Thursday, March 21, 2013

Clutter, Creativity & Helping Others

Clutter photo by kconnors
Facebook friend and author Heidi Nicole Bird who wrote the wonderful book "Through the Paper Wall", recommended a book today. "Clutter-Less! How to Declutter Your Life and Become Stress Free Forever" by Staci Summers is free for Kindle as of the writing and posting of this blog post. Although I haven't read Staci Summers book yet, it did set me to thinking. Especially after I looked at a basket full of things that I haven't touched in months. It sits there on my bathroom counter where it receives sporadic dusting but the items it holds remain unused.
Imagine how much easier life would be if we all decluttered our space. By removing the excess from our physical space, we throw open the doors and windows to allow clearer thoughts in, a cleaner space to live in and change our direction from stifled to passionate and colorful. Doing this will unlock the creativity that has been constricted by forces we did not even recognize were there. Let's strive to remove the stumbling blocks in our lives and live out loud, colorful and determined!
I'm a mother and grandmother with a house full of things belonging to other people. The question I have to ask myself, and I suspect others at my stage of life have as well, is this - why is it that I allow these things to stay boxed up or scattered about my home for years? Several answers come to mind such as; they aren't really in my way. After all, I don't use that one particular room for anything. The kids (all in the 30s at this point) may need the 'extras' that I have stacked around here - knick-knacks, dishes, clothing and even furniture.
Really? Perhaps the spare room is unused because it is filled with other people's things. What if I cleared it of the clutter? If I emptied out the spare room, I might find a use for it. One idea is to turn it into a cozy hideaway with bookcases, an overstuffed reading chair and sweet little lamp. Doesn't that sound lovely? What about those extra dishes taking up space in cupboards or boxed up in the pantry? Every time I reach into a particular cupboard, I have to move things around to get to the one piece I am searching for because I'm saving the other dishes for someone else. I frequently scold myself. Stop saving them! If they really wanted them, they would make an effort to come haul them away. 
If you don't feel comfortable throwing these things out, box them up and deliver the boxes to them. Set them on their porch, ring the bell and run away. Fast. Keep in mind, too, that consignment stores are happy to resale your gently used items. Typically, they add a percentage so you both make money. 
You may also find that you can clear out your space and help where you feel the need is greatest. Think about your town - which charitable organization is in need of the items that are cluttering your space?
  • Domestic violence shelters are always in need of items to help victims begin a new life. 
  • Homeless missions feed and house the needy. In my town, they also have a thrift store where items are sold - the money goes toward their work with the homeless population.
  • Churches often have yard sales to raise money for their own community help projects. 
  • Animal shelters make use of worn linens from rags and towels to blankets.

You may wish to make it even more personal. We all know of a family in the community who is struggling to make ends meet. Deliver some things to their home. You can also find a way to donate to the family anonymously if you would rather them not know who donated the items.
As is usually the case, when you help others it helps you. In this case, it clears your space and your mind, which makes life less complicated and a great deal more livable. 
As authors, clearing our space will not only brighten the space but open our minds to allow thoughts to flow more freely. That, my dear friends, will lead to a happier, more productive and creative you.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Be Careful What You Say

 You will probably never know who is listening.

I read something on a social media site that caused me to switch gears in my post for today. It was something that bothered me - more for the person who wrote it than for the people it was directed at. I felt a little sad that the person couldn't seem to find the time to help others. Although, I did feel a little tinge of 'how dare you talk to them that way' simmering in my gut. I'll try to explain it without sounding like a nagging spouse or over-protective mother. 

My personal feelings about this hurtful post on an social media site have caused me to remove the author's book from my 'to read' list and send out three 'decline to read' emails to friends who were looking to read it along with me. I wish the author the best on their journey - an exceptional journey that has already reached heights that most authors dream of - sadly, I will not be one of this author's fans. Not because the book isn't a wonderful story but because of a hurtful statement made in an open forum to others. I feel I should state that the author was not speaking to me so, my thoughts are not about a personal interaction with said author or because I'm in a fetal position in the corner feeling sorry for myself after being bitten by unkind words.

As most of you know, I'm new to publishing and promoting/marketing. I've been writing since childhood but the business of writing is new to me, as I know it is to many of you. It is hard to know exactly how to promote your writing if you have not hired a team of experts to guide you through the process. Promoting your writing is in essence, promoting yourself. It is good to keep that in mind when we are speaking in public. All social media sites are public forums and our words are carried great distances on cyber breezes beyond where most of us are able to fathom.

We also want to be mindful at all times of being too invasive. Like us, other people are busy. I receive many invitations to events by authors from several sites around the web. There are countless new authors experimenting with various types of marketing in an effort to get their books in front of those who will read them. It's impossible to attend every event, which means that I must bow out of several each week. I also miss many invitations because I simply do not see them in time. That does not mean that I do not smile and say "Way to go, Author You!". I'm happy to see people grab onto their dreams and shake things up. We could do more than that, though. As authors, I believe we should help other authors promote even if it's only a tweet about their book or event.

Back to the post that I mentioned earlier. Sadly, not everyone is happy to see another author doing well or trying to do better. What is even more troublesome is to see someone climbing to the top of the field with the help of others and then pulling the ladder up behind them. When others help us climb to the top of the mountain, shouldn't we be thoughtful enough to hold the ladder for them? At the very least, shouldn't we be gracious enough to say thank you for inviting us to XY or Z, wish them good luck and send out a simple tweet, Google+ or Facebook post for their event? Something - anything that lets them know that you recognize their efforts in a seemingly overpopulated sea of authors. Statements about their efforts worded in a way that are meant to sting or belittle them in some way, are not helpful to anyone.

What can we do? Helping struggling authors or anyone in any field takes only a few moments out of your day. Sometimes, a kind word is all it takes. If you've reached the top, hold the ladder for those coming up behind you. Share your experience with them. There's no need to give away all your secrets but sharing what you've learned with others is a connection that they will not likely forget. The other side of that coin - being rude and sniping at others will also be remembered and probably for much longer. If you've read the author's book, write a review. Amazon makes it easy to write reviews. Reviews are a bright spot in the author's day. 

When a new author is having an online book launch party, giving away prizes, entered into contests and all number of things, stop by their party even if you can't stay but a minute. Say hi and wish them good luck with the book. If you have something to offer such as a free copy of your own book, share that with them to help build their prize packages for the launch. It has nothing to do with what we believe our work is worth, it is a marketing tool. The more your stories and name are out there, the more visible you are to the reading public. That's what all authors wish for, right? If they have a book trailer or story entered in a contest, take a couple of minutes to go over and vote for them. Now, I'm not saying that you should vote for every author in every contest. This is especially true if you haven't read the story, watched the trailer or if for some reason, you find their particular genre disagreeable. After all, if I don't care for red polka dotted, yellow crocodiles with pomegranates for heads, I'm not going to read about them or vote for them in a contest. 

Lest we forget, we were not born on top of the mountain of our writing careers. Everyone has to climb to the top. Very few have made that climb alone. For all of us who are still climbing the mountain; cinch up your harnesses, stock your bag with cams, chocks and hexes, get a good grip on your axe and remember to allow a little slack in the rope for the unexpected. It's time to dig in and make it to the summit. Pay no mind to those who are throwing rocks over the edge - tuck in tight and write!

Way to go, Author You!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Be True to Your Characters & Their Story

There are times when we are writing and the story seems to go nowhere & everywhere all at the same time. I recently ran into this problem while writing the third book in the trilogy, Rough Hewn. I was struggling with the direction the characters had taken. I felt as though I was flapping in the wind every time I sat down to type out a paragraph. I ultimately realized the problem I was having was not with the story itself but with my interpretation of it. I was holding back. Trying to save the characters from the pain I saw coming, as it were.

You see, I was trying to guide my characters rather than allow them to guide my writing of their story. In that, I was telling their story from the point of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing for protection. What I should've been doing was being honest in the telling of their story. After all, it seldom happens in real life that we can protect those we love from all the bad in the world around us. Therefore, Carolyn and her friends will have to endure more of the bad while recognizing and celebrating the good - just like in real life.

As writers, we cannot be a buffer between our characters and the bad things that come their way any more than we can prevent our own loved ones from experiencing sadness in real life. We are not here to protect our characters; we are here to tell their story.

My advice to you would be to try not to absorb the hit for your characters. Write honestly and expose the entire story. The bad comes whether we want it to or not. If we are lucky, the good will outweigh the bad. Being that we are the ones writing the story, we can choose the ending - good or bad - and like in life, we strive for a good ending.

Last night I did one of the hardest things I've had to do as a writer. I went back and deleted approximately 20,000 words from Carolyn's story. That left me with 20,092 words in the third book of the trilogy and a feeling of defeat. I felt as though I was starting over, even though a third of the story remained intact. In the end, I realized that it was better to remove what was not working than to tell only part of the story. Besides, your readers want the whole story - not butterflies and blooms on every page.

How many of you have had to rewrite a large portion of your story or stories?


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Social Media, Passion, Goals, Restart

It is hard to believe the first week of March in nearly over. Where does the time go? Who else finds it hard to keep up with all the social media sites you've joined? Surely, there is a better way to keep track of what, when and where in the seemingly endless chasm that is online promotion and marketing. Admittedly, I am about as scatter-brained as they come these days. I make notes - many, many notes. I begin each month with very specific plans and notes - can't forget the notes - only to find myself thrashing about in the dark waters of the dreaded over-scheduled month. How did that happen, again? I did it to myself.

Does it seem impossible to write while trying to connect and keep up with that long list of social media sites you've joined? What happens when we can't keep up? As I see it, we doom ourselves to fail. I don't see this failure as some horrid dream-ending monster. No. I believe we can take a step back and look at what we have done to ourselves - self-imposed failure, as it were. The good news is that this type of failure is simple enough to correct. You see, if we do/did it to ourselves, we are the ones in control of the outcome. No outside entity has swooped in to steal our time away. We - YOU - are in control.

I would suggest taking a day away from technology of all sorts. Unplug from the world around you. Find a quiet spot where no one will interrupt you, grab a tablet and an ink pen and elucidate your goals. It is important that you know and write down your goals. I'm not talking about daydreams. I mean those goals that you intend to work toward with a burning desire fueled by your passion. Once you know what they are, you can set them down on paper and decide what you will do to realize them. The course is different for each of us.

For instance, let's say you'd like to write a short story by the end of next month. That is doable, right? Of course it is, until you are swamped with work from your day job, bombarded by requests from volunteer groups or family members who have decided this is the month they'll find something to fill your every waking moment. On top of this, you have normal home/yard chores to complete. Oh, you almost forgot the the promotion you need to do for your last book. Exhausted yet?

Now back to your goals list. It can be as short or as long as you'd like it to be. There are no rules here; it is your list - your life. I have to admit, I find it best to work on short-term goals. When the list is too long or too far out, it seems less attainable. Of course it isn't, it just seems that way. This is why shorter lists work best for me. In order to complete a short story by the end of next month and do the other things that don't fall under the umbrella of author tasks, you'll have to decide what days you'll write and how many words you'll need to write before typing 'The End'. Let's say your story will be 12,000 words and you are only able to write two days out of each week between now and the end of next month. That comes out to be approximately 750 words per day or 1500 words each week. Not hard at all when you break it down like that. Looking at this post alone, to this point it tallies near 600 words. In this instance, I'm praying my lack of mathematical skills is not showing.

So, clear your calendar for part of those two days each week and set a goal to write a given number of words per day. Some days you'll write more and some you'll write less. It should balance out in the end. You may even surprise yourself and write an entire novel. Carry a tablet, recorder or laptop to doctor's visits, children's soccer games and wherever else you go. You'll be able to write while waiting.

Social Media

This is where I struggle. It is increasingly difficult to keep up with all the promotion and marketing it takes for an author to be seen in the sea of new authors out there. We have to be careful that the undertow doesn't pull us so far out that we lose sight of our passion. Writing is the passion. More often than not, social media is how readers discover authors today. That means, no matter how you feel about it, you must be out there interacting with people online.

I'm no expert on social media. However, there are those who are quite adept at standing out online. These are a few, there are many more out there. Follow them on Google +, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, AUTHORSsB, Pinterest or wherever else you can find them. They offer great advice for nothing and if you find you still cannot keep up, many have an affordable plan to help you.

  • Master Koda Promotions (Publisher, Marketing & Promotions +. Master Koda Select Publishing is also the publisher for my upcoming Rough Hewn Trilogy.)
  • Kristen Lamb (Author of We Are Not Alone - The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.) 
  • Advantage Marketing for You (WP Customization, Webhosting, Websites Services, Consultation, Virtual Assistance, Podcasting, Voice Overs & Audio/Video Editing, Magazine Ad Creation, Ebook and CD Cover Creation, Banner and Button Creation) 
A simple online search will uncover numerous social media experts who freely share tips on creating an online platform.
We need to adjust our lists, not our passions or dreams. Again, YOU are in control. If you've fallen behind, give yourself permission to 'restart'. Create a path to reach your goal that is doable for you, one that fits into your life plan. Remember to ask for help when you need it. Let's face it we are only human.