Posts Tagged Writing

Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction

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Today, AWESOME W.A.N.A. International Instructor and author-editor-teacher-extraordinaire Marcy Kennedy is here to guest post about a dreaded topic—GASP—grammar. Yes, I admit it. I’m a Grammar Nazi. I remember correcting my eldest nephew when he was learning to talk. Steaks are good, people are well. Chickens are done, people are finished. We raise crops, and rear children. 

This was being a good auntie.

Then he went off to first grade…

His teacher asked him if he was done, and he matter-of-factly replied, “Chickens are done, people are finished.”

So yes, I’ve had to learn to not be a jerk about grammar (and gently correct the kiddos even though I was cheering inside). But take heart, if a Grammar Nazi makes an error, we get 543 e-mails correcting us.

Even Grammar Nazis oops. We need refreshers and ALL need a fresh set of eyes on our work because a lot of subtle grammar bugaboos can still slip through even the most highly trained filters.

Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are critical for all books. Maintaining the reader’s fictive dream is paramount. Few things can slam the brakes on flow like poor grammar. Think of it this way. We could be wearing the latest, greatest design by Versace, but if we have the back tucked in our underpants or our fly open? Tough for others to see and appreciate our “fashion.”

This said, the best person I know to teach grammar is Marcy, so take it away!

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A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

Let me show you what this cause-and-effect problem looks like in our fiction, and then I’ll give you a super-simple editing trick that will help you catch it and kiss it goodbye.

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Example #1:

As the shot rang out, Ellen covered her ears.

The word “as” is used as a connection between things that are supposed to be happening at the same time.

But in the example above, the shot and Ellen covering her ears aren’t happening at the same time. They can’t happen at the same time. Not unless she’s psychic. She couldn’t have done what the sentence says because, until she heard the shot, Ellen had no reason to cover her ears.

Here’s what the sentence might look like if we fixed it.

The shot rang out, and Ellen covered her ears.

Example #2:

He blushed as he realized his fly was undone.

Blushing is the result or effect of realizing his fly is undone. He realizes his fly is undone, and as a result, his face heats. This sentence feels odd because the cause and effect are flipped.

So what we’d actually want to write is something like…

He realized his fly was undone, and heat rushed up his face.

(Realized is a dangerous word in our fiction as well, and was only used here to help with this example. In a real book, we’d want to show him realizing his fly was undone rather than telling the reader he realized. If you’d like to learn more, check out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

Example #3:

We took cover when we heard him entering the building.

“When” works similarly to “as.” It suggests that the two things happened simultaneously.

The problem is that they didn’t take cover at the same time as they heard him entering. Until they heard him entering, they had no reason to take cover. First they heard him entering, and then, as a consequence of hearing it, they took cover.

Here’s one way we could fix this.

The heavy metal door rattled on its hinges, and the sound of footsteps ricocheted around the hangar. We dove behind a stack of crates.

A related problem is when we create a sentence where we’re not suggesting things are happening at the same time, but we’ve still reversed the natural order of cause and effect in the way we’ve structured the sentence.

Example #4:

My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest as he led me down the hall to meet my birth mother for the first time.

Technically, this can happen at the same time. This is one of those situations that can justify breaking the linear rule because walking down the hall takes time. There’s time for something to happen as she’s walking.

Here’s the problem. Our sentence structure still needs to reflect the natural order. Even if we want to express that something is happening at the same time, when we write it, we need to give the reader the cause before we give them the effect.

In the above example, we find out our narrator’s mouth is dry and she feels a heavy weight on her chest, but the reader will feel ungrounded because they have no idea what’s causing it. Any time the reader loses connection to the POV character and immersion in the story, it’s a bad thing.

We’ll find this in our writing when our words express that one thing happened temporally before the other, but in the sentence we’ve reversed the order in which we tell the reader about them. So we’re meaning “A happened before B,” but in our sentence what we’ve written is “B happened because of A.”

We need to write down the cause (A) before the effect (B).

Before I give you the editing tip, let’s quickly go back to the example above and see one possible way we could rewrite it, keeping this in mind.

He led me down the hall to meet my birth mother. My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest.

Most of these mistakes happen when we’re trying to vary our sentence structure. Variety in sentence structure is good, but not at the expense of making sure each sentence is also structurally sound.

Quick Editing Tip

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Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

The easiest way to spot this problem is to look for the words as, while, and when. This is where the Find and Replace feature in your word processing program will become your best friend.

In the Find box write as, and in the Replace box write AS. Make sure to select the option of “Find Whole Words Only.” If you wanted to get fancy, you could even use the option to bold the AS, but capitalizing it is enough to make it stand out on the page. Do the same for while and when.

Now you can skim through your book and quickly check each instance to see if it should stay or if you’ve reversed your cause and effect.

Want More Help With Grammar for Fiction Writers?

Check out my book Grammar for Fiction Writers: A Busy Writer’s Guide. The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it. Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

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THANK YOU, Marcy!

We love hearing from you! Are you a Grammar Nazi? Do family members weep with jubilation when you mess up and they finally can correct YOU? Do you struggle with grammar? I confess, the whole “lay vs. lie” thing twists my brain in a know and I STILL have to google it (or usually simply rephrase).

I love hearing from you! Comments and questions for guest count DOUBLE, so I hope y’all will show Marcy some love.

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

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire

Marcy Kennedy, W.A.N.A. Instructor Extraordinaire

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Going Pro Series NOW Available ON-DEMAND

 Going Pro Craft , Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding and  Going Pro Business  or ALL THREE! W.A.N.A.’s bundle deal, Going Pro All the Way! . Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes. Recording and detailed noted come with purchase.

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

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10 Ways for ADD Authors to Be OOH! SQUIRREL!!!! …Productive

WANA, Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone, WANA International, how to be successful writer

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

Right now I’m teaching a new series about going pro (check it out below this post—recordings and notes included with purchase). One key difference between the amateur and the professional is the professional shows up no matter what. Life will not stop because we have a dream of being a NYTBSA.

In August, I managed to nearly break my ankle (needed X-rays & brace) find out I was highly allergic to peanuts (nearly died…met new doctor & she seems nice), then have said evil peanut allergic reaction give me a spiffy case of FREAKING Shingles (two super fun-filled trips to the ER).

***THIS is what I get for bragging that I haven’t had to go to a doctor in YEARS. *lightning crackles*

Through all of this? No, I wasn’t operating optimally (or heavy equipment), but pain meds can give cool dreams so I kept pen and paper nearby.

Anyway…

Other writers frequently ask how I somehow manage to get a lot of stuff done, despite my having the attention span of a fruit fly…with a bad crack habit. Here are 10 ways to help you be productive even if OOH! SHINY!

…even if you tend to be a tad majorly ADD. The following tips are what help ME stay focused. I am NOT a doctor or psychologist or ADD expert. I’m a Jedi master, warp engine inspector, and WRITER so you get what you get.

1. Make lists.

I get distracted easily, so a list reminds me of what I need to get accomplished. I make separate lists—housework, fiction, non-fiction, business stuff, global domination using sea monkeys. Then, once I have the list, I do the hardest thing on my writing and business lists FIRST (housework can WAIT).

Like Covey says, Never mistake the urgent for the important.

2. Understand that feelings are pathological liars.

Writing is a profession, not a playpen. Professionals ignore their feelings and do it anyway. Only children, amateurs and  The Long Island Medium listen to their feelings. Feelings are fickle, lazy, and secretly jealous of your work and a tad pissed that you no longer hang out with them as much as you used to. The secret to success is to work your tail off. Be willing get up earlier and stay up later than others. Be willing to do what others won’t.

But I wanna write books. I don’t wanna do social media, toooooo. It’s haaaaard.

Yes. It is. There are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

3. Use The Force…of Self-Discipline

Who cares HOW you get things done, so long as they get done?

I use the “Swiss Cheese” approach. I have my list and I take bite after bite after bite until the work is finished. Every book can be written in 250, 500, or 1,000 word bites. I CANNOT work linearly, so I don’t try and yes I was always in trouble in school but public schools were designed to train factory workers and corporate mind slaves, not people who get paid to play with imaginary friends.

4. Mix it up.

I am a writer, wife, entrepreneur, teacher, and mom who has yet to make enough money to afford servants (which sucks), and cats make lousy slaves. This means I get to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry and housework. Write your 200 words, fold a load of whites, empty the dishwasher, then write another 200 words.

5. Suck it up, Buttercup.

Understand that sometimes we will have to sit for a long time and focus. It’s hard. Whaaaaaaahhhhh, but anyone who thinks being a writer is a fluffy hamster dream has been hanging out with their feelings…and feelings lie, sabotage and will talk you into living on ice cream and cookie sprinkles.

6. Make mean writer friends.

Yes, the Swiss Cheese approach works well for people with ADD, and yes, there are times we need to duct tape our a$$es to the chair. This is why I befriend really mean people who kinda scare me. I recommend Piper Bayard, Jenny Hansen and Rachel Funk Heller. On the surface they are funny and sweet and would do anything for a friend…but that’s the issue. They will do anything for a friend, including ordering a hit on my X-Box 360.

7. Ditch loser friends.

We all have them or have had them. People who like to complain, make excuses, indulge in their feelings all the time. People who have a new dream every other week. I wanna be an astronaut, no a writer, no a vacuum salesman, no a journalist!

Ditch writers (and other people) who believe in luck, not work. Laziness, apathy, and whining are contagious. Treat excuses like EBOLA. A friend coughs blood excuses all over you, and, within two to three days, you start coughing up blood excuses, too…until your dream of being a writer liquifies and bleeds out and I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Killer.

8. Forget perfection.

Perfection is an urban legend, started by Feelings (because Feelings are a needy boyfriend/girlfriend who don’t understand the world does not revolve around them.) The world doesn’t reward perfection; it rewards finishers. Often we lose focus on what we are REALLY doing, because we are getting sidetracked with nitpicking.

9. Exercise.

Often ADD can be fueled by being too sedentary. Human bodies were not designed to sit on their @$$e$ all day. Ever have a puppy that chews everything and is into everything and short of strapping itself to a rocket is just being a GIANT PAIN IN THE @$$?

How do you get it to behave? Put on roller blades and run puppy until puppy wants to slip into something more comfortable…like a coma. ADD people are human puppies, so stop piddling on the carpet…I mean, go get a little exercise and your focus will generally improve.

Though I will not return to Jui-Jitsu until next week and have stopped hot yoga because of the Shingles, I still go to the gym and move at least a little. It CAN be done *eyes classes for senior citizens*.

10. Drink lots of water.

Human bodies are a hydroelectric system, and water enhances conductivity. Cool writer ideas/thoughts work this way. Muse Pixies of Awesomeness are conducted through your brain to your fingers and they bring the cool story stuff. MPAs like to travel via fairy, or ferry on WATER. They can’t travel if the waterways are too dry and moor them on a cookie sprinkle…and then you can’t focus.

It’s science. Don’t argue.

I hope these tips help, because today is my first day of our new “unschooling” coop, Kender University. I am off to teach small children the history of weapons and how to crochet…not necessarily in that order. Did you know you can make a battle ax out of tin foil and left over toilet paper cores?

Must…get…off…Pinterest…..

What about you guys? Those of you ADD folk out there who’ve paid attention to this point, first of all, CONGRATULATIONS!!!

…now back in your hole.

It writes the words or it gets the hose O_o.

What are your thoughts? Struggles? Tips? Words of wisdom. It’s okay. You have permission to get back in your hole after you comment :D.

It rubs the elbow grease on. IT RUBS THE ELBOW GREASE ON! *pets fluffy white dog*

I love hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding September 6th THIS SATURDAY, Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

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

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113 Comments

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

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

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

Where was I?

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

I REALLY want a Monster Truck.

Anyway, WRITING.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a perk *bada bump snare.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

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

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52 Comments

What Brazilian Jui-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Going Pro as AUTHORS

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Some of you may know that (for stress relief) I practice Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. Being a teacher and a writer, I see lessons in everything. Strangely, our dojo is not known for BJJ. It’s mainly Shito Ryu Karate and those classes are always packed. There’s a plethora of black belts and they earned it. Many are kids, and they’re a wonder to behold.

Our Jui-Jitsu class? Right now we are down to five people—two out with injuries, one went off to med school and two are on vacation. This can feel weird when the next class over is packed wall-to wall with students.

Last night we were talking about why our group was so small. Why are people not as attracted to BJJ? Why do so many sign up then quickly leave? I’m being careful here, because over my many years, I’ve studied four forms of martial arts and two styles of fighting—Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Karate (Japanese), Wing-Jitsu (a fusion one Wing Chun Kung Fu and Jui-Jitsu), Japanese Jui-Jitsu, regular boxing and kickboxing.

All have strengths and weaknesses.

I have my preferences. I liked Wing-Jitsu the best because I really love doing throws and I love the hand to hand combat. But is it better than any other? Depends on the fighter.

***Hmmm, like genre preferences?

So Why ARE We So Small?

First, in BJJ you are a white belt for a looooooooooong time. The minimum time is 18 months. When people in other classes are blowing through the belt-rainbow faster than a Skittle commercial and we’re still sporting a white belt? Can be tough on the ego.

There is no “outside badge” of what we know.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Also, since we’re mostly on the floor grappling, there’s a lot of nuance outsiders don’t see. We aren’t doing the fancy kicks and things that look “cool.” And, bluntly, BJJ is a tough, tough, tough sport. It’s hard on the body because we mostly fight. BJJ is also something that is pretty much impossible to do alone. We can’t hone our skills with a punching bag. We must have others to practice with. Since we’re doing a lot of throwing and joint locks and wear no pads, injuries are commonplace. In two months I’ve broken my nose and two toes.

Just goes with the sport *shrugs*.

***And, for the record, all of my MAJOR injuries were NEVER in a dojo. Soccer, icy pavement, and evil coffee tables hurt me worse than any martial arts.

Last week, I fought the guy who broke my nose. He made a comment about being easy on me and I chastised him. If I wanted to go through life with no pain I’d take up scrapbooking and I sure as hell wouldn’t be a writer.

What BJJ and Writing Can Teach Us

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

This brings me to my point. I see a LOT of parallels in BJJ and us choosing to go pro as writers. BJJ is easier if we go into it understanding the realities of the sport. We set our expectations correctly. Too many newbies don’t, which is why they quit. They think they will be the special case, the person who’s only a white belt for a month or that they can compete without pain.

Same in writing. I’ve been guilty. I didn’t need craft books or classes. Ptht. *rolls eyes* When I wrote my first “novel” my biggest concern was how to choose an agent when all of them said yes and were fighting over my book. Talk about an awkward cocktail party. I so wish I were kidding. Yes, I was an idiot. Laugh at me. I do. The query letters agents make jokes about? That was ME.

At first I was discouraged in my writing career. I wanted to give up daily. The more I wrote, the more I was rejected, the dumber I felt. I believe much of this could have been avoided had I understood the realities of what it meant to go pro. Then my expectations would have been more reasonable.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

What to Expect

We WILL Be Tempted to Judge Ourselves by Outside Opinions

Like BJJ, most of us will be white belts a LONG, LONG time. What most people fail to appreciate is there is a massive disparity within “white belt writers.” In BJJ, a white belt who’s been in class for a month is NOT the same as one who’s been fighting/training for over a year. But bluntly, outsiders will all see the same color belt and, since they haven’t been on the mats, they can’t possibly understand.

Same in writing. A writer who’s just stepped out to attempt writing a novel is often regarded the same as a writer who’s been working hard for a year or two. Just like outsiders don’t understand that the process for gaining belts in BJJ is slooooow, regular people believe the second we finish a book, it should be shelved at B&N the very next week and on the NYTBS list by the end of the month.

They have NO concept how slow the process is for writing a novel and getting that book to market (even if we were freakish savants who wrote the World’s Perfect Book our first try). Often when we’re new, even WE don’t understand this.

Regular People: So, can I get your books at a bookstore? No?

Subtext: You aren’t a “real” writer.

This is why humility is such a vital trait in life, martial arts and writing. We need to be open to not knowing “everything” and seek help from those stronger and more seasoned. We also should give ourselves permission to be new, to be learning. We get too focused on the “belt” (getting published/selling lots of books) and that’s when depression sets in and we’re tempted to give up. It has to be about LOVE of the sport (writing) and less about the recognition if we have any hope of sticking to it long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Writing is ALL About Endurance, Tenacity, and SENSITIVITY

Grappling will test the limits of the human body. We spar 40-50 minutes straight with one-minute rest breaks for water. Then, the next round and the next….and the next. It’s why a lot of people quit. It’s hard work and nothing like TV or the movies ;) .

Same with writing. The Modern Author has A LOT of work ahead. Most people don’t “get” that we are going to write probably about a million words before we even know what we’re doing (then add in branding, business, social media and LIFE).

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***Btw, and if you happen to get a clue before the million words and are the exception, GO YOU. But if we go in knowing how hard this is, we’re less likely to be over-critical and give up. I know it took me at least a quarter million words to unstick my head out of my own butt.

Also, in BJJ, most people can’t see all we are balancing at the same time. Attacking, defending, calculating physics nonstop and at top speed; using hands feet, knees and mind all simultaneously. It’s a sport of strategy. It’s VITAL we learn to feel the body of the opponent, to anticipate the next move. It’s less about me and more about others.

Readers often don’t appreciate all the countless nuances of what we do, because if we’re any good, we MAKE it look easy. But we’re balancing character, plot, dialogue, subtext, symbol, description, etc. etc. Excellent writers focus on others. We feel the ebb and flow of the human condition and relax into the reality that what we do takes a lot of time in lonely places with no cheer squad.

The late David Eddings said it best and here is the extended quote:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.

“When you are with people, listen; don’t talk. Writers are boring people. What are you going to talk about so brilliantly? Typewriters? The construction of paragraphs? Shut your mouth and listen. Listen to the cadences of speech. Engrave the sound of language on your mind. Language is our medium, and the spoken language is the sharp cutting edge of our art. Make your people sound human. The most tedious story will leap into life if the reader can hear the human voices in it. The most brilliant and profound of stories will sink unnoticed if the characters talk like sticks.

“Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing at all. If hard and unrewarding work bothers you, do something else. If rejection withers your soul, do something else. If the work itself is not reward enough, stop wasting paper. But if you absolutely have to write–if you’re compelled to do it even without hope of reward or recognition–then I welcome you to our sorry, exalted fraternity.” (David Eddings R.I.P, Christchurch City Libraries Blog)

Master the BASICS

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Never underestimate the power of the SIMPLE. Mastery is only attained by achieving a sound foundation of fundamentals. Make them second nature. Basics are CRITICAL. When people are injured in BJJ, it’s often because they forgot basics.

Stay on the balls of your feet so you can maneuver. Relax. Roll into an attack and use the opposition’s momentum against them. Don’t post a leg where your opponent can grab it.

When I studied Jui-Jitsu, you know what we did the first two months? FALL. Over and over and over. That was it. Nothing fancy. But if you don’t know how to fall? That’s when bones get broken.

Many writers run to self-publish and they get popped because the BASICS are botched or even missing—POV, proper grammar, punctuation, dialogue, etc. Instead of starting with foundational stuff and building ART from there, they hurry or try to be “fancy”. Don’t. Basics are cool.

To make this point, here is a GREAT, GREAT laugh from my hero, Weird Al Yankovic…

What are your thoughts? Do you compare your progress too much with your peers? Do you find yourself rushing? Is it discouraging when outsiders act like you are some poseur because they haven’t seen your book as a movie yet? Do you go back to edit and realize you forgot to stay simple and harness the basics? It’s okay. Did you start out writing as clueless as I was? Then beat yourself up because you “failed”? Do you have a tough time celebrating the small victories?

It’s OKAY. I am guilty of ALL of these. This stuff doesn’t go away, it’s why vigilance is important. It’s also why I blog more about my failures than successes. I want you guys to see the REALITY of what we do, not some Photoshopped unreality.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

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

THIS SATURDAY!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

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

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

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

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

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

When Life Lands in the Blender

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

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

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

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

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

Learning I am NOT ALONE

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Control is an Illusion

SO ME!

SO ME!

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

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

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

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

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

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

People can help…ME?

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

BIG eye-opener.

Confessions of a Yoga Nazi

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

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

*me twitching*

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

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

Having a Good Cry

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Take Away

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

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

Quitting is easy. Anyone can do that.

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

Oh, and another storm will come eventually ;).

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

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

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

Peace is a decision, not a destination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

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

Announcements:

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

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

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

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Writer Victory!—Turn Over the Future & Focus on What We CAN Control

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

We’ve been working through an Author Acrostic the past few posts. Why? Because a zillion craft books and workshops can’t do it. We can be the most talented writer the world has ever seen, yet go to our graves with no one ever knowing our names. How? This job is as much about our hearts and minds as it is our hands. This profession is largely mental. We’re athletes of the mind. We have to train our will along with our skill.

V was for Voluntarily Submit. I was for Identify Problem Areas. C was for Change Your Mind.

Today, we are on T.

T is for—Turn Over the Future. As professionals, it is key to cast our care and keep our responsibilities. Too many writers waste valuable time on crap they can’t control, all the while ignoring what they CAN. It’s an easy snare, which is why ALL of us have to remain vigilant. Even me. Maybe especially me.

Social Media Snare

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

This might sound bizarre coming from the Social Media Jedi for Writers, but social media does NOT SELL BOOKS. When I say, “social media” I mean, the book spam, the promos, the ads, the impersonal fluff we’d luuuuv to automate, outsource or measure with an algorithm. This stuff doesn’t work. I’ve said this approach would’t work since MySpace was around (and time has redeemed me).

This is why I created the WANA method. WANA methods have sold hundreds of thousands of books, have launched unknowns into the record books. But WANA methods can’t be automated or outsourced (Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World). We have to turn over our future and trust that, if we plant love and grow relationships, then pair those relationships with a clear brand and excellent writing? Harvest will come.

This traditional marketing-advertising behavior is a dinosaur. It’s responsible for an abysmal .001% of reasons people decide to buy a book.

Recently, I heard mega-agent Donald Maass speak and he’s the one who gave the statistic above (not sure where he found it) but he said essentially what I’d blogged about only a couple weeks previously in my post Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales.

Social media is the human connection, and is taking the place of the traditional book signing. Book signings don’t sell books. Never did. BUT, they were the only place readers could come and get to know and connect with the author in a meaningful way. Book signings were the way to cultivate the long-term fans.

Social media now is a way we can easily do the same thing from home and all it costs is TIME. We can use social media to rise above the din in an age where discoverability is becoming a nightmare. Social media is far more effective than books signings because geography, status, and money are no longer limitations.

What Can the Pre-Published Author Control?

Virtually the same things we published ones can. Hone our craft. Write the book. Finish the book. Query. We can’t control getting an agent beyond the query (or networking). Even when we land an agent that doesn’t guarantee that agent can sell our work. Even if our work is sold and published, it might tank, or take off. We can’t tell.

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But, we can control writing more books and better books. In between, while taking a break? Build that platform.

The rest is trying to read chicken bones.

If we hope to be relevant in the Digital Age, then the question is not longer whether we will do social media, rather, how we will do it.

Look to those who are successful and who will remain successful. Look to Anne Rice. She’s on Facebook A LOT. Talking to her fans. Asking questions, sharing, discussing. Why? She’s an ICON! Exactly, and she is putting in the social sweat equity to remain that way. She understands the fans are EVERYTHING.

I was recently talking to Jonathan Maberry at a conference. This man practically lives on the NYTBS list. He turns out a novel every two and a half months and write columns, novellas, short stories and also is one of the lead writers for Marvel Comics. His novels have been optioned for Hollywood and his Rot & Ruin series is now being made into a television series.

He works an hour, then spends ten minutes on social media connecting.

Social media is something we can directly control. Sales? Forget it. I see so many authors running around like a wind-up toy. They check their algorithms and beat up stats on Amazon. They research another way to promote, send mailers, hunt for new and improved ways to do blog tours or hold contests. They futz with the price of their book more than Kim Kardashian posts selfies.

And the sales don’t budge.

Original image via NASA Blueshift courtesy of Flickr Commons

Original image via NASA Blueshift courtesy of Flickr Commons

Look to the Pros

Pros understand what they can control and focus there. They write. They finish. They ship. They study. They read. They know that cultivating an on-line community is key to relevance in The Digital Age. They also write more books instead of camping on top of ONE.

Pros know to start where you ARE.

Maberry didn’t always write full-time. He worked as a bouncer at a strip club and later as a bodyguard. He fit the writing in between crappy jobs because he knew a life getting beat up and stabbed was not his ideal career plan. James Rollins fit in writing after a long day working as a veterinarian. Tess Gerritsen began with a short story she wrote on maternity leave. Her next novels were penned while she was working as full-time doctor.

We will never have optimal working conditions. Accept that reality and this career will be far less frustrating. As I write this, I have a fever. I’m achy and miserable and would rather be in bed. But, I’m abysmally behind and I need work. While I am getting a cramp from kicking my own @$$, that isn’t very fruitful. I’ve dropped the ball, but I CAN pick it up and RUN.

It’s life :D .

I must remember to focus on what I can do NOW. In the present. What can I control? I can get my butt in my seat and do my job if I want to be like the legends I revere. Pros don’t worry and fret over how many Twitter followers they have or if the latest algorithm on Amazon is favorable to sales. They work. Hard. They work…smart ;) . They trust that incremental investments every day add up and that the future is uncertain. Cool thing is, we can do this too!

What are your thoughts?

I know when I am feeling like the world is crushing me, I am focusing too much on stuff that’s out of my hands. What about you? Do you drift into that territory? Do you often get overwhelmed and realize you’re spending too much time and worry on something you have no power to control? Does it feel better to know that it is okay to focus on the “little” things?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

 

 

 

 

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41 Comments

Writer Victory!—Identify Problem Areas

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Last post we talked about the first letter in our acrostic for VICTORY—voluntarily submit. I feel those of us in Western societies have a hard time with the word submit because we’ve redefined the word in a negative way. If we submit, we’re weak. Untrue! There is tremendous power in the act of submitting.

When we submit, we’re able to let go of what we can’t control. We’re more maneuverable when we encounter resistance, setbacks or criticism. Instead of breaking, we can bend and move and use negative energy in our favor.

Nature clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience submission offers. This is why palm trees thrive in coastal areas hit by hurricanes. They bend in high winds and submit. When the storm passes, they spring back.

Here in North Texas we have a lot of Live Oaks. Though oaks are tough trees, if one looks closer and studies the branches of Texas oaks, you’d see they aren’t straight. The branches curve and twist in a spiral. The bark itself has winding grooves ideal for diffusing the force of high winds from fierce storms.   

And this is why they can take the beating of Texas weather.

Running Toward the Fight

Today, I’d like to talk about I, which is for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t change what we don’t see or refuse to see. Now, most of us could all write a long list of where we fall short. This isn’t to make anyone feel badly. But, when we’re honest about areas we need to change, we can make a plan.

Camping on top of our problems isn’t the mark of a pro. It’s the self-indulgent Soma of the amateur.

Examine Our Motivations

Writing has been such a painful and personal journey for me that has gone far beyond craft of writing books. When I began writing, I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was a people-pleaser. I was insecure and had something to prove. I was selfish, angry, jealous, unteachable, hyper-critical of myself and others and undisciplined. I blamed others instead of taking responsibility.

Oh, if my family would just be more supportive THEN…

That’s crap.

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As long as my locus of control was external, I could relinquish my responsibilities. So long as it was my family who interrupted my writing, others who didn’t take me seriously, that I didn’t have a new computer or a private office in a condo with a view of the ocean, I had excuses to remain stuck. Well, I’d have made word count had Such-and-Such not interrupted me.

Writing is a unique profession. We don’t clock in and clock out. No Author Straw Boss will punish us for not writing. We don’t get stars on the fridge for working. Our craft is subjective so we can dismiss even valid criticisms and remain self-deluded if we choose.

Who Will Remain?

Many writers won’t make it long-term, and, sadly, this has nothing to do with talent or lack thereof. An author friend of mine and I were recently talking about how many writers and bloggers held such promise yet have vanished.

Five years later, they’re gone and we’re still here.

When I go to a conference I know most won’t make it. It reminds me of a scene from the movie G.I. Jane. The troops are lined up and shown a bell. They can leave at any time, just ring the bell and a soft bed, warm meal and rest is at the other end.

Image via www.freerepublic.com

Image via Free Republic.

Who will ring the bell? Will it be you? Look to your left. Look to your right. Most of you won’t be here by the end. Who will ring out first?

My husband was in Special Operations. He can attest that often the strongest, boldest and loudest are the first to go. Training is far more mental than physical. It’s about strength of will, courage, and relentless pursuit that defies logic. Passion that defies reason.

The Crucible

Want to see who a person really is? Who you really are? Turn up the heat.

Writers who want to succeed welcome the fire. In the beginning, I didn’t welcome the fire. I avoided, defected, blamed and whined…and didn’t have anything but a pile of flimsy excuses and half-finished projects to show for all my exertions.

Making excuses can be exhausting.

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

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

I knew I was a mess. I learned to appreciate that I couldn’t tackle all my defects at one time. My first step? Finish something. My first novel is a disaster…but for the first time in my life, I FINISHED.

Blogging was tremendously helpful for me. I learned to meet self-imposed deadlines even when no one other than Cheap Xanax dot com cared about my posts. I learned to ship. It trained the perfectionism and laziness out of me.

Then, instead of hiding in the comfort of my writing group where I was the strongest writer among a bunch of other unpublished authors, I sought out conferences and groups with pros. Boy, that humbled me up with a quickness. I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I was hiding behind “Aspiring Author” waiting for the world to take me seriously when even I didn’t take myself seriously. I hid behind a cutesy moniker texaswriterchik. I wrote when I “felt inspired.” Every new idea that flitted across my gray matter was an excuse to drop my WIP and pursue a new shiny.

Oh, well no I’m not working on THAT book. It wasn’t “right” for me.

Claiming the profession is inviting the heat. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. Many of you know I prefer the term pre-published author. Why? We’re owning it. We are welcoming the crucible. Writers write. Those who want to do this for a career know there are a lot of un-fun activities that go with the job.

We work when others play. If we have a day job, we have to stay up later or get up earlier. We don’t find time, we make time.

When we are flailing and faltering, instead of whining, we must stop and ask the hard question.

What Am I Afraid Of?

Am I afraid of failure? I never finish anything because then I can’t truly fail. Am I afraid of success? If my book is a hit, can I write another one? A better one? Will I outshine Dad, Mom, Aunt Penelope?

Am I afraid I really don’t have any talent? I keep switching projects, genres, ideas because deep down I fear that I’m a hack?

I’d like to offer a quote from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death (page 39).

Keep Asking

Thing about life is it can be a game of Character Whack-A-Mole. Just about the time we get the self-discipline thing down, perfectionism pops up. Then we whack that sucker only to see we’re getting sucked into too much family drama and using that as an excuse. Whack! Then we pop that sucker on the snoot and something else pops up.

It’s life.

This is why we began this series with voluntarily submit. Writing and life is a process. It is never static. Our job is to maintain vigilance and be honest even when it hurts. The quicker we can come to that point of painful truth, the quicker we can shut down self-doubt, criticism, or fear. We can be proactive and root it out before it spreads.

I believe in you, so there is at least on person on your side. I don’t dish out anything I don’t eat first.

We’ve had a HELL of a year. Four deaths in ten months. Sickness, problems, family issues. I became deeply distraught and sidetracked until I realized I was allowing myself to become too caught up in things I COULD NOT control as an excuse for avoiding what I could.

So don’t feel badly. This is life. Focus on your love and passion, but also be fearless with yourself. We all procrastinate, make excuses, hide, or deflect. We are human. A pro takes problems seriously, the amateur takes them personally.

Dust off, wipe away the blood and get back to it. This is why we will remain when others fall away. Refuse to ring that bell and keep pressing!

What are your thoughts? Has writing helped you grow as a person? Do you run into problems and then realize it’s really something you FEAR? Do you face self-doubt? I do too if it makes you feel better :D.

I love hearing from you!

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

April’s WINNER is Patricia Woods. Please send your 20 pages (5000 word WORD document), query letter (250-300 word Word document) OR synopsis (Up to 1000 word WORD document) to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

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

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