Friday, April 25, 2014

The Awecome Cape of Authorpreneurship (Podcast #13)


After a hectic two weeks of two conferences, 2500 miles of car travel, and intense demand to be on my game in crowds, I sat down to decompress, review my notes, digest the business cards collected, and write about the new revelations I've had about being an authorpreneur.

Authorpreneurship was the title of my panel at PubSmart Con in Charleston, South Carolina. Cute name, and there was a degree of humor cast about regarding the made-up moniker for a writer earning a living, but I rather liked it. As a preacher of common sense, let's-earn-money-at-this-stuff, and a bootstrap mentality, I thought they pegged me pretty close to right in terms of what I could contribute to the conference. The panel went fabulously well for my having only about 15 minutes of talk time.

But something happened by the last night of the event I never expected.

Almost like a revival moment. Amazingly coincidental for Easter week.

I had a complete cathartic awareness about my abilities as an author and my capability to make a dollar using those abilities. In fact, I've never been as excited about being a writer in my entire writing life. I get a chill as I write this.

The conference addressed self-publishing in a professional manner unlike anything I'd ever seen , and nailed its credibility by bringing in names like Hugh Howey, Jane Friedman, CJ Lyons, and Porter Anderson. They cracked that self-pub egg wide open, letting it run into every session, allowing freedom of speech about how self-publishing isn't what you settle for, but instead, insert proactively into your writing toolbox. After all, who can't stand in awe of the self-publishing prowess of Hugh Howey and CJ Lyons? I came away with a much higher respect for self-publishing, but more importantly, I came away with an urgent sense of motivation.

We all know that writing a good story is key. That's why I tire of conferences that focus on craft and gloss over the business when it takes way more than a weekend conference to improve your writing talent. Writing well is a given. It takes discipline and investment of time. But marketing, organization and branding isn't as organic, and they are faster paced lessons than learning how to master POV or character development.

Ok, ok, but what did you learn, Hope?

1) Focus.

The Internet screams with options, and all too often we freeze with indecision because of too many choices. We have to learn focus, to tune out the noise of this best practice, or that best practice. Too many writers read and read and read about what's the best way to write, publish and promote in hope that they'll have a lightning moment that clearly points them to what's right for their situation. And they read for months, if  not years, when they ought to decide what the heck it is they want to write. Life is too precious to stumble around indefinitely, as we wait for someone else to tell us what to do.

2) Dedication.

The very successful authors make life changes. Hugh Howey downsized his life and committed to two years of writing to see if he could cut it. He immersed himself in the effort. CJ Lyons decided writers wanted more stories from her than social media chatter. She wrote 8 books before she earned enough to call it making a living so she's learned that every spare moment of hers must be spent on writing a story. Since traditional publishing moved too slowly for their tastes, they self-pubbed. Their goals were to write more and promote less, remaining dedicated to their craft. Note, however, that writing also meant publishing. They are prolific as a result of this dedication, writing more books than you or I probably think we can handle. Why can't we handle it, though?

3) Simplification.

With dedication and focus comes a massive degree of simplification. Streamlining. We tend to get strung out in all directions, and in that tug-of-war, we lose sight of our focus, and our dedication slips out of our grasp. Say no to requests. Say no to what's not important. Even say no to some important things because your writing goal is more important. But simplification allows you keep your eye on the ball. For instance, I'm looking at altering my blogging to something simpler. I intend to keep just two newsletters from now on: FundsforWriters and TOTAL FundsforWriters. Small Markets and WritingKid are being moth-balled. I'll focus on Facebook and Twitter, but back off of Pinterest. I'll reign in my freelancing. All of these changes are in the name of simplification, and commitment to more time writing chapters.

4) Daily Commitment.

I've never been a NaNoWriMo fan because I felt I was too overwhelmed in multiple directions to write that fast. However, what NaNoWriMo does do is  make you commit to daily writing to reach 50,000 words in a month. In hindsight, when I'm under deadline, I can write as many words as I need to write. I heard Southern novelist Karen White speak a few weeks ago, and someone in the audience asked her how long it takes to write a book. Her answer: "Depends on when my next deadline is." She's cranked out a book in four months. How? She relocated to the beach, or another room, or another town, and she wrote hard sun-up to sundown, even forgetting to bathe or eat.

At dinner in Charleston, a professional in the business asked me how many words per day I could write. I reached back to when I had deadlines and realized the number was 2,500 to 3,000 words. I've done it innumerable times without much sacrifice. My answer surprised myself. Why did I wait until deadlines to write such a word count? What's wrong with making it routine, like Howey and Lyons?

Throughout the conference, I stepped outside of myself, analyzing what might be considered wasted effort, studying what could change in my routine to improve my writing prolificness (yes, that's a word - I looked it up). As a hybrid author already, I pondered all my writing and publishing options. As an authorpreneur, I sifted through my day-to-day accomplishments and began culling.

As if Fate were guiding my hand, when I arrived home on Friday, I had Jeff Goins' blog in my inbox. Three Keys to Keep You From Feeling Like a Failure at the End of the Day. While I don't feel like a failure, I wanted to feel like more of a success, so I read the post with eagerness. As a minimum, I wanted to see if my readers could glean motivation from it.

OMG. As if a higher power wanted to endorse my thought processes, the piece did nothing but anchor my thoughts as being spot-on in the right direction.

1) You have to be definitive.

Busy work might feel good for a while, but when you have nothing to show for it in the end, you eventually feel despondent. It's why so many writers quit. Define your goal(s). What do you hope to accomplish? It's not just the outcome that matters, either. It's the process in getting there.

2) You have to be specific.

If you don't pinpoint what success is for you, you'll never feel satisfied or productive. If your goal is to write more, you can't tell what success is since there's no measure assigned to it. This type goal will make you dissatisfied with your writing journey. A first draft in three months? Two thousand words a day? That's more like it. Just saying you'll write a book this year without the details of when, why and how means you're probably sabotaging yourself because you can't sense your progress until you've reached December 31 and see you've failed.

3) You have to be realistic.

If you can write 2,000 words a day under a deadline, why can't you write that five days a week? That's 10,000 words a week, which means you can't skip days then play catch-up. If five days are impossible, set four. We feel energized at the beginning of our new-found plan but that enthusiasm will wane. It's human nature. That's why your goals must be realistic. Challenging, but realistic. Stretch . . . don't break.

Now maybe you see why I felt simplification was a necessary part of my plan. If  we have three key missions in our day, we have a keen understanding of our obligation. Instead of having a to-do list of twelve items, keep it at three. With too many, we tend to lapse into doing some of the smaller, easier tasks to feel more accomplished as we check off more items. Then before we know it, the day is gone and we've piddled it away. Trust me, I can preach this sermon.

I'm streamlining. I'm defining. I'm simplifying.

And it has me giddy with what I see as potential to step up my game. My husband listened to me prattle on over the phone while I was still out of town. "I wish I was twenty years younger," I said. "So I could have more time to do everything I want to do."

He chuckled. "The point is to have fun and enjoy yourself," he said. "And it sounds like you're doing that."

Yes, I'm already having fun. What I want, and what you probably want, is to enjoy being acutely aware of your potential . . . then modify your life to enable you to graze your maximum potential . . . and see just what it is you are really capable of. Now that's really fun.

(If you are reading this on Blogger, this is the last post on Blogger as I streamline. I'm moving all my blogging to my website at Come on over and sign up. I want to keep you on board.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Trying" to Self-Publish (Podcast #12)


Saw this phrase twice recently, on two different blogs. "Trying to self publish."

Those words irritate me like fingernails on a chalk board, fork tines on china, grinding teeth. You get the point. But probably not in the manner I mean . . . the manner I want to hammer home. And I love to hammer home points.

People are entitled to self-publish. Of course they are. I've self-published. I'm a hybrid with my nonfiction being self-published (The Shy Writer Reborn) and my fiction traditionally published (The Carolina Slade Mystery Series), and if Carolina Slade ever gets dropped by my publisher, I'll self-publish her. It's nice to know I have that option.

But I'll tell you one thing . . . I won't TRY to self-publish her. I'll go out there, jump in with both feet and damn well DO it. What's with this trying business?

I grasp TRYING to traditionally publish, because there are so many gatekeepers who have to give you that magical nod for it to happen. You TRY because someone else opens the door for you. If they don't open the door, you don't publish, at least with them. Okay, makes sense.

But you don't TRY to self publish. I didn't TRY squat when I self-published. I made up my mind to self-pub and did it. It's like being pregnant. You are or you aren't. You self-pub or you don't.

I think because we have options with self-publishing, you know, without all the gatekeepers telling us what we can do, we call it trying. But when I looked up TRYING in the dictionary, the crankier I got at those who say they TRY to self-publish.

1) to make an effort to do something : to attempt to accomplish or complete something.
2) to do or use (something) in order to see if it works or will be successful.
3) to do or use (something) in order to find out if you like it.
That's straight out of Merriam-Webster, honey.

In The Shy Writer Reborn, I harp on removing words like BUT, ONLY, NOT, NEVER and JUST from your vocabulary when speaking of your writing abilities and efforts. It's self-deprecating.

From The Shy Writer Reborn, page 41:

"Ever catch yourself studying someone successful, not necessarily rich and powerful, but someone maybe only a few notches above your common quest. In seconds, you allow a sense of discouragement to drape over your shoulders, oppressing you with the idea you can't be that good.

You see a family's portrait, love their captured laughter, then hate the fact you are no longer close to your sister. You bite into a cake made in heaven and kick yourself for stopping at the bakery instead of making your pie from scratch. You read a published book in your genre, in a setting you've used, possibly centered around a character not too far distant from your own, and you curse about being too inept a writer to do as well as that author.

We hobble ourselves so that others can't point fingers first. If we know we are less than stellar, nobody can surprise us with accusations. It's a way of protecting ourselves from rejection."

I'd like to add the word TRY to that list of words that hold us back. Avoid disclaimer words.

People gravitate to confident people. They don't want to be around people who are TRYING to be good. They want to be around good people. They don't want to read books from people who TRIED self-publishing. They want to be around those who confidently published their book.

A favorite saying of mine is simply this: OWN WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO DO. Pick your path then strike out without looking back. Stomp that trail. March to your drummer. Sling your writing into the bright sunshine using all the power and talent you have. Sling it hard. You want the world to read every word. This work is your legacy.

You don't try to publish.
You don't try to write write well.
You don't try to promote your promote your work.

If you think you've written and edited something worth publishing . . .
If you think you're ready to see your work in print . . .
If you think you're ready to sell your work with confidence, then do it.

Do it loud, hard, with passion. Be not afraid to let the human race know what you've done.

The minute you say you are TRYING to do something, I hear hesitation and self-doubt as do agents, readers, publishers, editors, and more. I'm telling you, owning who you are and what you do is powerful, and more than a few people will look twice at you, wanting a taste of that you're drinking, because whatever it is, it makes you appear more alive than they are.

You can TRY or you can DO. Readers can tell the difference.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How the Shy Writer Copes When She Hits a Wall (Podcast #11)


When I speak at events, people tell me they can't believe I'm an introverted person. That's not to say I can't become a Mama Tiger when it comes to my family, or a real BE-ATCH when someone's wronged me or mine. But for the most part, I avoid throngs of people. Throngs meaning as few as four, sometimes.

I also avoid events that require interaction as in role playing. Oh my gosh, if I see anything that requires me to step up and adlib, or pretend, or act a character, I might have nightmares before and after. I'm a grown up now, and grown ups can pick and choose their activities. I WILL NOT ROLE PLAY. That's almost throwing up time. I've done it, and felt too damn miserable before, during and after.

That also includes those situations where an audience of writers may be asked to write for ten minutes then share their work with the class. Say what? My first drafts suck like buttermilk through a straw--that means really sucks in Southernese. And then you want me to stand there and take criticism for it? Like, what planet are you on?

Or those moments where the instructor or moderator sets the group into teams. Don't ask  me why, but team building exercises make me awkward as heck, too.

I can speak, when the need arises. I can adlib, if I'm backed into a corner. I can even be funny sometimes, but trust me, that's the nerves talking. But my point is I want to pick and choose the situations I enter. I've reached that stage in my life where I don't want to be embarrassed or awkward or uncomfortable--not without entering the situation completely prepared, in which case, I lesson my chances of being embarrassed, awkward or uncomfortable.

I've been speaking for over a decade now to writers. I spoke at government functions before that. Not a single one came easy. Yes, I am introverted, and I don't see me losing that character trait any time soon. No more than I'll change my eye color or the size of my feet. It's in our genes. We can shift with it, around it, and tend to it, but it does not disappear. Because just when we think we've "got this," a situation will come along and remind us that we are introverted.

I promise there is a point here. Today was one of those days that made me ponder: do I compromise my desire to avoid a throng, or do I sign up and barge into it because the results may be worth the discomfort. God, this type of decision makes me feel like I'm thirteen all over again.

Nothing makes me cozier than staying home. Just writing, or feeding chickens, or watching Elementary or Blacklist with hubby over a cup of coffee and doxies in my fleece-covered lap. Then today, as I read over my obscene daily list of emails, the announcement came that the Writers Police Academy was opening up to signees on Sunday, January 26, at noon.

So what, right?

Well, first, they fill up fast, and mystery writers think this three-day event is nothing short of phenomenal. My author peers, and my fellow Sisters in Crime, have either gone, plan to go, or hope to go next year. It's like a right of passage to many to be able to write a technically-sound mystery or suspense story. For three years I've watched  the sign-up open....then close. Each time deciding not to attend. I went to the website, read the proposed schedule for this year's event, and told myself I'd think about it.

No doubt about it, the classes are intriguing. There are police ride-alongs, jail tours, and a tad of firearms handling. Cyber crime, dead body disposal, undercover facts, evidence handling, microbial forensics, fingerprinting, special ops, exotic crimes, why good cops go bad, romance in the cop environment, and on and on. A groupie's dream. A mystery author's treasure trove of information.

Then I decided not to go.

The event features every aspect of law enforcement. Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner are guests of honor. Seriously! That's like crack for someone who loves mystery and suspense like I do.

But I'm still not going.

You extroverts out there are probably going: What? Why? What's holding you back? Look at what you're missing!

You introverts out there are probably thinking you understand where I'm coming from.

I'm lucky enough to be married to a federal agent, retired. He has friends still in law enforcement. I have two stepsons in law enforcement and a son with US Coast Guard enforcement. I'm having lunch with a state law enforcement forensics agent this week, and we'll swap books and knowledge.

I'm more comfortable one-on-one, maybe having a drink, chatting up people without having to be ill at ease. This is what I talk about in The Shy Writer Reborn. We can still be writers, in my case a mystery author, and still be accomplished without serious compromise of who we are.

Reading about the Writers Police Academy (I spent a long time studying the site in contemplation) made me test myself. I almost decided to sign up. Then I asked myself if there was a way I could obtain my information without the stress. So I decided to make contact with individuals with specific information I needed (or use hubby to make the connection) and take a more low-key approach to doing my research.

That's how you stay true to who you are as an introvert. You find alternatives if the one before you will disturb you.

Now, I could've also considered other choices. I could've looked for a writing friend willing to attend with me. I could go and avoid the classes that involve teams and active participation or role playing. I could take an online class, or sign up for classes at my local community college. Being in the state capital, I could interview officers at the local, county, state and federal levels, even creating a few freelance articles from the effort.

Guess this is a long message for such a short lesson. If, when presented with an awkward situation, you feel uncomfortable as a shy individual, rather than freeze or run away . . . consider your options. There are always options. And you are not right or wrong in making the choice you make.

With The Shy Writer Reborn, I try to tell people they are writers to sell their words, not their souls. The best writers in the world, those who readers appreciate the most, are usually the most genuine. Life is short. Travel the route that makes you a better person who enjoys living his or her life.

Now . . . before I sign off here, I want to leave you with the most positive of positive kudos for this event. I can honestly tell you that the Writers Police Academy is awesome per the people I know who've attended. How can it not be? The instructors presenting are off-the-chart impressive. They limit attendance to 200 people, and if you are a member of Sisters in Crime, you get in for a reduced fee of $135. That's insanely reasonable for three whole days (two half days and two whole days). It takes place in Jamestown, NC, September 4-7, 2014. As I stated, sign-up starts Sunday at noon Eastern Time and the slots will go fast.  Founder Lee Lofland, with tremendous credentials of his own, has outdone himself with this event, and it improves each and every year. A hundred percent thumbs up.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keep the Fire Burning (Guest Post by Laura Lee Perkins)

NOTE: I'm starting the brand new year with a post that warmed my heart. Laura Lee Perkins sent this to me during her recent writing retreat that she won after finding it in FundsforWriters. We struck up a conversation, with me congratulating her big time, she commenced to telling me what  FundsforWriters has done for her. I was in awe of this woman. As a result, I asked her to pen her thoughts into a piece for my blog. THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT!  Bless you all, and I hope this piece lights a fire under you for 2014. I know it made me awful thankful. ~HOPE

In Gratitude -
by Laura Lee Perkins

Keep the Fire Burning

I love to write. Whenever life gets really good or really bad, I have to write. Writing is how I deal with joy and with sorrow. I imagine that many of you are the same: the highs and lows of life are processed through written words.

Sometimes it is a long time between the burning desire to see my work in print and having that actually happen. Sometimes, with some pieces, it never happens. Some days I feel filled with hope and anticipation, maybe after entering a lucrative contest with what I think is one of my  very best pieces. And then I wait and wait and wait, while I continue writing. The silence can feel deafening as it smothers me with nothing „Ÿ much like a mistress waiting for the phone to ring to inform her that her lover's wife has died! It just isn't going to happen.

C. Hope Clark entered my life just when I had decided to make a 10-year commitment to improving my writing output by entering even more contests, applying for more grants and submitting more applications for artist-in-residencies. That was more than 10 years ago, but C. Hope Clark still sits on my desktop every single day. Whenever I need to remember that I am not alone in this writing struggle, when I feel like bursting into tears after another rejection, or when I simply cannot stand my office space and feel like I'm going to scream, I open the 25-30 page document that I have created titled "HOPE" and my world is transformed from despair into opportunity with one simple click. 

Here I find every snippet of fodder that I have carefully cut and pasted from C. Hope Clark's weekly Funds for Writers email to feed my hunger for publication. After doing this for several years, adding on each announcement that looked appealing, this document was pretty messy.

One day when I needed encouragement, I thought that I would divide the many opportunities into categories, which meant more cutting and pasting. Finally the document was organized into: Book Publishers, Magazines, Grants, Jobs, Artist-in-Residencies, Workshops/Classes and Wisdom perhaps the most important section because it included tips for remaining sane while striving for success. Within each category some items appealed to me more than others, so bold and italics  and underline entered the document. Deadlines passed and things had to be deleted or "un-prioritized" until the next year's deadline was announced. I started sending out more of my writings, so I added a Submissions category where everything had to be carefully documented: fee paid, date, title and word count for each entry. Then I quickly discovered that I needed a Rejected category which would include any comments offered in the rejection email or letter (if there even was a notification). 

And then a hallelujiah light went on in my "HOPE" file, and I added a YES/Accepted category. I made a list of  my successes, however small they might be. The list began to grow and I began to understand the aspect of practicing, practicing, practicing our craft...perhaps much longer than I wanted. Writing is not a goal„ writing is a process. It isn't like baking a loaf of bread which immediately rises, gets baked and brings joy through eating.

Every week I carefully cut and pasted anything that looked like it might be a chance for me to be published or to grow professionally. I began to ask for opinions, joined a writer's group and began to speak in public more and more often. But I always kept the "HOPE" file updated every week. I never  missed. I would sit at my computer late on Friday afternoon, waiting for the email to arrive. Anticipation was my middle name, and gradually I learned to keep that document open on other days besides just Friday. It added more kindling to my inner burning desire to write.

More than a decade has gone by and I have received ten grants. The first and second ones were $10,000 each and came just a year  apart. Those jump-started my grant applications! I came in 3rd in the Writers' Digest Inspirational category, and I missed the deadline for collecting my prize check because I was off traveling in Europe and thought the announcement email was an "ad" and deleted it several times. That made me feel really stupid. I've self-published five books (with sales of 5,000)  and had one published by Focus on Excellence. I've completed four Artist-in-Residencies for the U.S. National Parks and am just completing a fifth one for the Turkeyland Cove Foundation on Martha's Vineyard, where I am writing this. I have published 150+ articles in my areas of specialization (music/education/spiritual development) and last month my book Lighting Your Spiritual Passion was published by Maine Authors Publishing. When it appeared on Amazon in Kindle, then in paperback and finally on Smashwords sites, I cried for joy. Those 160 pages were edited and rewritten more times than I dare to admit, but I knew that the only way I could be sure of failure was if I stopped trying. The first newspaper article about the book's release ran yesterday in the Sun Journal based in Lewiston, Maine (pop. 30,000) and 423 people "liked" it on Facebook the first day!

Remain determined, committed, and willing to grow in ways that might feel horribly uncomfortable at times. Learn to be able to look at yourself with humor and understand that writers have to be passionate folks who are willing to make big sacrifices in order to keep on writing. The words flow in our veins and arteries...and the heart beats the "drum of life" to keep us dancing, moving forward. We always hear, "Don't take things personally." Writers have to take things personally if we are going to improve. Learn to take a deep breath and leap. It is worse to remain frozen in fear. Writing forces growth.

I take Hope's email very seriously, every week. When it has been late arriving (a few times), dinner is delayed. It is that important.  I reduce the font size down to 9 so that I can get more opportunities on one page and create a page view with the widest margins my computer will allow. And I have developed my own style of shorthand so that each opportunity can be reduced down to just two lines if at all possible. Why? Because I learned that once the document is over 25 pages long,  it felt too cumbersome to peruse for the next opportunity. Some weeks I only do one category for the week, but about once a month I save an afternoon (usually Friday while I'm waiting for her newest email to arrive) and I read through the entire document, slowly and carefully. I use text colors to make things pop visually, and then, for the best opportunities, I add highlighting. Now I have bold, italics, bold-italics, colored text, underlines, a variety of font styles and highlighting. Then I am ready to choose what's next in my writer's "wish list".

Every time I travel, I take along a double sided one page document that has the most appealing and/or impending deadlines. I carry it in my purse and I read and reread those little two-liner opportunities. On airplanes I have noticed seat mates glancing at my multi-colored two-sided page.  These are times to dream, when I am on public transportation, out of my office and "in motion." I memorize the opportunities, wait until I am internally prompted and then I sketch out my thoughts about how to apply. I allow those thoughts to ferment in my mind and soul while I am out of my familiar office, and by the time I return home I am ready to begin the next application. Writers are never alone because we are always accompanied by the sacred feeling of choosing words to offer to the world. Writing takes courage and imagination, but marketing takes guts and stamina. Happy Writing!

Laura Lee Perkins

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Writers Write - an end of the year message (Podcast #10)

Or listen at: 

After watching my daily dose of Godvine and Upworthy, uplifting quick videos of the good things about mankind, I suddenly felt the need to be expressive about the meaning of life . . . from the eyes of a writer. Especially at this time of year when we're all reflective and contemplative about our purpose on this earth.

Voracious readers appreciate writers. Occasionally a writer publishes such a phenomenal tome that most people appreciate him, or at least his work. But I dare say that most readers do not understand writers.

I have friends who love to read, and thank goodness they read my books, but they marvel at my putting that many words together in the right order to tell a good story.

"How do you do it?"
"I can't imagine thinking that hard."
"The effort boggles my mind."
"Where do you get your ideas?"

I have no idea how I do it. I just do, because I want to. I love the satisfaction of thinking hard.  The effort boggles my mind, too. And I have no idea where my ideas come from.

I tell them it is NOT easy, and they nod, saying they completely understand, bless their hearts. But they don't.

Because understanding why a writer writes is to get inside his head and set up camp, feed off his mind, drink from his heart, and thrive off his energy. Nobody can do that.

I'm not here to bash people for being ignorant of the writer's plight. The world is full of plights. Every human being has plights, some of which I'll never grasp. Writing is one of mine, and frankly, it helps me weather the other plights on my list. If I didn't write, I would not cope as well with family, politics, crime, religion, friendship, or health. There's something about slowing down to dissect words on a page that makes me also slow down and dissect life.

Writing gives me permission to appreciate myself.To understand myself.

Writing gives me the means to become part of humanity, in a manner that nourishes me best.

Writing is about connecting with the human condition, so that I better appreciate people.

My favorite writing is mystery. Others write scifi, romance, plays, poetry, each and every one of them stories about the human condition (even if they are aliens). Writers want to be an intrinsic part of life, but they feel best empowered to step into the fray through written words. They communicate more deeply by analyzing which word comes first, then second, then last.

Words are more than connecting the stereotypical puzzle pieces.

Words are cells. Each one, no matter how tiny, is key in creating the whole. They are alive, and if one is not useful, it weakens the others.Writers are healers.

Words are stars. If one goes missing from the bright night sky, we may not immediately notice. But if a corner of the Big Dipper disappears, we lose a constellation. Writers are stargazers. Writers are universe builders.

Words are pixels. Omitting a pixel from a portrait may not matter. Omit several, or insert the wrong ones, and you have mars on a masterpiece. Writers are artists. Writers are painters of life.

Words are leaves. Well tended flora soothes the eye. It's lush, green, the epitome of health and a connection with God and Mother Nature. A leaf falls, or never grows at all. That's fine. But a bare limb jutting from amidst a luxurious cloud of green begs for pruning. Writers are gardeners. Writers are nurturers.

Words are children. Their manners, their appearance, their attitude, their happiness are contingent upon their upbringing and surroundings. Parents fight to offer their offspring all the options to feed their growth for a more successful life. Writers are parents. Writers are caregivers.

Words are more important to writers than readers can imagine. Millions of Scrabble pieces for the choosing, to make the right word, to earn the most points, to best use the opportunity at our grasp. To turn those plain letters into beautiful phrases.

I like to think writers take the time to think before they leap, in order to get the leap right. I know how long and hard I struggle over a sentence. Then my critique groups tell me I don't quite get it right, so I struggle again. But it's not the hours invested that matter. It's the perfect click of the best words to make a sentence appear simple and easy that makes all the difference. That gives me satisfaction.

Writing takes time. In this world of lightning fast communication, texting, no caps and no punctuation on messages abbreviated without vowels, the human condition never appears. The abbreviation of communication abbreviates the message and abbreviates the depth of the story. Quick, easy and brief removes humanity from the equation.

 What about short stories, flash fiction, poetry? They are short. They are brief. Oh my, if only I could write those. The intensity of short storytelling is even more  profound, with writers painstakingly selecting each word for its true worth.  Short isn't simpler. Tight isn't easier. It's only more precise, like driving a car down an alley instead of on the Interstate in the middle of the night with no traffic. You still get there, just with more attention to the method.

I'm wandering all over the place, using the hell out of metaphors, still searching for the best compilation of words to tell you that words are my life. I still don't feel I'm showing you what drives me as a writer. What drives most writers.

Why do I write?

1) Writing makes me whole.
2) I communicate better with ink than my voice (I wrote this before vocalizing it).
3) Writing gets all the confusion, the characters, the scenes, and the dialogue out of my head.
4) Good writing makes me feel smart. Bad writing makes me feel like an idiot.

Writing puts me on the map of creation, if that makes sense. It allows me to dip into my soul and extract a piece of it for posterity unlike my thoughts or my speech. My thoughts are mine, confined in my head. My speech is fleeting, however profound it may be. But my written word has the potential to live on, and like my children, leave a piece of my life behind when I move on to the next world.

Writing is not what I do for a dollar. It isn't what I do for fame. It's what makes me feel worthy as a human being as I try to share with the world how I think I fit in.

I still haven’t given the craft its due purpose. But throughout the world, millions of people are happy that writers do what they do, for whatever reasons they do it. And writers are glad to write.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What You Deserve (Podcast #9)

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What do you deserve? What are your rights? What is your guaranteed return on your investment when you write a book . . . when you read a book . . . when you live?

Absolutely nothing . . . nilch . . . zero.

And the ones who embrace life understanding this fact, are usually the ones who succeed.

As a child, I decided that the harder I worked, the more likely I would succeed. Most of my life that concept worked well for me. But there came a time when I thought I did right, gave it my all, made proper decisions based upon ample research, and followed through as instructed . . . yet still fell short of success. A few events could be interpreted as abject failure.

Any writer knows that characters not getting what they deserved is a rich well for storytelling.

I see undeserved repercussions happening to people everywhere, in all professions, in family situations, in personal choices, in the smallest of issues, in the most major of decisions.

Sometimes it's as simple as reading a book blurb, laying down your hard-earned $15 or $20 for the book, then realizing the characters are two-dimensional, the protagonist curses too much for your liking, or the story never fulfills your desire for an entertaining read. Did you deserve to be entertained? 

Maybe you hired a turnkey press to self-publish your book for you, paying for the promotional plan, the top tier cover design, the broader distribution to a dozen ebook resources. But the book sells forty-seven copies in six months. Did you deserve to sell thousands of books?

You were lucky enough to acquire a traditional publisher. Congratulations. But they start deciding the cover, the release date, the places where it will be reviewed, and they do not listen to all your suggestions. Do you deserve to be heard?

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You married your high school sweetheart. You knew each other for a decade before tying the knot. A decade later, you realize the mistake and go your separate ways. Did you deserve to be happy?

You had two children. You financially, emotionally, physically and socially supported them. Yet one never calls, and another contacts you only for money. Or they move cross-country for you to see them only every two or three years. Or they drop out of school, not listening to your lessons learned, to your advice on how to avoid your mistakes. Did you deserve to have a better family?

Success is not a guarantee. Nor is happiness. To say you deserve something intangible is just not so. Of course if you pay for a tasty, well-served dinner in a nice restaurant, and the fork is dirty, the meat undercooked, or a fly lies belly-up in your salad, you deserve a refund. But if you expect the best dinner in the world, better than anything your palate has experienced, then no, you do not deserve it.

When it comes to the intangible, understand that there are no guarantees.

The most successful do NOT fuss about what they deserve. They do not fret on Facebook about what they didn't get out of something. The successful study what happened, why they did not win, did not get entertained, did not make a buck, or did not achieve number one, and they change their path accordingly. They learn from what they did or didn't do, they choose what not to do again, and they decide what else to try.

The successful do not waste their time discussing failure. 

Of course you want to identify why failure occurred. You need to understand failure to know how to change course. If you read a sci-fi book by Author Jane Doe and couldn't read past Chapter Five, what do you do?

1. Leave a  horrible one-star review on Amazon?
2. Rant on Facebook about that horrible author?
3. Decide not to read Jane Doe's work again?
4. Decide not to read sci-fi again?
5. Decide not to read again?
6. Hate books?

Jane Doe wrote the best book she could write. She doesn't know you, but she sincerely hoped you would enjoy her story. She did not publish a book to alienate anyone (sci-fi pun there). She did not point at you and say, "I'm writing and publishing this just to  irritate you. I want to suck your $15 away from your pocket, sell you a bad book, and walk away sneering at how I scammed you."

So, I suggest that to best capitalize on your time and energies, you choose to not read Jane Doe again, or decide to look harder at Jane's work before buying it next time. Why do anything more than that? Why waste your energy?

Many of my readers are struggling, mid-list and successful scribes themselves. They have the right to attempt to create and sell their work. It doesn't always happen. In fact, the odds are against them being successful. Those who try harder have a higher success rate. There's no doubting that. Those who study failure and construct new ways around it, have a higher success rate. Those who spend more time moving forward, and less time wallowing in anger and depression about not getting what they deserve, have a higher success rate.

You do not deserve a one hundred percent chance for happiness, entertainment and success. Don't you feel great knowing that? You should!

Going into any choice knowing that you have a likelihood of not being happy on the other end, removes the burden of achieving perfection, which nobody needs to bear anyway. Once you embrace that knowledge, you can fail with dignity . . . and waste less time feeling shortchanged!

For my writing friends, view these controversies from the angle of NOT deserving them.

1. You pitch an agent and don't receive a reply. That agent is swamped with keeping her current clients happy. Acquiring new clients is not a major part of her duties. She might have to choose between hiring someone to answering query letters or saving the cost of that employee and using it instead to aid her clients. It's just a quick answer, you may argue. Well, five hundred quick answers per week takes hours. Would you like to read and reply to five hundred emails when it helps you in no way achieve your goals?

2. You ask readers to read your story, and nobody seems to care. A fast reader covers a book a week. He has millions of books to choose from, thousands bombarding him daily. He has to balance his work and family as well as read books. So when your book is thrown into that maelstrom that is Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the indie revolution, he might not find it, might not like the cover, might not like the genre, might not like the blurb, might not like reading new authors. 

3. You query twenty magazines and receive five rejections, while fifteen do not respond. The magazine has one person who reviews queries. Yours comes in. It doesn't jump off the page to him or he knows another writer who  can write this same subject and be trusted to meet deadline. Or he just bought a similar subject. Or he knows the readership isn't fond of this subject. Or your credentials don't excite him. What's to get mad about on your end?

4. You start a blog to create a platform, and nobody comments. Do you know how many blogs are out there? I go through blogs like candy, and when I tire of one, I unsubscribe and seek new ones. I have no sense of loyalty to one that does not enlighten me. That's the blogging world. Its readers are fickle. Serious bloggers work darn hard at staying fresh. 

You can grump about what didn't work, fussing about what level of success you deserved because of the work you put into it. Or you can remain calm, even attempt to be happy, and realize whatever you chose did not work. That would mean that now you have a better idea of what will work. Right?

Quit worrying about what you deserve.

Instead, study what did NOT happen per your expectations, and take off in another direction, with a fresh, crisp plan in mind. All that energy wasted complaining, fighting depression, or debasing yourself, could be spent achieving the success you now know more about achieving.

Be happy. 

I want you to realize that life is trial and error, with a lot of that error not always avoidable. We don't deserve anything, except satisfaction in how we live our lives and achieve our goals. And even with dozens of failures in your past, you can be the happiest person on the block, because you love the journey of living.

Rather than holding back, regretting what you've done or what's been done to you, love moving forward, finding new ways to enjoy life. Spending your days trying to constantly improve is much more fun than hollering about what you deserve.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


Welcome Raazia S. Ali as guest poster to my blog. Only 19 years of age, she enticed me with her visual metaphor for writing. I thoroughly enjoyed her submissions for my children's newsletter WritingKid and asked permission to include it on my blog. She  sounds so wise, yet so cute, and her message on coming up with story ideas is a sound one that I never thought about before. Enjoy!


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They say everyone has a story to tell. But not everyone suddenly discovers they’re related to a famous person. We live in the real world, where death by boredom is actually possible – especially halfway through that double-math period at school. (40 minutes left?!)

So let’s say you’re yearning to be the next J K Rowling or Sarah Dessen but you just don’t have anything to write about! Your life is dull, you’ve never been kidnapped forced to come up with an ingenious escape plan; and as far as travelling goes you’re not even sure your passport exists. What do you do?

You steal.

No, I’m not suggesting you write about a boy-wizard with a tricky destiny, then exclaim ‘but he has parents!’ and then get sued by the J K R fund. On the slim chance that you get away with this, you are still doomed to death by depression from mean forums by the fans you thought ‘would never notice’. What I’m suggesting is not only legal, but very effective.

First, you read - like a maniac. Hopefully you like to, because I’m afraid there is no criminal shortcut for this one. Finish an entire novel in a night, and then do it again. And again.

Once you’ve completed the pizza base, write down the plots (maximum half a page each) of three of your favorite books. Now, pretend you’re at a thrift store: Mix ‘n match. Take a separate sheet of paper and jot down the stuff that makes it through your ‘pizza filter’. You love how Holden’s little sister Phoebe (The Catcher in the Rye) is wise beyond her years? Write it on your sheet. The idea of a job that involves a lot of moving around sounds to you like an excellent enabler of denial? (What Happened to Goodbye) Put it down. A story told from a dog’s point of view spices up a book? (The Art of Racing in the Rain) Maybe you could use that.

See what I mean? Now keep going. Take writing styles, book structures, characters’ quirks, themes, dialogs and even names. Just make sure to take a balanced bit of everything, because a pizza with too many olives is just that – an olive pizza. Increase the number of books you were using as reference. Make it five. Fifteen. Twenty. Why not?

The final stage would be to put the pizza in the oven, because you do NOT want raw tomatoes and cold, brittle cheese. Once you have the building blocks, your passion for writing should kick in as you sprinkle enough on the book to call it your own. Bake it well. Ensure it is done. Experiment, and your cooking skills will surprise you!

BIO: I'm Raazia S Ali, a nineteen year old sophomore at Arab Open University (Muscat, Oman) getting a BA in English Literature (and Language). When I'm not typing away on my laptop finishing assignments for my diploma in Comprehensive Writing, I can be found painting acrylics or experimenting to see just how short a short story I can write. I've been published in Thursday and Dawn's Young World.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Coming Soon to a Site Near You

Guest Post By Lyn Fairchild Hawks

It’s an honor to visit Hope Clark’s blog, a resource I’ve sought many times for inspiration and advice. Today I’m here to talk book trailers. Last Saturday, the trailer for my YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, premiered at Flyleaf Books of Chapel Hill, NC.
Check it out. 


This mini-film deserved a live event because it was the fruit of much labor and many hands. It didn't have to include great teen and adult actors, an original soundtrack, or a dream-team director, crew, and cinematographer. (Thanks you, Beery Media!) It could have been 30 seconds instead of 2:40 and a DIY project on my computer.
Some could argue my efforts are better spent writing books. But when you self-publish, your books don't have legs like a trailer. How do you get your name out there?
A trailer is nimble. Mine now travels inboxes, blogs, and social media-the animated version of a business card passed hand to hand, generating energy-not my adrenaline needed for face-to-face networking. (Take note, introverts!) When Wendy Redbird Dancing foes on tour, her handler doesn't need a gas fund or a good night's sleep. She can keep things humming from a comfortable seat at home.
A trailer link is an easy forward or share. It's not insistent like a message with links asking someone to buy, so it's easier to tell two friends who then tell two friends. . . You're asking they watc just a few images for a few moments-all the while consuming your book, your name, your brand. And if the trailer gets popular enough on YouTube, it will play like a billboard from outer space.

Still, couldn't I have met my goals with something simpler? Absolutely. Many authors make magic with a flip cam, Animoto, or iMovie. I've always been a theater person so a mini-film made more sense, not to mention I reference Twelfth Night and A Raisin in the Sun in my novel. I thrive off the community energy to create something new and the crowd's energy when the show goes up. Now I'm connected to other artists who helped me make a work of art; they've invested. It pays for us writers to think beyond the box of our lone office and quiet heads.
Let’s say you’re up for a DIY trailer. TV writer and novelist Lee Goldberg cautions you’d do better flushing money down the toilet than make an amateurish one. He cringes at “bad stock photos, too much text, and creepy music.” He chose a clever and inexpensive alternative: get his daughter filming, write some witty captions, and sell his identity as oddball, OCD writer—not unlike Monk, his famous character. Author Lauren Kate opted for simple shots of people holding posters, set to moving music—and voilà, a compelling trailer. Meanwhile, author Maggie Stiefvater created her own stop-motion trailer with a soundtrack of original music. Watch her animation of wolves and leaves dance along a shelf full of her books. What makes you unique, that might become a good home movie? Readers love to know the author behind the book.

Writers are good for great captions to walk readers through powerful imagery. Note how C. Hope Clark’s trailers guide us with sharp sentences and deliver a short, gripping synopsis. Author and publicist Arielle Ford recommends your trailer be short with a soft-sell call to action. Keep a quick pace, add endorsements if you have them, and close with a strong finish. Though authors don’t have the iconic brand imagery like the Nike swoosh, you can find and finish with a compelling image and sound to play background to your website URL and contact information. The final image of my trailer is my writer’s dream—the cinematic version of Chapter Two where bullied Wendy tries to survive her high school hallways. Anyone who’s made it through school can relate to this image.

Ford also recommends that you connect through humor or emotion and avoid a sales pitch. If your trailer has the right emotional appeal, it won’t feel like a sales pitch. Director Nic Beery, indie filmmaker who premieres at film festivals and also makes commercials for big companies, knows how to establish mood and evoke emotion. He captured the soul of Wendy. He also understood that my trailer is the classic elevator speech: a logline with its cliffhanger premise, leaving the viewer curious. My trailer makes you ask, Why is Michael Jackson fan Wendy Redbird Dancing on the run?

Caity Brewer, Hannah Chapman, Hannah-Kathryn Wall, Susan Palm Siplon, Carol Palm, and Greg Wait are slam dunk actors, delivering what I’d imagined. When I posted pictures from the shoot, readers said it was eerie.

After the trailer takes a month-long blog tour, here’s what I hope to see:
  • Increased sales—new readers willing to take a risk on my book, and old readers buying again
  • Increased interest—a spike in visits to my website and uptick in subscriptions to my newsletter
  • Increased buzz—new blog comments and new reviews
  • Increased opportunity—such as optioning the book for a film

The numbers I gain from this promotional venture could be small but potent—a few true fans. You may have already heard the concept of 1000 true fans: a group of people who will purchase whatever you produce and can’t wait till your next book releases. Hope Clark’s work has my true fandom.

As Wendy Redbird Dancing makes her rounds of the web, I believe she’ll meet the right fans meant to know her. Art’s a risk, as is putting yourself out there is a risk, but what artist doesn’t walk the rails of risk every single day? It’s all part of the adventure.
Buy How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Smashwords.
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How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought
Lyn Fairchild Hawks is the author of a YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, and a collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future. She is also author of several works for educators. In the last few years, she has won a James Jones First Novel Fellowship prize and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant. As Lyn is married to a musician, Greg Hawks, and stepmom to Henry, an aspiring filmmaker, their North Carolina home hums with the soundtracks of clawhammer banjo, classic films, and chattering computer keys.

Find Lyn on: Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads