Friday, December 22, 2017

Stress, Satellites, and Deep Space

It's that time of year again. Everybody everywhere (at least in the USA) is preparing for Christmas, and the stress level is hovering somewhere between the stratosphere and deep space. Between the parties, shopping, decorating, entertaining, wrapping, sending cards, baking (and more baking), and hosting Christmas gatherings or traveling to them, attending church services and office parties, we're driving ourselves nuts.

And in my case at least, I have no one to blame but myself.

To make matters worse, it seems my expectations rise each year. I want to not only equal, but surpass what I did the previous year--even if the money or time or energy isn't there. I scramble to find ways to make the season festive, as well as meaningful, considering the real reason we celebrate this most holy day of days--rivaled in my opinion only by Easter. And of course, my stress level rises right along with my ridiculous expectations, and is, at this very moment, in an orbit around the earth alongside 35,000 or so satellites. I expect a call from NASA any day now.

Take a few minutes or hours or days to remind yourself just
what this season is all about. Remember what you're doing with
your writing--and why. Be content with relaxing for a while,
reveling in your family and friends, and rejuvenating your
creative side so you can resume your writing when the Christmas
tree comes down and all the cookies are gone. Yes, all the cookies
will be gone eventually. Don't shoot the messenger.
Why do I, year after year, do what amounts to torture and then resort to self-flagellation when I know perfectly well I've set my sights too high? I guess it's for the same reasons I place unrealistic expectations on my writing career. Trouble is, I don't know why I do that either. Perhaps being unrealistic in our expectations of the many things we do these days is the new normal in our present-day society.  If so, that's sad. Darned sad.

I'm also guilty of trying to "harken back to the good old days" when I think of simpler times, but I seldom do what I dream of doing. Inevitably I fall victim to the hustle and bustle of the season, squeezing in activities I don't have time for, and more often than not, don't want to do in the first place. Goodbye, Good Old Days. Hello, Present-Day Chaos. I do that with my writing too. Instead of writing a blog post once a week, I tell myself I should post every other day (I have three blogs in addition to this one) and even pencil it in my calendar, when I know perfectly well I'll fail right out of the starting gate. Then comes the self-recrimination. It's a vicious cycle that I need to break in every aspect of my life. Perhaps you do too.

If you're not guilty of the things I talked about above, I salute you for your wisdom. I admire your ability to prioritize your time and money and no doubt enjoy your holidays, and your career, a whole lot more than I do mine. I will, of course, enjoy my Christmas this year. I always do, and I'm always pleased with what I've done to make others happy too. It's not the gifts or even the parties or treats we bake. It's the fact that we take time out of our busy lives (and writing careers) to concentrate on our families and on the Gift that surpasses all other gifts. I will also resume my writing with a peacefulness born in the beauty of the season.

More than anything, I wish for you joy and happiness, relaxation, and the enjoyment of everything this precious season holds for us. Put your writing aside for the moment and concentrate instead on the reason you write in the first place--to make a difference in the world, to support your family, to achieve a dream you've probably held for a long time.

There will be time in 2018 to continue chasing your dream, honing your craft, reaching your goals, and achieving your expectations. Take time out at the end of this year to enjoy yourself with your family and friends, refresh and rejuvenate. You deserve, they deserve it. The new year will come soon enough.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018 to all!
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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Here It Comes!

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Here it comes. Another brand new year. Many of us turn out thoughts to our writing goals and plans.  I know that we you don't plan, we plan to fail. But I sometimes plan myself into an unrealistic corner. This year I intend to keep it simple.

1. Just write. I'm choosing a dedicated time to have seat in the chair and hands on the keys. Treat that time as sacred, a commitment, and just do it.

2. Read. I will read, read, read in my genre and also read books that teach and train writers.

3. Promote. I plan to really get the hang of social media marketing this year. I know my way around Facebook now, but barely poke my head into the other pathways. I have accounts with Instagram, SnapChat, and Goodreads. I intend to make myself more knowledgeable in those areas. Also, I purpose to be a more faithful blogger.

4. My why. I'm determined to remind myself every day why I'm doing the above three things. My ultimate goal is to encourage and inspire others. If I keep that in mind, it will give meaning to the other goals when the going gets tough.

How'd your 2017 writing year go, and what are you plans for 2018?
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Help an Author and the Book by Reviewing

Good Review Tips 
Lisa Lickel

Review are powerful consumer tools. 
We all know about the critics with their thumbs up or thumbs down, 
the critic who either hates or loves everything. 
How do you read the review in order to understand it?

As a reviewer, consider what your review is meant to accomplish. If you've agreed to help an author as an influencer, then you are obligated to write a review that is meant to encourage readers to buy that book no matter what you personally think of it (within reason). If you're simply a fan reading a book by an author you love or one who is new to you, then you can write whatever you like; if you are a professional or semi-professional reviewer, then you need to follow your instincts in a way that helps a reader decide whether or not the book is a good purchase.

When putting a review on your blog or personal review site, make sure you post general information: title, author, copyright date, ISBN, publisher and price. By using the ISBN, potential buyers can use this information to order the book from their favorite bookstore. You can also include purchase links. If the author or publisher has not supplied them, you can go to an online retail site, look up the product and copy the code at the top of the screen. When posting a review on a retail site such as Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or Amazon, this information does not need to be repeated in the body of the review.

The review is written in present tense throughout, except when referring to past events in the story. This is a reflection of your own writing, so make it clear, concise and use your best skills. Start with the bottom line. What did the book do for you? Write a brief summary that reflects the fact that you have read the book and have a few personal observations. This summary shouldn’t be a repeat of the teaser or blurb on the back but should include setting and plot and what happens without giving away the ending or major twists.

Comment regarding the quality of writing, style, flow, characters, appropriate research or believability, what kind of emotions you felt while reading. Remember, the author has put time into this work and unless entirely self-published, and also has relied on a publisher or editor to stamp the final product. The author doesn't always have final control of everything about the book, sometimes including editing, cover and design. If there are glaring typos or plot errors, try to alert the author personally.

Conclude with a summary statement that may comment about who would like this book and possible market comparisons. If you like the book, you want to entice potential readers to buy it; if you didn't like it, you can be neutral or matter of fact. If you did not care for the book, you should say why. If you personally didn’t care for the genre, then why did you pick it up? Reviews reflect more on you, the writer of the review, than the book.

You are usually required to give a rating when leaving a review on a retail site. If you are afraid to hurt the author’s feelings and automatically give the same high rating for each book you review, it will be hard for readers to trust your reviews.

Fan reviews can be a few phrases long, just enough to share what you really thought about the story. Putting reviews like this on Goodreads and retail sites are a good way to connect with other readers and potentially find new authors to try.

General, reasonable lengths for reviews runs 250-500 words, but that’s simply my suggestion. You should be able to get everything out in that amount of time, and much less than 200 words probably means you couldn’t find much to say. 

Think about what you, a reader, want to know about a book you want to buy, 
and advise accordingly. 
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Surviving the Newbie Blues

When I was a fledgling writer (and I do mean fledgling), I heard the adage that good writers read--a lot. And being a literary know-it-all with my six weeks of experience backing me up, I scoffed. "Read? Who has time to read? It's all I can do to write a paragraph without being interrupted by three teenagers or dinner preparations or any one of many other distractions that each and every writer in the world faces." Poor me. Little did I know back then that I'd condemned myself to Newbieland for as long as it took me to truly understand what writing is all about.

Writing is not romantic, easy, nor is it a profession for the faint-hearted. No one writes alone in a vine-covered garret or the tower of a crystal palace with servants to take care of the mundane things of life--like earning a living if your writing career doesn't bring in several thousand dollars the first month or so. (That was sarcasm.) Instead, writers spend precious stolen moments honing their craft until life settles down. Maybe that's when your spouse comes home to watch the kids, or the pizza delivery guy shows up and everyone's too busy eating their deep-crust pepperoni with extra cheese pizza to pester you, or when the kids go to bed. Maybe it's early morning or late evening, noon hours, coffee breaks, weekends, and may be, just maybe, it's not until your retirement years.

My point is that just because I was trying my hand at writing didn't mean the world would kindly step aside for me to work my genius and crank out bestseller after bestseller. That idea was quashed fairly quickly there in Newbieland where I resided until I'd learned a few hard lessons, including:

1.)  The writing field is jam-packed with talented, ambitious people who more often than not--no, make that always--knew a heck of a lot more than I did. Being a newbie was on one hand thrilling; on the other, terrifying, and I admit I often had the Newbie Blues.

2.)  Nobody has enough time to write. Nobody. Even the successful writers (and you know who you are, Successful Writers, although I imagine you're not reading this) who consistently hit the bestseller lists probably have trouble with life getting in the way of their craft. Writing is no different than anything else we want to do in life. We need to make time and space for it.

3.)  It doesn't come easy. Being a new writer means you know enough to know you don't know enough about being a writer. (Please read that again until it makes sense.) A good share of the time I spent living in Newbieland was spent learning everything I could about writing, and yes, that included ...

4.)  Reading! Yes, lots and lots of reading. In a moment I'll list some of the books that have helped me tremendously, but first I want to tell you that reading anything helps to make you better at writing. It finally dawned on me that I wasn't going to go anywhere with my raw talent. Just as if I had a great serve in tennis, I wasn't going to hit Wimbledon right off the bat (or racket, as the case may be), I had to get rid of my bad habits and groom the good ones that others had learned before me. And to do that I had to read their advice in books on that topic or simply read the fiction books they'd written. Speaking for myself, I've learned more from reading the books of successful and great fiction writers than I could figured out for myself if I'd worked at it until the day I dropped dead. And by then it would be too late, and I wouldn't give a rip, anyway. There's just so much to know and to assimilate into your writing until it's a habit, that not taking the advice of good authors is just plain silly.

Of course there are many other ways to learn. Critique partners, writing groups, conferences, and classes are just some of them. I concentrated on the reading aspect simply because it's something you can do for little or no cost, and it's a pleasant experience. No longer do I think it's outrageous to think writers need to read everything they can get their hands on. I've moved out of Newbieland and I'm looking for a niche in Mightjustmakeitland. It's still a long shot, but I'll never get there if I don't try. I hope I see you along the way.

Before I forget ... trying reading Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Writing for the Soul (Jerry B. Jenkins), or On Writing (Stephen King). There are thousands of other books out there, most of which are no doubt very good, but I've read these three over and over. I also read the novels by Jerry and Stephen and Anne's other non-fiction books. I learn something from each author and each of their books whether they're trying to teach me or not. They're that good.

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