Moment: A Poem

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We, by nature, are creatures of want, creatures of need.  We need shelter, food, and even, I would argue, we need love.

Our wants of course, are endless.  From the noblest desire for world peace to the hope of people ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ our latest online pic, there is no limit to our wants.

‘More’ is one of our greatest wants. There’s nothing a small child loves more than a cookie — unless it’s TWO cookies. It is a natural desire, not necessarily born from selfishness or greed in my opinion, but in the best circumstances born from love.

We’ve enjoyed something so much, it’s bettered our life in ways un-imagined, and honestly we simply never want to do without it again.

When I find certain people — just a few times in my life, I want more. To paraphrase F.Scott Fitzerald, I want to do everything in the world with them.

But, in another way, just getting to meet someone IS the world. Time quite likely is an abstraction of our own making, and so I like to believe this meeting will continue and exist somewhere, forever.

I don’t have to be everywhere they are, involved in every conversation.  We were connected once — through a good conversation or a good laugh — and that moment will echo in a sacred glade where all the clocks have broken.

I probably think such things to lessen the pain of releasing friends and lovers into the world, to leave them to their wiles. I can only hope fate is kind, their loved ones steadfast, and that they sense, somewhere in their hearts, how very much they are loved.  Even if I only shared in a few minutes of their glory.

A few minutes.  For the ‘more’ crowd, that’s nothing, that’s pointless.  What’s an egg-timer-length conversation in a life? What’s one exchange, one joke? Surely that can’t change my life, or theirs?

And how can there be meaningful connection with someone who chooses not to be connected? Whether distance or work or love drives someone from your sphere — then they and you are nothing to each other and share nothing, right?

Not in my mind. A connection can only be the meeting of the eyes, a fleeting understanding between souls on a crowded street — lines running from infinity to infinity and only crossing once. On this day, in this moment.

In this moment.

If we always want more, and believe only quantity matters — if years and joint mortgages and fifty year friendships are the only measure of worth, of connection, of love — then we are doomed to always desire more. We simply cannot have everything, all the time, with everyone. And like the child wanting that extra cookie, we may discover that more is not better.  Would your life really have space for forty best friends, six dream jobs, or three soul mates?

Perhaps life instead, gives us moments. Best friends for a day. That summer we thought we would become fashion designers. A few bright fall days when we felt we’d met a soul mate.

As a human, I desperately want more of everything I love. More beautiful walks in nature. More gourmet meals with my sister. More times of looking into someone’s eyes and understanding exactly what their words cannot say. More moments with you.

But there’s someone out there who has taken their last walk, and eaten their last meal, and they still are blessed and gifted by all they have seen and done. Memories is a dead term, I prefer to dwell in moment.

I have experienced so much and so joyfully that I can never be sorry for the brevity when the berth has been so great. I speak of longing but I sing of gratitude.

The day we release ‘more’ ironically is the day we are given everything. Perfect satisfaction. Perfect experience. True friendship. True love.

Because when you don’t need to possess anything, the whole world belongs to you. The length of a connection is no more meaningful than length of a sunrise — you either experience it or you don’t. You’re best friends for the length of a laugh, lovers for the batting of an eye, family for the duration of a meal.

Still, we are human and we want. I do not require a lifelong ally, or a lifetime of friendship. All I desire now is a million more seconds of connection with you.

And yet, in this moment, I find everything I seek.

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The Inelegant Balance Between Being Right and Becoming Better

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Now, we all want to be right — to be smart, admired, to think for ourselves and not let anything sway our convictions.  But at a certain point does certainty inhibit progress?

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I’ve been asking myself this question a lot in 2015.  Firstly, as I move forward toward becoming a professional writer, I have started thinking more about what audiences want — and deserve.  A little background: I’ve been a follow-your-vision, write-only-what-interests-you, write-what-you-love-and-the-money-will-follow type for years and years now.  And as I started to discuss the idea of writing more toward the audience’s desires with other writers, I heard my own arguments returned to me again and again.

“I think you’ll be more successful if you just follow your heart.”

“It’s more interesting to just create what you like.”

“Doing what others tell you and chasing popular opinion is no way to live your life.”

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True.  True.  True.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that just being self-satisfied with ‘being me’ wasn’t — actually — helping me get better.  I wanted to take the confidence (and experience) of listening to my inner voice and pair it with something more — with the tumultuous seas of outside opinion.

Rarely has the universe responded so quickly as it did now. 😉  Within weeks of seriously starting to think about this issue, I was challenged with a huge question — Did I want to be right, or better?

I had sent my newest novel, the 1810s-set Society & Civility, out to several friends for feedback.  But this novel — you have to understand — it had become such a favorite with me.  Ever since I’d started it last fall, I had enjoyed its world and characters so much, reread it several times almost just for fun, and thought it was a huge step forward for me as a writer.  It was a lark, a love story — and the best thing I’d ever written.  SO.  When the reviews came in there was a lot of love (most rated it 7 to 8.6 out of 10) and a BIG problem.  Toward the end of my story it totally breaks with the whole Jane Austin genre.  I knew that might be a problem, which is why I’d sought feedback before completing any more drafts.  People didn’t understand or like ‘the twist’ (as it came to be called).

I held out hope that my sister (the last of my beta readers) would feel the same way as I did and ‘get it’ as it were.  Then the crushing blow came — she felt the exact same way as the other readers.  So my perfect novel wasn’t considered by others to be perfect at all — now what?

Found on coolartcanvas.com

Found on coolartcanvas.com

Well, here was the puzzle of pleasing the audience writ large: they loved the book except for the twist.  Did I hold fast and complete it as was — the way I loved it — or should I change it?  I knew I could just brush off the opinions of these smartest, kindest friends — all creators and lovers of this genre — and tell myself that *my* audience would totally get my choices — whenever and under whatever rock I’d find this mystery group.

But– but.  In my heart of hearts I knew these were my readers — and I’d let them down.  I could always have a copy of *my* edition, but now what?  Didn’t I want to challenge myself and make a story everyone could fall in love with?  Didn’t I want to become BETTER that I was?  The answer — after only thinking about quitting writing six times in one morning — was yes.

fatfreedom.net

fatfreedom.net

So far the rewrite is going well.

So when you come up against that question, that challenge — should I listen to others or go my own way? — I would ask yourself:

  1. WHO is giving you this feedback?  Are these people you respect, people you want to emulate, or people who have valuable experience?  There no point in following someone down a road you don’t want to travel anyway.  In the example above, I had every reason to admire these readers and believe that they would give good advice.  In a different example, a co-worker was recently applying for a job I’d previously held for two years and I offered to help them out and answer any questions they had.  They pretty well blew me off, believing they already knew ‘everything’ about the position.  I was someone with insight and a desire to help — and that could have been a powerful resource to help them if they’d been willing to listen.
  2. WHY are they telling you this?  Some people just like to complain, nitpick, or put others down and you should never be using these people to judge your work or your life.  But if you’ve asked someone for their advice, you should listen because you probably thought they had something valuable to say — you know, before they told you what you didn’t want to hear.  And if you are creating products you want people to buy, consume, or love — you need to listen double-hard.  Most likely, they are disappointed — and now they are trying to help you — maybe imperfectly, maybe in the human language of anger or frustration — but what they take the time to tell you are the words a hundred other customers may have walked away with still written in their hearts.
  3. Are YOU 100% happy with your results?  If the answer is yes, you’re done.  Stand firm.  Tell the rest to go to hell and hold true to your path.  Discover your fans and let them discover you.  But… if in your heart you know you could be better, then listen.  Acknowledge that you may be very good — you’re at least very smart and full of potential — but you not as good as you could be.  So learn a better way to jog, take a class to improve your painting skill, and be open to starting anew on that book.  If you see a gap, you owe it to yourself to bridge it and get better.  Even if the gap is just between the audience’s expectations and your design.
  4. Are you EXPERIENCED enough to weed out the noise?  This is high-level stuff, this balancing of being true to yourself and listening to others, and I want you to side 100% with your heart and intuition until you’re ready for this level 16 challenge.  Keep in mind that you always get to decide in the end — listening to others and getting feedback is nothing more than offering you more options to choose from.  And like I said, beware unsolicited advice, negative people, and anyone who truly doesn’t ‘get’ what you’re trying to do.  You really are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff here (okay, not really 🙂 — what you are looking for is that small bit of advice that interests you, challenges you, and makes you say ‘Damn it — they might be right’.
  5. Will this help you get BETTER?  In the end, it doesn’t matter if the critics are right or wrong if their advice hurts your progress.  Weird but so true.  With young writers, my secret feeling is ‘Yes, you are not there yet, but all you need is ten years of enthusiastic hard work.  Then you’ll be great.’  No one really wants to hear that, they want the shortcuts — but you can still bleed from those cuts.  Don’t wound yourself upon the opinions of others if you’re not ready.  I loved my first critique group but then came a time that I felt I must withdraw, and grow in secret like a mushroom, pushing out of the leaf litter and into the sun only when fully formed.  And now I’m ready to face the light.

I believe you can get 95% of the way to your goal under your own steam, keeping your secret counsel, and trusting your instincts.  But when it comes time to finese the final pieces, to push yourself further than you know how to go, you have to seek, to see beyond your own faith and fallacies, to press and push yourself ever upward — to become more than you are, more than you thought you could be.

To stop being good and to become truly great.

Found on llhdesignsblog.com

Found on llhdesignsblog.com

 

How to Tune Out the Noise

I recently led a class about ‘How to Reevaluate Your Life’.  Some readers will remember that I’ve talked about this topic a couple of times before and so I felt pretty confident.  I printed handouts, talked for over an hour, and thought I’d covered my bases pretty well.  Then — during the Q & A portion of the class — I got a question that threw me for a loop.

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Found on ritholtz.com

 

Jill Hartmann-Roberts — wonderful person, talented writer, and fellow Athens Writers Association founder, asked how I drowned out the ‘noise’ of other people and the world to live the life I wanted to live.  In essence, her question pinpointed a weak spot in my talk: I’d focused on how to realize if you wanted a different life, how to find goals that mattered to you, and how to pursue your goals.  But I hadn’t addressed:

  • How to deal with friends, family, and coworkers who continually ask for your help
  • What to say to people who belittle or challenge your goals
  • How to balance your idea of an ideal life with society’s definitions of success
  • How to say ‘no’ to extra work when you’re a nice person
  • Creating what you want even when others don’t like it
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Found on uniquelywomen.net

Of course Jill’s a super-nice person and didn’t ask her question in any way to challenge me.  But I was struck by what a good question it was.  I thought about it and answered as best I could (in the on-your-toes manner that talks necessitate).  But I thought that the answer also deserved a more complete response, because it’s really hard to live the life of your dreams and the life society has ordained for you at the same time.

This question is challenging for me because I kind of don’t give a fig about peoples expectations anymore.  But why and when did this happen?  I’m a sensitive soul (to quote The Lion King) and an unhappy customer at my retail job can almost reduce me to tears, so why don’t I feel the pull to follow your people expectations in my own life?

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To answer that question, let’s look at the sources of this ‘noise’ and how you can negate its impact on your life —

— Not So Fun Noise-Makers —

Well-Meaning ‘Correctors’

Whether parents, siblings, or friends, these people have life all figured out and want to point out the folly of your path.  Maybe they think you can only be happy married with kids, or by becoming an accountant, or by moving up the ladder at work.  At their best, they have found something that has brought them much joy and want you to experience it too (certainly many a yoga/health food/exercise fan has sought to convert others [I’m as guilty as anyone]).  At their worst, what they suggest has made them miserable but they still think you should follow their common wisdom.

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Consumertainment

Not exactly who we want to think is influencing us, but almost invariably ‘they’ are.  Who’s this ‘they’?  People who are paid to make us desire the latest car, the newest tech, and promise us the best night of our lives if we buy a certain beer or soft drink.  And even my beloved entertainment industry is little better, though I’d argue the sins committed there are more often from ignorance than cruelty (to paraphrase Anna Sewell).  There’s a great post about How The Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World.  Hollywood (and other pop culture) is about wish fulfillment, and fantasy.  I think back to how people wanted to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance and banter during the second World War — beauty and joy and escapism in a troubled time.  Fantasy has its place — but don’t let it ruin your real life.

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Braggarts

These people think they are better than you, or know someone better than you, and maybe just like to compare their favorite, most famous authors (artists, actors, etc) in history to you.  Even a ‘Ha ha, well it’s not Shakespeare!’ can hurt an author.  A lot of us may think ‘Hamlet’ is the greatest thing ever written in the English language and yet to be cut short, clamped down on — it stifles us and our potential.  And somebody will be the next Shakespeare.  And I will be the one and only Katherine Cerulean and being compared to people who are doing different things, with different aims, with more experiences, isn’t going to help me get there.

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The ‘Need’y

Oh, not the truly needy — the poor, uneducated, etc — by all means, take some time to give your energies or money to them.  Who I’m talking about is the ‘needers’ in your life.  If you have a job, and take care of your house/family, and are pursuing your dreams and goals — you are probably a hard-working and reliable individual.  And those are worth their weight in gold.  So you may find everyone — your church, your child’s school, neighbors, work friends, charities, interest groups you belong to — everyone may ask you for help.  What each person asks maybe be small, but it all adds up.  And if you say no, you may be called selfish.

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The Biz Experts

Whatever your dream is, there’s probably a business for it, and there are probably stars, CEOS, critics, trend-watchers, and more who will gladly expound on the ‘rules’ for succeeding.  And some of this can be very good advice.  But a lot of it is just what worked for them, combined with fear — business can often breed conservatism: do what worked before, and don’t try anything new.

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Second Guessers

This may be more internal noise than external.  You may find yourself wondering if your doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right field.  You might feel you should be doing more.  It can become stifling.  We have met the enemy and he is us.

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How Do We Tune Out the Noise?

It’s not always easy.  The people interrupting our flow are our friends, our family, even ourselves.  But if you want to do truly great things, we need to be able to concentrate and trust ourselves. So here’s how to deal with —

  • Well-Meaning ‘Correctors’  This is probably the hardest category because ‘correctors’ are often family members, and they have an out-sized influence over us.  The best defense I know is to remember is ‘they don’t know you as well as you do’.  You know if you can get in shape for that marathon, move to that new city, or ask that guy out.  At best they are guessing about your abilities and interest.  ONLY YOU KNOW.  It helps if you can (privately) find humor in their suggestions.  Keep in mind that they are probably trying to help you avoid pain, and that they may still see you as that little kid you once were.  In the end, they will be happy for you if you succeed on our own terms — otherwise they are people who you should have limited contact with in your life.  Period.

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    Found on onlybutaglimpse.tumblr.com

  • Consumertainment  Remember that the whole industry exists to sell you things (even if it’s only a movie ticket).  And the sellers have had decades to perfect their pitches.  Though you want to be inspired by people who are living their dream lives, look for reality first.  What are the best moments in your own life on a weekly or monthly basis?  Who have you met that seems happy and to be living the life of their dreams?  Reading articles and interviews can help you understand the day-to-day lives of famous people (though beware that a biography is also a product and may be filled with stories meant to sell it).  Recently, I started listening to the podcast Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin (it’s really good), and Alec said something that stuck with me.  He, while talking about Hollywood said something like, “There are things I like about it and things I hate about it.  I love my job, but it is a job.”  Some might say Alec is ungrateful; I think he was just honest.  No marriage, friendship, or career is perfect.  I love, love, LOVE writing — and yet it’s so much harder as a job than a lot of things I could have done.  It’s hard because I care.  It’s not just sipping lattes and daydreaming (for instance, right now I’m sipping a Starbucks dark roast not a latte).  So stop comparing your life to make believe — dragons and giant robots and the Entourage life are all products of Hollywood writers’ imaginations.  f6f93a195c6ea61fa9906ca2509e87a9
  • Braggarts Honestly, I have found that shutting them down or shutting them out is the only way to deal with this type.  If the comments under the ‘help you out’ category, then the first time I’d thank the person for their advice.  “Stephen King uses a lot less commas than you do.”  “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”  But that may only encourage the braggart to keep comparing your work to everyone (including themselves) who they think is better.  Then I would say something like, “Thanks, but I have my own style and am doing my own thing right now and I’m not really interested in comparing myself to anyone else.”  If the person still keeps putting you/your work down, you have to understand that YOU are not necessary for their monologue; they are looking to inflate themselves or their ego by putting others down.  They probably can’t help it, but they are never going to change.  Cut them out of your life or, if they work with you and you can’t, make it absolutely clear you don’t want their opinion.  “Hey, sorry to interrupt you, but I really don’t enjoy talking about my work with you or hearing about yours.  Can we talk about something else?  Like how much we both hate the (local sports rivals)?  I think we’ll find we have a LOT to agree about on that topic.”

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    Found on mediawebapps.com

  • The ‘Need’y Jack Canfield (in his book, The Success Principles) says to ‘Say no so your yeses have more impact.’  Tell others that you have made a commitment to your family/job/dreams/health and you are going to have to say no to their offer/request.  You can soften the blow by posing a counter-offer — “Sorry, I’ve made a commitment to improve my health by running in a marathon in November so I’m going to have to say no to chairing the school fall festival this year.  But I would be happy give my notes from last year to the person you choose and they can email me if they have a few questions.”  Also, realize that you will do a better job on the things you do say yes to if you have less on your plate.  Lastly, think about the fact that as a useful person you will be needed to ‘help out’ from now until the end of your life, but that the best way you can help out — I’d argue — is to become a totally realized, extraordinary human being.  Being amazing at your life will bring money, connections, and even time into your existence which you can use to improve the world.  But, as Scott Adams says, ‘You have to be selfish first.’

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    Quote by Connor Franta

  • The Biz Experts There a quote from Steve Jobs — “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  I think that sums up a lot of my beliefs about experts — they don’t know what the great new thing is until they see it.  And I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t get a consensus about what works, or which paths often lead to success.  But if anyone says no one of your background, age, etc has made it, remember to add silently — ‘…yet.’  You could be the first, but there may already be tons of successes that other people don’t know about.  As you develop your talents and if you’re passionate, you will start to see these gaps — things you wish existed but haven’t seen yet.  And believe me, the world is hungering for you to fill those gaps, for something amazing and different and exciting.  I think the world needs some Katherine Cerulean and needs it right now so I spend my time trying to hone my vision, to improve myself, all while remembering that what makes me special is exactly the thing ‘expects’ would probably want me to change.

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    Found on spoken.ly

  • Second Guessers The best thing I’ve found for this problem is to think deeply about a issue/goal/etc — whether over a few weeks or a concentrated couple of days — and then make a detailed plan with a timeline.  I decided to go Paleo for 6 month to get to my ‘perfect shape’.  After I decided that, I didn’t have to think about it anymore.  I was paleo.  I’m not saying it was easy, but I didn’t wonder after three weeks if I should quit it and try a different diet — I had already thought this through and made a plan.  Short of any health problems, I simply wouldn’t even consider another course of action till I had given this one a chance.  A timed goal can work for anything — it says you don’t have to worry about something every day and yet are monitoring it.  “If I still hate my job this much in one month I’ll send out 20 resumes.”  “We’ll do six months of ‘date nights’ and then see a counselor if our relationship hasn’t improved.”  One screenwriter suggested that every six months you ask ‘Is this making me happy?’  He was talking about writing but that could work for anything — just remember to quiet the second guessers (even yourself) while a timed goal is going on — you got this in hand.

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    Found on babydickey.com

In the end, noise is all around us, and always will be.  What changed for me was when I realized a few years ago that everyone deals with these issues and feelings and challenges.  I could either continue as I had been and be shy, lonely, and questioning for the next 10, 20, 30 years or I could become the kind of person who inspires others by doing the thing and having the power.  I could feel the fear and do it anyway.  It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been so worth it.  And somewhere along the way I lost a lot of my fear of what people think.  I have no magic answer, but I do know one thing for sure: you are SO IMPORTANT and so special and you deserve to fight through the noise and never stop fighting and claim the unique throne that is held only for you.

The world may be full of noise but, in the end, only you can silence your roar.

And only you can give yourself the time, space, and confidence to show the world how special you are.  Go get’em.

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2015: 10 Things That Are Inspiring My Writing

Even though the year isn’t over yet, I’m so excited about the things that are exhilarating me and moving my writing forward that I just had to share them (note: no real spoilers here, just a few lines of non-revealing dialogue) —

#1 — Hannibal

Hopefully season three isn’t the end, but if it was — what an ending!  I can’t even count all the ways this series awes me and makes me jealous.  It is more beautifully shot and designed, more intellectual, and has more intimate relationships than almost any series I have even seen.  I did feel like they lingered on the beauty a tiny bit long in the beginning of the season but  once they picked up the pace they were incredible.  This is one of those shows that has changed me and will be with me forever.  I want to make things this rich, this thoughtful, this surprising.

Hannibal Lecter: Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in God’s image?

Will Graham: Depends on who you ask.

 

#2 — Mad Max: Fury Road

The trailers looked so exciting, so balls-to-the-wall, so over the top that finally seeing the feature-length film had to be a letdown.

ONE WOULD THINK.

Instead, Fury Road managed to not only hold onto that excitement and craziness for two solid hours but it also added in a great plot, strong characters, and the best female hero the genre had seen since Sarah Conner.  And finding out that — on Amazon.com — silver spray edible cake frosting is ‘often bought with Mad Max: Fury Road’ has restored my faith in humanity.

Nux: If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the fury road!

 

#3 — Nate Ruess / Grand Romantic

I’ve really enjoyed Fun.  Now their lead singer’s new album has become one of my favorites of the year.  He has this emotive, beautiful, lilting voice and it just screams ‘story’ to me.  ‘Brightside‘ especially makes me want to write another love story.

Cause there’s just something about you my love
Something in the way you comb your hair
And fall apart at the seams

 

#4 — Friday Night Lights / Season 3

Aww FNL.  I started this series last year and have been waiting about six months between seasons.  I got past season 2 (the truncated sophomoric stumble) and watched FNL regain its footing and rise again like an eagle (or a panther) in full glory in season 3.

I love, love, love these characters.  I don’t care about football.  I don’t care about teenagers’ love lives.  I don’t care about small town politics.  But I care about everyone, and every second, of Friday Night Lights.

Tami: I love that about you.

Coach Taylor: What? That I can’t make a decision to save my life?

Tami: No. That you make the decision with such a conscience. What other coach would think like that? I think it’s because you’re a teacher first. You–you are a molder of men. And I find that admirable, and I find that very sexy.

 

#5 — Daredevil

I’m only halfway through this one, and yet have been blown away again and again by the writing and the visuals.  The use of light — greens and yellows and neon words shattered among the darkness of an endless night turn the hero’s blindness and growing heroism into a physical landscape.  And the introduction of the Kingpin rates among the best, and most surprising, entrances by a villain in TV history.  I believe Netflix has not only met the quality standards set forth by the Marvel movies, but in many ways it has eclipsed them.

Ben Urich: There are no heroes, no villains. Just people with different agendas.

 

6# — Jim Kroft / Journeys #1 & #2

How Jim Kroft isn’t famous yet I cannot say, but I’m sure he’s on his way.  ‘Journeys’ 1 & 2 are beautiful, imaginative, heartbreaking, and hopeful.  ‘Break For the Light’ is a perfect anthem for reaching for your true desires, but ‘Beijing Morning‘ is the one that breaks my heart every time.

Days may come and the days may go
Sometimes the demon is taking hold
I want the courage to make these steps
To walk from error and regret

 

#7 — The Unusuals

“You should watch ‘The Unusuals’.”  I kept hearing some version of that from my sister, again and again, over the last few years.  She’d seen it when it first came on, while I sometimes avoid new shows till I know if they’ll last.  Terrible, I know.  Well, this show didn’t last beyond its first season but it doesn’t matter, in one season it created more memorable characters, moments, and stories than many shows do given a decade.  Come for Jeremy Renner, and stay for the dialogue — heartbreaking in one moment and gut-busting in the next.  My only regret is that I didn’t see it sooner.

Det. Shraeger: I swear, if you took all the time that men wasted thinking about the female breast throughout history, there’d only be enough time to read a magazine.

Det. Walsh: What, like Juggs or Maxim?

Det. Shraeger: Yeah, you’re adorable.

 

#8 — Far From the Madding Crowd

O-M-G.  I’m not usually someone who goes gushy for love stories.  I really enjoy them, but only the well-done ones.  So I’d been aware of this movie because I love that 1800s English setting but I wasn’t sure if it was for me.  Then my friend and fellow writer Jill Hartmann-Roberts saw it and suggested we go see it together. Wow!  What a story.

There’s just something about the moments here, seconds when the light hits two people who were going about their lives, unites them in a pure second of love or lust or hate — and then the world spins on but each’s life is changed, almost ruined, because of that profound pause.  All the actors are great here, and the scenery is SO beautiful.

Bathsheba Everdene: From now on you have a mistress, not a master. It is my intention to astonish you all.

 

#9 — Dragon Age Inquistion

Bioware’s ‘Dragon Age’ series is one of my favorite sagas in video games.  ‘Dragon Age 2’ may always have the edge because, for me, it was like living and making choices inside an HBO drama — the characters were that well-written.  And you never forget your first Fenris romance!

That said, DR3 lived up to the hype and then some, with an unbelievably open world and an even better combat system.  It was the grandeur of the journey though, that caught me up most.  I don’t spend a lot of time gaming, and it can be easy for me to play around in an open world and then lose interest (see every Bethesda title ever [still enjoyed them!]).  DR3 seemed made to stop that from happening.  It united the expansive world of ‘Dragon Age 1’ with the climatic plotting of DR2, making you and your character change and grow along the way (one can feel the beats of Joseph Campbell — ‘and here the hero crosses the threshold’).  Havor, my Qunari warrior, progressed from captive to hero to leader of men — and found himself a flirty mage named Dorian along the way.  Not a bad for a hero’s journey.

Solas: I am surprised you do not practice blood magic, Dorian. Is it not popular in Tevinter?
Dorian: While we’re sharing surprises, you’ve done a lot less dancing naked in the moonlight than expected.
Solas: Tevinter lore about elves remains accurate as always.
Dorian: I wanted to see you make flowers bloom with your song, just once.

 

#10 — Chappie

‘Chappie’ is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag but, for me, it works.  Is it a drama?  A comedy?  An action movie?  It’s all these and more.  At its heart is Sharlto Copley — amazing and visionary — as the lead character.  Chappie learns and grows throughout the movie and since much of his ‘childhood’ is spent with hoodlums, the movie is both an indictment of violence amid poverty and an example of the power of love and family even in the worst of situations.

And it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

And filled with great action.

The best way to put it is: it’s a Neill Blomkamp story and — for some of us — that’s an awesome thing.

 

And still to come —

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • 007’s Spectre
  • The Martian
  • Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs movie
  • Crimson Peak

. . . and more.

Even though there haven’t been a ton of things to inspire me this year, the ones that have are off the charts!  If you have a second, tell me one of your current inspirations.

After all, this list could always use a Part 2 . . .

The SELF-PRINTED 3.0 Splash

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As anyone who is interested in writing and has ever been trapped with me in a elevator, car, or coffee shop meeting room knows, I’m a HUGE fan of Catherine Ryan Howard.  When I was getting started in self publishing, I realised I was still stuck in the ‘vanity press’ mindset of old and didn’t know anything about Createspace, formatting, or selling online.

Enter Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard.  I thought I found the book by accident on Amazon (but later learned it was through Catherine’s savvy choice of keywords) and I was so delighted by it that it has become a large influence in the group I founded, the Athens Writers Association.

In celebration of Self-Printed 3.0, (releasing today!) Catherine is answering a question posed by yours truly: What can self-published authors do to help each other that you don’t see done often enough?

Here’s her answer:

Great question and one I really had to have a good think about. I’m afraid though that my answer won’t be very popular…

I don’t think self-publishers are in need of helping each other out more, because from what I see the self-publishing community as a whole is incredibly helpful towards each other already. You see it all the time: self-pubbed authors hosting other self-pubbed authors on blog tours, recommending each other’s books, gathering together to release box-sets featuring multiple authors so they can cross-promote, etc. etc. When one ascends the ladder a rung or two, more often than not they reach down to help another few take a step up behind them.

So, what would I like to see more of? To be honest I’d like to see more self-publishers holding their fellow self-publishers to higher standards. I’d like to see more self-publishers talking about how important it is to hire a professional editor, work on your cover, etc. It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of readers do not hold self-published books in high esteem because in the past, a lot of them just weren’t that good! Imagine now that John Smith, a new self-published author, manages to convince one of these anti-self-pub readers to take a chance on a self-published ebook – and the reader finds grammatical errors, typos, inconsistencies, bad formatting and a table of contents that doesn’t work. Now John Smith has just confirmed for them what they always suspected about self-published books: that they’re bad. So they don’t try anymore. And maybe the next one they would’ve tried would’ve been yours, or mine. Now John Smith has cost us both a sale. Shouldn’t we have tried harder to get him to self-publish professionally?

I think so. So if there’s something I’d like to see self-publishers do to help each that I don’t think I see often enough, it’s to encourage professional self-publishing and to point out that when you don’t, you let the entire side down…

Awesome answer.  I agree completely.  One of the goals of the AWA is to help everyone get better and send well-written, excellently edited books out into the world.  If you’d like to do likewise, I highly recommend Self-Printed 3.0!
Here’s additional facts about Catherine, who is herself a self-publishing success story:
Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer, self-publisher and caffeine enthusiast from Cork, Ireland. SELF-PRINTED: THE SANE PERSON’S GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING (3rd edition) is out now in paperback and e-book and available from Amazon. Follow the #selfprintedsplash on Twitter today (Friday 24th) and/or visit www.catherineryanhoward.com for chance to win an amazing prize that will get your self-publishing adventure started!
“SELF-PRINTED is my self-publishing bible. It taught me how to format, create and upload my e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. It showed me practical things such as how to build a website/blog and how to promote my books. More importantly, it taught me how to compete with the professionals. Just look at the results – The Estate Series has sold nearly 100,000 copies and following that I got a traditional book deal with Thomas & Mercer too, so I’m now a hybrid author. Jam-packed full of hints and tips all in one place, I’m always referring back to it. In a word, it’s priceless.” – Mel Sherratt, author of The Estate Series and DS Allie Shenton Series  

What Inspires You Most?

When I saw author Rob White‘s list of books that have influenced his writing most (in no particular order), I knew I had to make my own list.  And I encourage you to do the same.

Whether you’re a painter, writer, musician, etc, the way you create today probably owes a lot to something you read or saw or heard along the way.

Now, this isn’t a favorites list, that would be a little different, but these are the books that are influencing how & what I write right now —

  1. The Lord of the Rings — Frodo the hobbit joins a fellowship of heroes to destroy a powerful ring.  One book to rule them all (sorry).  I’ve only been able to read it once, but for me, LOTR is a lot of what I want to create: magic, great characters who interact in interesting ways, probably the deepest fantasy world ever created (or at least one of the best) and most of all, a world that extends far beyond the main story and makes you think there’s always another tale to be told.  And beautiful descriptions.
  2. Pride & Prejudice — Lizzy spars with the wealthy Mr. Darcy as she and her sisters try to find good husbands.  Not only am I writing a novel very much inspired by Jane Austen right now, Society & Civility, but I have become more and more in awe of P&P’s plotting over time.  It’s such a wonderful escalation.  And Lizzy Bennet is still one of the best heroes in English fiction.
  3. Remains of the Day — A butler finds himself on his first vacation in years — a road trip to a special destination.  There is something about the way the lead character, and his world, is so tightly wound and constructed (no surprise how other covers show a pocket watch).  I think the idea that, in the end, we may be jailers of our own lives and that our personalities may be our final prison is an intriguing one.
  4. Fruits Basket — Orphan Tohru Honda comes to live with boys cursed to transform into the animals of the Chinese zodiac — whenever they are hugged by members of the opposite sex!   This manga is 23 books long (the story is rather like a multi-year TV series) and has a cast of over 20 main characters.  I reread it this spring and it was one of the highlights of my year.  More characters means more of a balancing act, but the payoff is wonderful and you watch the characters interact and grow.  Great ending.
  5. Misery — A writer is saved after a car accident by his ‘biggest fan’.  Too bad she’s crazy.  This was always one of my favorite Stephen Kings books (and I read a lot of them as a teenager) but it was only rereading it after becoming a grown writer that I really was taken in.  Perfect plotting, intense drama, and one of the greatest villains of all time.
  6. About a Boy — Will is an adult with lots of money, no job, and no responsibilities.  But everything changes when he meets serious, 12 y.o. Marcus, and they begin to become friends.  Love Nick Hornby, and High Fidelity or Slam could be here instead but AAB captures funny dialogue, great details, and real life problems and solutions (and not-so-solutions) in an easy-to-read, winning way.  Love the way the leads trade viewpoint chapters.
  7. Mystic River — Three childhood friends are reunited when one’s daughter goes missing; the other two are a cop and a suspect.  The story’s great but it all comes down to the lines; I’ve often thought Dennis Lehane could do more in six words than other people could do in a paragraph.
    “Dave watched him standing up at the bar, chatting with one of the old dockworkers as he waited for his drinks, Dave thinking the guys in here knew what it was to be men. Men without doubts, men who never questioned the rightness of their own actions, men who weren’t confused by the world or what was expected of them in it.”
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Poor Arthur Dent awakens just in time to see Earth destroyed; luckily, his wacky space adventures are only beginning.  There was a time in my youth when Hitchhiker’s and Dave Barry books were the thing when it came to humor.  I even stopped reading Dave for a while because I thought he was influencing me too much.  That influence is lessened now, but Hitchhiker’s still casts a long shadow.  Even though most of my writing isn’t pure comedy, this novel still speaks very strongly to me.
  9. Maurice — Maurice is a proper early 20th century English gentleman, perfectly made for society in all ways, except one –he is gay.  I recently told my sister that I feel like there’s somewhere where I’m always reading this book (or watching its movie) even while the main me is talking, working, and living my life.  It’s had that big of an impact on me.  To me, it is just about the perfect love story, but it’s also about figuring out who you are and what you stand for.  A lot of my characters have a Maurice-like journey.
  10. The Secret Garden — Orphaned Mary is brought to live on an English estate and discovers the titular wonderland.  I kind of get chills just looking at this cover — this is why the book is here, even though I read it so long ago (and really, Alice in Wonderland should be here too).  This book is about place, and growth, and discovering friends in the most unlikely of places.  But in the end, I always just really wanted to be in that wild, forgotten, beautiful garden, and even now my writing continues the search for the mysterious and the extraordinary.
  11. The Great Gatsby — Nick comes from the midwest to New York and soon meets the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, a man of many friends — and secrets.  This is a bonus entry because I forgot it the first time I did the list.  Still just about my favorite kind of writing on a sentence level.  “Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.” WTF!  That’s just sensational writing.

And in the end, that’s what resonates with me most — fantastic stories, characters, and lines that make me a little jealous — and a lot inspired.  So who’s inspiring you?

Summer Movies: What Happened to Happy?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I love dark, complex movies.  I’m a big fan of cable TV anti heroes.  I think hiring Bryan Singer, the director of that clever little drama The Usual Suspects to direct the big budget superhero movie The X-Men was a masterstroke, and popcorn movies have been the better for it since then.

And yet.

While I’ll always love The Dark Knight trilogy and all the other descendants of the mutants, two movies this year have made me quite mad (and sad) by going super-dark (death of a main character) in what was otherwise a very fun, pretty light ‘good time’.

‘Good times’ used to be what summer movies were all about.  They were somewhat brainless (as a whole) and their characters usually lacking, but the whole idea was to pull yourself out of the heat for a couple of hours (that’s two, modern directors, just 120 minutes please) munch of some fun snacks, watch things blow up, and generally not think too hard.  To me the quintessential summer movies were the back-to-back years of Will Smith — Independence Day (1996) and Men in Black (1997).  Fun, sweet, and giving you no reason in the world to cry.  Oh, Mad Men it was not, but then, Mad Men hadn’t been invented yet.

Then in 2000 The X-Men came along.  Along with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The X-Men helped swing the pendulum back toward quality, director-driven action and adventure movies, like those of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and away from the increasingly dumbed-down cops-running-with-guns-towards-aliens cinema of the late 80s and 90s.

The other things these two early 2000s film ushered in was a massive resurgence in fantasy.  Aliens had been big, but now anything under the sun was possible, from frying someone with a lightening bolt to using one ring to rule them all.  And in the hands of a new generation of indie film artiste, these movies (largely) were the best of both worlds — big beautiful spectacle with a surprisingly satisfying, very human center.

Now though, I wonder if the pendulum hasn’t swung too far.  Directors are now pushing the ‘realism’  of life into summer movies not just by having flawed characters and complex situations, but by actually, actively seeking to make their audiences sad and possibility heartbroken.  There’s a great piece of writing advice (I wish I could remember who said it) that goes — ‘You can tell the reader the world is good or that the world is bad, but not that the world is shit.’  To me, this means you can look at the mud or the stars, and you can show corruption and death and sorrow, but within an ethos, within a frame.  The feeling should be that even if this character’s life has gone terribly wrong, somewhere out there, someone is still having a good life.

The ‘Life is shit’ mentality sort of shows that all always comes to naught, good deeds are always rewarded with unjust desserts, and everything we love always dies.  And I feel these happy, popcorn movies, are starting to be more about pain and loss than about fun and adventure.  I’m all for dark dramas that leave you spent and shaking, wiping tears from your eyes.

Requiem For a Dream — don’t go into this one expecting a lot of laughs

But with movies that are sold (in their advertising) as fun, light, or family-friendly, I don’t expect to need to use my popcorn bucket to catch my tears.  Exceptions are when an entire movie hinges on a death, say The Lion King, though that film’s message is certainly not ‘Life is shit’.  The Dark Knight movies were sold as adult tales and everything in their aesthetic told us that death and loss could be part of the package.  Now, they weren’t ‘feel-good’ movies, but never promised they would be.

Perhaps to me that’s the greater sin — not the sadness and death, but the unexpected nature of it.  In both of the movies that disappointed me this year, I had thought earlier in the films ‘This is the best movie ever! (or at least for the year).”  They were funny, light-hearted, clever, romantic, and exciting — and then they both did unforgivable things.  The ‘Life is shit’ option.  Oh, sometimes life is shit, people die, and there isn’t always a happy ending (at least for a while).  But isn’t that more of an exploration for a drama to cover?

The thing is, these disappointments weren’t just good movies, they were potentially great movies.  And for some people, they are great still.  But for me and a lot of others, we won’t be able to enjoy them as fully as we’d hoped.  When Diane Disney, Walt’s little daughter saw Bambi for the first time, she was upset by the death of Bambi’s mother.  Walt told her that was just what happened in the story.  “No Daddy,” she said, “You could have made her live.”

In the end, great power does come with great responsibility.  Dark storytelling brings a level of reality to fantastical summer fare and summer films return the favor by bringing popularity and high stakes to human drama.  But for this writer, I just keep thinking ‘You could have made them live’.

The Prisoner of Azkaban — dark done right. Thanks Alfonso Cuarón!

 

A History of a Writer

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I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember and, as I’m turning 35 in a few months, it looks like the odds are good I’ll be telling them for the rest of my life (not just gonna yell ‘That’s it!  I’m done!’ as I blow out my birthday candles).  But how did I grow into the writer I am today?  Here’s what I remember (note: these ages may be off a little) —

423440_10150723496996095_1852258631_nAge 6 — Some of my first memories were playing with He-Man figures, though I remember liking the villain Skeletor better than the hero.  We also had an Apple computer and played ‘Choose Your Own Adventure: Cave of Time’.

Age 7 — Loved listening to stories but couldn’t hardly read at all till one summer my sister and I got excited about the Athens Regional Library’s Summer Reading program.  I think I read about 50 books including my first ‘big’ novel — Black Beauty.

Age 10 — Wild Ponies! Wild ponies everywhere!  I loved The Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, Smoky, and all those horse stories and so I made up a lot of tales of wild horses while running around a 50 acre property my mother care-took.

Age 12 — Huge TV fan.  We never had cable (still don’t) but for a while I’d watch 2-3 hours a night and tape many programs (tape, ha ha, the memories!).  I once even pretended I was the head of a network and invented 50 series (each with a log line) and then rolled dice to see which were successful and got ‘high ratings’).  Few of the people who call me intelligent and thoughtful today know just how many episodes of The Nanny I’ve seen.

Age 13 — ‘Sisters’ the TV show premieres.  I’ve watched better shows with my sister and mother (Quantum Leap!) but something about this show makes me start telling stories about people instead of horses (mostly just Teddy & Falconer [a young George Clooney!]).  Adolescence has begun.

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Age 14 — I’m reading a lot of Stephen King and Dave Barry.  Also, SeaQuest DSV and The X-Files debut followed by Earth 2 a year later.  My sister Sarah and I spend untold hours playing out ‘episodes’ of the shows that we ‘write’ (as well as Chicago Hope).  We even have props, like a bicycle tire gage that serves as a syringe.

Age 15 — I start my first book, pretty much called ‘If Dave Berry Had Written Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.  I write a few chapters, enjoy it, and still remember a scene where a road crew is placing giant, brightly-colored fish in the highway, like stones in cobblestone.  My adventures in literary greatness have begun.

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Age 16 — I make an epic sci-fi / fantasy love story called Move to Fathom about the assistant to the president who is destined to be the soul mate to an invading alien king.  Strangely enough, I only write down the dialogue, not the whole story.

Age 18 — I decide I’m serious about screenwriting.  Later, when asked why, I said, “I was just enamoured by Hollywood I guess.”  I take a 2 day workshop lead by Michael Hauge.  As a home-schooled-off-the-radar person, it is my first formal training.  I go on to complete two feature length screenplays — ‘Murder in the Movies’ which is about a murder on a murder mystery set, and ‘Divining Grace’, which is about an angel earning his wings by helping a human girl.

Age 19 — I get first job just so I can buy an amazing desktop computer with my sister for gaming.  It was AWESOME.  Suddenly, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal Tournament, Arcanum, X-COM, Civ II, and Myst start to inspire me.

Age 21 — Watch High Fidelity and then start reading Nick Hornby.  My favs (in time) become About a Boy, High Fidelity, and Slam.

417713_10150723505716095_955974438_nAge 22 — I take a three week trip to England to watch the world’s largest dog show (why do other people go?).  I also fall in love for the first time (well, first time recipatated) with a handsome English bloke.  I come home determined to finally start my story ‘Other Gods’.  I try it as a novel instead of a screenplay because I want to flesh out the world and make it deep and meaningful.  I fall instantly in love with novel-writing.  I also join my first critique group and learn about the evils of -ly words.  And I started watching LOTR and the reading the book for the first time.  Yowza!  I realise I have to take my writing to a whole new level.

Age 23 — Go to my first Writer Conference.  I have a fifteen minute session talking to Patrick LoBrutto, who ruins me for talking to any other agents/editor/etc types — he’s so sweet and nice and helpful.  I’m probably here today because of him (at least partly)!  Also see 28 Days Later — the era of my modern movie love has begun.  Suddenly Rain Man and Titanic just don’t seem quite as great.  Hello (in time) Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder, Guillermo del Toro, Neill Blomkamp, Darren Aronofsky, and Alfonso Cuarón.

Age 25 — Shadow of the Colossus (PS2 game) comes out. DA-mn.  Never gonna forget that world.  Time to up my game again.

Age 27 — I watch Deadwood, my first cable show.  I know it only as ‘That show that won all those awards and people curse a ridiculous amount”.  After watching the first episodes, I know it as the show that changed my idea of TV forever.

Age 29 — I finally finish my first novel ‘Other Gods’.  The story of two servants of the god of Darkness (one willing and one unwilling) on a journey to destroy all of the gods on a desert planet.  It clocks in a 140,000 words but I’m very proud — my first book!

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Age 31 — Start my second novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’.  I had been trying to write a sequel to ‘Other Gods’ but the timing just wasn’t right.  So I decide to pick a short, sweet idea, and ‘Let my romanticism off the hook’ for the first time.  A love triangle starring a man trapped in a cage is born.

Age 33 — I start People Who Have Come Alive, to inspire others to live their dreams.  I also met Rob White, an Athens-area writer who has inspired me in many ways including founding the Athens Writers Association that year.  I also wrote my first non-fiction book ‘How To Come Alive: a Guidebook for Living Your Dreams’ and self published for the first time.  Yow!  Things are getting busy!

Age 34 — Finish and self publish ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’.  Will finish (soon!) 12 year project — ‘Fall Street’ novel.  Am writing a teleplay.  Soon to start next novel …

Taken on day #5

Still crazy after all these years.

 

How To Write a Book (Part 2 of 2)

Here’s the second half of my guide to book writing —

Austin Kleon

— Austin Kleon

How to Write — a Practical Timeline

Here’s the nitty-gritty of how I get to ‘The End’:

  1. Get an idea.  You might be reading a news article, or a another novel, watching a film, or daydreaming a ‘what if’ and it gets you — this is a good book idea.
  2. What kind of book?  If you want to explore organic farming, is this a non-fiction investigation?  A ‘how to’?  A novel set on an organic farm?  Figure out what first drew you in — that’s your passion.
  3. Who lives there?  In a novel, for me, the people arise from the idea.  In ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ I ‘saw’ a cage in the middle of a Regency England estate and started asking ‘Who would be put in such a cage and for what purpose?  In a memoir you might be writing about your grandmother but who influenced her?  Who were her heroes?  Her nemeses?  Even a non-fiction book may need examples of people who succeeded — be in it building a birdhouse or starting a business.
  4. Make an outline / roadmap.  A couple of page document, meant just for you, that hits the main points of what you want to tell.
  5. Research (if the spirit moves you).  Some people LOVE research, others can’t stand it.  Depending on the story you’re writing, you may eventually need to do some, but whether or not you like it, don’t let research slow you down too much from actually starting writing.
  6. Boldly begin.  Start a chapter one, and make time to write.  I also don’t believe in writer’s block.  If something isn’t interesting to you, set it aside and write something else.
  7. Edit (a little) as you go.  I know this runs counter to what a lot of people do but my way is to start each day rereading the pages I worked on last session and making spelling/grammar corrections along the way.  I don’t worry about making big changes though; I mainly read just to get back to the flow and excitement of what I’m doing.
  8. Finish the first draft.  Hit the last page and celebrate.  Buy yourself dinner or a nice bottle of bubbly.  Then put your book aside for two weeks or a month.  This time is crucial to getting some distance and seeing your work with new eyes.
  9. Do a second draft.  Reread the book, see how you feel about it — is there anything BIG you want to change?  New chapters, love interests, and ideas can be worked in now.  Once the ‘big picture’ looks good . . .
  10. Do a third draft.  Start looking at the little things — each line, each word.  You may feel like an extra scene is needed to explain a growing friendship, or you may discover new data to share in your ‘how to’.  Reading aloud to yourself is also a great tool for ferreting out awkward sentences.  The third draft is about making it as good as you can make it.  Then . .
  11. Find trustworthy readers.  This is super-important: only use people you trust, love, share your idea of a good book, and WANT to read it.  If you can’t find that, it might be better to go it alone.  But getting these outside opinions is valuable, provided you remember it’s your book at the end of the day and the most important person to please is yourself.
  12. Do a forth draft.  Take feedback from your readers (try to find at least three) and decide if you need to make a few changes.  If all your readers mention something, you might want to look closer at it.  Most of the great feedback I’ve gotten has been about beginnings (orient  the reader about the world better), little side endings (couldn’t they get away and get the money?), and lackluster areas (the ‘food’ section of my self help book eventually became ‘Energy’ after reader feedback).
  13. Do a final draft (and copyedit).  Go over your book again, seeing how it strikes you now.  Are you happy with everything or is there anything that still sticks out and bothers you?  Take the time to fix it.  And you do need to copyedit a lot, catching all the grammar and spelling errors you can.  It can be hard to do this on your own, but there are a lot of inexpensive copyeditors out there, or you might be able to do an exchange with another writer (you’ll catch their errors easier than your own).
  14. Cerebrate!  You just became an author!

Some common questions —

How do I get published?  It’s pretty confusing these days and only you can decide what ‘published’ means to you.  The traditional way is to get an agent, who in turn will try to sell your book to a traditional publishing house.  You can also query a small publishing house, self-publish, or hire someone to ’self publish’ your book for you.

Say I want an agent — how do I get one?  First you’ll need a very good query letter and/or proposal.  There are whole books about how to write them — in a nutshell, they should recapture in a few pages what made you excited about this book and let the agent know what to expect.  Queryshark is a great site about queries for fiction writers.  You can find an agent on agentquery.com or by googling your favorite writer and the word ‘agent’.  But, it’s super hard to get an agent right now, as their whole industry is changing and they’re not taking on a lot of new clients right now.  So don’t be discouraged if you’re not chosen.  And always remember, you don’t pay for an agent — instead, they get a percentage of the book sale.

How do you ‘self publish’?  You can pay a printer to print up copies of your book.  But the best option for a lot of people (if you book doesn’t have many pictures) is to create a paperback and an ebook using services like Createspace and Lulu.  You’ll need a program like Microsoft Word, and then Createspace will give you a template that helps you design the book.  The upside is that Createspace is free (you only pay for the books you buy), and puts high quality paperbacks (of yours!) into the hands of Amazon customers (and you get a percentage of the profit [higher than traditional publishing] from each sale).  The down side is that it doesn’t work for books with a lot of pictures, and EVERYTHING is on you.  You control how good the cover, editing, format, and marketing is — that’s a lot of power and responsibility.

What about companies that ‘help’ you self publish?  The best examples of these companies really are invested in making your dream come true.  The trade off is usually that you give them several thousand dollars and they take back a lot of that EVERYTHING responsibility that self publishing pushed into you — editing, formatting etc.  Different packages are different prices — just be sure to do a lot of research if you go this way.  And remember, it’s not anything you can’t learn to do yourself — but then, neither is making your own clothes.  You just have to decide if it’s worth the cost.

I have a great idea for a book.  Can I get someone else to do the ‘writing the book’ bit?  Yes — if you pay them.  Yes — if you want be part of a writing team and do half the work.  Yes — if you’re famous in your field and have a big built-in audience.  But if you have an idea (especially for fiction) and you just want someone else to do the work of writing — you’ll find writers already have too many good ideas and won’t take on some else’s.  So pick up that pen!

Can I get rich and famous doing this?  Of course; we’ve all read the success stories.  But the most important question is What do I really want to get out of this?  Don’t just lump your book in with your job, the painting you found in the attic, and the lotto ticket you bought this morning at the Quik Trip.  To paraphrase Fight Club — you are not your get-rich-quick-scheme.  If you spend time with your grandmother, learn her life story, and self publish it as a treasured family heirloom — does it really matter if every book club in the country isn’t reading it?  If your great new plan for paying off student debt faster helps 100 kids have better lives, is that not a success?  If the characters that seem as real as day to you suddenly find a home in a second heart — have you not succeeded spectacularly?

Some Tips —

  • Use a computer if at all possible (it will save you a lot of time later)
  • Use 11 or 12 point Times New Roman font
  • Use format>linespacing>Between Lines 2 SP (or something similar in your program).  This is double spacing your lines — it’s easier for editing.
  • If you only have one backup of your book file, you don’t have a backup.  Keep several copies on different flash drives, hard drives etc.  And emailing yourself the file is a good way to keep it ‘in the cloud’.
  • Name different saves along the way — yourbook010414.doc — might be a good name for an extra copy you made on Jan. 4th.  If you don’t like changes you made, you can go back to the older file.
  • Remember to find inspiration — songs, paintings, picture, articles, jewelry etc that can inspire your book and your characters.  Put the pictures around your work area (or on a Pinterest.com board to inspire you).
  • Printing out a chapter, editing it pen in hand, and reading it aloud to yourself can really make a difference in your finished product.
  • Don’t worry about copyrighting your work.  It’s yours from the moment you write it.  If you’re concerned, you can always print out the pages and mail them to yourself.  Don’t open the package; the postmark now serves as a date of when you began the work.  If anyone later tried to claim it, they couldn’t.  But honestly, I’ve never worried about it.  And if you’re afraid of someone stealing your once-in-a-life-time Matrix-like idea — then keep it to yourself until the book is written.
  • Read different things.  Don’t read only romance and write romance, or only self help books and then write one.  Instead, try all sorts of things and let them inspire you.  Graphic novels, rap songs, 500 year old poems, British TV shows, documentaries!  Your work will be better and more original if you have more interests and express them in your works.
  • Get excited.  There has never been a better time to write, to publish your own book, and/or to share your work online!

How To Write a Book (Part 1 of 2)

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— Lemony Snicket

Somewhere in your heart you know it.  Maybe this is a recent dream, but quite likely it’s been kicking around in your subconscious for some time and every once in a while, when reading a new book, or hearing an author interview, or thinking about your lifetime goals it comes to the surface — you want to write a book.  Maybe you dream of being a fulltime, famous, professional writer or maybe there’s just one idea or story that begging you to expound on it and send it out into the world.

Whatever your dream project is — a memoir, non-fiction, children’s book, or novel — there are some common elements needed to move from Chapter 1 to ‘The End’.

Elements of Success in Writing:

  • Figure out what you want to tell and why.  Before you write a word, get a good idea of why this book?  Toni Morrison says ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’  That’s always been my driving force.  Figure out what makes it special and different than similar books.  Don’t worry about originality yet (we’ll get to that part), just envision who your book is for.  Sometimes it helps to think of a person you know who is also your intended audience.
  • Plan (a little).  Finding a similar book can help you get an idea of number of chapters, number of pages, type of words (for children’s books) etc that your book might have.  The internet has acted to level the playing field and let you acquire ‘insider knowledge’ of the book business. Did you know there are four categories for children’s fiction?  Simply do a Google search for ‘books how many children fiction categories are there’ and you can find the answer.  Just remember that ten ‘Wikihow’ articles don’t necessarily equal the depth of one good how-to book.  This is the ‘know the rules so you can break them’ phase.
  • Make a roadmap, not a blueprint.  I wish I remembered what writing book this was from, but never the less it’s still important advice: make a roadmap not a blueprint of your book.  A blueprint is exacting and unchanging, but a roadmap lets you decide to take a detour when you see something interesting and you still know where you’ll be at the end of your book.  A lot of beginning writers start without a roadmap, and begin with a flush of excitement but can lose their way after a few chapters.  To me, a good road map is only a couple of pages long but will let you know the next ‘beat’ of your book if you get lost.  The outline for my novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ was two pages long and explained the main plot from beginning to end — just like you were telling a best friend the plot of a movie you saw.  For my self help non-fiction book, I decided to focus on five areas of improvement (Inspiration, Freedom, Peace, Energy, Strength) and then decided to have five little chapters in each area and named them (i.e. Do Yoga).  These outlines kept me moving forward while giving me the freedom to discover better ideas along the way.
  • Make your goal to finish.  Believe me — there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing your first book, of knowing you’ve done what a lot of people will talk about but never do.  You can always edit and polish on later drafts but just getting finished should be your first goal.  I started with screenplays and just told myself that whether or not the plot made any sense, I would reach page 100 (the length of a screenplay).  I knew one writer who kept rewriting chapter one over and over again.  I met him again years later and he was still writing chapter ones.  Now, each person must follow their own path and it’s great he’s still writing, but if your goal is a finished book — look toward that finish line.
  • Remember — you have potential.  My belief is that LOVE + TIME = TALENT.  If you keep writing, and reading, and learning you will get better and better.  The book ‘Talent is Overrated’ has some wonderful stories about how being born ‘talented’ might mean you get out of the starting gate before everyone else, but if you’re trotting and everyone else is working hard and galloping along you’ll soon be left in the dust.  If you love the book you’re writing, if you’re excited by it, the feeling will pass right along to the reader.  And you are the only you who has ever been, so your work (if it’s true to you) will be original and one-of-a-kind.
  • Just keep writing.  Even a page a day will get you to your goal.

Next time I’ll give you a timeline for writing your novel and answer some commonly asked questions.