon Book Festival, one of the largest book festivals in the world. To meet me at the conference, one would never suspect I’m actually an introvert. Yet, even after two days of sleep, I’m shaking from fatigue. This morning I had to get Hubby to bring The Spawn to school because I simply don’t have enough energy to be safe on the road. I spent all of it at the conference giving (what I hoped) were unforgettable presentations.

Many believe the extrovert is the ideal speaker, yet introverts have a way of channeling energy from themselves to others. When people leave my sessions, they often feel supercharged, like they can take over the world. I love that. It’s what I’m going for…but this comes at a cost for me. I must unplug, get quiet and recharge. Crowds drain me faster than a toddler using an iPad.

BIG crowds? As in a quarter-million people? AHHHHHHHH!

As humans we tend to think in very black and white terms, but as writers and artists, we are wise to remember that people have many dimensions. What we see is not necessarily accurate, especially when it comes to labeling others as “introvert” or “extrovert.”

What Does It REALLY Mean to Be an Extrovert or Introvert?

Introversion and extroversion are very  commonly misunderstood. Just because someone is shy, doesn’t mean she’s an introvert. Someone who is bubbly, gregarious and the life of the party can, in reality, be an introvert. The difference between introverts and extroverts is simply this:

Where do we gain or lose energy?

Introverts are drained by people and need alone time to recharge.

Extroverts are drained by too much time alone. They need human interaction to recharge.

Meet the Ambivert

Truth is, most people fall into what is called an ambivert, meaning we exhibit traits of both. If you want to learn if you might be an ambivert, there are cool tests on-line. I’d google them for you, but this post is all I’ve got left.

People who read this blog and who meet me all believe that I am the very definition of extrovert, yet that’s far from the case. As a child, I had to be forced to go play with others. I was very happy alone in my room reading, drawing and copying articles out of my set of encyclopedias.

I was frequently chastised for bringing a book to family events and made to interact with others. Yet, when I did, I was the life of the party. I was fascinated by standup comedy and, being blessed with an eidetic memory, I could perform the standup routines of all the famous comics, down to facial expressions, timing and gestures. My family was particularly fond of my freakishly accurate impersonation of Sinbad.

Yes, Kristen was the precursor to the DVD.

In school, I didn’t want to play at recess. I wanted to read and draw unicorns.  But I loved debate and speaking in public. When it came to presenting, I had no fear and, again, I was funny. Being funny helped when you changed schools every six months. BUT, in high school I was shy to the point of probably needing medication. The stage was far less terrifying than the lunchroom.

Before I was married, I would go shopping at two in the morning, because I couldn’t take the crowds. To this day, I don’t like concerts, amusement parks, crowded clubs, conventions, big parties or sports events. I love attending writing conferences because I love writers, love teaching and presenting and I DO love people…but when I get home, I practically slip into a coma. Also, I am okay on a stage presenting to an audience but please don’t make me be a part of a crowd.

As much as I LOVE people, as much as I adore people and making them laugh…they exhaust me.

I work from home and, if I never had to leave, I would be okay…so long as I had Internet connection. One of the things I love about social media, is it allows me to interact, connect, chat, entertain…but at my pace. It keeps me from flatlining myself.

I’ve had to learn from bad experiences that I need to pace myself at conferences if I want to maintain that powerful, positive energy.

The Myth of the Extrovert

There is another common misunderstanding about the whole extrovert thing, and it’s done a LOT of damage in the corporate world (and when it comes to author platforms for selling books).

Companies spend all this time shoving introverts into being extroverts. They hire mega-extroverts for sales, and yet mega-extroverts are some of the WORST salespeople. I witnessed this back when I was in sales, myself.

I recall sitting at a table with a customer and a mega-extrovert salesperson. The mega-extrovert was so busy talking and being entertaining, that he never SHUT UP long enough to listen. He didn’t stop and ask the right questions. In fact, he didn’t ask ANY questions.

That’s a problem.

One time, I was at an annual marketing meeting and the company was putting  together the agenda for the next year. They kept going on and on about price, and how we needed to be cheaper. I was brand new, but bold.

I raised my hand and asked, “Has anyone asked our customers if this is what THEY want? Is price the biggest factor?” The table sat in stunned silence. Then I recommended we brainstorm twenty areas where we could serve the customer better and then get them to take the survey.

Price came in at #4.

Customers actually wanted faster lead times. Our product was the type of inventory the customers never thought about…until they ran out. A better plan was to rent cheap warehouses in the areas near our major clients and stock them with the most common sizes ordered. Then we could have offered same-day or next-day delivery….which the company refused to do and still focused on price and lost a crap-load of business and it’s a sore subject with me.

Why did they do this? The mega-extroverted marketing and salespeople controlled the agenda, and they were lousy listeners.

We All Have Strengths and Weaknesses

This isn’t to pick on mega-extroverts. All personalities have strengths and weaknesses. As an ambivert, I do have some mega-extrovert tendencies. I’ve had to TRAIN myself to be a better listener and to ask others about themselves…instead of making them laugh with my Sinbad impersonations.

Awareness is Key

The point of all of this is we need to be self-aware so we can focus on strengths and buttress weaknesses. It is good for the introverts to get out. Too much alone time with the imaginary friends makes us a bit weird…ok, weirder.

Social media can be very beneficial for introverts. It forces us out of the comfort zone and we can interact at a pace that doesn’t put us in a coma. Extroverts get to practice willpower and self-discipline, to shut up, get off Twitter and get back to work.

Ambiverts? We get to do both *head desk*

No Excuses

But the good news is this. This notion that mega-extroverted salesperson is the most effective salesperson? PURE MYTH. This is one major misconception that TERRIFIES most writers into being afraid of social media or makes some writers try to change their personalities….which is just weird and kinda creepy. Be YOU. YOU is awesome :D.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Here’s an article that displaces the myth that mega-extroverts are the best salespeople, and explains why it’s actually ambiverts who hold the advantage.

Talk to people, listen, ask questions, and let them talk. Be authentic and kind. We don’t have to be super entertaining all the time. Really ;).

For those curious, THIS was my family’s favorite among my vast comedic repertoire:

So what about you? Are you and extrovert? An introvert? Shy? Do you feel misunderstood because you’re a shy extrovert or a people-loving introvert? Do you think you might be an ambivert?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World

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119 Comments

How to Take Criticism Like a Pro

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

One of the greatest blessings of being an author and teacher is I meet so many tremendous people. I feel we writers have a unique profession. It isn’t at all uncommon to see a seasoned author take time out of a crushing schedule to offer help, guidance and support to those who need it. I know of many game-changers, mentors who transformed my writing and my character. Les EdgertonCandace Havens, Bob Mayer, James Rollins, James Scott Bell, Allison Brennan are merely a few I can think of off the top of my head.

J.E. Fishman is another, and he offers a very unique perspective because he’s worked multiple sides of the industry. He was a former NYC literary agent, an editor for Doubleday and now he’s a novelist. His newest book A Danger to Himself and Others is masterfully written. I love books that make me pause, underline and dog-ear. As much as I think I know? I can always learn more. I make it a habit to study those who write better than I do.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 8.39.20 AM

Today, J.E. Fishman is here to offer some of the best advice any of us can get when we’re new. If we’ve been around for awhile, we can always use a refresher. Writers do work an emotional, often isolated job, and it’s easy to forget to chew with our mouths closed be professional when so many of us are writing from beneath a pile of laundry and toys.

I hope this guest post blesses you as much as it has me…

Take it away!

J.E. Fishman

J.E. Fishman

We’re all amateurs at most things, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Maybe we shoot hoops after work or set up an easel in retirement. Perhaps we cook on weekends or spend the morning making an iMovie production of our summer vacation. We are neither professional basketball players nor professional painters nor chefs nor directors. We’re just having fun.

But what if we’re trying to achieve something more as writers? How do we get out of the bush leagues and behave more professionally?

Let’s start by acknowledging that amateurs often have conflicting priorities. They may allow foolish dreams to captivate them, for example, but they can’t always invest the hard work necessary to achieve those dreams. They frequently lean on raw talent when the greater challenge requires practicing craft. And with regard to criticism, they often have thin skin.

I’d like to talk about the thin skin part.

In my experience, professionals are not easily satisfied by their own work, whereas amateur writers take a degree of pride in their work that’s often not commensurate with the accomplishment. And if the person doing the criticizing is not a fellow writer, fuhgetaboutit!

What do they know, the tyro author tells himself. Or, if he’s rude, he says aloud, “What do you know?”

But this defensiveness is a sign of weakness. More important, it turns self-improvement — which is difficult enough in the best of times — into an insurmountable challenge.

Sure, the professional writer who can communicate the technical deficiencies of our work is worth heeding if we seek to improve. But the casual observer’s opinion is just as valuable. After all, most of our audience are just plain old readers, not writers.

Here’s something worth remembering: If we’re creating art, we owe our audience something, not the other way around.

A professional knows this because a professional lives and dies with it. Her skin may be thick or thin by inclination, but she forces herself to respond in certain ways toward criticism because she understands the stakes. To disappoint one audience member is potentially to disappoint all of them.

I was struck last month by a Chuck Wendig blog post in which he called out independent authors, challenging them not to publish amateurishly (“slush pile on display” were his words) — urging them to behave with professionalism, which is to say, to respect their audience. It got me thinking of the people I’ve worked with over the years as an editor and an agent and an author. Over time, you come to know a pro as much by her process as by the work she produces.

Some people think pros just work harder than everyone else. While it’s true that they often do, there are any number of other ways in which a professional distinguishes herself. Acceptance of criticism is among the most powerful. If we want people to take us seriously as a writer, we must take criticism like a pro does:

A pro respects roles. Your editor may or may not be a writer herself. In any case, it isn’t her job to rewrite your novel (unless you hired her specifically to do that, of course). The pro knows where her responsibilities lie.

A pro separates the work from himself — He pushes ego out of it. Even if we’re writing something very personal, we are not our work. The work is a form of communication. It is not what we are, but what we say. The pro doesn’t internalize criticism.

A pro seeks opportunities to learn from criticism. She knows that her art is not static, that a failure to grow with the craft will harm the next work. Every work becomes imperfect the moment it seeks expression. To learn as we go is a means of approaching that ever-elusive perfection.

A pro looks for the source of the problem, not easy fixes. He understands whose job it is to seek solutions. Hint: not the reader’s. Say the reader points to a given scene and asks of the protagonist, “Why’d he do that?” The facile answer might be, “Well, that guy was pointing a gun at him.” The writer here is telling himself that he only needs to clarify about the gun. But in fact, he must ask himself whether he needs to clarify the deeper character of the protagonist that would lead him to choose the action that’s been questioned.

A pro hears what is not said. The amateur too easily dismisses criticism that’s not expressed in the framework of how we think about our own craft. But the pro reads between the lines, asking herself what in the story caused the reader to have that reaction.

A pro accepts challenges. Not every item of criticism calls for a response within the work, but the default should never be a shrug of the shoulders. The pro understands that the path of least resistance, while tempting, rarely leads to great execution.

A pro never argues, never rebuts. The work should be all we ever need to convince anyone of anything. It stands alone. The pro knows that her work will eventually go out into the world defenseless. If a proper understanding of the work requires an off-the-page argument from the author, it’s already failed for that particular reader. There’s no point in discussing it further except perhaps by asking questions to learn.

A pro doesn’t belittle the messenger. Imagine if only architects were allowed to have opinions about the beauty (or utility) of a house. Don’t ever put down critical readers, even in your own mind. Respect your audience, and out of that respect will grow the potential for greatness.

Finally, a pro knows that all the aspects I’ve outlined here are aspirational. None of us is perfect at them — certainly not me. At times I have sniffed at criticisms, failed to read between the lines, not risen to the challenge.

Let’s face it, pro or amateur, criticism of our work always stirs up a measure of disappointment. That’s why we must train ourselves to respond as the pros we claim to be or aspire to be. In the age of specialization, people have high standards for the work of others. We must have those same high standards for ourselves.

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*Applause* Thanks, J.E. I know all of this is tough to do. We are all works in progress. I know I am.

What about you guys? Are you struggling with leaving the role of the amateur? Are you actively seeking ways to toughen your skin? Or have you gotten to the point where you welcome the crucible? Were you always that way? I know I stared crying in my car after critique. Now? A beta can chop my work to the ground, burn it and then nuke it and I don’t take it personally. I LOVE that someone would take the time to give my work the “trial by fire” before the reviewers can. But, I was NOT always this way. I still struggle to remain this way.

I LOVE hearing from you!

J.E. Fishman, a former Doubleday editor and literary agent, is author of the wisecracking mystery Cadaver Blues, as well as thrillers The Dark Pool and Primacy. His Bomb Squad NYC series of police thrillers launches this month with A Danger to Himself and Others and Death March.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

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