WARNING: A little extra language in the pictures of this post — because I was feeling passionate!
In life there are two pulls — the urge to become more and the necessity of loving yourself as is. I don’t believe these forces are incompatible but we too often tell our story as ‘I’m broken and I must fix myself.’
But we’re not broken. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience and our bodies can shatter, we can grow tired, we may even get lost. And we can definitely make mistakes. But we can’t break. And at our soul level there is something so fundamentally strong and beautiful and full of glorious purpose that it burns brightly our whole lives and we cannot lessen its glow one iota — we can only hide it from the world and even ourselves.
We lose sight of the things that make us beautiful and make us dream. We sell our days for power and money, and give away the peace of night in exchange for fears and insecurity.
There was no grand scheme, no master plan to build a society that told us, from birth to death, that we are not good enough. Companies just sold things, and advertisers discovered that praying on our fears, playing to our vanities, and distorting our dreams sold a lot of soda. And cars. And weight loss devices.
An unintentional side effect of this effective advertising is, on a massive level, unconscious self-loathing (oops!). And before you think I overstate my case, I’ll ask ‘Are you happy with the shape of your body?’ ‘How often do you wish you had more money?’ ‘Do you think other people have more fun, more vibrant social lives than you?’ Or as my sister put it, she grew up thinking you couldn’t be the hero of the story unless you were ‘the pretty one’.
And having to grow up at school, trapped in a building with a bunch of other confused kids doesn’t help. So we emerge, blinking, into the strong sunlight of adulthood and look around, lost. And yet we often still try, still push toward our dreams and our heart’s desires.
But the road is long, and we stumble, then retreat. And somewhere along the way we can grow cold, or even cruel. We gain weight and believe ourselves maybe just the ‘sassy friend’ instead of the luminous heroine. I’ve had pretty good self esteem for a few years now (starting my groups People Who Have Come Alive & the Athens Writers Association was a big turning point for me), but even I was thrown backwards, back to TV show expectations of my youth recently when I fell for someone and wondered ‘Could I even be seen as attractive to him?’ And I’ve worked on this stuff for years! But billions of dollars have been spent in the same time span to tell me I lack something, or many things.
So cover our glow in armor, in hardheartedness, in shrouds. We develop traits we don’t like, and these become the weak places where we also build up our strongest defenses. And somewhere along the way, we believe a myth we have helped write, the story of why we don’t deserve success — in business, in love, or in life.
Before I started my groups, my self publishing, or even a lot of my self improvement, I too had a myth. I was a ‘nice’ girl who was too shy for groups, too boring to have friends, and too ugly (read fat) to have a boyfriend. It hurts and bewilders me now to write these words, because I never expressed them to anyone back then, but none the less, it was a story — a reason — that I used to explain my life. The truth was I was quiet and introspective, and curvy (and still am).
So what changed my outlook? I think I just realized that I had felt and wrestled with these feelings, these ‘lacks’, most of my adult life, so it followed that I could be having exactly the same conversations with myself in 10, or 20, or 30 years. I didn’t want that and so I decided to take action — bringing the people I wanted to know together, speaking even when my voice shook, and building a body I could love — with or without a man to enjoy it with.
So how do you let go of these brainwashed ideals and layers of armor? How do you honor how awesome you are and know how far you can go?
5 Ways to Love Yourself and Reveal Your Awesome
- Start questioning your authorities. When you think, ‘I need to lose weight’ — STOP. Ask yourself where this desire is coming from — love or fear? Do you love dancing around, and feeling great with tons of energy? Or do you read magazines and watch shows that take 1% of the human population and then Photoshop and light them to look like 0% naturally do? If you think you need more success (and money) ask yourself why. Will that really make something inside you different and happier or have you just been told the validation of life is cha-ching! cash? After you start questioning your sources, consider cutting the toxic ones out of your life while looking at things from a new perspective (read blogs about people beating anorexia or helping children in disadvantaged countries, watch foreign films, find quotes and people that build you up, read bios of great historical figures). And when a person you know offers their opinion, always ask yourself, ‘Are they someone I want to emulate, to aspire to be?’
- Make time for what makes you awesome. So often we only work on our weaknesses. In the book Now, Discover Your Strengths, the authors talk about how you want to shore up your weaknesses, but only enough that they don’t slow you down (they use an example of Tiger Woods improving his short game so it would not detract from his amazing long swings that got him to the green so quickly). The takeaway was that you are never going to be amazing because of your weaknesses — it’s your unique strengths that will blow people away. So take pride in the things that come easily to you, delve into the hobbies and sports that you excel at (I once told my sister that I felt like I was ‘made’ for cycling — and that is a powerful feeling, almost like you’re cheating). In the same way, I didn’t really ‘fix’ my character flaws, I just walked away from them and focused on stuff I rock at — and I’ve never looked back.
- Get healthy. Seriously, throw out the scale (it’s a horrible measure of health), and forget about diets (these temporary things you hate) while embracing diet (a lifelong way of eating that makes you feel great). So much self esteem and endorphins lie on the other side of exercise and eating right. Also — weed, drinking, and excessive sugar can all be enjoyed, but they can also become a crutch that makes us feel powerless and reliant on their mood enhancements. And I know smokers already feel beat up upon, but I really do feel like that addiction unfairly makes you feel powerless — a slave to nicotine — many times a day, so I hope, if you smoke, you find out how powerful you are and break that habit into a million pieces.
- Become an inspiration to others. Write a book. Lead a cause. Start a group. Blog about fitness. Mentor a child. Follow your dream so hard that others stare in wonder. When I started my groups, a strange thing happened: people started telling me how awesome I was, and how I was inspiring them. I felt there must be some mistake, but no — I was just living my life but even what I considered small acts — hosting a meeting, sharing what I knew, encouraging people with a few words — others saw a value to that and spoke up about it. This inspired me to do more — publish a book, give a public reading — because I realized that we all have fears and insecurities and the more ‘fake it till you make it’ I did, the more bold and brave they would become in their own lives. Suddenly, being awesome wasn’t about just me.
- Speak to yourself with love. Not get all psychological on you, but there’s only one person watching everything you do and commenting on how you do it. It’s you. And it was a real wake-up call the first time I read something like ‘If you wouldn’t speak to a small child like that, why would you speak to your inner child that way?’ It’s really hard to live an inspiring life if someone is degrading you all the time. So, give yourself a break. It’s been shown in studies that being ‘hard line’ or tough with yourself does not improve your willpower or results. In fact, the opposite is true. You are already doing great things — give yourself some love.
So start seeing yourself as beautiful.
Fall in love with who you are at your silliest and most sublime.
Forgive the actions and thoughts of your past and know they are not you.
Make choices that reveal your inner glory and magnificent joy.
Say “Screw you!” to any society that hasn’t gotten on board with your level of sexy, awesomeness, or lifestyle.
Heal your body and free your mind.
And lastly, when you feel imperfect, remember the words of Leonard Cohen — “There is crack in everything . . .
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:
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…
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) —
Age 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.
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.
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.
Age 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!
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 …
Still crazy after all these years.
Yesterday was day 2 of my 8 day ‘stay-cation’. I left home briefly for a delectable Depalmas lunch, and took a 7.5 mile cycle ride in the evening. The rest of the day? Writing! (and Watching X-Men First Class in prep for the new movie).
I decided to chart out all I wanted/needed to do writing-wise.
I had four sections — Novels, Other Work, Online, and Athens Writers Association.
As I looked at it all I thought, ‘Geeze, it would take me ten years to write all these things.’ Then I thought, but I bet you’d be a professional, full-time writer at the end of it. And if you hustled, I bet you could do it in five.’
My favorite part is —
Oooo, so many delectable story ideas.
Then I spent most of the rest of the day working on re-writes for Fall Street; I still like that little sucker (check out an early excerpt under my ‘novels’ section). And once Fall Street is released I’m going onward toward The Wayfarer & The Watch (check out the awesome Pinerest page here).
Now I just want to see these beautiful stories out in the world. Time to hop to it!
This is about to be a huge cop out because the answer to the question above is to remove the first two words from the title of this piece — there’s your answer. But hopefully my explanation will be more satisfying.
There’s a lot of dithering, planning, dreaming, whiteboard and index card use, and fantasizing that goes into planning the life of your dreams. And that can be good, but even better is the day you take action. And the best kind of action (to me) is just acting like you’re already living the life of your dreams.
It’s easy to get fixated on the crack, crevice, Grand Canyon-sized hole between where you are and where you want to be. But when you jump, you don’t look at what you’re jumping over, you look at where you want to land.
For myself, it’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago I had published no books (now I have two), there was no Athens Writers Association (which I founded) and all my dreams of being a professional writer felt like wispy clouds on a distant horizon. But today I feel like I’m on an express train zipping toward my destination. How did I do it? How does anyone? Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned so far —
10 Tips for Living the Life of Your Dreams
- ‘Fake it till you make it.’ I use to dislike this idea, like somehow you were lying to the world. Instead, I’ve come to see it as a powerful technique to re-train your brain to see you as a winner. Instead of seeing yourself as out-of-shape and wanting to eat a donut, imagine yourself as your perfect weight — you feeling amazing in your body, you go for runs, and maybe donuts have lost some of their appeal. See yourself as a winner making a choice rather than as a loser denying themselves a treat. This also means you have to starting talking about yourself, your dreams, and your talents in positive terms. You’re not lying to anyone — you’re just remembering that ‘I just published my first book, and I’m very excited!’ is as true as ’50 agents turned me down so I finally made up a copy and self published it. I keep them in a box under my bed.’ You’re the hero of your own story, and you’re on a journey — honor how awesome you are for even trying to make a big change.
- Start today. No one expects perfect; in fact my current favorite saying is ‘Progress not perfection’. Instead, see what you can do on this day that will echo in eternity. I’m not kidding — a simple walk could be the start of a lifetime of health and fitness. Picking up that guitar and playing for five minutes does get you closer to being a master. No matter how small the action, do it. But the trick is to see these actions as the beginning of long term habits, not as one-offs that should change everything. But know this, when you make the time everything does start changing.
- Realize that even small actions can put you in elite company. Now I am not saying you don’t have to work damn hard to get to the life of your dreams, but believe me, you would be shocked how little time it takes to become an inspiration to others. Most people have un-achieved dreams and just seeing you eat right for a month, or write one book, or even get up on a stage for five minutes can make you someone who’s done what some others never will. It’s a good feeling to inspire others — and you’ll find yourself inspired to ever-greater heights.
- “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward.” — Tina Fey. Just being willing to do something you are unsure about is a surefire way to start astounding yourself. In the Athens Writers Association, there have been some big, even scary, ideas — like doing our first public reading or publishing an anthology — but that willingness to say “Yes, we can” translates into action and confidence. People love solution-finders, and they tell others (including your dream-job boss) what bold, great things you are doing and how you were willing to put yourself out there and learn something new.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Truth is, the road to your dreams is scary, often unmarked, and filled with the sensation that you’re going the wrong way. And that’s when you’re on the right path! Everything you’ve been doing in your non-dream life is probably stuff that’s been working ‘okay’ for years, but as Jack Canfield says ‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear.’ If you’re serious about living the life of your dreams, be prepared to feel like an out-of-it, loser, miscreant for the next five to seven years. Then all your dreams come true. I think it’s a pretty good deal, but damn, it’s not going to be comfortable.
- Work hard. Sorry, but that’s the price of admission. You have to find something you love so much you’ll give untold hours, weeks, and years to it and still want to give more. The great thing is, being willing to work hard is all it takes to separate you from the ordinary masses. And trust me when I say you can work so hard and do great things. You just need to break free of the feelings you learned in school or in that job you hate and recognize that working hard at something you love is already ingrained in you. Just remember being a little kid building forts, chasing bugs all day, playing with your friends — back then play was hard work, and you loved every minute of it. Reclaim your awesomeness.
- Let go of what others think. Their life path is not yours. If you know you’re going in the right direction, then that’s all that matters.
- “Do good work and share it with people.” — Austin Kleon. Part of the ‘living’ vs. ‘planning’ is being willing to share your work (and hopes and dreams) with the wider world. Now, that doesn’t mean trusting your innermost secrets to the person who always poo-poos your every idea at work. Dreams are precious things — find like-minded people and get excited. Take a class, join a group, and then start putting your talents out into the world.
- Feel the momentum. Writing a page a day can mean writing your first novel this year. Losing a pound a week is losing 52 pounds by next spring. Don’t worry about falling off or having a bad day, just look for forward progress week to week and month to month. Using the weight loss analogy above, you could have 70 ‘off’ days between now and next May and you’d still lose 40 pounds. You could fall off for two months and still come out of the year an amazing champion. Now you want to be on track as much as possible, but know that keeping going, not being flawless, is the secret to success.
- Power though. When I was writing my nonfiction book last fall, I would sometimes feel tired, out-of-sorts, and like I might not be doing my best work. But I keep pushing forward — edit if I was too tired to write, work on a cover if I was too distracted to edit. I looked at it like a football game: it’s great to have a long run and score a touchdown, but even if a play only gets you a few more yards down the field, you are still better off and closer to the goal. And by the end of the year, magically, I had a real book I was proud of. No one (not even me) could tell what I’d written when I ‘didn’t feel like it’, or what parts needing to be rewritten five times — in the end it was a great, unified piece. But it would be easy to still be writing it, waiting for the perfect moment, letting myself off easy when I was tired or busy.
Just dedicate yourself to doing something you love, to achieving some great end, and then put in the time and hard work to make it happen. Stop planning and start living today.
And . . .
For those of you who couldn’t make it to my Athens Writers Association class in Athens last weekend, here’s a taste of what we discussed —
- Make your characters interesting. The best way to make me believe the love story is to make me believe in them. No matter how good the blueprint, if your building materials are Styrofoam and gummy bears, that cathedral ain’t standing for long. The more interesting and complex your lovers are, the more we’ll believe in them and root for their ‘happily ever after’. If your having trouble with the love story, go back and spend more time figuring out who these people are.
- Go for an off-kilter aesthetic. Symmetry is beautiful but, to me,love stories thrive in the place between beauty and ugliness. Let me explain— the cheerleader and the jock get together. They both like the same things, the same movies, and same religion. They’re perfect for each other. Are you asleep yet, ‘cause I am. There’s nothing wrong with that story if there’s an important ‘other’ element (’perfect’ couple must overcome her drinking problem or they’re both men- and it’s 1950). But in most cases, I’m more interested in the people you wouldn’t think would be together. My character Maurice (who follows the god of Darkness) falls for servant of a rival god just as a war is about to break out. A different Maurice (E.M. Forster’s) is a college-educated city man who falls for a simple (but super-charming) games-keeper. This is not just about differences in background, this is about the characters seemingly having good reasons to have no interest in each other and yet finding themselves very interested indeed.
- There’s obstacles to their happiness. Now, you could say that’s more about good storytelling than being ‘believable’ and yet part of the real world is diving into challenges and changes as you add a new person into your life. Your family might not approve; their family might not approve. You might live in different cities. But better yet — you might not agree about everything. I think some of the best love stories have the characters standing in the way of their own happiness. Can they move aside and allow themselves the happy ending? And should they? Love can spring up between diametrically opposed characters, say a detective and a killer, and they may love each but still make choices that ensure they won’t walk into the sunset together.
- Neither one is perfect. Most often the hero (male or female) in more interesting and flawed and the ‘love interest’ is some sort of perfect, beautiful, glowing god or goddess from the sky. No matter how great they appear to their lover, the love interest should have flaws, even tiny ones. In my mind, Edward (in Twilight) was a little too boring and perfect — a wish fulfillment for an accessory instead of a human being. Compare that story to My So-Called Life’s Angela and Jordan. The most interesting thing about us is often our weaknesses. And it’s often those weaknesses that we are most protective of in those we love.
- When it comes to cliches, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s certain phrases (and situations) that you should probably avoid like the plague (I promise to stop now). The ‘tripping into a stranger’s arms’ or ‘both reaching for the last- whatever’ are pretty overused as meet-cute devices. And I shouldn’t have to tell you to avoid actual cliches like ‘Her heart skipped a beat’. That said, don’t give up the emotion or impact you’re looking for, just find a more clever way to express it. In the beginning of Jumping the Broom, Sabrina is tired of sleeping with cheating run-a-round men and makes a promise to God to not have sex again until it’s with her (as yet unmet) future husband on their wedding night. So you get the feeling God is about to introduce her to the man of her dreams, and he does — when Sabrina accidentally hits Jason when he walks in front of her car. Her overreaction of bumping into him goes from funny to sweet when the audience sees their both smitten from the start. Likewise, if you feel like your character’s heart really did skip a beat (arrhythmia) then write that, but write it in such a way that it’s uniquely you (or better yet, uniquely your character). ‘Lucy decided she was having a heart attack, right now, right here in Josh Logan’s office. Josh raised his beautiful eyebrows in concern. Great, thought Lucy, I meet the man of my dreams and the only place he’ll ever take me is to the morgue.’ Dig past what you’ve seen and try to really connect to your character, where they might meet someone, and how they might react (especially if it’s not smooth).
- The best times aren’t the most perfect times. The best kiss, most romantic date, hottest make-out session, and favorite moment may not be exactly as planned. Scarlett and Rhett first kiss beside a dirty wagon with an unconscious woman and a baby in it, and he’s about to abandon her to drive miles by herself through a war torn countryside. Oh yes, and Atlanta is burning to the ground behind them. Their both soot-stained and sweaty — and it’s a great kiss. Much better than if they were in a perfect hotel room with glasses of Champagne. The same way that the ‘perfect’ first date with your crush might be ruined when he has to drive you to the hospital because your best friend got into a car crash- while driving drunk. Worst night ever? Not so fast, your friend was all right and while you watched her sleep, your crush sat down beside you and took your hand — and in that moment you kind of knew he was going to become your husband.
- Make us believe these two could have a great life together. Whether or not you have a sunset planned for your two leads, we (the readers) should at least believe it could happen. By which I mean, their personalities and souls are compatible. Do they laugh together, get each other’s humor and priorities? Do they respect the other’s mind? Even if they are opposed in some major way (she’s going to war/ he’s a pacifist) you still want to believe they could be happy if that one thing didn’t exist. Some characters fight and misunderstand each other so much that I want to separate them now, and I’m certainly not betting on a golden anniversary. In the same way, if your characters break up and get together more than once — I’m gone. I’ll go give my heart to a love story I can believe could work out longterm. The exception is something like the film Sid & Nancy: totally screwed-up characters whose destiny is to burn down the world with their love — and hate.
- Don’t fall into traditional boy/girl relationships. This is related to the tip about cliches. You may have noticed that in a couple of examples above, I role-reversed (she have a drinking problem/she’s going to war). That’s because few places force characters into tighter traditional roles than love stories. ‘“Don’t leave me!” She begged, clinging to his sleeve. He shook her hand away- cold, unfeeling.’ Youch. But what if you reversed it? Suddenly, it’s at least a little interesting. In Fall Street Claire is a sensible, sane, and intelligent 15 year old. Tommy is the popular kid two years older than her. But as they become friends, she realizes he’s a lot more emotionally needy than she is, and she had to reassure him and look after him. The reverse wouldn’t be much of a story, but the fact that people would expect an older boy to act one way (especially around a younger girl) to me gives the scenes more interest. One interesting way to break out of stereotypes is to have both of your characters be male or female. ‘Gay’ films or stories as genre can have their own cliches (just like ‘chick lit’). But I’m not talking about category fiction here — I’m talking about taking the exact story you were already telling and making the lovers the same sex. ‘He’s an ex-marine and the only person who can save the President from an assassin’s bullet. And he teams up with a rookie Secret Service agent to protect the leader of the free world. All the while, sparks fly between these two!’ It would be an interesting twist, and it might help you break out of expectations while writing it (ie the assassin — OF COURSE — holds the agent hostage in the final battle).
- Sometimes it doesn’t work out. One of the most believable love stories is ‘the one who got away’. 99.99% of romance stories try to deliver that happy ending — your story can really stand out if you admit that sometimes love can’t conquer all. If you really see your character unable to forgive him, unwilling to move to Bombay, or fatally shot in the final showdown with the assassin, consider following your instinct. There’s always room for another Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliette. Now, in a lot of cases, we want the happy ending and woe be to the writer who tricks us. So consider giving us a heads up (right in the beginning the narrator of 500 Days of Summer tells us ‘This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.’). You can also have an open-ended love story where you leave us hopeful without promising sunsets and grandbabies. In romance even a pinch of doubt can shake the reader out of a rose-colored haze and remind them of events in their own life.
- It’s weird and different. In real life, it can be hard to explain exactly why you connect to a certain person, what so funny about them, and why you can’t get them out of your head. Most people will never understand exactly why you fell for each other. But in fiction, the writer needs to make us understand, to feel the love story from the inside out. You can do a surprisingly good job with the simplest story. Imagine a teenage boy — he carries the girl’s books every day, asks after her family, and- is totally ignored. But he keeps trying. And, if she’s worthy of him, we want him to succeed. That said, the shortcuts to connecting to your readers (his startlingly blue eyes, her pounding heart) — we understand we’re suppose to care without really connecting to the story. Your readers, and your characters, deserve better. Dig deep, and discover what makes these two different and how to write something you’ve never read before. My favorite love quote (which I can’t find the source of) is “Her lips were so close, what else could I do?”
And that’s what you want; give your readers no choice but to fall in love with your story, your characters, and your view on romance. It could be the beginning of a lifelong affair.
“Get your hero up a tree, throw stones at him, then get him down.” — old saying in playwriting
So, a month ago, I was real excited. And then what happened? Life.
Those who know me know I haven’t been myself lately. I have been quiet and tired. Since January, my sister and I have had pipes burst, the well’s power shut down, a longer run of low temperatures here in Georgia than I can remember in my lifetime, snow, no indoor water, and the top third of a dead tree fall to the ground 30 feet from us — which was funny (especially since we were on our way to fix the well) but it was really close too.
None of that matters. Or more precisely, none of that’s slowing us down. It’s February now, time for us to re-find those 2014 goals and enthusiasm and I challenge you to do the same thing. This is going to be the most frekin’ exciting year yet of our lives and that all begins by picking back up those goals, dusting them off, and saying —
We OWN this year. Let’s prove it.
My 2014 goals —
- Cycle 50 miles in one day
- Publish my novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’
- Publish my novel ‘Fall Street’
- Be in the best shape of my life (hard not to be with goal #1 😉
- Go Paleo for two solid months
- Write something new that is the best thing I’ve ever written
- Do yoga every day of the year starting now
- Make my home the most inspiring it’s ever been
- Do 12 adventurous things I’ve never done
- Get rid of 1/3 of my possessions
If you’re an author today (or any sort of entrepreneurial business person) this is truly a wonderful time to be alive. The freedom and power given by the internet is unprecedented. But for authors, all that power comes with great responsibility. How to you make yourself heard, rise above the masses, and sell books without becoming a ‘MY BOOK IS NOW .99 ON AMAZON!!! RT THANKS!’ jerk? Good question.
For myself, this is the simple formula that seems to work best (inspired by Austin Kleon) —
- Do good work
- Make it interesting
- Put it in front of as many eyeballs as possible
In a moment I’ll explain each of those parts in more detail, but for now let me give an example of how this was recently successful in a RL event.
The Athens Writers Association had its first ‘Writers Read’ event and I wanted it to be a big hit. So I picked good people and they (and I) practiced our readings and worked hard to bring our best (‘Do good work’). Then I made flyers, put stuff up on the website, etc — all with the idea to make it alluring and exciting to people (‘Make it interesting’). Lastly, I contacted local papers, and spent a whole day going to nearly 30 places around town to distribute flyers (‘Eyeballs’). It was exhausting.
But it was SO worth it. We had a giant crowd, and everyone who came seemed to love us and wanted to hear more in the future. The excitement was palatable.
So what does that mean for you (and me) online? I think the same rules apply. Allow me to explain —
Do Good Work
People, this is the catch. Right here, right in the beginning. You want to put out good work, really good work if possible. All the other time and effort you put into to advertising and marketing is pointless (in my mind) if you’re not pointing people to something they are going to love. You’re just the matchmaker — you believe your book and this reader are destined for each other and you just want them to meet. And just as you wouldn’t set up a good friend with someone you thought was unworthy, don’t set your beloved reader up to fail by giving them a bad book.
‘Bad book? Wait a minute,’ you say, ’My book’s not bad’. No, maybe not. But you want great. Not flawless, not perfect (because we are human and what have we touched that we could not imagine more perfect somehow?), but great — really fucking great. As good as we can make it.
Make It Interesting
This is where some ‘Mad Man’ magic mojo can help (by writing copy, not by sleeping with models BTW). The simplest way to think about this is just to remember what made you in love with the world of your book, be interested in that character, or want to know more about a topic than you were finding (think: ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask’ or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing). Also check out my Amazon description posts for more suggestions. It the end of the day, my advice is to spend a medium amount of time (more than five minutes but less than five years) on advertising, make it fun, and be confident. Since I’ve release my first book, I’ve probably apologized to no less than five people — it’s too short, I usually write fiction, this book is just to ‘test’ self publishing for a future ‘real’ book. What the hell? These weren’t people who were unhappy, mind you. Meanwhile, the people who have read it all love it. Point is, I need to be more confident, and so do all of you. If you have made a really good book, your advertising should (honestly) be able to confidently recommend your book to people. They’ll love it; they’ve been waiting for it. Now you just need to —
Put it in Front of as Many Eyeballs as Possible
I’m still working on this part, but I think paid advertisements are one of the least important parts of the puzzle. Sure, you have to spend money to make money, but be careful how you’re spending money. To reference back to the title of this piece, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve never bought a book because I saw an ad for it online. No FB little side ads, no banners, nothing. Now, I’m sure a lot of people do buy that way, but my audience is probably more people like me, and ads turn me off pretty hard. So is this the fall of capitalism? No way; let me tell you how I do buy books (and games, music, etc) —
- Heard the person speak (either in person or on the radio)
- Read their blog and loved their ‘voice’
- Read a review
- A friend recommended something they love
- Had met the person in real life
- Searched Google or Amazon and the key words brought me to the perfect book (i.e. Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard)
- Was given a gift by someone who loved the author
One of my favorite shops in Athens, GA is The Native American Gallery. I only go there five or six times a year, but I’ll happily spend a lot (for me) when I do. I probably just wandered by the first time, looking for presents for others, and just fell in love.
On the internet, the challenge is that no one in a hundred years is just going to ‘wander by’ a URL. The great news is that there are billions and billions of paths, leading people from one place to another. And there are billions of people. So start making connections — start a blog, guest on others’ blogs, send books out for review, contact sites to do interviews, and even put flyers all over your home town.
I really believe being an author today is summed up thus —
So do the great work I know you are capable of, make it interesting, and start sharing it with the world. There are readers who just dream of books like yours.
TA DA! (TWEET, TWEET!) WE MADE IT!
Happy 50th post on this website. I was kind of surprised that it sneaked up on me. But I’ve learned a lot since March 2nd, 2013 and I want to share what I have learned with any would-be writers or bloggers —
10 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging
- Trust yourself. People who are meant to find you will find you, so don’t waste time trying to be someone you’re not. Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman 😉
- ‘Tag’ your posts. The world is wide and tags really help like-minded people find you. And be open to tagging anything — in the beginning WordPress suggested ‘Mental Health’ for some of my inspiring blogs and that was a great idea I’d never thought of. I also got a ‘re-blog’ link because I mentioned ‘The Simpsons’ once but I’d added a tag for it.
- Stick to a few topics. Catherine Ryan Howard had that advice in her ‘Self-Printed’ book and it has worked well for me. It also guarantees that people who like one post will probably like more down the line.
- Do your own thing but also find out the needs and desires of your audience. I write mostly about how to live an inspirational life, writing, and self publishing. But people really like the inspiring life bit (they like me even more, but that’s just coincidental 😉 ). So I keep that need in mind and try to help people, even a tiny bit, on their journey toward their dreams.
- Post regularly. If I had one tip, this would be it (along with be yourself, be interesting etc). The keys to the kingdom. Catherine Ryan Howard suggested three posts a week but for a long time I was ‘too busy’. But when I got serious about posting more often (I aim for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) then people really started getting interested. I did recently take a ‘birthday week break’ because, well, I’m only human (Skyrim!).
- Get great titles. The number one thing I see when I look at blogs is a lack of inviting titles for posts. Everything doesn’t have to be ‘How To Make A 10 Tips List To Drive Business’ but I see a lot called ‘Blah Blah, Dreary Day’. And maybe that’s great and maybe it’s funny, and maybe it’s only meant to be cathartic, but I’m not that interested. I saw one just called ‘L’ and the first line was ‘I guess this is really happening’, and I had to see the rest of that post. I lot of times I’d pick a title, write the piece and find a better title in one of my lines, more original, more dramatic, and I’d use that.
- Pictures, Links, Ponies — whatever it takes. People respond to great pictures and quotes (at least I do). And links not only promote things you love (like my recent Frank Turner post) but they are also added valve/fun for your fans.
- If you can, proofread your ‘preview’ before you publish. I have found seeing the post in its final form makes catching the error easier (warning: you will still find errors).
- If you Google something and can’t find the post you wanted — jump on that. I was looking for a certain kind of list of ‘how to move to the next level as a writer’ for my Athens Writers Association meeting and I couldn’t find it! So I wrote my own thing to bring to the group and it turned into a very successful post.
- Dream (and think) big. Act successful to be successful. I had no idea I’d have so many followers by my 50th post but I wasn’t put off when I had just one either. I just sent my best, most professional work out into the world and hoped to find a few people who liked it. Thank you all for being so kind as to be part of this wild ride with me. Onward to 100!