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1. Getting Over the Need To Be Polite

You’ll just have to trust me that there’s a story behind this. Mine isn’t as interesting as the one that taught me this lesson:

One of my favorite women adventurers is Helen Thayer. She’s a New Zealander by birth, now living in Washington State, and I first heard of her when I read her book Polar Dream.  Here’s the description:

In 1988, at the age of 50, Helen Thayer became the first woman in the world to travel on foot to the magnetic North Pole, one of the world’s most remote and dangerous regions. Her only companion was Charlie, her loyal husky, who was integral to her survival. Polar Dream is the story of their heroic trek and extraordinary relationship as they faced polar bears, unimaginable cold, and a storm that destroyed most of their supplies and food.

So yeah, super burly. I’ve referenced that adventure in a few books of mine–Doggirl and Parallelogram 3: Seize the Parallel–because I remain so thoroughly inspired and impressed by what Ms. Thayer accomplished despite the incredible danger and hardships. And that wasn’t her only big adventure. She and her husband and the dog from Polar Dream lived among wolves for a year (see her book Three Among the Wolves) and later, when she was in her 60s and her husband was in his 70s, they both trekked across the Gobi Desert, just the two of them and a few camels (see Walking the Gobi: A 1600 Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair). You can understand why she’s a hero of mine.

And one of her lessons that has always stuck with me is the one about being too polite.

Here’s the situation: On her last morning in civilization before Helen set off for the magnetic North Pole, the Inuit villagers who had graciously hosted her the night before took their hospitality one step further by helping Helen pack up her sled for the journey. Helen had a particular packing system in mind, but she didn’t have the heart to tell the villagers she didn’t want their help. They were so happy and enthusiastic about it, she didn’t want to hurt their feelings. So she just smiled and said thank you as she watched them stuff her gear and clothing every which way into various pockets and pouches. She figured she’d fix it all later once she was alone in camp that night.

Big mistake.

Because when she finally stopped skiing across the ice that first night and began setting up her camp, she could feel the cold beginning to affect her fingers. She understood the dangers of frostbite. She needed to put on her pair of heavy, insulated mittens, but where were they? As she frantically searched for them, she could feel the dry cold and the wind chill of minus 100 quickly taking their toll. By the time she finally found the mittens, her fingers already felt like hard wooden blocks. The damage was done.

When she woke up the next morning, her hands were swollen and covered with blisters. And they felt incredibly, horribly painful. They stayed that way for the whole first week, making everything so much harder: lighting her stove, dressing herself, setting up and breaking down her camp–anything that required manual dexterity and ended up leaving her fingers throbbing with agonizing pain.

All because she’d been afraid to say, “No. No, thank you. I need to do this myself.”

What’s amazing is you’d think someone as brave as Helen Thayer would have no trouble telling people no. But it just shows you hard it can be sometimes to retrain ourselves to do what might seem impolite.

Years ago I saw an Oprah episode where she interviewed Gavin de Becker, the guy who wrote The Gift of Fear. Does anybody else remember that episode? He talked about how predators sometimes test their prey by insisting on “helping.” “Oh, here, let me bring this to your car. You dropped this, I’ll just bring it upstairs for you.” And when you say, “No,” the predator still insists. Because he’s testing whether he can dominate you.

De Becker and Oprah discussed how it wasn’t just dangerous criminals doing that, it could also be friends or family members. De Becker said, “Anyone who won’t hear your ‘no’ is trying to control you.” When you think of it that way, you can probably see it all around you: in your bossy co-worker, your critical mother-in-law, even your well-meaning sister or friend. Here you are taking a stand and actually using your “no,” and the person refuses to accept it.

Annoying, and, as de Becker points out, also potentially dangerous. People practice on us. We need to practice, too.

This is all a way of saying the same thing someone once told me: “It’s only fair if it’s fair to you, too.” How’s that again? You get a vote. If it’s nice for someone else, is it also nice for you? Or are you going to end up exhausted/broke/angry/resentful/out of time to watch your favorite show if you do “just this one more” favor?

Don’t get me wrong–it feels good to be nice. No doubt about it. But it feels less good to always be the one giving and giving, while your own store of personal energy and good will feels like it’s slowly draining away. Then, if you’re like me, one day it’s finally enough, and the answer for everybody is “No, no, and NO,” even if a few of those would have been yesses if they’d caught you on a better day. And maybe that grumpy, surly no-ness lasts for a lot longer than you meant it to–*cough* three years–and you realize when you come out of it that you could have had a much easier life and been much happier if you’d only moderated your yesses one by one instead of letting them all pile up in such an unbalanced way.

See where I’m going with this?

As my best friend sometimes has to remind us both, “We don’t have to act nice, we are nice.” And if you look closely at your own behavior, you can see the times when you’re just performing–wanting to appear nice–as opposed to genuinely wanting to do something out of love or friendship or simple human kindness. There is a difference. One of them drains you, the other fills you up. It’s very noticeable once you really start looking at it.

Sometimes you need to work the problem backwards. How will you feel afterward if you say no here versus yes? Forget how hard it might feel in the moment to tell someone no–think about how you want to feel afterward. If you really, really want to go home tonight and slip into something slouchy and treat yourself to an evening of quiet and Call the Midwife, then why are you saying yes to anything else? Don’t you get a vote, too? Don’t you ever get the yes?

Or, like I’m doing today, you work out a balance: ten nice things for other people, ten nice things for yourself. That seems like the best recipe for me lately to be able to handle all of my obligations cheerfully. I know at the end of a long stream of yesses today I’ll get to sit down and binge watch season 2 of The Mindy Project.

Now that’s my kind of balance.

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2. Off the Grid Benefits

It’s been awhile since my last post. Hope everything is OK with everyone!

I’ve slowly managed my way back to civilization and “real world” life. Last month, I spent a week in the Caribbean and I must say it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

I was off the grid too. No access to my phone. No access to social media. It forced me to enjoy right what was in front of me.

I also didn’t do any writing. Usually when I take off and travel, it usually involves some type of writing – working or revising a current WIP but this time I literally did nothing but relax, read, and enjoyed the ocean, the sun, and the sand.

Being of the off the grid has benefits. Here were some of mine:

  • You can bring focus back to yourself. Self-care is something we don’t do enough of and having limited access to the outside world allowed me to access and remember all the simple things I love that bring me joy.
  • You can get back in touch with nature’s beauty. Just the simple things like the frosted wave caps of the ocean, the melody of a tropical bird, or even the sun baked warmth of the sand was a natural endorphin that gave me calm and peace.
  • You can practice the art of doing nothing. Everyone has a “to-do” list. It’s always “Go, Go, Go!” Sitting and doing nothing usually makes me feel guilty. But in reality it was a small gift that I gave to myself.

I know that not everyone can take off for a week and chill in the Caribbean but there are some small things everyone can do to take time off the grid. Maybe take a day and not use any smartphones or social media. Take pleasure in staying in your pajamas and sleeping in for as long as you want. Reserve a day to have a binge-watch party or read that book you’ve been trying to complete in snippets. Go to the park and have a picnic with no timeline of how long you stay.

Or make it a daily practice. Get up an hour early when the house is quiet or stay up a little later at night when everyone is asleep. Or for the busy person whose schedule is overflowing, how about just 10 minutes in nature? Put your bare feet in grass, close your eyes to the sun, and take a deep breath?

Have any of you been off the grid? Do any of you incorporate it in your life as a practice? I would love to hear about it!

3 Comments on Off the Grid Benefits, last added: 4/10/2014
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3. Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.)Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.


P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.

Tagged: black and white, color, line, mark allen stamaty, pattern, repetition, rhythm, texture, who needs donuts?

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4. Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele Youngby Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood BooksOut the Window by Cybele YoungDon’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungBut the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungAnd just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon!Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele YoungThanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.


P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!

Tagged: board book, cybele young, groundwood books

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5. Big and Small // Fast and Slow

by Britta Teckentrup

{published 2013, by Barefoot Books}

I just lost myself on Britta Teckentrup’s portfolio. Entirely charmed and swept away by every single piece. She’s new to me, and I’m happy to have flailed around in her brain for a bit. And it looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

I have an unusual affinity or board books. Proof: here and here and here. And that’s just a select smattering! But everything that is perfect about a picture book is even more so in a board book.

Smushier, sweeter, chewier.

And these are especially delicious.Fast and Slow shows those opposites side by side. Directly in contrast, varying by speed. The comparison is limited to that spread only, which is a detail that I love. One of the later spreads shows a train and a bus, which of course is double decker and European and fancy. But isn’t a bus faster than even that motorbike up above? Sure, but one spread isn’t competing with others. Little brains noodling that out? Smart.

And speaking of the motorbike page – total favorite. That scarf!The colors are saturated and leap into your eyes.

The type! It’s that perfect teacher-handwritten-style.

But it’s the texture that I love the most. Clean shapes, easy lines, and the slightest bit of grit. Smooth, flat color might have been an easy choice to match those shapes and lines. But in a book about contrast, splashing in some texture is smart.

And it looks awesome.Big and Small’s pairs are tightly knitted. Inside a giant apple is an itty-bitty seed. On top of a vast mountain are individual snowflakes. Those connections are beautiful, and the cat-lion standoff might be my very favorite spread.A perfect addition to your baby-shower rotation, your art class, your tiny one’s library, or just the ever-growing stack surrounding you.


Review copy provided by Barefoot Books.

Tagged: barefoot books, britta teckentrup, color, comparison, contrast, texture

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6. Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!)In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has. And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways.Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.


Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark.Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising.When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures. The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!


Tagged: color, paul thurlby, texture

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7. Sparkle and Spin


By Ann and Paul Rand

{originally published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, and World. Reprinted 2006 by Chronicle Books.}Sometimes pictures are just that: eye-catching and whimsical, without being packed with meaning or message. That spirit dances across the page in Sparkle and Spin, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by her husband Paul.

Paul Rand is an iconic American graphic designer. A problem solver. A storyteller. A communicator.

He said this about design:

“Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold.”breakerHis biographer, Steven Heller, said this:

“Paul Rand did not set out to create classic children’s books, he simply wanted to make pictures that were playful. Like the alchemist of old, he transformed unlikely abstract forms into icons that inspired children and adults and laid the foundation for two books that have indeed become children’s classics.”

Maybe he didn’t intend to be a creator of legendary books for kids, but his love for beautiful work shines in this one. That’s the magic of Sparkle and Spin: harmony, wit, and playfulness.And Ann’s words are a delightful match to Paul’s pictures. There’s a rhythm, song, and honor to these words that represent the joy of learning. Harmony, captured perfectly.

In graphic design, harmony is the magic that happens when all of the individual elements complement one another. It’s when small parts of pretty make up a more lovely whole.breakericeCreamHere’s a detail I really love. This bold, graphic ice cream cone comes at the beginning, and with the inscription: To all children who like ice cream. And at The End, that scoop’s been slurped, chomped, and devoured. That’s what the experience of this book is. Tasty.

The book sparkles and spins. You’ll see what I mean.


Tagged: ann rand, chronicle, color, harmony, pattern, paul rand, shape, sparkle and spin, wordplay

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8. Waterloo & Trafalgar

Tonight was for writing this post and watching some football and thinking about orange and blue. And then this commercial comes on TV. (Well, this one is a few years old. Same flavor, though.)

breakerRemember this. It means something in a bit. I promise I don’t care where you buy your life insurance.breakerWaterloo and Trafalgar

by Olivier Tallec

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

Waterloo & Trafalgar is at once spare and very much not. It’s a book about unnecessary fighting and the two stubborn sides who forget why they are even at odds. They are suspicious, bored, but always staid. Until. A snail, a bird, a different perspective. Different looks a little bit the same after all.Waterloo and TrafalgarTallec’s goofy little men end up as a charming shout for peace. They are absurd. They are us.

Waterloo. Blue. Trafalgar. Orange. Opposites. Enemies.Waterloo and TrafalgarcolorwheelThere they are, as far from one another on the color wheel as possible. Direct opposites. Complementary colors.

Orange and blue are a combination of dominance, because each is competing for the attention of your eye. One cool, one warm, constant attention-grabbers. Because of their stark contrast, each truly shouts.Waterloo and TrafalgarThat’s why it’s a duo you see in a lot of advertising for banks, credit cards, and other Important Things. Would that Northwestern Mutual commercial be as strong if it were in a different color palette? Probably not. They want to imply strength, power, and – well, life.

And, ahem. I’m a fan of these two colors. Note my blog header and the rest of this thing’s design. Those design decisions were intentional, and since you are reading this and hanging out here with me, it might just be working.Waterloo and TrafalgarPerfect choices for Waterloo and Trafalgar, right? It wouldn’t make sense for those two ridiculous little men to be represented by closer together hues. Their orange and blues are a tenuous balance.

Besides a color scheme that works, that sings, and that smacks you in the gut, this is just a darn beautiful book. The paper is thick and rich to the touch, and some split pages inside extend the stories and heighten the division at hand.Waterloo and TrafalgarI love the die cuts on the cover – those clever windows reveal these two nuts and their telescopes at the ready. And the endpapers’ narrative is subtle as it holds the story in place. The carved out holes close up by the end, and the stream of blue and orange smash right up against each other.Waterloo and TrafalgarStill different, still far apart on that wheel. Transformed into something lovely together.chMoreToRead

Ok, ok. One more orange and blue moment I love is the opening title sequence to the James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

breaker(These titles are created by a studio whose motion design work is just spectacular, MK12. They are the creative minds behind the visuals in Stranger Than Fiction and the gorgeous end titles of The Kite Runner. By the way, notice the colors in the first minute of that one!)

breakerAnd! A whole slew of orange and blue on movie posters. You won’t un-see this color palette once you start noticing it. That’s a promise prefaced with a slight apology! Here’s just one:Hugo_FilmPosters

Tagged: balance, color palette, color theory, complementary colors, movie posters, olivier tallec, orange and blue, trailers, waterloo and trafalgar

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9. Time Management Tuesday: A Balance Scheme

Last week I caught the tail end of a Twitter chat at #kidlitchat. The discussion topic was "Work/life/family/job/other. How do you balance it all?" I immediately recognized a subject for Time Management Tuesday because balancing activities has a great deal to do with managing time. Over the last year and a half, we've hit upon a couple of topics here at Original Content, as part of the Time Management Tuesday project or not,  that definitely deal with the getting everything done issue.

Balance Is Easier When You're Trying To Juggle Fewer Things

Really think of the balancing metaphor. Think in terms of  carrying a number of things and having to carefully balance them in order to do so. There will always come a tipping point, when you have one item too many and the whole load ends on the ground. Yes, dealing with work and a personal life is like that.

Back in June, I addressed Shannon Hale's post on caregiving and writing. She has cut her life down to work and raising her kids. Only  two things. There are, of course, multitudes of tasks within those two activities, but she is limiting where her time and energy goes to two major efforts.

Balance for all of us is easier to approach (notice I'm not using the word  "achieve") if we consciously cut back on the number of things we're trying to balance. That could mean cutting back on professional projects as well as personal interests. There's been talk for years about housework not being a valuable use of time. But as a general rule accepting that we'll never have clean windows or a kitchen linoleum without holes (is that just me?) often doesn't begin to offset all the other things we need to do/balance. Therefore, we may have to assess how  much we're really getting professionally from the writers' group we attend and let that go, as well as putting away the hobbies that have nothing to do with our work. We may not be able to justify the weekly author visit  to a local school any more than we can justify the monthly hike with a local walking group.

Remember the old clutter advice about only buying something new if you throw something out? Trying for balance could mean only taking on a new project if we give another one up. If we want to volunteer with a writers' organization, maybe we'll have to sacrifice community volunteer work. 

There really isn't much hope of achieving anything like balance if we keep trying to carry more and more activities. What's more, we can give a better effort in terms of time and energy when we have fewer things to work on.

Situational Balance

Balancing activities in our lives is like managing time. We can't expect to come up with one way to balance things and be done with it for the rest of our lives, just as we can't expect to come up with a schedule that we can work with forever. Everything is situational.  We have to rebalance everything in our lives depending on our ever changing life situation, just as we have to change our schedules when our lives change.

I'm not talking different balances during different life phases, as in we have one kind of balance while we're writing as single working people, another balance if we're writing and  raising a family, another balance if we're writing, raising a family, and holding down a day job. I'm talking weekly, if not daily adjustments.

We have to keep juggling our tasks not just because all personal lives appear to exist in chaos but because our work situations are constantly changing, too. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with reactive work--responding to inquiries for appearances or RFPs for conferences or submission deadlines. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with marketing or research or study. We may be working on more than one creative project at a time and trying to balance that.

And then we have to factor in the personal chaos.

What we're talking about here is creating balance around situation instead of looking for a permanent, all-purpose solution. Situational balance means we are only able to create anything like balance by planning what's going to happen for the next month or the next week or even, sometimes, the next couple of days.

A Zenny Balance Scheme

There is a zenny aspect to the balance scheme I'm describing because it involves recognizing:

  1. the desire to keep adding more and more professional and personal tasks to our workload may not lead to true unhappiness but it certainly won't lead to balance;
  2. our situation at the present moment and planning to deal just with that.

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10. The Path To 10K In Sales: Strategy, Luck & Mistakes

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.


  • 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: 

Kindle (Amazon.com)
(Amazon Euro)











*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! 

38 Comments on The Path To 10K In Sales: Strategy, Luck & Mistakes, last added: 10/17/2012
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11. Balance

by Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid.com

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12. Read to Feed

photo credit
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.


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!
13. Letter S

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14. The Necessity of Solitude

seaWomen 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!

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15. Balance and living in the moment

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

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16. Tug of War in Finding Balance

tugIn 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!

Choices, Choices

“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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17. Restoring Balance

noEach 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.

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18. Non-Writing Interests

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?

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19. Keep Looking (And Writing)

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.

Keep looking.

And keep writing! :)

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20. Walking, eating veggies... wasn't I supposed to be writing???

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.

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21. Cleaning house

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?

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22. (Pro)crastination

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. :)

So…procrastination. Yeah.

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?

5 Comments on (Pro)crastination, last added: 11/1/2011
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23. Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?

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?

--Blog less. Cut back on your blogging schedule.

60 Comments on Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?, last added: 1/26/2012
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24. Finding Balance

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.


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.

1 Comments on Finding Balance, last added: 1/25/2012
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25. Dear Novel

Dear Novel,

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.

Love always,

If you could write a letter to your novel, what would you say?

5 Comments on Dear Novel, last added: 5/16/2012
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