I’ll admit my mind is blown knowing there are over 10, 000 Emotion Thesaurus books out there in the world. Becca and I are thrilled, and so appreciative to all the writers and teachers who took a chance on it. As aspiring novelists, we know just how hard it is to write and the perseverance it takes to create a book. Providing a tool to help other writers with emotion is nothing short of an honor (sappy, I know, but true. Writers rule and we love you guys!)
In that same spirit of wanting to contribute, we thought it might be beneficial to share our focus as we sent The Emotion Thesaurus into the world. We realize this is a non-fiction book, not fiction. Novels are a harder sell--instead of dealing primarily with what a audience NEEDS like NF, it is more about what they WANT, and personal reading tastes are unpredictable. However, much of the strategy we used with the ET can be adapted for fiction, so hopefully novelists will find value here regardless.
A Bit of History...
As many of you know, The Emotion Thesaurus started on the blog as a 'set' of lists focusing on how to show a character’s feelings. Becca and I struggled with emotion, and when we could not find a good resource to help us, we created one. As it grew in popularity, readers asked us to turn it into an enhanced book version.
We chose self publishing for a few reasons, the most important being TIME. It can take years for a book to find a publisher and then be available to purchase, and writers and teachers needed it NOW. We also discovered someone pirating our content for profit, so waiting any longer to create the book would be foolhardy. We launched The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression on May 14th, 2012.
What We Had Going For Us
PLATFORM. Becca and I have worked since 2008 to build a place within the Writing Community, providing resources through this blog and forging genuine relationships with our audience. Our attitude has always been to contribute and do what we can to add value. It was our hope that our readers would be willing to help raise awareness for The Emotion Thesaurus book.
NICHE. Our book tackled a topic that writers struggle with, yet few resources were available to help. As writers, we knew exactly what type of tool was needed to help with emotion and body language.
What Stood Against Us
LACK OF CREDIBILITY. Becca and I were not authors (yet), nor accredited editors, and certainly not psychologists or experts on emotion. We had a platform, but no ‘book world’ clout. How could we possibly compete with the biggies in the Writing Resource field, names like Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, James N. Frey, The Plot Whisperer, or the dozens of other incredible, best-selling authors/experts?
SELF PUBLISHING. While the stigma is lessening, we all know bias remains. In some ways, creating a how-to writing resource and then choosing self publishing over traditional acted as a strike against us, meaning we would have to really prove ourselves with readers.
CONFIDENCE. This business is often a murky pool of feeling not worthy, not good enough. Without a book deal in place for our fiction to give us credibility or a degree/subject-specific education to hold up, we felt naked. Putting ourselves out there and donning the hat of authority that comes with writing any sort of how-to guide was terrifying.
The Scale Tipper
PASSION, BELIEF & TEAMWORK. As writers, we knew people needed this book. Heck, we needed it! We decided to create the best brainstorming tool we could and put all our effort into making it discoverable to those who might benefit from it. Working as a team allowed us to play off each others' strengths and aided in decision-making.
READYING FOR LAUNCH
- Set up a business
- Paid for a professional edit
- Hired a cover designer
- Outsourced formatting to a HTML goddess because the book is full of links and redirects
- Test-marketed it with a select group of writers & used feedback to strengthen
MISTAKE: choosing a launch date and under-estimating the time it would take for setting up the business (two authors in different countries is a pain), uploading, formatting challenges, fixing last minute typos (again, our formatter Heather is worth her weight in gold!) This created lots of down-to-the-wire stress. Test marketing the book (while super valuable) also meant enabling changes late in the game.
First Hurdle: Launching A Book Without Feeling Like A Timeshare Salesman
For two writers who hate promoting, this was a massive challenge. Look at me! I have a book! Buy it! <---our personal nightmare. We needed a way to let people know about the ET but not be eye-bulging, book-waving maniacs about it. After many facetimes, we realized that to do this in a way that felt right, we needed to return to our AUTHOR BRAND: writers helping & supporting other writers.
“Random Acts of Kindness for Writers” became our secret plan: instead of making our release date about us, we would do something to celebrate & thank writers. This was risky in the sense that to do it authentically, we had to steer attention AWAY from our book’s release. However, we felt the reward was twofold--traffic to our site, and it allowed us a way to pour our flag-waving passion into celebrating people who really deserve recognition and yet rarely get it. This event aligned perfectly with our pay-it-forward beliefs, driving us to do all we could to make it a success.
For brevity's sake, I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how we set up the RAOK Blitz (but if enough people wish it, I can expand on this in a future post). Suffice to say it drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of writers participated, becoming a huge ‘feel good’ week for everyone that showcased the generous spirits of our Writing Community. :)
Marketing Boost: Becca and I gave away a free PDF called ‘Emotion Amplifiers’ as our RAOK gift to writers. This PDF booklet is a companion to The Emotion Thesaurus and has a similar layout. Our hope was that if a writer found it helpful, they might check the ET as well. (It’s still in our sidebar if you want a copy and helps with describing conditions like pain, exhaustion, stress, inebriation, etc.)
Second Hurdle: Reviews
A self-published book that is also non-fiction? Rough. Many professional reviewers will not take on SP books, and those that do usually only read fiction. So, instead of seeking out review sites, we put out a call out to Bookshelf Muse readers and asked if any of them were interested in reviewing the book. After all, the ET is BY writers FOR writers. Who better to review it? :)
We could not accommodate all the requests that came in, so we chose some reviewers strategically for their audience reach, and others through a random draw.
MISTAKE: We should have arranged for reviews much sooner. Due to not leaving ourselves enough time to get the book ready to go, we were unable to get a decent version out to reviewers until close to launch or after.
LUCK! Many people, after buying and using the ET, were so happy with it they wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
MORE LUCK! These reviews swayed even MORE people to take a chance on the book, and they in turn became avid word-of-mouth spreaders, telling writing friends and critique partners all about The Emotion Thesaurus. This led to better sales, top 20 ranking in several (paid) writing categories for print & kindle, a strong Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and placement on the Top Rated, Best Selling & Most Wished For lists (writing).
Marketing Tactics - Swag
We chose to invest in a postcard-sized bookmark that doubles as a Revision Tool. Many bookmarks lie forgotten in a drawer, or they end up being recycled. We wanted ours to stay right beside the computer during revisions, so we printed a ‘Crutch Word List’ on one side--words we commonly overuse and need to weed out. Our hope was that by making our swag useful, writers would hang onto it!
Spreading the word about a book can be difficult, so we put out a call (again utilizing our blog readers) and asked if people would be willing to take our bookmarks and hand them out to critique groups, or give them out at conferences and workshops. This allowed us to reach out beyond our own circle and hopefully reach new readers.
MISTAKE (?) This was a bit pricey considering the postage involved (some were sent worldwide), and took time to get addresses and mail out. We had no way to track the effectiveness. And while I have heard from people who said they saw them at conferences or were given one by another writer, we are not sure if the ‘mail out’ idea brought a significant return. But, the postcards are super handy to have at events where Becca and I are presenting, and we can pass them out afterward to keep the ET in people’s minds. So overall, this swag was worth it!
Marketing Tactics - Discoverability
The bulk of our marketing energy went into discoverability. Because we have such an amazingly supportive audience at The Bookshelf Muse, we chose a 'grassroots' approach rather than solicit big bloggers/sites for exposure. In our initial blog post asking for assistance from readers, we utilized a sign up form so the people who wanted to help us could, and in a manner that most appealed to them. The results of this was amazing--so many people offered to help get the word out!
One of our biggest needs was bloggers willing to host us for a visit. We were overwhelmed with gratitude to see how many people were willing to do this (have I mentioned how great you all are?) and we actually had to change how our form was worded to include offering book excerpts and reblogging previous TBM posts to accommodate the response. We ended up with over 115 hosts all told.
Attempting so many guest posts
caused panic attacks, obsessive chocolate binging, feelings of inadequacy *coughs* was daunting. But Becca organized everything (SHE IS AMAZING!) and put us on an aggressive schedule that would allow us to finish them all within a 4 month window. We created a master list of topics, most centered directly on content that would tie into Emotion & Body Language, so that each post was a planned, quality post. The best thank you to those who offered to help us was to write content that would bring them strong traffic, not just exposure for us.
GUEST POST TIP: We did our best to thank personally every person who hosted and helped. We also shared all links on our social networks to bring new people to their blogs. We truly appreciated their time and energy, and their desire to see us succeed.
MISTAKE #1: biting off more than we could chew. This was an enormous amount of guest posts (with more requests coming in as a result of this visibility) and so it meant we were both unable to write anything but blog content for a good 4 months. We managed to get them done and we have no regrets because of the great exposure, but it also meant other things slipped. There were a few blogging relationships and opportunities we were unable to stay on top of because we were so busy posting elsewhere. We also had a tough time commenting on blogs and getting email written. With such a strict timeline to adhere to, I worried about messing up and forgetting something vital, letting a host down.
MISTAKE #2: not thinking enough about how to keep up with our own blog AND everyone else’s. Luckily as we met new people at different blogs, we found folks who wanted to guest post for us. We were able to give them exposure in return and bring some good content to the blog (LUCK!) So while we made a mistake about over committing, it worked out.
MORE LUCK! These ‘seed’ guest posts led to some writing communities and bigger organizations contacting us. This resulted in book reviews and giveaways that were included in newsletters and offered exposure with bigger audiences. The Discoverability Tour worked!
Marketing Tactics: Giveaways
We utilized giveaways to generate interest in our book and bring attention to some of the blogs we visited. We purposefully did not host book giveaways during the month of May to encourage people to buy, not wait to win. We had a few giveaways in June and then more in July, August and September. Some were bigger exposure opportunities like being featured in a banner at the Writer’s Knowledge Base and as a prize at Ink Pageant (thanks guys--you rock!) We tried to go where our readers would be, and took advantage of opportunities that allowed us to reach beyond the Kidlit & YA writer’s network we know best in order to create inroads with Christian and other Adult genres who might not know us or The Bookshelf Muse.
Marketing Tactics: Distribution Channels
Becca and I talked about going KDP Select but neither of us could see the benefit to doing so right out the gate. In our minds, we wanted to ask a fair price for the books and have it available across as many channels as possible to reach readers where they are, not where we ‘chose’ to be. We distributed widely and included a PDF option for those who did not have ereaders or who felt more comfortable with PDF format. For those who like numbers, here’s the breakdown to 10,000 which we hit in September:
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*Prior to September, Kobo sales were bundled with Smashwords. Once Kobo created their own distribution, we uploaded direct. Sony sales are under the Smashwords umbrella.
You will notice that Print is quite strong. We believe this is partly because many writers like 'craft' books in paperback. We also have had feedback that some original digital buyers were so pleased with the ET, they later decided to invest in a print version, too.
Pricing: We chose the 4.99 price point for digital, and 14.99 for print. We have not changed the price nor offered the book for free. In the future we may change our pricing, but for now it works well with Extended Distribution, which we sell enough through to make it important to keep.
MISTAKE: not enabling Extended Distribution right from the start. Originally we didn’t think it would do us much good, until we realized without it, we could not get onto Amazon.ca. Seeing as I live in Canada, it is important that the people I meet at events or at my workshops have a way to get the book. Not doing this before May meant a six week lag of fielding emails from Canadians unable to buy the book.
Marketing Tactics: Paid Advertizing
We opted to not invest in any paid advertising. I think this was the right decision for us, but do see us choosing a few select ads in the future.
Where We Got Extra Lucky
- Winning Top 20 Best Blogs For Writers with Write To Done a few months before The Emotion Thesaurus released. This raised our profile significantly, and at a critical time.
- Once sales started climbing, Amazon would send out mailers to people who purchased writing related books, and sometimes The Emotion Thesaurus was listed as a ‘Those that purchased X might also like’ pick.
- A price war between B & N and Amazon. For the last week of September, the two duked it out, lowering the book’s price daily until the discount put it under 10 bucks. Average sales nearly doubled for print (although sales dipped that week for Kindle).
A Few Extraneous Mistakes
- Not soliciting endorsements. We didn’t do this in advance of publishing the ET because we were worried about being turned down, worried about getting the cold shoulder because we were newcomers and new authors. Now more than ever we are seeing an acceptance of SP, and of Traditional authors making the leap. Endorsements probably would have helped us greatly and so moving forward we’ll be seeking them out.
- Not believing in ourselves enough at the start. I think we wasted a lot of energy on doubt because we hadn’t published before (except in magazines) and we were afraid that while we felt The Emotion Thesaurus added value, others would not. The response to The Emotion Thesaurus has been nothing short of phenomenal and knowing that Illinois State University is using it in their Creative Writing curriculum makes us incredibly proud. A self published book going to University...who would have thought?
Thoughts to Leave You With
Looking back, I believe we did two things right that led to everything else:
First, we created a book that readers are very happy with, and it fulfills a need in a way that they are excited to share it with people they know. (We are so, so, SO grateful to this word-of-mouth. Thank you all for doing this!)
Second, we live our brand: writers who help and support other writers. This is who we are! We love writers and have forged genuine relationships with our readers. When we needed help to spread the word, people responded, and more than that, became our advocates. There are not enough thank yous in the world for me to say what this means to us.
If I can encourage writers planning to publish to do one thing beyond the above, it’s to be authentic in whatever you do. When you build your platform, start in advance and think very hard about what your brand will be. Be yourself, be likable, do what feels right and resonates with who you are. Understand your audience, their likes and dislikes, and search them out. Use keywords to find blogs, forum discussions and hashtags that will help you discover people who might be interested in a book like yours. Interact, be genuine and think about how you can add value, not how you can market to them. Focus on giving, not getting. Trust that the rest will come. :)
Do you have any questions about what we did or why? Becca and I are happy to answer if we are able. And again, the biggest, squishiest, bacon-filled thank you for all your support of us and the ET. Your word-of-mouth has allowed writers and teachers everywhere to discover this book!
First of all, the winner of the first chapter critique (as chosen by Randomizer.org) is C. Lee McKenzie!!
I've been busy lately. Life has gotten crazy and I've been practicing my mad juggling skills between kids, volunteer work, and writing. Oh and I'm pregnant, which I didn't announce publicly until now, but what the hey! Three times is the charm. :D
What's my point? Through everything, I've been bound and determined to keep at it. To keep writing because it means - YOU ALL MEAN - so much to me. I can't imagine my life without it now. But something was missing. When I did find a precious few minutes, and I forced myself to work, I was still having a lot more trouble than usual expressing myself the way I'm used to.
I figured it out, folks. So I have to share it with all of you. The problem was that I had let something important go in favor of writing time. READING time. I've been in book withdrawal and I hate it! Reading is just as important to writers as writing. Let me repeat that because it's so important.
READING IS JUST AS IMPORTANT TO WRITERS AS WRITING.
The more I feed that part of my brain with delicious, nutritious books, the better I'm able to write with confidence. Do I copy authors I love? No. Certainly not consciously. But I let them INSPIRE me. I try to note what I love and find what's missing in my work so that I can round it out. Example? I just finished Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. OMG I devoured it. If you don't read her work, go fix that RIGHT NOW. I have four more books bought and ready to be gobbled up as well. And it's pumping up my writing brain. I can't explain how it works exactly, I can only tell you that it does.
You need to read anyway. You need to know your genre and others. But if you don't get joy from reading you're probably in the wrong profession. So do me a favor and join me, will you? Go read a good book. Give up TV time or something else. But squeeze it in.
I posted today on Enchanted Inkpot about what makes a fantasy classic. I'd love it if you visit me there too!
First, I owe you an apology. Over the last couple of months, I know that we haven’t spent much quality time together. I’ve been so busy at work and I’m sorry if you felt that I was neglecting you.
I really appreciate your patience. I know that we’ve talked about our future and exciting plans. I haven’t forgotten. Sometimes it’s the only thing that has kept me going over these last few crazy weeks. Please know that you’ve been close in my heart all this time.
I’m excited about our upcoming vacation together. My hope for us is that we can rekindle the creativity and passion again in Hawaii. I look forward to spending quality time with you on the beach in the shade of palm trees. You will have the full attention you deserve and I will listen to you and we can move forward.
I want you to know that I haven’t given up on us and please know that you are a very important part of my life.
If you could write a letter to your novel, what would you say?
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen Sandra Tayler
, speaking at the 2011 Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE)
conference, addressed the perennial question of finding balance. She said you can balance your life by paying attention (as in at least 10 minutes a day) to the five things that are most important to you.
I've amplified Sandra's five things to illustrate the technique. Source of Inspiration
The word inspire comes from Latin root that mean, "to breath into." Many creation stories have God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Amorphous Essence of the Universe breathing life into creation.
What is it that breaths life into your writing, your work, and your very existence?
What fills you with joy in being?
Whatever it may be, take time each day to reconnect with your source of inspiration.Important Relationships
For good or ill, humans are social animals. Much of our sense of who we are is a function of those with whom we are close. Put another way, much of what we do is motivated by the people with whom we have the most important relationships. Some have pursued their art at the expense of those relationships and wound up with no one to share it with when they won the prize.
Take time each day to acknowledge and nurture your important relationships. Not only will you have more support right now, you'll likely have someone to appreciate it when you succeed.Health and Welfare
As Count Rugen, in the Princess Bride
, says, "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.
Take time to take care of yourself. Writing
If you are serious about writing it should have a high priority. While writing every day is an important habit, the point here is that you ought to do something related to writing each day to keep in touch with your passion."Something only I care about."
Sherry Wachter, writing on The Blood Red Pencil
, talked about the importance of a room of one's own
. That is, how having a project of your own makes it easier to compromise when you're working on someone else's project. Taking time each day to do something only you care about is essential if you don't want to lose track of yourself amid all the demands placed upon you. Balance = The Things that Matter
You can think of this as the plate-spinner approach to personal balance. Like the performer who runs back and forth spinning up the plates that are slowing down, taking time each day to at least touch the five most important things in your life will go a long way to helping you find balance.
And don't think of it as balancing your life. The job of balancing an entire life is overwhelming. Sandra Tayler said, "Balance the day and the year will take care of itself."Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.
It’s drilled into us by the Publishing Powers That Be
: platform, platform, platform.
Embrace Social Media. Blog. Get on twitter. Engage. Network. Connect. Start early, think ahead, get a platform in place before
the deal.And because we want to give ourselves the best chance of being noticed, we do it.
Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and more. We participate in blog hops, help promo new books, run contests, join writing list-serves and organizations, post on forums, interact through writing support circles and groups. We host giveaways, we retweet, we #FF & #MM, we review books and we critique. We learn about SEO and back-linking and stress about Klout scores. We Follow. We Like. We+1. After all, this is what we were told to do, right?For writers, putting time and energy into an online presence is the new norm.
Time, hard work and luck all factor in on how successful a platform becomes. And some writers are very successful at building their platform. That's good...right? Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, except for the but.Hold it...there's a BUT in this scenario?
Yes, and here it is:
Sometimes instead driving your platform, your platform drives you.
A great platform is every writer’s end game...but the cold, hard fact is that it comes at a price: TIME. It takes a lot of time to manage a successful online presence.
When it starts to chew up too much, we get hit with a fish-slap of reality: there's no time to read. The research we need to do for our WIP is always on the back burner. Our family rarely sees us without a laptop or wireless device in our hand. And, the death blow? We're spending all our time blogging and networking instead of writing.
Eventually, a writer in this situation will become fed up, especially if they aren't seeing dividends as a result of platform building (an agent's attention, the editor's interest, the deal to celebrate). They begin to resent their blogs, or twitter, or whatever else is murdering their writing time. They also may resent those who preach that writers ‘must have’ a platform. Social Media Fatigue sets in, and as the pressure to keep everything going builds, a writer flirts with the idea of just...walking...away.
Running yourself ragged is not
the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not
the solution. Change is.
So if you are finding all your time is spent trying to gain online visibility instead of writing, you need a SOCIAL MEDIA INTERVENTION
Consider this your therapy session.
Experiencing Social Media Fatigue?
Look at what you’re doing for platform and what is draining your passion and time. What avenues can you cut back on? What can you do more efficiently? Here are some common TIME EATERS and POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:
SYMPTOM: Blogging Burn Out
Blogging can be a big chore if you aren't into it. Do you struggle to come up with topics? Are you always writing posts? Do you like blogging but it takes up too much of your time?
CURE: --Blog less.
Cut back on your blogging schedule. --J
First off, I would like to send good luck to all of my writer friends who are participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I’m not doing it this year but I’ll cheer the rest of you on. 50K in 30 days. Whew. Makes me tired just thinking about it. :)
For the last few weeks, I’ve had a valid excuse to not work so much on my novel revision because of my day job craziness. But now that’s slowing down and I’m still finding other ways to avoid what needs to be done — scene rewrites, logic fixes, character mishaps.
It’s amazing how other tasks can seem so pressing. More pressing than sitting in front of the computer or blank page. Could there be any “pros” in procrastination? Any type of benefit?
Let’s look at some of the “pressing” tasks that I’ve completed:
- Reorganized my tupperware.
- Washed all the baseboards in the house.
- Changed my air filter and dusted out my vents.
- Cleaned and sealed my bathroom tile grout.
- Reorganized my closet and donated items to Goodwill.
This past weekend, I finished an epic procrastination task: I decided that I would redesign my blog.
The software geek in me really loved this. It was on my list for things to do in 2012, but why put off something for tomorrow when you can do it today — insert irony here — so for my RSS and email readers, take a looksy and let me know what you think.
It’s still in the tweaking stages. For those of you who need custom blog headers or other promotional material design such as bookmarks, writer friend Heather McCorkle has started CP Design that you should definitely check out.
But seriously, I need to start back work on the novel revisions. Maybe some of you NaNoWriMo writers can rub off on me. I need to regain my focus!
So how about you writer friends? Procrastinated lately? Do you get any “pros” out of it?
Literally. Today I have to clean my house because I cannot stand it another minute. This seems to be my current M.O. I wait until I can't bear it, then I clean. And I clean everything. Today I started by cleaning up my website. Go check it out: www.sandradehelen.com
As soon as I return from picking up my granddaughter from school, I will start at the top of my place (sleeping loft) and keep going until I have shoveled out the hovel. This time all clutter has to go. It's fall cleaning with a vengeance. Tomorrow I will pack for my 3 week trip. So, yes, my place will be dirty when I come back home. Cat hair, litter, and dust will be everywhere again. But no clutter (there isn't that much now, truthfully). But all the extra clothes, bric-a brac, magazines, and so on will be gone. Books delivered to the library. Things I thought might come in handy delivered to Goodwill along with clothes I didn't wear this summer.
I feel 10 pounds lighter already! I did not walk yesterday, nor did I eat my allotment of fruit and veggies. I was groggy all day yesterday because I got a migraine at 11pm the night before and took my meds. I wasn't able to just sleep off the headache because I had my handyguy coming at 9am. So I had to get up, and then of course I just stayed up, loggerheaded, all day. Back to semi-normal today, and I will meet my commitments today. Remember, my commitment is to walking FIVE days a week, so I'm allowed one more day of not walking this week. Veggies should be SEVEN days. So, I have missed one day. I will try to make it today for sure. You? How's your day going? How is your commitment to health coming along? And what about your balance between health and creativity? How you doing? Eh?
Having the same problem I always have: balance. When I add in focusing on walking and getting enough veggies, I forget about getting enough pages. This should not be difficult. We're only talking about 10 minutes of walking a day at this point! Of course, I am also running errands, doing household chores and catching up from having been gone all last week, but still.
Must get better at folding in new stuff. Just like in a recipe.
How do YOU do it? Right now I feel exhausted, and it's 6:13pm. Please, just tell me how you manage to do it all.
Right now, I’m struggling not to freak out because of all the things that I have to do in these last 3 months of the year. As some of you already know, I work in software development and sometimes we tend to have “shades of crazy” schedules.
This may be one of the primary reasons that my current novel project has had its stalls but I try to put things in perspective. It is all about balance and reality — because I have to earn an living first.
Last night after finishing a 12-hour stint I felt a little resentful because once again my “day job” was taking valuable time away from my manuscript. But then I had to remember to put things in perspective. I may not be able to work on my writing as much as I would like but I shouldn’t throw in the towel.
I should keep writing. Even if it’s only for a few minutes in small packets of time. Or only on the weekends.
Usually when I start feeling like this, I listen to one of my favorite songs “Keep Looking” by Sade. Many times, this song has given me the “umph” to not give up.
I love this particular lyric:
It’s no use sitting down
Don’t walk ’round with a frown
Oh no, keep looking
It’s no use sitting around
With your head in your hands
Oh no, keep looking
So no matter what your struggle is — whether it be something in your novel project or in your life — always remember to keep looking and the solution and/or answer always makes itself known.
And keep writing! :)
I know as writers, we tend to spend a lot of our time writing and reading. These two main components are very important, but also having outside interests. I was talking with a writer friend about some of our other interests — things that have *nothing* to do with writing and how they balance our lives, keep us learning, or just are plain fun.
Here are some of my non-writing interests:
Nails. I have a minor obsession with manicures and pedicures. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have seen pictures of some of my favorite nail colors and manicures. My current favorite thing is the the Gelish manicure which stays on your nails chip-free for up to 2 weeks. Love it! I also love the fact manis and pedis can very be soothing and it’s always fabulous to have pretty hands and feet.
Fitness. I’ve always been into some kind of sports but fell out of habit after college. In the last few years, I’ve renewed my love of the gym — in particular — spinning, which is basically an instructor-led class on a stationary bike. I love these classes! They always fill me up with lovely endorphins and challenge me to get stronger. Plus it has also led to me losing 30 lbs in the last two years, which has helped out a lot health-wise as well. Now I’m starting to focus on the world of strength-training.
Needlepoint. My craft of choice is the cross-stitch. I have several “masterpieces” that I’ve made over the years. It was one of the easier crafts to learn being left-handed. There is something very therapeutic about cross-stitching. It helps me calm down and gives me pleasure plus I love displaying the final results in beautiful frames and giving them as gifts to friends and family.
What about you writer friends? What are some of your non-writing interests? What kind of pleasure or learning experience do you gain from them?
I know that for a writing blog I should write about “show, don’t tell,” but today I’m going to digress and do “show and tell” instead.
When I started writing thirty years ago by taking the ICL writing course, I had a newborn, a two-year-old and a five-year-old. I found that babies and bylines could mix.
Last week I discovered that principle all over again with the arrival of my youngest granddaughter.
I want you to meet Elayna Joy, who was born last Tuesday night. I got to hold her when she was about an hour old. I’m blessed to have this baby living just a ten-minute walk away!
In the Blink of an Eye
I almost never post personal notes, but I have permission from Elayna’s parents (Jacqui and Michael) to post some photos. And I want to take this time to say that, although babies and bylines can mix, babies grow up fast. You barely blink and they’re crawling, walking, running, and off to school. Hold them while you can. I plan to!
I’ve had hundreds of students over the years who were young moms and dads trying to balance their writing and children. I never made children and writing an either/or situation. I wanted to have both in my life, and both have brought me such great joy.
But as much as I love writing, it was never more important to me than my kids. And it’s not more important than my grandchildren either.
So today’s post is short–I’m off to rock my granddaughter!
Hey people! I've been working on a post idea that's near and dear to my heart, but since Critterpalooza is still going strong and the cause is too good to be derailed, I've decided to accept Stasia Kehoe's gracious offer and post as a guest on her blog, Writer on the Side.
Stasia is like a lot of us: a writer who's also a parent, a spouse, a [fill in the blank]. And yet she's still managed to reach that magical publication goal we all dream of (her first book, Audition, hits the shelves in 2011). She gives me hope that despite my varied responsibilities, I can do the same. So if you're struggling with balance in your crazy writing world, head on over and check out today's post, along with the rest of Stasia's awesome blog.Also, check out Angela's guest post over at Operation Awesome for a little road trip through that scary place called her brain, find out why she likes zombies, what she has to say about querying and lots more. Oh, and then commence with the Critter shenanigans! 17 prizes to be won, so get in on this awesome contest!
Emma Walton Hamilton
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Writing is hard enough. On any given day I wrestle with hundreds of distractions – some real, like my children’s needs or my other professional commitments, some self-imposed, like checking email or needing snacks. But when the holidays roll around, maintaining any level of productivity is a challenge of epic proportions. Between the shopping, wrapping and sending (both personal and corporate), card-making and sending (again, personal and professional), household decorating, cooking, attending holiday events at school, work, and with friends, and the very real and important desire to spend as much time as possible with my family, there’s barely a moment left for writing.
But I can’t afford to stop altogether – that would mean both a loss in income and a loss of ‘muscle.’ Writing is a discipline, like working out, and in order to do it well I have to stay in shape. So I need to be extra creative at this time of year to juggle the extra load and still stay somewhat sane.
Here are some of the ways I maintain focus and momentum with my writing during the holiday season:
- Organize and consolidate the gift-giving – I try every year to come up with a unique and personal gift that will work for most of the people on my list. Last year it was a custom cookbook with all our favorite family recipes. In previous years, we’ve made bulb-planting kits, jeweled book ‘thongs’ (i.e. strappy bookmarks), and made countless yummies with recipes attached. We’ve purchased dozens of copies of one favorite book, or found unusual gifts that are also charitable contributions. This not only limits the amount of time I spend shopping (I still get individualized gifts for my immediate family and a few special friends), but it also makes the holiday budget much more manageable.
- Enlist the family’s support and assistance – I send out over 500 holiday cards, when you factor in both personal and the corporate ones. To simplify this, I print our holiday message inside, thus greatly minimizing how many I need to hand-write in. (Again, I do put personal messages in a few, but not all.) I also print mailing labels, as opposed to hand addressing (I know – but I’m lucky to be getting out holiday cards at all, let alone hand addressing them!) Then I recruit the kids and my husband and anyone else who’s around and game to help for stuffing, labeling, sealing, stamping, mailing etc. I also lean heavily on my family for help decorating the house, tree, etc.
- Stay flexible about my writing time, and space. While I greatly prefer to write in my home office, in the morning or early afternoon, with the door closed and a cup of tea at my side, the reality is that I have learned to write at the kitchen table with chaos going on all around me. I have also learned to write at odd hours, and in other places. For instance, I am writing this post in a waiting room while my daughter is at an appointment…
- Keep lists. I save my holiday gift and card lists on my computer, so I can call them up each year and adjust them accordingly, rather than having to create them again from scratch. I also record the holiday bonuses we give to mail carriers, garbage collectors and other service providers, so I am consistent and don’t forget anyone.
- Remember my priorities. In the end, I know I will not look back and wish I had spent more time working, but I may well look back and wish I had spent more time with my family. December is actually my favorite time of year in our little town, as everything is so beautiful, and everyone is in high spirits… and I love our family’s annual holiday tradit
I loved this piece, "I'm Only Really Happy When I'm Writing, Or When I'm Having Lots Of Fun With My Friends And Family." As usual, The Onion nails it:
"...It always comes back to the writing: the discipline, the stamina required, the unrelenting determination to give voice to my innermost thoughts, thoughts that illuminate the cracks and crevices of the human condition. That is my only satisfaction. That and watching a really good movie on late-night TV...."
I find writing so satisfying and really do get unhappy when I'm out of my routine... and wish my routine were more routine than it is... but I need frequent breaks and human contact, too. Last year I went on a solo writing retreat, and let me tell you: after six days in a cabin in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, with no phone or Internet service (and only Season One of Buffy on DVD), I was going nuts.
This past week, in contrast, I spent several days hanging out with old friends in a house on the Pacific Coast, and I did not a lick of writing. By the end, I was definitely raring to get back to it, but taking a break from writing actually felt great! Balance in all things...
Besides, if I'm not out in the world gathering experiences, what am I going to write about next?
Exploring a sea cave at Pescadero Beach on New Year's Day, 2011; photo by my friend Dave
ooks are piled everywhere, clamoring to be read.A
ist (never completed, never shorter) sitsA
t my place at the table. IN
eed to vacuum and dust, not to mentionC
heck papers and write lesson plans. ButE
verything can wait while we have this cup of tea together.
©Mary Lee Hahn, 2010
Last spring, we took our fourth graders to a leadership camp, where they took part in all kinds of team-building activities. One activity was a giant platform teeter-totter that could hold an entire small group of students. Their goal was to arrange themselves on the platform so that it was still and balanced. The group I was with was not having an easy time with teamwork, and they attacked this challenge, as they had the others, without communication and planning. The camp counselor and I watched as the platform tipped up in one direction and they all moved to the other side of the platform, tipping it up in the other direction. Back and forth, crises after crises, no communication, no planning, no balance (but lots of squealing and bouncing and fun).
Balance, to me, is NOT when the platform of my life is completely still and level. That would be impossible to achieve for more than about 5 minutes at a time. But balance is also NOT those times when the platform of my life tips back and forth wildly. What I'm trying for is a life that dips slightly on the one side when work piles up a little too much, but that also dips slightly the other way when I put all the work aside and take time for me -- for exercise, time with friends, blogging, sleeping in. The tilt has been towards the work side the past few weeks. I'm inching my way over to the "me time" side, beginning with a cup of tea, and Poetry Friday!
Elaine has the roundup at Wild Rose Reader
this week. I'll be putting aside my to-do list tomorrow morning to come and read the week's offerings. See you then!
By: Pam Bachorz ,
Let me preface all of this by saying I adore my child, and he is the brightest spot in my life.
That being said.
Here is this morning's schedule, so far:
5:50 AM: Alarm clock rings (iPhone robot ring). Hit snooze. 9 more minutes and I will get up to write.
5:55 AM: The monitor kicks to life. "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
6:00 AM: After a bathroom trip, return Little Dude to bed. Pray he will not realize that this actually qualifies as morning. Grateful he dragged my lazy butt away from snooze-button land.
6:05 AM: Rocking on a synopsis edit. This is a miracle since I hate working on synopses.
6:10 AM: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
6:11 AM: Keep writing. Pray he will give up and go back to sleep;
6:13 AM: Second bathroom trip with Little Dude.
6:17 AM: Second bathroom trip accomplished. Trying to be patient but can only think of momentum on writing. Then Little Dude snuggles back in bed and says "Sleep is the best thing in the world, except for YOU, Mommy."
Hand him my iPod shuffle/speaker and tell him he can listen to one of his "story tapes" on there until HIS alarm goes off at 7:09. He says he will pick the story himself.
6:18 AM: Miraculously, able to jump right back into synopsis work. Five paragraphs edited and...
6:25 AM: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
The battery on the shuffle, which had a 3/4 full bar when I looked at it three minutes ago, has evidentally crapped out. That or somehow he has inadvertently brought about complete and utter iPod failure. Perhaps we need to set him to work on some North Korea nuclear enrichment plants.
I set him up with his lullabies and he tells his teddy bear that they'd better curl up and get some sleep because it's very early.
6:30 AM: Consider capitulation. How long will he rest, really? Decide to blog. And here I am. But now I think I'll try one more time.
Because this blog is all about flexing our descriptive skills, I wanted to touch on something I see from time to time when I critique: too much emotional showing.
Emotions can be the most difficult to convey (this is why Becca and I built the Emotion Thesaurus!) Not only do we need to express without telling, we have to show the emotion in a fresh way, make sure it feels genuine and have it match the character's expressive range. Add that to highlighting action and minimizing internal sensations and thoughts? It's a lot to juggle. Common ways to show emotion:Physical action (beats):
gestures, movement, ticks & tells that express emotionInternal sensations:
bodily reaction known only to the POV character Thoughts:
reactive & emotionally charged thoughts caused by stimulusDialogue:
revealing emotion verbally (and sometimes showing by what is not said!) POV Narrative:
internal musings/reflection delivered by a POV character toward a situation or setting
A balance of these elements creates a satisfying window into the character's emotional state, but too much causes an overload of sensory information
. It slows the pace, creates melodrama and disrupts the reader's belief in both the character and the events unfolding.Over-expressing occurs when we try too hard to reinforce an emotional state to the reader.
Here's an example of how this can happen. First, we need an emotion. Let's go with GUILT
Mrs Henderson lifted her day planner and rifled through the papers on her desk. "I don't understand--the stapler was here right before lunch. Did someone use it and forget to put it back?"
Amanda slid down in her seat, heat burning through her. Stupid! Why did I take it?
A very simple situation--not a lot is needed to get into Amanda's emotional state, right? Internal and external cues work together.So what if I did this:
Amanda fumbled her library book open and shoved her nose deep into the pages so she wouldn't have to look at the teacher.
Okay, again, this works.One more:
Amanda shifted in her seat, grazing her knee on the bottom of her desk. What if the teacher knew? What if she asked everyone to pull out their desk trays?
Yep, still showing guilt, blending external cues and thoughts, which give her guilt a paranoid edge. Now...what if we put it all together?
Amanda fumbled her library book open and shoved her nose deep into the pages so she wouldn't have to look at the teacher. Shifting about, she slid down in her seat and her knee grazed the bottom of her desk where she'd hid the stapler. Heat burned through her. What if the teacher knew? What if she asked everyone to pull out their desk trays? Stupid! Why did I take it?
WAAAY too much showing for this simple scenario and a medium level emotion, isn't it? Can you imagine if I'd chosen a situation rife with stronger emotions, like a character running for their life or witnessing a murder? The trick
I consider myself a naturally bubbly person but in the recent past I stumbled into a deep valley of blues.
I was sad for several weeks due to personal circumstances and honestly writing this blog and reading and commenting on your blogs were two things that helped me through this dismal period. So I appreciate that more than you know.
Here’s the thing: As a writer, it’s very hard to create when sadness is heavy in your heart. It was true for me. I didn’t write much at all during this time and this only added to my already distressed emotional state.
Writing is hard enough without the added burden of emotional distress. The cause of the sadness — whether it’s heartbreak, loss of a loved one, or other personal circumstances — the feeling is real and can’t be ignored.
As writers, our creation starts in our minds and if our minds are muddled with mental distractions, we really can’t do our best writing. We can try of course but it can be hard writing through sadness.
But there are ways that can help you cope until you can clear your mind and find your way. The following things helped me:
Be in the feeling. This may sound counter-intuitive but suppressing the sadness only temporarily buries it. Until you face it head-on, it will stay with you. I’ve found facing your sadness and accepting it is the first step to moving past it.
Know all things are temporary. Things may seem bad now but nothing stays static. Everything is always in motion. Believe that this is also the case in your situation. Nothing lasts forever.
Ask for support. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help. Ironically, until you ask, the people who love you the most may not even know there’s a problem. And seriously, don’t be afraid to take it step further and talk to a therapist.
Focus on what’s good. Although there are bad things going on in your life now, if you look deep enough, you can *always* find good things. Focus on those things and be grateful for them.
Pamper Yourself. Whether it be a bubble bath, a manicure or even the simple act of surrounding yourself with beauty like flowers or scented candles, do it for yourself. You deserve it.
The good news is that I’m feeling much better and I’ve found my way back to my writing. Operation 50/50 is just one of the ways I’m connecting back to my novel project.
For me, the lesson that I’ve learned during this time is that for every shadowed valley there is also a bright hilltop. And when you travel back up that slope and bask in the warmth of the sun, the writing will be there waiting for you.
"There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full"--Henry Kissinger
Most of the time I feel I am jogging alongside the bus; happily busy checking off my list. Other times the bus runs me over. For the past few weeks I’ve been in a in a bus-runneth-over state.
I’ll bet you’ve been here…juggling a colicky relationship, financial matters, the care of aging parents, deadlines, social obligations and the weeds in your front yard. Just when all the balls are in the air and you’ve got the rhythm down someone tosses another ball--of a different weight—and it throws you right off. Please excuse the mixed metaphors, it’s 1 AM and the little editor in my head has clocked out.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been clicking away while the neighborhood sleeps. On the up side, there are no distractions and it is a short commute to my bed. I do wonder though, how common is it for those of us working from home to put in extended hours? Do unscheduled demands throw off your juggling act? How do you handle life’s little emergencies?
Share your thoughts with your friends…
Women are givers. Women writers are some of the most giving people I know.
We tend to have stronger relationships because of it–with babies, grown children, friends, and extended family.
But unless you learn how to balance all this giving with replenishment, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write.
Gift from the Sea
It has been a particularly busy family time the last six weeks, with little sleep and even less time to write. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it either–very rewarding times. But there comes a time when you realize you’re close to being drained. Pay attention to those times, or you’ll pay for it later (in your health, in your lack of writing, and in lack of patience with those around you).
This morning I was reading a bit in one of my favorite little books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. I re-read it at least once a year. Here are a few snippets that might speak to you giving women:
- What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It leads …to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.
- Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.
- Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.
- One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some kind of creative activity of her own.
Is That You?
If you find yourself feeling fragmented and agitated today, find a way to steal away from everyone for even ten minutes of total solitude (and if possible, silence). Breathe deeply. Bring the energy spilled on everyone else back inside for a few minutes. Re-focus. Relax.
If you have a couple hours, get a copy of Gift from the Sea and read straight through it. You’ll love it!
And if you have a couple extra minutes, leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to find solitude–whether for a day or just a few minutes. We all need suggestions for this!
Yesterday was a strange mixture of joy and trauma.
Got up and volunteered at the North Mankato Triathlon with my friend Barb. We had fun, cheered on the cyclists (many of them good friends) from our appointed spot on Judson Bottom Road, and then I went to the finish and saw lots more friends I hadn't even recognized as they zipped past us in their aero tucks.
It made me miss running, but made me glad that I can ride hard and sometimes fast.
Wrote for awhile, and then mowed and trimmed and weed-ate and had an idea for one of my characters, so I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote some more.
I was putting everything away, all cleaned up, and when I pulled the garage door shut, a big piece of the door fell off (the door is old and has been falling apart since I bought the place), and one big window came crashing out, and splintered into a million pieces on the cement. There I stood, surrounded by glass.
Here's where balance comes in: I can be disgruntled by the broken door (which I am), I can be frustrated by the mess of broken glass (which I am), because I'm tired from all the mowing and trimming, or I can be happy that the glass shooting out of the door in a sheet didn't hit me in the jugular or the shin or even a toe. I can be glad one pane of glass is still hanging there, to be removed without shattering. I can be glad Freya was up by the deck, watching. I can be highly irritated that the slivers of glass even bounced into her wading pool (because they did) and that I need to clean about 32 square feet of glass shards (which I do) or I can be grateful that Freya is pooped, too, and is showing no interest in trying to get into her wading pool at this moment (which she could be doing). I can also be irritated that now I can't close what's left of the door (which I am), or I can assess it (which I do) and climb up to figure out a way to get it to stay in its tracks so I can shut enough to keep most animals out over night (which I do and which takes some careful figuring and a big of hammering and longer than I had anticipated but it works).
Here's the balance: it's easy to fly off the handle (which I do often enough), but when I'm all alone at my own home and some small disaster like this happens, I know I have reliable Tom whom I can call, who can fix anything. OR I can look at the problem and figure out my own solution. After all, it was my own choice to buy an old farm place and live here alone with my dog. I'm not stupid. I can figure stuff out if I don't get too frustrated and just take time to look at how things work. And it feels good in the long run to feel somewhat or mostly self-reliant.
I closed the garage door, and when I turned around, fireflies filled the corn field. It seemed as if they turned their lights on while I was messing with the garage door, as if to say, see, even in the disasters, there's beauty when you look for it. Now, a garage door drama is not much of a disaster. It's small in the scope of the world's pain. SMALL. But when stuff like that happens, it's our world. It's what we're doing at the moment and it feels big. It's good to remember that it's not.
So as I tried to snap a picture of the sunset (and this is what I got), I thought about how the key is always to do what you're doing
, even when it's an interruption, and not always what you want to be doing--it's what is right in front of you at this moment, and if you f
In the Margin book, Richard Swenson, M.D. talked about the tug-of-war in our everyday lives and the challenge of finding balance.
The Balancing Act
I don’t know about you, but I feel a constant tug-of-war between choices. Should I work now, or relax a bit? Should I take action, or should I think about it more? Should I take the lead in this decision, or be a good follower? Should I speak up, or just listen? Should I keep studying and researching and learning, or is it time to apply what I know? Should I judge and confront, or should I give grace here? Should I say yes to this gathering, or retire in much-needed solitude?
It’s no wonder we have difficulty finding balance!
There are so many decisions to make, minute by minute sometimes. Added to that, we know that life requires both. We need to both work and rest. Sometimes we need to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen. We need to both study and apply what we know. We need the company of other people, but writers also require a lot of solitude.
These are not either/or questions. “Balance has always been necessary and will always be necessary. It is just becoming more difficult,” says the author of Margin.
Balance or Excellence?
I believe in high standards. I believe in doing things in an excellent way. In many ways, especially in the past, I’ve gone overboard into perfectionism.
“Much is made today of the virtues of excellence. But what does this mean? Often the excellence described is only in one narrow corridor of life,” says Swenson. He talks of musicians who are virtuosos, executives who live at the office, and other passionate high achievers. Many are not so successful in the rest of their lives though.
Many writers - including myself - have dreamed of the day when they would have time to be passionately high achieving writers. While my children were smaller and I was also teaching, I dreamed of the day when I would have the hours to be one of those high achieving writers I read about. I have met a few of them at conferences, and I admire them a great deal. But each time, when talking to them, I discovered something that I knew I didn’t want in my own life. I didn’t want to ignore my community, give up my ministry at church, lose close contact with grandchildren, or be unhealthy and out of shape. I wanted it all!
“While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in a state of disorder,” says Swenson. You might excel at your career - like the famous surgeon or performer - yet fail as a parent or neglect personal health in order to achieve it.
I have found this to be true in my own life. I can push through when deadlines demand it. I can do it for months on end if necessary. But to my frustration, something always breaks down. Headaches get bad. I find that I’m out of touch with grown children or grandchildren. Or I put on five pounds because I stopped walking and feel like a slug.
What’s the Answer?
“Doing our best has limits,” says Swenson. “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.
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Each person has his or her own set of priorities. However, remember that time is finite. It can’t be stretched, saved, or borrowed.
The time devoted to things must be balanced, for if we give too much in one area we neglect our duty in another important area.
Restore Balance Now
Here are Richard Swenson’s suggestions for restoring balance from his book, Margin.
First, you must cultivate the ability to say no. “In life, as in the buffet, our plates fill up sooner than we realize. In attempting to be sociable we try to accommodate everyone’s invitations. In attempting to be good parents we try to give our children more opportunities than we had. In attempting to be compassionate, we want to help with everyone’s problems.” Sometimes you will have to say no, even to some very good things.
Second, you must gain control over your own life. Sometimes your life and time are ruled by other people’s demands or crises. Sometimes your life is ruled by your own out-of-control behavior. Do what is necessary to regain control over your life.
Third, beware of trying to solve the problem of imbalance by becoming even more imbalanced. A doctor warned his patients that we tend to respond to our sense of imbalance by committing more time and energy to the area in which we feel deficient. But if you are already maxed out in time and energy, you can’t give added attention to one area unless you subtract from another area. (That sounds like common sense, but it’s still the mistake I usually make.)
Fourth, accept the no given to you by others. Give others the freedom to find balance in their own lives. Don’t put your expectations on other people.
Margin and Writing
In case anyone thinks I’ve lost the point of this blog–first aid for writers–I haven’t. These issues of finding margin (while maintaining your mental and emotional and relational health) have been the biggest struggles of my writing life for thirty years. Few of us are raised by mental health professionals or counselors, so we come to some of these principles later in life. But if you want to have a healthy writing career as well as a healthy life, these ideas will help you get there.
In last week’s and this week’s posts, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the ideas, suggestions, and life-changing advice in Richard Swenson’s book, Margin. I hope you will find a copy for yourself. This is one book I would have dearly loved to have about twenty-five years ago.