Truth, Lies & Social Media

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We live in a wonderful world. We are connected more than ever. Through Facebook, I’ve connected with friends and family that I couldn’t even FIND before 2005 without hiring a P.I. Through this blog, I am able to help authors all over the world and that is wonderful. I’m able to keep up with all kinds of news and world events and be a better citizen.

But all this technology has a steep price and we are wise to remain vigilant. Lately some things have me really overwhelmed (verklempt) so let’s chat.

Tawk amongst yuhselves. Just do what Barbara does….

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Social media sites like Facebook now keep us abreast of all the horrible happenings in the world. In a way this is good. In the “old days” news and opinions were filtered through media gatekeepers. And sure, news is supposed to be unbiased, but so long as humans are relaying the news, that ain’t ever going to happen.

Thus, social media does bring attention to problems that might have been missed by the mainstream media. I support freedom of speech (even for those I don’t agree with), but I would like to talk about what information we are sharing. And, yeah, yeah, I am opening a can of worms, but someone has to do it…

The “Truth” About Statistics

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I have a degree in Political Science. Few things will ruin you more than taking a class on Political Statistics. Just let me tell you Mark Twain was right when he said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Put this way, I can make a poll or study say anything I want. All I have to do is:

Change the wording of questions, the number of questions, the order of questions. Adjust the time the poll or surveys is taken or the place. Adjust the number of people surveyed. Adjust the pool of people surveyed. Adjust the definitions.

For instance, (and forgive me for relying on memory here so this is just an anecdotal example) when I was taking a Women in Politics class, there was a survey at a California university that came to the conclusion that over 90% of women had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by the time they reached 25. Of course, when one peeled back the survey, those conducting this research defined sexual assault very broadly to “any unwanted advance” which included any unwanted hug, shoulder/arm touch, compliment or comment.

Under that definition? How 10% of women escaped “being repeatedly sexually assaulted” is nothing short of miraculous.

Of course, one can get an idea of how “accurate” the poll is by looking at the fine print as to how the “study” was conducted, but how many people actually do that? How many people know to do that?

Thus, when stuff gets passed around on social media claiming that” 75% of all people who licked frogs later used heroin and thus frogs are clearly a gateway drug that should be stopped”…I stop to think it through before sharing.

BAN FROGS!

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Keep in mind that there will always be a study to counter another study. The same American Heart Association that told us I Can’t Believe It Ever Came From Nature was the cure for heart disease now has studies that led to removing those exact same trans-fats from the shelves.

So take “studies” and “polls” with a grain of salt (or salt-substitute).

Lack of Info in Info-Graphics

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Info-graphics make me twitch, namely because most of the time they are grossly misleading, have an agenda and are often inaccurate. More often than not, the only purpose they serve is to tick people off and make them emotional.

For instance, there was some info-graphic comparing the number of people killed by police in the U.K. versus the U.S. All right. Problem was, it used a whole number and not a per capita percentage. Thus, when people get a look, they go, “OMG! American police are so AWFUL! Why can’t they be like the U.K.?” How many take time to go?

“Um, wait a minute. We aren’t comparing equal things.”

This info-graphic was like comparing the number of car accident fatalities in Montana to Los Angeles.

OMG! Los Angeles is murdering people with CARS!

Or….

They have a lot more people driving a lot more cars. Los Angeles has a far higher population density. This is akin to comparing the number of deaths by bear attacks in Canada with those in Mexico.

Mexico clearly handles bear attacks way better than those “polite” Canadians because there are NO bear attacks in Mexico. What is Canada HIDING? 

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Thus, anything that uses a whole number to compare X to Y? Be wary.

Yellow Journalism

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As a blogger, I love that I don’t have to query gatekeepers to express an opinion. Problem is, I don’t have to query gatekeepers to express an opinion. This means I can say whatever I want and pretty much be immune from the rigorous fact-checking standards traditional journalists are held to.

What bugs me is there are all kinds of sites that use “journalistic titles” to seem like they are legit, when all they are doing is spreading propaganda bunk. Our job is to use those critical thinking skills to call foul. Often these sites will post “articles” on emotional events (namely because they get paid for advertising and every click-through is a ka-ching!).

I don’t care for these sites at all, even those who might be people I agree with ideologically. The reason is that when we read a blogger, we know we are getting an op ed piece. When a site puts “news” or “journal” or something similar in the title, this is misrepresentation.

This is a long way to say, “Consider the source” ;) . Remember, we are the new Gatekeepers.

False Logic

One tool I see passed around social media is the False Logic to rile people up. I’ve grown up in the Bible Belt and wasn’t allowed to play with other kids because we watched Scooby Doo and wore pants and that was proof we were bound for hell.

Yeah, whatever. Different strokes for different folks.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to Baylor University even though they had a premium debate team (and debate was my thing) was because it is a Baptist university. Being a Baptist University (and a PRIVATE university) they didn’t allow dancing and required females wear skirts, which they have a right to do.

Guess what? I like to dance. I also hate skirts…namely because my thighs rub together. In that case, I didn’t have to GO there. I went to…*GASP* another college.

Last week, I saw all these stories passed around because a school sent a 5 year-old home for wearing a dress that showed her shoulders. At first glance? OMG! Religious HATERS. Slut-shaming a CHILD!

Here’s the thing, the parents were likely given a dress code at the beginning of the year. FOLLOW THE DRESS CODE. It is simple. If you don’t like it? Challenge it, change schools or homeschool. And I don’t care that your kid “wore it to church and the church had no problem with her showing her shoulders” because that church likely…had a different dress code.

I also don’t care that there were no “male-specific” rules that were similar. When it becomes chic for boys to wear tube tops, I’m sure that will be addressed in the code and you completely missed the point. Follow the RULES.

Also, the school might not be shaming your girls, they might just be concerned that if she plays on the monkey bars, a dress like that might just come OFF and, while she might nail that dismount from the monkey bars, she might also be missing her dress and standing there in nothing but sneakers and Wonder Woman panties.

…which happened to me in third grade and I still carry the hurt.

I’m really not that motivated to rally behind people who can’t follow basic instructions.

Sometimes stories really aren’t political. Really.

Ad Hominem Attacks

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I don’t like any kind of blanket personal attack. That is my personal purview. I think that when we resort to name-calling and personal attacks, what we are essentially saying is that we are insecure with our belief/position and that we need to resort to bullying to make a point.

Memes love to lump all kinds of groups together to promote an agenda and use false syllogisms to make a point.

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Fact: There were (are) Christian members of the KKK.

Fact: The KKK is a race hate group who used/uses domestic terrorism for their agenda.

Meme: Christians are KKK members who are domestic terrorists and racists.

*brakes screech*

Huh?

Though I am wholly against censorship of any kind, we do need to be vigilant about idiocy because it can spread. We had a saying in sales: Say it once, say it twice, say it three times, say it four times and they will believe.

Maybe we don’t want to call out idiocy logical fallacies when we see them, but we can at least think before spreading them.

This said, I am a writer. I believe there are no sacred cows.

Freedom to Joke/Criticize

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

I blogged about this a while back The Disease of Self-Importance, but here is a refresher to the point.

In the days when monarchies were all the rage, there was one very powerful position some might not be aware of…the court jester. Every ruler had at least one jester and the jester was allowed to mock, poke fun and joke about those in power without repercussions.

The role of the jester was to offer honesty and perspective. Monarchs knew that being surrounded by too many Yes Men who feared reprisal was unwise and dangerous. The jester’s job was to ground rulers and keep them from getting too full of themselves.

I’ve been blessed to do a lot of traveling and not all my destinations were nice places. I can honestly say, show me a country that cannot joke or criticize and I will show you a police state. Trust me. In Syria? You don’t joke. It’s a good way to disappear and have your family disappear as well.

When any leader, idea, religion, government is above being lampooned? That’s dangerous ground. I am not particularly fond of all the flamboyant ways the writers of Southpark kill off Jesus, but no faith is a sacred cow. Not even mine. Granted, I have the right to be upset, to blog, to express an opinion, to vote, to use my purchasing power to influence, but stringing people up for blasphemy is a treacherous slippery slope.

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We should not shelter one belief over another. At least in my country, I think you have the right to believe in whatever you want and will defend your right to do so. Want to dress in track suits and worship a comet that’s “really a spaceship”? Go ahead. But I also have the right to question, disagree with or even make fun of that ;) .

With Great Power…

…comes great responsibility. Social media is a wonderful tool, but like all tools, it is a tool. The tool alone is inert. How we wield it is all up to us. I know all of you guys are passionate and have beliefs and I support that. But I will say it is also easy to get depressed and overwhelmed on social media. A good dose of critical thinking, however, can counter some of the effects.

And, sometimes? We just need to scroll on by. We cannot be passionate about everything equally. Remember, we are not the Jackass Whisperer. Jerks and bullies really have no intention of engaging in a thoughtful debate or even changing their positions…so just move on.

You will thank me later.

Social Media is SOCIAL

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At the end of the day, social media is social. If we wouldn’t rant about politics, sex and religion at the workplace or a cocktail party? Why on Facebook? If we’d check out facts in life before spreading something, why not on-line? If we wouldn’t call people names in person, why on social media?

In life, there are consequences for being a jerk. Same on social media. Be passionate, care, change the world! I hope you do. But in the meantime? I hope to carry the torch of critical thinking, common sense and basic kindness. Someone has to set the example, might as well be the writers.

What are your thoughts? And feel free to disagree, I only ask that we be civil/respectful. Do the info-graphics make you cray-cray? Do you often avoid social media or unfollow people because it gives you a stress headache? What litmus test do you apply to information before “ingesting”?

Do you think the world is really that more of a crappy place than it was 20 years ago or is it because every time a dictator farts, we hear about it on Facebook? Do you get overwhelmed by all the things you should CARE about? Do you find yourself becoming more desensitized?

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! Stan R. Mitchell. Please send your 5000 word Word document in an attachment to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations!

Will announce the Dojo Diva winner on next post.

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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90 Comments

Persistence Prevails When All Else Fails—Being an Outlaster

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Monday we talked about The DIP, so it seemed like a good idea to talk about being an OUTLASTER. I had years of honing this skill. Some of you may not know, but I dropped out of high school twice. 

***Note: I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws :D .

Returning to high school and graduating at 19 was seriously humbling. My GPA was so low, my classes (very literally) were one step above Special Ed. When I took my SAT, the scores were so bad, I thought they might check me for a pulse.

Really glad they gave me some points for spelling my name correctly, LOL.

After a year and a half of junior college I won an Air Force scholarship to TCU to become a doctor. Six months in, the school didn’t close when we had a bad ice storm and I slipped and fractured my back…losing my scholarship.

This was before the days when places were required to have handicap access, so for two semesters, I trudged up stairs on a cane and had to stand during all my classes because I couldn’t sit.

Not awkward at all.

It took me six years of working crap jobs, but I finished. Maybe not with the best grades, but I finished. In the years that followed, I drifted without purpose working sales and I got in a really bad habit of making way too many excuses and quitting when anything got too hard. It took yet another health disaster to show me my poor character in Technicolor and remind me to become a finisher.

It was time to refresh my mind and learn to be an Outlaster (thanks to minister and speaker Craig Groeschel for this term!).

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We all have heard the saying, “DaVinci had the same 7 days and 24 hours.” I would actually make a different point. Folks like DaVinci, Mozart, Shakespeare actually had LESS time.

There was no electric lighting and pulling all-nighters was a good way to go blind by candlelight. Thus, I’d say the difference is that these artists lived intentionally.

We all want to know the secret to “success.” First of all, I am going to add a caveat. “Success” is a very personal thing. What is “success” for you isn’t “success” for me. Yet, study after study shows that people who write down their goals are far more likely to reach them.

Why?

We have forced our minds to have a Mission Statement and our subconscious will use that to guide us. That is where the cool dreams and great ideas are born. Also, we are far more likely to recognize opportunity when we see it.

Living intentionally is vital because it allows us what I believe is one of the HUGE keys to reaching our dreams—learning to be an OUTLASTER.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

We can take craft classes, join a gym, type on the WIP, start a blog, but the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is that those who make it KEPT GOING, even if it was just a tiny bit of effort daily.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

Blogging & Writing

When I started blogging, I was THRILLED to have 20 visits a day. Granted, most were spam bots, but hey! They counted, RIGHT? One of my close writing friends and I were talking about how many people used to blog regularly 6 years ago and almost all of them are no longer blogging.

Blogging is crucial for a brand and selling books. It is the strongest and most resilient form of social media, yet most people give up.

I also have noticed how many people were super passionate about writing, would do ANYTHING to publish and write full-time. Now? Most are gone. New people filled with the wonder and dreams have taken their place, but how long will they last?

***Refer to What Are the REAL Odds of Being a Successful Author?

Here’s the thing. Starting is easy (okay, “easier”). It is fresh and wonderful and emotional. Starting is CRUCIAL. There might even be all kinds of people to cheer you on.

But how will you fare when the new wears off and those who pledged undying support and loyalty move on to a new shiny because we weren’t an overnight success?

The key to making it in ANYTHING from writing to business to marriage to losing weight is to become an OUTLASTER.

Traits of an Outlaster

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Outlasters have clear and achievable goals.

Notice I didn’t say realistic goals. Reach for the stars and we may hit the moon. BUT, my goal to be a NYTBSA is realistic because I am a writer. If I have a goal to become a high-fashion model? Um, at a fluffy 5’3″ and 41 years old? Uh…NO.

Outlasters write down goals and have CLEAR Mission Statements.

The Mission Statement keeps us focused. We learn where to say yes and where and when to say no.

If my goal is to become a NYTBSA in the next five years, I know it is unwise to volunteer for every church event, school event, and family drama need. It becomes clear that I need to set word count based off MY goals. My word count will be very different if I want to write ONE book a year versus THREE.

Outlasters understand the power of letting go.

Yes, Outlasters MUST hold on, hold on for LIFE! But to the right things.

Often letting go is more important than holding fast. This can involve letting go of hobbies, hangups and habits or even WIPs that just need to be put to bed. But the toughest? Letting go of people.

The best analogy I can think of for this is climbing Everest. If we want to climb Everest, there are teams of sherpas that guide you to the first base camp. As you go to each higher level, the team gets smaller and this is necessary.

Not everyone in our life is meant for the summit. Some could even get us killed.

I’ve had some SERIOUS issues with this. A writer I spent many years mentoring was caught on-line wholesale plagiarizing, and giving ME credit for his WONDERFUL work. This was a HARD blow to my brand and thank goodness kind people sided with me and realized HIS inexcusable behavior didn’t reflect MY character.

But, my brand was far smaller at the time. What if this happened later, when the damage could have been catastrophic? Sometimes the only thing we can be grateful for amidst the pain is TIMING.

We will mourn people we need to let go of, but often this is a good thing. We want the friends who believe in us even when all outside evidence says we are a failure. We never know who our real friends are when life is all kittens and unicorns. We find them (and they reach for us) in the darkness.

Outlasters WORK 

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Luck is fabulous and would LUV me some luck. But I still believe the harder I work, the luckier I get. This said, working smarter is key. Feel free to make all your clothes by hand, but running to Target for new t-shirts might be a better use of time if your goal is to be a pro writer instead of a clothing designer.

There are no shortcuts. We MUST endure. And endurance can be small. It can mean we are so ill we can’t see straight, but we post a couple things on Facebook or ask a friend to guest blog…then go back to sleep. It is the small deposits and investments that accumulate over time.

But we write that book, remove that debt, lose that weight little by little. That’s what endures. Fad diets and quick fixes don’t change our character. Just like eating well and exercise should be a lifestyle, being a writer is a WHOLE new way of living. It isn’t a hobby or a thing or our little fun…it is who we ARE. Writers WRITE.

Outlasters Understand the Long-Tail

If we look at life day by day we will get discouraged. It’s kind of like going back to the gym and then getting on the scale every hour to see what’s changed. Formula for a breakdown. Outlasters just keep writing, keep failing, keep learning, keep trying and they do it over and over and over and over.

Outlasters CANNOT Succeed Alone

Part of why I created the W.A.N.A. Community is that we are who we hang around. Show me your closest friends and I’ll show you your future. We need a team, especially in The Digital Age. There is simply too much to learn or know.

***Find or create a team over at W.A.N.A.Tribe, which is a social network I built just for you guys. All writers in ONE spot.

Too many predators who see dollar signs over the newbie writer’s head. Conversely, there are a LOT of great people in the industry and your connections can save you time and guide you.

Find positive, professional, driven people and you WILL come up higher. Psychic vampires, whiners and complainers need to GO. Take inventory and seek out those you admire. Study them. Listen and learn from them. This is a tough road, but no one ever said we had to do it alone.

We all fall, bump our noses and bloody our knees. That is GOOD. Keep pressing. You got this ;) .

So what are your plans for the rest of 2015? Are you working on valuing baby steps? Reframing setbacks? Letting go of bad habits or toxic people? Any tips you might want to offer?

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 better odds of winning, the same contest is running at my new Dojo Diva blog where we are talking some more about The Dip. This is a separately drawn contest, so there is a far higher chance of winning the critique.

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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78 Comments

Dip Happens—What Do We DO When Nothing Seems To Change?

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Often I blog about things I am going through. Sometimes just writing things down, sketching out a plan of action, recalibrating MY perspective helps a lot. Hey, if nothing else, I have a blog post :D .

Lately, I’ve been in what Seth Godin calls…The DIP. In fact, I am even talking about The Dip over on my Dojo Diva blog for those who want more (and also a better chance of winning my 20 Page Death Star Critique).

*dangles carrot*

What is THE DIP? The Dip is that span of suck before the breakthrough. The Dip is where character develops, where dreams grow, where WE grow. Bad news is this is also the place where most people give up.

I’d love to say I’ve never given up when faced with a particularly tenacious Dip, but I am a terrible liar. Dips are tough. Why are Dips so hard?

Dips Come Out of Nowhere

We are zooming along and then it is as if an invisible force field comes out of nowhere. Maybe you started eating healthy and were losing weight steadily. Then…nothing. Another week? Nothing. Another week, I gained three pounds? WTH? And another and another and pretty soon, why bother?

A little story…

Before I got pregnant, I was 130 pounds and a Size 2. When I was pregnant, I did two-a-days the entire time I was pregnant. I did step aerobics in the morning (which was nothing short of comedic when I was almost 10 months in) and swam a mile a day, six days a week even though I felt like I should be a show at Sea World. The night they induced me, I stopped at the gym and did an hour workout before Hubby took me to the hospital.

Eleven days after having The Spawn, I was back in the gym. I’d get up for the 3:30 a.m. feeding then go to the 24-hour gym.

For the most part, I have still kept a strict diet and exercise regimen.

These days I do 6-8 hours of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a week…and am STILL a size 10-12. No matter how disciplined I am, it doesn’t seem to want to show on the outside. We go to restaurants and I watch people eat onion rings and fried cheese and have dessert while I am GF, dairy-free, low-carb, soy-free, no sugar, etc. etc. I drink water, not soda. And yet?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

This is the first main problem with The Dip. Sometimes, we can’t figure out why it is there or worse…why it won’t GO AWAY. After blood panels and doctors and experts, they all agree. I am the picture of health, but am overweight.

No kidding.

We might be doing something GREAT that shows nothing on the outside. Granted, I might be a fluffy size 10-12 for the rest of my life. I have amazing flexibility, can run for miles, can outfight and outlast teenagers and my heart and insides are amazing.

Funny, though. I rarely think of my shining cholesterol levels when I have to shrug into Spanx.

I wonder how many calories we burn trying to put on Spanx?

The next problem with The Dip is there are often others who will rub salt in the wound that we are IN The Dip.

On Saturday, I went for an hour of rigorous BJJ training, ran home, cleaned up then attended a 2.5 hour Judo workshop that I paid for. I was feeling pretty good about myself until…

I was in the middle of learning a new throw and could tell I wasn’t pivoting my weight the correct direction. Sure I was throwing my sparring partner, but I was landing in the wrong spot. The teacher comes over and tells me I am doing it all wrong.

Okay, I KNEW that.

But then, he tells me that I need to work out more. That the reason I can’t do the throw is that my legs are weak and then says, “Have you thought about going to a gym? Maybe trying some squats?”

*suppresses urge to stab him in the face*

He corrects my posture and the next throw I did? I nailed it. He probably could tell from the look on my face that I might have been envisioning him.

*growls*

Of course, Judo is all about physics, not about strength. I didn’t point that out. I also didn’t point out that the rest of the attendees had slept in while I was one of the handful who came to the early morning class anyway (even when I knew there were 2.5 hours of additional training ahead). I also didn’t point out what should have been obvious. I was the only older female in the workshop and if the sport wanted to attract more like me? Insinuating we are out of shape is a bad plan.

After the Judo workshop, we had a family day at the zoo and all I wanted was to throw in the towel and eat all I have denied myself for a decade…in ONE day.

I know you guys probably have no idea what I am talking about ;) .

The Dip is REALLY common in writing. You are working on a novel and it is going great and then? You get stuck. You KNOW you are stuck. Maybe you can’t even figure out WHY you are stuck. Then, when you are about to tap out for good and OD on brownies, someone in your life is there to point out that “Maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough…”

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Yeah, because we didn’t already think of that.

Some Important Things to Know About Dips

First of all, people who don’t attempt anything remarkable, never have Dips. Thus, if we are experiencing Dips, it means we are still pressing for something better. The only way to get out of ever dealing with Dips is to just drift along on the tides of mediocrity and ambivalence. Don’t know about you guys, but I can’t do that. This means I have to take my own advice and Suck it up, Buttercup.

The second thing is that we can more painfully feel Dips when we get our focus on the wrong things. If we stare at Dips we get intimidated. This is partly why I refuse to get on a scale. I found myself obsessing too much. Yes, I would love to trim down and get into my “skinny” clothes, but is that my only objective behind eating and living healthy?

Groceries at our house.

Groceries at our house.

I am extremely fit. Working out helps me release stress. I look far younger than peers because I am healthy. My family is all involved working out together. Spawn  learned to walk in the gym nursery. Now? We do martial arts SIX days a week together. Spawn has been sick ONE TIME in his entire life because I cook super healthy foods. He has to be told to stop eating so many vegetables and eat some protein.

Am I willing to abandon ALL those other benefits because ONE objective—trimming down in size—refuses to cooperate?

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Same with writing. For years I blogged to The Great Nothing. At first, I did it to get “views” but after a year and a half of blogging to the male-enhancement bots, I got seriously discouraged.

Since I’d invested too much to give up, I decided to focus instead on ALL the benefits of blogging that had nothing to do with outside approval.

I learned to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner. I learned to eat deadlines for breakfast. I became a better writer because I was TRAINING. I learned to be self-motivated and self-disciplined. Granted, even if NO ONE ever cared about my blog, these traits would serve me well in other areas.

Of course, eventually, when I got my eyes off the numbers and focused on what I COULD control, THIS happened. Can anyone see THAT DIP? When I finally busted past it?

Kristen's Blog Stats Circa 2013

Kristen’s Blog DIP

Dip Happens

The last things we need to appreciate about Dips is that they are not permanent but yet they are. 

One Dip alone is not permanent, but The State of Dippery is. Yes, DIPPERY. It is a word :P . Unless we give up, we will face more Dips and bigger and longer Dips.

For instance, as writers, a common first Dip is to finish the book. YAY! Then the next Dip. Getting published. Oh, if I could just be published, THEN I’d be happy. We get published and the next Dip is BOOK SALES. Then there is the next book and the next…and you guys get the point.

I’m not here to discourage you, but we cannot exist in a permanent state of happiness and satisfaction. It is a brief moment of sun and then? Back to work. Anyone who promises us a Dip-Free life is lying and probably selling something…like DRUGS.

Dip Therapy

Dips suck. They are long and painful and necessary. Dips weed out the uncommitted. Many people will give up on something remarkable because there is no instant payoff. Can we still LOVE writing when there is no outside evidence we are going to gain? Can we still keep eating healthy and exercising even if we never get to wear skinny jeans?

NO! Wait, okay fine *rolls eyes* I’ll keep pressing *grumbles*.

Dips make us value what we EARN. One of the reasons I get frustrated with our Everyone is a Winner Society is that is dilutes the genuine feelings of authentic achievement. A black belt is only valuable when it took years of sacrifice (busting past Dips) to earn it.

Dips train us for the mentality of the successful. Often others see what we have. They don’t see what we gave up to get it. And that is the reality of things. Successful people “get” Dips while others give up. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that most of the successful writers I know aren’t necessarily all that more talented, but they are far more tenacious.

When we face Dips, outside circumstances may never change, but we will.

Dips teach us to ignore outside opinions. Where would I have been had I listened to all the people who told me blogging was dead and that it was impossible to be a successful writer? We can choose to take that pushback as an excuse to quit or fire to fuel us forward.

Yes, I am frustrated with a LOT of Dips in my life, namely the “weight thing.” But am I going to let one outside jerk opinion derail me?

No. And the reason is that I have had extensive and intensive Dip Training ;) .

Tips for Busting Through the Dips

Remember the WHYs. Why are you doing whatever? Why are you correcting your kids when it feels like you just repeat yourself a million times? Why are you eating healthy? Why are you writing that novel? Focus on the why. If we write books simply to become millionaires? Could happen, but burnout probably more likely. Instead, focus on how much you LOVE writing. How much you LOVE your kids. How much you LOVE feeling good because you drank water instead of a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke.

Baby steps ARE steps. Never underestimate the value of simply showing up. Every sentence is one step closer to a finished book. Small actions over time DO add up.

Remember “Dip Happens.” 

If we know that Dips are inevitable, we are more mentally prepared for the challenge. It is more a sign we are doing something right than a great cosmic plot against our happiness.

I hope you guys feel more encouraged. Remember that the summit is only that beautiful because of the climb.

What are your thoughts? Have you been in some Dips lately? Are you feeling like it will never END? Did you know that this was natural? If not, do you feel a little better about being stuck? Do you have those around you rubbing in that you are in a Dip? Have you ever made it past some particularly tenacious Dip and are better for it? What was it? Share your story! We need the encouragement!

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 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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75 Comments

Parent-Shaming & Mom-Shaming—Has Our Culture of Guilt Gotten Out of CONTROL?

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

It has been a weird couple of months. We had our family business move and then Spawn (my 5 year old) was REALLY ill back in March. Ill to the point of a middle of the night ER visit. Hubby and I didn’t sleep for over a month. And now, I am trying to get back in the groove and I just don’t want to.

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I don’t want to be a grownup. I want to color and make a blanket fort. And YES I feel guilty for being a horrible wife and a bad mother.

On some level, I believe all women struggle with guilt, and, when we become mothers, I think the condition only worsens. I was a very different person before I married and had my son. I was always dressed impeccably, had my hair done once a month, and never missed a pedicure or manicure. I knew I’d worked very hard and believed I’d earned these simple indulgences.

In short, I thought like a man.

Trust me when I say my husband does not feel guilty about relaxing in front of the TV when there is a sink full of dirty dishes. Rare is the man who puts aside getting himself dressed until he’s fully satisfied his toddler’s clothes all match. Most of the time, my husband isn’t even bothered if the Spawn’s clothes even fit. And that is an awesome talent and I’m jealous because I know I am being neurotic.

Just an aside…

I have NO idea how my husband does this. I regularly cull through The Spawn’s clothes and pull out what is out of season or no longer fits. When I would delegate “dressing The Spawn” to Hubby, he somehow managed to dress our toddler in the ONE 18 mo shirt I missed and swim trunks…for church. I love my husband, and have THE BEST husband in the world, but seriously????

Mommy! I'm ready for picture day!

Mommy! I’m ready for Sunday school!

Believe me when I say that “clothes not fitting/matching” DOES NOT BOTHER A MAN. Neither do a handful of other things…

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When Mommy makes dinner….

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When Daddy makes dinner…

Anyway…

***By the way, Men. I am NOT picking on you at all. I am seriously, seriously envious. Your focus is the kid having some FUN, not worrying is his outfit is trendy and that the other dads might “judge” you.

I recall, years ago, being a bit judgy when I’d see some frazzled mom, her hair (much in need of a dye job) pulled back in a scrunchee. I’d think, Good grief. Yoga pants and stained t-shirt? Does this woman even TRY? Her kids aren’t even wearing clothes that match. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Be careful how you judge, and, as my mother warns…NEVER WONDER.

I Deserved It

I look back at the way I used to judge struggling moms and I now know that I deserve this. I recall thinking, She’s married. Why doesn’t she just get her husband to dress the kids while she does something with THAT HAIR?

Now I know. I didn’t listen to Mom.

I wondered.

NOW I know that this mom probably did delegate. She probably managed to get her hair in a scrunchee just as she caught sight of her husband dressing their kids for church in their bathing trunks and part of their Halloween costumes. This mom then likely stopped doing her hair to intervene and at least get the kids in regular clothes.

Actually, this mother likely would have even had her child’s clothes all matching, but she forgot to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. Why did she forget? Because she heard the crash from her toddler unsuccessfully trying to scale the cat’s scratching post. And, by the time she stopped the bleeding, she’d long forgotten about the clothes…and this is why she is in yoga pants and the kids are still wearing their Halloween costumes…in MARCH!!! So just back the hell off!

Look at ME!

Mommy! Look at what I did!

The Guilt

I never feel like I am doing enough. Though I practically live in an apron, I can’t seem to ever feel caught up. My house isn’t clean enough, and I don’t read for an hour a day to my child and teach him Italian and art appreciation.

Then we have the magazines full of starlets posing in bikinis three days after they give birth. Despite the fact that I do 6-8 hours of grueling Brazilian Jiu Jitsu per week and eat gluten-free, dairy-free, almost carb-free, I still can’t even wear my pregnancy pants. At a size ten, it is easy to feel like a lazy slacker because I’m not a size 0.

When did 0 become a SIZE?

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I need to get the gym more *scribbles on list.*

Regular Guilt is Bad Enough

Okay, I admit that I need to work on the guilt thing. I should be able to wear makeup without thinking that those 15 minutes would be better served sorting the recycling.

Crap! I threw away that jelly jar in the REGULAR trash. I’m destroying the planet! Worse, I am teaching The Spawn that it is OKAY TO DESTROY THE PLANET!

Most women (okay, maybe just me) already feel like we are not doing enough. If we have a choice of a day at a spa or a day baking for the church or school, donating stuff from the garage to the needy, or volunteering to shuttle Great-Great-Great-Aunt Thelma who’s 97 to CVS for discount butt cream, you can count on us for the cheapest butt cream in town.

Walmart will price match.

The JUDGEMENT

The world is a REALLY different place. I know men face their own unique challenges, but I don’t think they experience near the same amount of parent-shaming.

Now that Spawn is five, I feel at such a loss. We have a little boy who lives across the street who is a year older. When I was a kid, if there had been another kid within bike-riding distance, we would have been BFFs.

But, no. They aren’t.

Me: Hey, can your kiddo come over and play? I got Spawn some new NERF zombie guns.

Other Mom: Sure! Wait, my kid has tutoring and then guitar lessons and then we go to karate. But the free hour before he attends Kid Yoga he needs to study his French vocabulary words. We’re getting him ready for Child Entrepreneur Camp where he will learn to build a business. Oh, and ride horses. He’s going with his friends Jackson, Madson, Grayson and Harrison. They met at Kid Chef School making allergen-free puff pastries…

Me: Nice. Um, does your boy like to roller-skate? 

Other Mom: He knows how to, but hockey lessons don’t start for a few months. Been using his off time to catch up on my reading. I’ve been reading all these books on alternative educational theories. Have you read that last one by Dr. Snooty Pants who never had a kid but feels comfortable judging? Why Your Child Will Kill You in Your Sleep for the Insurance Money if You Don’t Stimulate Enough Creativity?

It’s a best-seller. We read it in my book club.

Me: I missed that one.

Other Mom: It is so fascinating. We love all the exercises in the companion workbook. Rebirthing is extra fun if you make the blankets together. I can send you the pin on Pinterest…

Kill. Me. Now.

And this is why Spawn calls me his best friend. I am the one who hikes with him and plays video games and goes to martial arts with him.

Sorry, Spawn. All the other kids were booked, but I think I can call their agent…

BFFs

BFFs

Can I Donate My Kidneys? I Have One Extra

I feel like a SUPER terrible mother. This HAPPENED. My mom came over and was helping me clean after Stomach Bug from Hell.

Mom: Why can’t he go outside and play? It’s a beautiful day.

Me: He can’t unless we sit outside with him and we need to be in here cleaning.

Mom: Huh? Why can’t he just go outside and play?

Me: Um, CPS?

I kid you not, we had a woman in the area who was out front with her 5 year-old and ran inside to get the phone. In the 5 minutes she was gone a “Good Samaritan” called CPS on her for neglect. And this is happening more and more often. Of course, I don’t like calling these folks “Good Samaritans” because a Good Samaritan would just have kept a helpful eye on the kid while frazzled mom ran inside to get the phone.

And these are the SAME people who will also call me a bad mom because Spawn is being exposed to way too much time with electronics. That unless I am running my kid to every activity available and scheduling every second of his waking life for “educational opportunities” I am a jerk.

If I pay thousands of dollars for “Educational Software” I’m a great mom. But, if I teach my kid to play XBox and his reading is advanced because of his love for Transformers, I’m negligent. Does anyone else spot the crazy here?

Yes, my Kirby is an educational toy…. :P

Yes, my Kirby is an educational toy…. :P

And this is a long way of saying that there is a LOT of pressure on parents these days. Look at all it entails!

When I was a kid, we were thrown outside after Sesame Street to PLAY. We made ramps out of every discarded piece of trash on the curb. I had a tetanus shot every YEAR. My mom’s idea of “fun and educational opportunities” involved teaching me the multiple uses for lemon oil and a deck brush.

Want to learn about nature? Let’s go pull weeds.

I’m unsure how this helicopter parenting is healthy for our kids. How it is healthy for us parents. Are we parents or entertainment directors? How will our kids fare when they have to be adults and the world isn’t interested in entertaining them every waking second?

I feel much of this Parent-Shaming/Mom-Shaming is consumerism gone crazy. Shame me because I am not a Size 0 and I buy diet stuff and gym memberships. Shame me because my house isn’t a photo spread out of Good Housekeeping and I hire a cleaning service. Shame me that I am not being a good enough MOM and sell me all kinds of apps, games, camps and activities because OMG! My child might get…BORED.

What do you guys think? Has the Mom-Shaming/Parent-Shaming gotten out of control? Do you run non-stop and never feel like you measure up? Do you have days you simply don’t know where to begin because you feel like a failure at everything? Have you drank the Kool-Aid? Any tips to detox from it?

Guys, do you get Parent-Shaming or Dad-Shaming? I’m curious to know what your experiences are.

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 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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158 Comments

Anatomy of a Legendary Villain

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Before we get started, I’d like to remind anyone who wants a WAY better chance at winning my 20 Page Death Star Critique, that I have started the Dojo Diva Blog and we are talking about Beginnings, namely giving ourselves permission to be NEW. Comments and trackbacks on the Dojo Diva count double and, since it is a separate contest, there is a LOT better chance of winning.

Moving on. VILLAINS!!!!

The antagonist is the most critical part to any story. No antagonist, NO story. Villains are only a type of antagonist and though this type of character has the power to be legendary, often what we see in books, series and movies are mustache-twirling caricatures. Villains can easily become one-dimensional plot puppets.

As writers, we must get in the head of our villains as much if not more than the protagonist. The reason is that eventually our protagonist must eventually grow to become a hero, and this is not possible if we fail to appreciate the goals, conflicts and motivations of the villain.

Plain and simple: The villain creates the STORY problem and provides the crucible that will create a hero.

No Sauron and Hobbits remain in the Shire wishing for adventure. No Darth Vader and who cares about Skywalker? No Goblin King and Sarah never faces the Labyrinth and her own immaturity.

I recommend studying movies to understand story structure, but I feel TV series are better for understanding the character development of villains. The reason is that series are far more similar to full-length novels. We (the audience) have more TIME to understand the villain and see him or her at work.

Today, I’d like to talk about ways that we can give villains depth. Great villains have some similar “components.”

Remember, the villain is always the hero in his own story. Wanting to “rule the world” just to “rule the world” is for cartoons. If a villain is wanting to rule, control, destroy, etc. they should have a really good/plausible/sympathetic reason for doing so.

In factwhen we do a great job at creating the villain, our audience will struggle with who to root for.

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Granted, we do run into great characters like Joker (Heath Ledger) who are chaotic evil, but though this type of character might be great for a Batman movie, he will be really tough to cast in a novel. Even then, I’d go so far as to say that Joker DID have an agenda. Whether it was trauma or madness, we get a sense that Joker believes there is no good in the world and is on a mission to prove any goodness can be corrupted.

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Give the Villain a Sympathetic Goal

Remember that the beating heart of a story is CONFLICT. Antagonist wants X and Protagonist wants Y. Their goals conflict and only one can triumph at the end. No cheating. In act three the Big Boss Troublemaker must be defeated. Period. None of this well the reader meets my antagonist in Book Two…

Every story has an antagonist responsible for the story problem and he or she must be defeated or the story isn’t complete.

***In series, the protagonist will defeat proxies of the core antagonist. Each proxy serves as the core antagonist for that story.

To help you guys wrap your heads around what I am talking about, let’s look at television shows. I highly recommend the series Justified for dimensional villains. In every season we are introduced to a new Big Boss Troublemaker. Season one is the Skinhead Bank Robber Boyd Crowder. Season Two is the Hillbilly Mob Boss Mama Bennett. Season Three is the Detroit Mob Boss Robert Quarles who’s been exiled to Kentucky to fill the vacuum left by the defeat of the Bennett clan.

What I LOVE about Justified is that the characters are dimensional and interesting. Also, each season nicely dovetails into the next with authentic human problems. This isn’t just a series for those interested in writing about crime. There are genuine human problems in this series.

Today, though, I want to hone in on what I feel is one of THE best villains I’ve ever seen: Mama Mags Bennett.

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What is Mags’ goal? Yes, she wants to rule Harlan, Kentucky and surrounding areas with an iron fist (and make a healthy profit), but deep down, she believes she is taking care of her flock. She maintains order in a world riddled with chaos. The area is steeped in poverty, endless economic depression, addicts, jailbirds, absentee parents, lost youth, and troublemakers and she provides authority, protection and structure.

Yes, she is taking advantage of the people, but believes she is the lesser of evils. Her family has been on that mountain for generations and have been there to pick of the pieces every time a corporation has raped the area after promising prosperity. She believes that there will be predators, so might as well go with the devil you know and the one who isn’t going to take all the timber, strip mine the minerals and ruin the land with slag.

And frankly, she has a good point.

Also, because the area is riddled with addicts, she knows that bigger predators have their eyes on the area (I.e. Miami Mafia and Mexican cartels) and have no concern for the people. Yes, she provides weed, meth and oxycotin, but also provides jobs and protection. She also protects members of the flock from smaller predators. For instance, she will NOT tolerate a child molester and goes biblical on anyone who crosses that line.

Thus, we as the audience see she kind of has a good point. The area will likely always be lawless, so why not be ruled by a local who cares for the community?

Contrast

Great villains have contrast. Contrast makes a villain sympathetic. If a villain is always torturing people and doing bad stuff simply to do bad stuff, the audience can’t really connect. We have to have some area where that villain is human.

The entire season (series ) is loaded with contrast and there is no character more conflicting that Mags Bennett. First of all, let’s just look at some of the surface contrast.

Hillbilly Mafia

Dixie Mafia

These words don’t go together. When we think of Mafia, we often think of black suits and shiny Lincolns. When we hear “Dixie” we think of line-dancing, moonshine and banjos. We don’t default to dirty flannel, banjos and ruthless drug enforcers.

Yet, one element that has always made mob members so intriguing is their loyalty to family.

Helloo? Ever heard of the Hatfields and McCoys?

This area of the country is steeped in a profound loyalty to clan and family, thus it unexpectedly makes the perfect mob story.

Mags is so interesting namely because we can never seem to get a bead on her. When we meet her, she seems to be this sweet, gentle grandmotherly figure (which she is). She runs a country store and makes sure the local families can use their food stamps and welfare checks to put food on the table.

Yet, this same matronly character is later seen breaking her son’s fingers with a hammer because his bad decisions have jeopardized their larger operations and brought the attention of federal marshals. Granted, she cries the entire time and hates having to “correct” her son, but she knows if she shows any weakness of favoritism with her own kin, she will lose power and respect.

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Thus, we SEE this woman do terrible things, but she always has a sympathetic reason (as to point above). Yes, it is awful that she breaks her son’s fingers, but she is genuinely afraid her son’s idiocy will get him killed or imprisoned, thus her “chastisement” is the far less severe of the consequences.

In her mind, she is saving him from himself.

The Villain Fires the Conflict for the Protagonist

Great villains torment some part of the protagonist’s soul. For the protagonist, it can be black and white to take out a bad guy, but that isn’t nearly as messy. In the case of Justified Raylan Givens is a federal marshal who also grew up in the area. He knows Mags and even likes her. He is torn between his duty to uphold the law and his personal history and feelings.

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Taking out Mags is emotionally messy. And, though Raylan is the perfect person to shut her down, he kinda wishes someone else could have the task. Mags brings back old guilt, memories, shame, regrets and baggage.

Make The Villain’s End a SAD Thing

In Justified we hate Mags, we are rightfully afraid of her, but we also feel for her. She does a lot of really awful things, and though we want her stopped, we want her undoing to be appropriate. She’s like a man-eating bear. Sure we want the bear to be put down, but caging it and putting it in the circus seems unreasonable and unfit.

When Mags is taken down, we walk away feeling that her end was just and appropriate to the apex predator she was.

What are your thoughts? Do you think series are better for exploring villains and antagonists? Do you think they are a better cross-comparison with a novel? What are some series with memorable villains? How did the villain leave you conflicted? Did you find yourself rooting for the villain and little bit sad when he or she lost?

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 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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51 Comments

Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader

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Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends :D .

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).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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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165 Comments

Franken-Novel, Perfectionism & The Dark Side of Critique Groups

After six years in critique her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups also have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at resonating with readers, thus being successful.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for commercial publication.

In a good traditional critique group we learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” We learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and why modifiers aren’t always extra-nifty. We will hopefully learn self-discipline in that we need to attend regularly and contribute. We can also forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.15.49 AM

Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see structural flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell us nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

***A beta reader is a regular person who likes to read our genre and will tell us about the story from a reader’s perspective.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.48.53 AM

As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Fifi end up in Costco wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

They’ve missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Our job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections our critique groups can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.48.40 AM

Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Hooked by Les Edgerton, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell are a great start. In fact, ANYTHING written by Edgerton or James Scott Bell, just buy it and read it. You can thank me later ;) .

That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers who have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query or publication.

Scrap it, part it, shop it or ship it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for four, five, even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many successfully published authors has the group produced?

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond that group for additional critique.

We must make sure our work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for this brutal career. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer us publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

If your goal is to write great novels, make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I spent way too many years in a critique group that produced all kinds of articles and NF, but no one had published a successful novel. Then I wondered why the critique was…eh.

When I left that group for the DFW Writers Workshop, my world tilted on its axis because DFWWW is AWESOME and is known for producing professionals in all genres. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without them. I also STRONGLY recommend joining RWA (Romance Writers of America) and find an RWA chapter nearby even if you don’t write romance.

RWA is by FAR the most professional group of authors any of us can connect with. They are at the leading edge of the industry and these folks will totally send in the flying monkeys if you don’t get back to writing. 

By the way, if you want to get more out of your critique group, I have a class this Saturday (details below) that can make sure your larger structure is sound. This class can do what your critique group can’t and it will help you spend your time more wisely.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Does your critique group seem to only run you in circles? Have you fallen for the perfectionism thing? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas?

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).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , , , ,

74 Comments

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