Tag Archives: what not to do

Some Musings on Motivation and #ROW80

And when I say musings, I mean that I’m looking at some things that I’ve done right, and trying to figure out how the hell that happened.

There are three big things I’ve done in the last several years that I can easily point to and say: these are things which required a lot of motivation and I made them happen.

  1. Got my house together– When my daughter was finally done nursing and I was once again free to move about the cabin, I really did a lot of work to get my home in order. It was the first time in our marriage (about 15 years at that time, I guess) that we lived without any cardboard boxes in view. I decluttered, I cleaned up, I got routines together, and when disasters happened (as they did daily as I had a toddler around) I was able to take care of them and get things back to order.
  2. Wrote a book– Meaning I finished it. I started at the beginning and I wrote until the end. And it was even good. I made an outline, I had a list of scenes, and I tried to write at least one every day. I didn’t write every day, but I averaged more than one and I finished 30 days after I started. No putting it aside 2/3 in and starting something else, no putting writing aside to pick up another activity.
  3. Lost weight– I got married while I was still in college. Between the weight everyone gains in college and the weight everyone gains when first married, I was kinda screwed. My senior year I made a big effort at diet and exercise and lost half of what I’d gained those four years. But after that it was a slow but steady increase until I got pregnant almost a decade later. After losing enough of the baby weight to get out of maternity clothes and back to a size 14, I pretty much maintained 160-165 for a number of years. Today I weighed in at 127.5, a weight I haven’t seen this century.

So if I went through this period where I was good a keeping up my house, why is my house a wreck? Why am I always struggling with this? What am I doing wrong?

Why did it take me a month to write the first draft of Hush Money and close to ten months for Heroes ‘Til Curfew?

If I have the self-discipline to just say no to binges, over-eating, stress-eating, etc., why can’t I seem to apply that in other areas?

This is stuff I’ve been thinking. Reading about motivation can be confusing. A lot of it seems to come down to this concept: You just have to really want it. I can’t make you want it.

Well, um, I think I do want it. That’s why I’m here. I don’t know how to make myself want it anymore than this. I’m not even sure I’m comfortable with the notion of a greater level of want. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to help with my crazy level.

I mean, did I not want to write Heroes ‘Til Curfew? Of course I did. Did I want it enough? I think so.

It’s hard to talk about this stuff because nothing happens in a vacuum. I was better at housekeeping when I wasn’t also trying to run an Etsy shop or a writing career. I was better and just writing when I wasn’t in the throes of second book syndrome. There are definitely other factors at work.

But other people manage do more than one thing at a time, and I’d like to as well, so I’m looking at these three successes and trying to figure out what they had in common.

  1. When I was good at housekeeping, my goal was not to have a perfect or even beautiful home. I did not own the house I lived in, I knew I couldn’t afford to make the improvements it needed. It was never going to beautiful, but I was going maintain it and keep it as clean and comfortable as I could. The goal was not on the end result, it was on the process of making it better and maintaining the progress.
  2. When I was good at getting a book written, my goal was not to produce the greatest book ever. I had no standard I was going for, except for it to be finished and as good as I could make it. The goal was not on the end result, it was on the process of writing a book from beginning to end.
  3. When I was good at losing weight, I never had a goal weight. I might have said, I’d like to lose x amount, or I’d like to be x by the end of the summer, but those were just things I would throw out in conversation, like wishes. They were never subgoals of some greater endgame I was trying to achieve. In fact, when I did really start to lose weight, it wasn’t about losing weight, it was about changing my eating habit. The goal was not on the end result, it was on the process of learning to be mindful about eating and making better choices.

The goal was not on the end result, it was on the process.

That’s what I’ve pulled out of this. I’m not sure what it means, what to do with it, how to apply it. Not yet. Plenty of people do great by focusing on an end result and breaking that down into smaller tasks. I don’t think I’m that person. Some people make the decision to change their actions and they follow through. I don’t. When I tell myself to do stuff, most of the time I just don’t.

Maybe because it’s always easier to just stay where I am.

I’ve already determined that I need to change my thoughts before I can change my actions. Now I’ve determined that thinking about my goals as big end result things, or even smaller, successive results, doesn’t really work for me either.

What is going to work for me? Still don’t know. But if I figure it out, I’ll pass it on.

#ROW80: I have 10 threads for Heroes Under Siege. My goal for the week is to make sure I understand what happens in each one from beginning to end and how they interweave. That’s going well so far as I’m at 7/10 mostly done. I’d like to start brainstorming specific events and jotting down scenes next week.

Meanwhile, I should have a guest post up over at Book Lovers, Inc. today. The post is about taking something often considered boyish–superheroes–and taking it for Team Girl. And there’s a giveaway. Go, read, comment, make it look like people like me.

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#ROW80 Update and Sunday Mashup

My goals this week were to get the book launched, survive getting the book launched, and to not babysit my stats. We’ll call that a 2 out of 3. While I haven’t been as bad about it as I was last time–I haven’t been refreshing Amazon hourly–I need to stop. It’s already at the point where I’m dropping about 200 points every time I look and I don’t need to watch that. The launch peeked almost as soon as it started, got within about 50 points of the top 1000, but I didn’t have the customer base to get a foothold and stay there. While I made it to page two of my category bestseller list, I probably didn’t have enough ratings and reviews yet to entice browsing customers to take a closer look.

So what happens now should be a drop in rank concurrent with a trickle of sales, and then I’ll need to hope that the book bloggers who have responded to my offer of an ARC, and the fans who were excited enough to snap up the book in these first few days, will be able and willing to enthusiastically recommend it and give me a push back up to visibility again. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll have to come up with something else.

Mostly I just need to write the next book, and then the next book, and wait for my time and some more luck, though surely I’ve already had my share of that.

I don’t mean to sound bummed out here. Mostly I’m just tired. Getting back in touch with some of the fans of the series has been great. I had girls write to me who snapped up the book as soon as the links went out, read it that night, and had to drag themselves to school the next day. Hopefully learning absolutely nothing between being sleep-deprived and thoughts of Joss and Dylan. (I mean, they’ll be okay, look how I turned out.) After two weeks of crazy work toward this launch, I’ve just hit that point where it feels like it’s over already and it’s time to reflect and see what I’ve learned.

I’ve lost another 3.5lbs. Let’s all party because I just weighed in like it’s 1999.

Recommended Reading

Konrath gets lucky
So I’m on Twitter and @jakonrath tweets: “Konrath on How to Succeed: LINK.” And I’m like, Oh yeah? What’s that post going to be like? “Do the work, bitches. The End.” And it pretty much is, only much funnier. And it’s really worth reading because it ends with a sincere and important message. (via Twitter, @jakonrath, but I also subscribe)

Your writing is interfering with me reading this story
I can’t tell you how often this is a problem for me, to the point where I start to think: maybe it’s just me and I’m picky and being a bitch. But then I find this post over at KidLit.com. That’s what I’m talking about. Sometimes I just want to say, “Relax, find your own voice, stop trying to sound like your favorite book–I think it was from the 80s anyway and that’s not working anymore. I think there’s a great story here, I just need to hack away the metaphors, complex sentence constructions, and fifty-cent words to find it.” Anyway, I find this post dead-on and nicely instructive. (via @JamiGold on Twitter)

Have I ever mentioned practice = good?
I dunno how much I harp on it on the blog, but I totally believe in it. Dean Wesley Smith has an awesome article on how many writers tend to think about practice. As usual I think he totally nails it. Now he talks a lot in here about not reworking the same piece, but mailing it off or self-publishing it and then moving on to the next one. While I agree with the moving on to the next one, I’m not sure how I feel about inflicting something on the world that may be best shoved in a drawer. But hey, it’s a free world (void where prohibited). (via @dlmartin6 on Twitter)

Ticket to ride.
I’m going to try to get back on the Flylady wagon. Last year I was totally out of control with everything and it hurt my ability to get stuff done. If there’s anyone who reads my recs who feels like they can’t write (or [insert life thing]) and keep up with their home at the same time, check out the program. You don’t have to agree with everything she says, you don’t have to manage your stuff exactly the way she lays it out. But there’s a lot here worth learning. I’ve already opened up a #flylady column on TweetDeck; it would be nice to see some of my friends there. (I am a former Flybaby and know this helps.)

I’m still trying to get my head around this one.
Lastly, a post from Kristen Lamb that I found very complex in the fact that it is just chock full of an overwhelmingly large amount of helpfulness. Kristen says, again, that we need to stop being so…homogenous. Just go out and make friends with normal, non-writer people. Yeah, that’s so easy. But then she explains how to find them on Twitter. Oh, yeah, Twitter. I know Twitter. Okay…so maybe this is doable after all? Let’s go get sticky. (via subscription)

What I’m Reading

I read a lot of stuff I never talk about on the blog for one reason or another. So I thought maybe I’d start mentioning what’s at the top of my TBR pile at the moment.

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Respect For The Gifts

There’s something that goes on in the writing community that makes me peevish.

This comes up for me again because when Kait read Kristen’s post on POV Prostitution, she came to me and said, “I don’t understand how anyone doesn’t just intuitively get POV.”

Now it’s not that Kait thinks she’s perfect in this regard. I’ve gone POV police on her, Pink Hammer’s put “Objection: calls for speculation on the part of the POV character” in her work more than once. But they’re just slip-ups. She does have that sound grasp of the mechanics of POV that Kristen goes over in her post. To Kait it’s very simple, “One head at a time,” she IMs me, “first, third, or God.”

What I thought was kind of adorable about her, as she IMs me with the picture of her in this dorky penguin hat, was the part about understanding and intuition. Honey, of course you don’t understand how other people don’t get what you get. That’s what intuitively means. You don’t even understand how you get it, you just do.

So I say that I think it doesn’t help at all that we’re given so much omniscient POV stuff in school as young readers. Which leads to this whole mutual bitch session about all the stuff we have to read in school that’s not all about producing good modern, commercial novelists. Which is another thing Kristen touches on in her post.

So I’m saying that the thing of it is, not all of us are on the same path and not all of us have been reading and writing constantly since young childhood. I think that there are a number of people who pick up writing as adults who don’t necessarily have the history of reading that other writers do. So what’s in their toolbox is largely story and character arc stuff they’ve absorbed off screen, and writing mechanics leftover from those school assignments. When you read, even before you learn to analyze everything in writerly fashion, on some level you’re studying the writing stuff, you’re immersed in language. Eventually you reach the point where it’s just there for you when you need it. Intuitively.

So I yammered all that to Kait and she said, “I think there’s a blog post in there.”

And I said, “It actually goes along with this whole grrr thing I have, so yeah, maybe.”

And the grrr thing is this: It makes me sad and a little angry when I see authors rag on people in public because they don’t write well. And there’s one occasion of this that really sticks in my head, an incident where an author I really respect published an email they had received which asked for advice on publishing. And this author’s answer to masses was that if your basic grammar skills are this bad, if you’re not even going to bother to proofread a request for advice, then you don’t even need to worry about taking that next step.

And yeah, okay, the person who sent the email will probably never be published. But damn, you know? Look, it’s not the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing on the internet and it reads like disgust. It feels dismissive. To me it feels ugly and makes me sad.

Do you know why I’m a decent writer? Do you know why I can put words and sentences together and they just come out in mostly correct English as I think them? Because I was blessed to grow up in home where people spoke English correctly. Because I have a mother who read to me every night until I was old enough to read to myself. And a thousand other advantages that cropped up in my life that made it easy for me to be able to put words together. A thousand things that were not conscious effort on my part, they were just luck.

The other day I had this conversation with @AMhairi_Simpson on Twitter. I was trying to proofread something and I complained on #MyWANA that I wished I had a better handle on subjunctive mood. Now if I said that out loud in my house, my husband would say, “You hurt yer what?” Because what the hell, who even knows what that is? Anne-Mhari said that they didn’t teach the finer points of grammar like that in her school, she got it from extensive study of foreign languages. And I agreed. I said, “Everything I know about “whom” I learned in German.” Which is sad.

But where I went to school we struggled with things like “we had went.” And when I say “we” I mean that the teacher struggled with most of the class and the rest of us just sat and waited and wondered why this was so hard and we couldn’t move on. As I child I found this frustrating and it made me angry.

As an adult I understand the tremendous advantages I was given, having come from a home where English was spoken and spoken well. When we were very little, my mother once conjugated the verb “to stink” in the car for our amusement. One summer day, when I was very bored, she taught me how to diagram sentences–just for fun. When I arrived at my first day in kindergarten, having been read to practically every day of my life, how much farther along was I than those kids who didn’t have a single book in their homes?

So any ability that I have in this regard I don’t view as entirely God-given brain wiring, nor entirely from the sweat of my own brow. There’s a lot of luck that went into who I am, too. And for me to look down on someone who didn’t have that luck, as though the luck didn’t matter, seems to me like discounting the blessings I’ve been given. I don’t want to do that, and it bums me out when I watch other people do it.

I’m a YA author. When someone writes to me about writing, I’ve got to find a way to be positive, no matter what kind of grammar I’m looking at. That’s part of my job. And no matter how bad the mechanics are in the letter, the most important part to me is that someone wanted to be a writer enough to write and ask for advice. I respect that. And I will thank them for thinking enough of my work to ask me, I’ll let them know about the critical importance of reading LOTS of books, and also of getting a handle on basic mechanics with recommendations for a few books on grammar and punctuation.

I’ve had to teach my baby and all my pets not to crap on my carpet. They weren’t born knowing that. And when they put their business where it didn’t belong, it wasn’t because they “couldn’t be bothered” to learn what was appropriate. They just hadn’t learned it yet. I think language can be like that. It’s something that comes so naturally to us, that’s so much a part of us, we can’t remember a time when we didn’t know how to use it. We sort of don’t get why someone else is behaving inappropriately. So I’m just sayin’, maybe we could give them a break. Maybe we could appreciate that there were things just handed to us that maybe they’ve never been exposed to. Maybe we could be grateful for our ability to kick ass at learning the things we’ve worked to learn. Maybe we could avoid deriding others for what they lack because we respect our gifts for the blessings they are.

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My Husband Says I Can’t Spell Discipline or How I Have Been Failure’s Bitch

This is a running joke at our house, and the joke’s on me because I did just reference a tab along the top of my screen to check my spelling as I typed this post’s title. Every time the word discipline comes out of my mouth in his presence, he puts on his best Marine Corps voice and says, “Discipline? You can’t even spell discipline.”

Maybe the problem here is that I’ve learned to laugh at myself in this respect and it’s really not funny. Maybe it’s really fucking up my shit.

So it’s GIT Tuesday and my Goddess in Training stuff has been about changing my thoughts and creating better habits. That’s why Kristen Lamb’s post: Self-Discipline- The Key to Success really got me thinking. If you haven’t read it, you should, and if you do it now then this post will make more sense.

Kristen proves her point about self-discipline being necessary by showing us a list of highly successful authors who went to top schools, were highly successful in other fields– were in freaking Congress. Immediately I feel hopeless. Well crap. Let’s hope you can be moderately successful if you’re just moderately intelligent and far less awesome. That would be one of those thinking habits I need to work on. Kristen says,

“Successful people are willing to get up earlier, stay up later, work harder and never stop. They will outpace their competition every time. Why? Because self-discipline isn’t a once in a while thing, “Oh, I was so good today.” Self-discipline is the foundation of the successful life….not an accessory worn when we feel particularly inspired.”

Know who embodies that? Kait Nolan. And now I get why Kait and Kristen click so well together. So I read on.

The post goes on to give some do’s and don’ts for this, and they’re a lot like the weight loss stuff. Don’t jump into some crazy exercise thing and hurt yourself, start small and build. Don’t set goals that set you up for failure.

And then she talks about failure, about changing your relationship with failure. Man, I am failure’s bitch. I wrote a book last year I actually let other people read. HUGE step. You get that. I’m almost forty years old and I’m just getting to this point in my life where I’m actually finishing things. Because for most of my life I’ve been caught up in this perfectionism where I don’t finish anything. Because once something’s finished, it’s time to put it out there for other people to judge. But if you never finish anything, you never have to face having it rejected.

Tangent: Remember Pitfall for Atari 2600? With twenty minutes on the clock, you’re moving this guy across the screen, trying to pick up treasure. And when you fail to clear an obstacle, it loses you a little bit of time (and points). There were only a few different kinds of screens and obstacles that would keep repeating and every once in a while there’d be a treasure. I thought (and I’ve no idea if it’s true, probly not), that you could have a perfect game where you’d go to the right at full speed, never hit an obstacle, and eventually circle back to the start of the game–come out on the left side of the first screen.

I started playing the game to have a perfect game. And any time I hit an obstacle, I’d reset and start over. I never got very far and I don’t think I got any better at the game. And I started playing other games that way, too. Lose a man too early? Well, I’ll never make high score now. Reset.

Reset. Reset. Reset. How many unfinished games? How many unfinished stories?

Yeah, I was failure’s bitch. I’ve got a degree in Psychology, never looked at grad schools or applied for a job in that field. I’ve got a degree in Fashion Design. Completed my course work for that and went RIGHT BACK to full time at the sweat shop I’d been sewing in. But you know, I think that might be changing. The last few years I’ve forced myself into a willingness to try, to expose myself to the possibility of failure. And a lot of good things have happened.

Some of the habits that worked in conjunction with the perfectionism thing and never finishing anything are things Kristen brings up in her post under the heading: Don’t Let The Feelings Vote. I’m reading:

Guilty…

Guilty…

Guilty…

Okay, so I can see the problem. Now what? Once I started gaining weight, 20 years of resets of the next week I’m going to start this awesome diet and exercise program variety didn’t work for me. I weighed in the other day saw and have been at the same healthy weight for the last few months.

Kristen says not to wait until your feelings change to change your actions. I’m not disagreeing with her at all. I’m just looking at me and I’m thinking maybe the reason this stuff never seems to work for me is just because I need to change my thinking before I can change my actions consistently. When I changed my thoughts about a lot of the eating stuff, I started refusing some of the overeating and bad foods more consistently, and started shedding weight.

So maybe this is why that thing of just saying I’m going to write X words every day (even just 250), or sit down for X amount of time doesn’t seem to work for me. Because discipline? I no haz it.

Only I do. Yesterday I knew I was going out to dinner and I told Kait I was going to go eat a whole burger. Calorie-wise I was probably within my rights. So I went out and ordered a burger with a side of apples. Burger came and I cut it in half–a great habit which also makes it easier for my little mouth and little hands. Picked up the second half of the burger, actually said, “I’m going to eat the second half of this burger,” and then stopped. Thought, I’m not hungry right now. Why am I doing this? and asked the waiter for a box.

So I do have self-discipline, like Kristen said I do. I am capable of that. I can now do many reps of curls with 1/3lb cheeseburgers without pain. I just have to figure out what works for me for the rest of it. All this stuff that I read, all these “secrets of motivation,” it all seems to skip a step. They all say, “if you want it badly enough.” Well, I don’t know about that. I at least want to want to be better.

I can’t seem to just say to myself, “I’m going to do the dishes every day.” Because myself says, “Fuck you. I’m tired. I’m going to watch TV and see if Andrew’s on IM.” (Even though, please note, I know Andrew does his dishes because he says this on IM and yet I’m not inspired by his example.) I can’t seem to say to myself, “I’m going to work on my outline every day this week,” because myself says, “Eh, I can’t really think of anything that would be good today. I’ll make it up on a day I’m really on. I have a lot of other things I need to do anyway.” And then I’m all, “But we said were gonna–” “Um, fuck you I said not right now, okay?”

Okay, geez. Bite my head off, myself. Damn, she’s bitchy.

So anyway, this can’t be just me. Anyone else have this missing link thing going on? I’m going to cogitate on where my thought process is going wrong while I go wash some dishes.

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My Second Book Syndrome: Change of Process

So I was trying to think of something to write about today that has to do with the writing life. I should have a ton of stuff. I feel like I learned a ton of stuff as I worked my way through Heroes ‘Til Curfew. There were a lot of times I said to someone, one thing I learned while writing this book is that… And right now I’m having trouble remembering what any of those things actually were.

Okay, here’s one: Be willing to change your “process.”

Once upon a time, I met a fellow amateur writer online and we exchanged work. I immediately saw potential in what I was reading, but I could also see reasons why it wasn’t ready yet. Some feedback I gave her was that there were scenes that didn’t seem to advance the plot. (I don’t think that’s how I put it because I didn’t always know the right terms to explain what I meant back then–still don’t.) Or there were scenes with a bunch of details that didn’t seem to matter. There was an “and then…and then…and then…” quality to these portions of the story that slowed it down and made me wonder why the author was spending my time this way.

My new writer friend took this very well, which, to me, was another flashing neon sign of great writer potential. And after a bit of back and forth she explained to me that this was just “her process.” This sticking with the character, recording her every action as she went along, this was how this writer found her way through the story. (Because, yes, she was a pantster.)

As we moved along, this writer was ever willing to cut things that didn’t seem relevant, but she was spending a lot of time writing things that got cut while complaining that she needed more time to write. Eventually, I started a campaign against her process, in the name of efficiency.

Today you know Kait Nolan as a kick-ass writer of tight, fast-paced, action-packed fiction, as well as a staunch supporter of plotting and, yes, even outlining! But this is not actually a post to tell you how she owes all her success to me (joke!); it’s about how part of being professional is about seeing what’s holding you back and being will to change it.

I wrote the draft of Hush Money in 30 days. Of course I did a lot of prep work. I had a strong structure in place and an outline that gave me most of the basics while allowing me to discover the details in the writing. I was writing a series that had been on my mind for years, characters who had been living in my head for a while. I had months and months of not writing bottled up, words just waiting to spew out, and two close indie friends with actual sales and readers making me excited, envious, and chomping at the bit to get something out there.

No wonder it came out so fast.

In contrast, I think that once the outline was really in place, it must have taken at least nine months to write the draft of Heroes ‘Til Curfew. People, my daughter was seven weeks early. I don’t even put in nine months baking a baby let alone a book! What the hell??

The hell was my damned process. This idea I have that it should always be easy. If it’s not easy, if it’s not freakin’ inspired, it’s just not ready to come out of my head and it’s just not going to be good. Of course I didn’t say these things to myself. I didn’t realize that this was in my head. If I had, hopefully I would have bitch-slapped myself a long time ago. But in retrospect, I’m sure this was part of the problem.

But things were so different setting out to write this book. I now had something established. I had places I wanted to go, and this book had to fit where I’d been as well as where I wanted to take the series. I had readers. Readers who liked the voice, the characters…readers with expectations. Expectations absolutely kicked my ass on this thing. The pressure I put on myself was ridiculous, and the fear of living up to something I built up in my head was a big issue.

Anyway, the point of THIS post was that I was not in the same place for this manuscript as I was with the last one. Of course it wasn’t going to come out the same way. But if it wasn’t just going to come out, then what was I going to do?

I was going to have to change my process. I was going to have to accept that there might be serious rewriting involved. I was going to have to push through and put something on the page, even if there didn’t seem to be any words on my fingertips that day. If there was just a big blank spot in my head where the scene was supposed to be, I was going to have to make it be there–because I couldn’t keep sitting around and waiting for it to appear by magic like it has in the past.

Imagine that.

And the end of the story is that it was still good. I dragged my way through that book knowing that when I got through I’d have this horrific pile of uninspired schlock and have to start all over again.

But I didn’t. Did I make changes? Yeah, I did. I’m still pretty new at this actually finishing work, getting to and getting through the editing phase. This was probably the first manuscript that I made radical changes in, went back and added in whole scenes, or cut most of a scene and rewrote it in a different context.

And when I finally read it, I loved it. In the final product, I’m not sure if you can tell the difference between what parts were inspiration and what were perspiration. Would I say I’ve got it down now? That I’m good at this business of just pushing through and doing the work, inspiration or no? No. No I wouldn’t.

But at the same time, I’ve seen this problem for what it is. In psychology there’s this thing called “reality testing.” When you have an irrational fear of something, like pushing through a story when you’re not inspired, you have to go out and do it anyway. This is in order to prove to yourself that whatever horror you think will befall–like coming out with a nicely formatted file of pure crap–won’t actually happen. So I’ve been through the reality testing phase of treating the syndrome on this manuscript. Now I just have to continue to practice the new behaviors, the new thoughts, the new process.

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All About You on TweetDeck

I<3 Tweetdeck. I couldn’t manage on Twitter without it.

This post is going to be about how/why I use it and a specific column to add, but to get the basics out of the way, TweetDeck is a desktop application (or you can download other versions for portable stuff) that helps you manage your TwitLife. If you don’t use it and you want to get started, here’s a nice tutorial video. TweetDeck organizes the tweets in your stream into columns so you can concentrate on one thing at a time, so now that I’m going to talk about columns, you can have an idea what I’m talking about.

My favorite columns that I display where I can watch them are:

  • Favs
  • #amwriting
  • All Friends
  • Mentions
  • Susan Bischoff

Favs is a must. I auto-follow. I got to a point where it just seemed like having to read bios and go to Twitter to click follow every time someone added me was just taking up too much of my time. It’s not like I’m innundated with followers, people, but those little bits of time add up. That does mean I end up following a bunch of people I’m not actually interested in following, but with TweetDeck this is absolutely not problem.

I maintain a list of people who interact with me and whom I actually want to follow. You can do this by clicking the + (Add Column) button in the upper left and choosing Groups/Lists in the box that pops up. TweetDeck will then show you all the people you follow and you can choose the ones to add to this list. Save it when you’re done. This way, you never have to exclude someone by not following them back. (You never know when someone who tweets about their business is a reader interested in you and your writing!) And when you feel like you need to cull some followers, you can cull them from your list and not lose someone awesome because they’re just learning or they’re away for a while.

I don’t go around keeping track of who follows me and who doesn’t, and I don’t un-follow people just because they don’t follow me, BUT it does really irritate me when I go to send a DM to help out someone I’ve talked to several times and feel friendly with, only to find out I can’t because they don’t follow me. WTF? But it’s probably just a result of a limited follow policy they’ve made to keep things under control. But possibly possibly alienating people in this way doesn’t need to happen and I think lists are a better way to go.

I edit this column regularly, whenever I need to add someone new because I feel like we made a connection and I need to watch for their tweets. Once the column is on your screen, hovering around the top of it will make an edit button appear.

#amwriting is good example of a hashtag conversation. Trying to follow one of these can have its annoying moments because not everyone thinks of hashtags in this way and will drop a lot of junk into the conversation. Adding a column and putting #amwriting or another hashtag into the search box causes a new column to pop up that will be updated anytime someone uses the hashtag. TweetDeck is awesome for this. I’ve found a lot of interesting links via #amwriting, and I like to send out the occasional random tweet to a writer I don’t know who needs encouragement or deserves a pat on the back.

All Friends is where I have all those tweets scrolling by from everyone, so fast that I would certainly miss everything if this was all I had to go by. I try to glance at this every once in a while to discover awesome people I’m already following so I can follow them more closely on my Favs list.

Mentions is pretty obvious, but that’s a column that updates when a tweet contains @susan_bischoff. It’s important to keep track of when people are speaking to you directly or going out of their way to mention you in a way they know you’ll see. That’s why this is one of the columns TweetDeck makes for you automatically.

Susan Bischoff is the one I really planned to talk about today. Sometimes people just talk about me. Either they don’t want to point out to me that they’re talking about me by using @, or maybe they don’t even know I’m on Twitter. In this column I find things like “I just read Hush Money by Susan Bischoff and it was awesome!” or when people link to my blog, it pops up in this column, I guess because my name gets embedded in the link somehow? I don’t know, but it happens. When people use Goodreads’ auto-tweet feature, I get links to reviews or reading updates.

Links to my books for sale on some sites pop up in this column too, and that’s why this column has been on my mind as an important thing to talk about. Because the two times I’ve found someone selling my book illegally, it’s been via this column. It’s not like they’re going to tweet, “Hey, I’m selling @susan_bischoff’s book, come check it out!” But they do use my name to sell my book, so I sometimes see it on TweetDeck before I get it from Google Alerts.

I know a lot of this is will be old-hat for a lot of you, but I hope it’s useful for someone.

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Writing to a Niche

So again this morning I find myself clicking from an Etsy newsletter to an article, and in that article finding so much that seems to pertain to us indie authors. I should probably have some kind of Etsyish Publishing category or tag on the blog.

Anyway, 4 Ways to Make Your Products More Niche on the Crafting an MBA blog is a great article for indie authors to read because it carries some of those same messages we read all the time: you can’t be all things to all readers, write the book you want to write and you’ll find the readers like you who have been waiting for just that… So click on that title and give it a read-through. Will just take a couple minutes, and as you read, think of parallels to what you’re trying to do as an indie author.

My early designs were average and unimaginative.

How are we going to stand out and get found? That’s a big thing with us, and it’s part of the reason I continue to click on these Etsy articles, because I know from

Everyday jeans and tees for an everyday doll earned me low wages and only a few very kind fans.

experience that it’s a big thing there too. When I started on Etsy, I really had no direction, except that I was going to make doll clothes, starting with Barbie. I knew they would be better quality than most of what was out there–because that’s part of what handmade is–and that they would fit well, but in terms of design I was very much average in my thinking.

My Blythe doll

When a friend pointed me at Blythe, showed me the doll’s increasing popularity, the higher price points for the indie clothing that was coming into the market, and finally sent me a doll to get me started, she was sending me into a niche. After all, I’d wager that most domiciles in this country have

I moved into the Blythe niche, but my designs were still nothing to get excited about.

seen at least one Barbie doll within their walls at one time or another, while most people still don’t know what a Blythe is.

My early designs for Blythe were boring, just like what I’d done for Barbie. I made more money per piece, because of the niche. A dress for Barbie could get $3. A similar dress for Blythe could get $10, and was more likely to sell (eventually). This was due to the increasing popularity of the doll (or genre, if you will), the demographic (adult collectors vs. children), and the lack of Blythe-sized clothing on the market.

So already I’m hoping that you’re seeing similarities. When you’re selling just another epic fantasy or just another apocalyptic thriller, it may be hard for you to get found. And this is true even if you move into a hot, trendy niche, as I did with Blythe or you might do with vampire romance.

Since Blythe was a growing trend, my friend wasn’t the only one who noticed the premium prices people were paying for her clothing. Soon, more and more Blythe-centric clothing shops opened up on Etsy. And this is very much like with indie publishing: anyone can try to do it. So we saw people who knew how to sew (write) who had been sewing completely different items like baby quilts and children’s clothing (writing in a completely different genre), buy dolls and start turning out Blythe clothes. We also saw Blythe enthusiasts who were just learning to sew opening up shops and trying to sell work that just wasn’t ready for a pricetag (and we’ve all seen those indie writers too).

All those listings flooded the Blythe market on Etsy. Literally thousands of items tagged Blythe or coming up in a search. Even if you were doing quality work,  putting out nice items at a reasonable price, how were you going to get seen in the deluge?

I was enjoying creating for Blythe, but I wasn’t making any real money at it. It was worth doing because I love to sew and play with my dolls, and even if I made $20 a month, it was $20 more than I had before. And then, and I know I’ve talked about this before, so just bear with me, I wanted to do

My first commissioned order.

something different. Something kind of crazy. I wanted to see if I could smock in miniature and make a smocked dress for Blythe. This was taking an embroidery technique that is usually done for babies and very young children on an area say 12″ x 4-6″ and reducing it to an area of about 2″ x 1″, and then crafting that finished embroidery piece into a garment that was somewhat more complicated in construction compared to most of the handmade Blythe garments being sold at that time.

I was really nervous about this. This won’t be much of a surprise to my regular readers as I seem to be nervous about every damned thing, but really, I was actually scared to put out something so different. In retrospect, I see what a ninny I was, but there’s a certain level of comfort in doing what everyone else is doing.

Overindulgence was my most expensive design ever.

Next thing you know, I had more interest in my work than I knew what to do with. My inbox was flooded with compliments and special requests. I had a waiting list of at least 20 special order clients for months, even though I was asking more than twice as much for these dresses as I did for the original smocked design.  I had started out making quality yet boring dresses for Barbie for $3, and these dresses were earning me an average of $45-$50. The most expensive dress I ever did went for

The design had 6 of these detailed floral spray embroideries

$120, and making the second one of that ridiculously detailed dress just about killed me. Let’s retire that design!

Why did this dress and all the others command such high prices, and why was there so much interest in my work? These were doll dresses for Heaven’s sake. Because I was in a popular niche, yes, but doing something that no one else was doing (people started referring to me as “the crazy smocking lady”) and doing it well because it was something that I loved.

I’ve wanted to write the Talent Chronicles because for years I’ve been loving the superheroes and having to sit back and say: That would have been awesome if they hadn’t screwed it up. The kinds of stories that I really wanted just weren’t part of the genre. Hell, the format that I wanted to work in–novels–really hasn’t been part of the genre. The book category is NOT Comic books, Graphic Novels, and Superhero Novels. There’s no place for me there. Which I’ve decided is fine. I don’t think I really belong there.

Your niche doesn’t have to be something that no one’s ever done before. I certainly didn’t create meta-humans. I want to come to be known for superhero romance, but I didn’t come up with that idea either. Superheroes have had all kinds of love stories, just mostly the kind where someone ends up dead or abandoned. And I’m certainly not the only one working on this. So you don’t have to re-invent the wheel here.

But there are tons of books out there and there are going to be more and more–because anyone can do it now. So now, more than ever before, I think we really need to think about what makes our concept different from everything else that’s out there, and we need to think about how we’re going to use that difference to market our fiction. And if you can’t come up with a difference, maybe you’ll want to take a harder look at what you’re working on. (Maybe not. Your call.)

Same sh!t, different doll. Oh no, wait, that's the same doll too.

Your story is so very special to you. Even my boring dresses and t-shirts were special to me because they were lovingly crafted and I spent a lot of time on them. But I look back at these photos and I can totally see how uninspiring they are. Part of why a lot of indies get angry with traditional publishers is because the publisher says they just can’t see how this is going to stand out and sell. And they know that it’s not enough to have a good book, you’ve got to get some people to read that thing. It’s not enough for us either. We have

My special sh!t for a special doll

to have some sense of what we can say about this book, about what makes it different and better than the sea of books already out there, in order to get people to look at it.

Maybe the hardest thing to accept about a niche is that it’s often small, and that often means small growth. It also means that we’re not always going to be able to make reasonable comparisons between our successes and those of our peers, when our peers are writing for a different audience.

I honestly think I’m writing for the same people who read Twilight (whether they loved it or not), and are still talking about Buffy. But I write vampire-free (I’m thinking of starting a tagging trend on that, btw), so I’m never going to get seen on the Vampire Romance Bestseller List on Amazon, and I’m never going to get found in vampy tag searches. I don’t even have any kind of normal demon/angel/shifter/witchy paranormal anything in my books, and how many people are out there searching “superhero romance”?

Not a lot.

Yet.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

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Running At An Artificial Pace

At the top of the email it reads, “To: Susan”

These emails I get from Holly Lisle, I so often wish that I could find them and link you to them, because they’re so often very wise. And, of course they are. Holly’s been putting out great books and teaching writers for how long now?

Since I can’t show it to you and I can’t copy/paste it for you, I’ll give you the gist. Once upon a time, Holly decided, based on some extrapolation of daily page count and faulty thinking, that she would be able to write 12 books a year. An agent whom she queried with this plan shot her down, explaining that he wouldn’t rep anyone who wrote twelve books a year, because they would all be crap.

Now it is true that everyone writes a different pace, and I think that a lot of people can write more than the one or two books a year that NY will publish for you. Some people can write twelve good books a year, witness Amanda Hocking with 6 out of 12 in the Kindle top 100, last I checked.

And you know, that’s what I wanted to talk about. They’ve been talking a bunch around the indie blogs lately about what some are even calling the “Amanda Hocking Effect.” (Poor thing, I wonder what she thinks of all this.) I first heard this theory from Kait, and then the term itself a few days later from Zoe. The basic idea is that one of the ways to climb quickly and build a very excited, involved fan base is to keep feeding those fans new work. Amanda hasn’t let two months go by without a new release. She doesn’t have to worry about her fans forgetting about her, and when she comes out with something, it goes to the top of the list for those fans because they’re still reeling from the last Hocking book they loved.

So in addition to having a backlist available, feeding your readers new work without too much time lag between releases now goes into our theory about how things work.

Since that came up, a bunch of indies I know are talking about ways to do that. More short stories and novellas, the possibility of serialization. I don’t like serials. Cue Queen: I want it all, and I want it now. I don’t read many short stories. I like novels, I understand the…physics of novels, and that’s how my brain works. And yet this recent talk has made even me think about these things. I don’t know if that’s me being open-minded, or just plain wacky.

But this was all still stewing in my head when I read Holly’s email because I’m just trying to remind myself that it has to be good. I know everyone who’s thinking about doing shorts knows that. We all know that. But I needed to remind myself that it might be better to play to my strengths. There was the idea that maybe I could dash off some shorts and that would take some of the pressure off, make it easier to ask people to wait for the next novel.

And then the Gin Blossoms came in and said, Susan,

How you gonna ever find your place, runnin’ at an artificial pace?

I know, it seems odd, but people be showin’ up to tell me all kinds of stuff all the time. It’s part of why nothing gets done.

Do you know what occurred to me the other day as I read my piece on Hush Money at 6 months?

It’s only been 6 months. It seems like so much longer to me, but it’s only been 6 months. Jesus H. Washington Christ, what I have I been flogging myself for for the last few months? I’m totally new at this. I set myself an unreasonable deadline. I made a mistake. Criminy, how long am I going to make myself pay for that?

I’d guess that most trad authors get at least a year to write book 2, and probably longer than that to get it all polished up and ready to go. I dunno. It just seems like Holly was giving me a wake up call. Wake up and listen to what you friends have been trying to tell me.

The top of the email reads, “To: Susan,” and it’s like she wrote it just for me.

If you’re a writer and do not get Holly’s newsletter, please consider doing yourself that favor.

That segues pretty well into this week’s

Recommended Reading

Why I’m a Fandrew
Actually, I’m not just any fan of Andrew Mocete, I’m Fandrew #1. And if you want to see an example of why, check this out. Andrew’s writing a Love Series on his blog, about loves that have shaped him as a writer. Who gets the first spot? His wife. In a charming and heart-felt post, Andrew talks about the importance of support, how rare it is, along with some good ideas about why it’s so hard to find in My Wife: Love Series Part 1. (found because you know Fandrew #1 subscribes)

I’m a speshul snowflake too!
Ok, this is a bit of ramble, but stick with it, because it’s full of sincerity, and drizzled with beauty. It may inspire you a bit, and open up your brain a bit, as Larry Brooks so often does for me. Writers, Give the Gift of “Getting off the dime” is Larry’s answer to that every-person who casually says “Yeah, I’d like to write a book someday.” (found via subscription to the Storyfix blog)

I don’t wanna sully my art by doing what I love in any way that’s less than…
If you’re on the fence about going indie because of the stigma factor, here’s a post to think about. Another from Larry Brook’s Storyfix blog, this is a guest post by Carol Tice. (via subscription)

ROW80

I’m a bit backwards this week, and I’ll admit that ROW80 hasn’t been much on my mind. I wrote a lot on the short piece this week. In both the stories I’m working I’m now at a point where I will have to break down and write an action scene on something. Damn.

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#ROW80 Check-in: Fail

Snow day #11 for our district and, including weekends, the 22nd straight day of unrelieved parenting.

She got up at 4:45am. My husband gets up at 5 to go to work, so I got up too and tried to encourage her to stay out of his space as he’s one of those people you’re not supposed to talk to in the morning. I ended up not being able to keep my eyes open and, by the time he went to work, had to go back to bed. Except then of course I really couldn’t go back to sleep and just fretted about stuff. It was awesome.

So back to the ROW80 thing…

My goals:

  • spend a minimum of 1 hour working on the Talent Chronicles every weekday
  • a minimum of 1/2 hour should be unplugged from the internet
  • finish 3 scenes per week

What I did:

  • No hours spent
  • No scenes completed
  • No words written

I’m not going to get my mom to write me an excuse note. Besides, she freakin’ abandoned me and went to freakin’ Florida. Where I could have been, hanging out with Mickey, since there’s no school anyway.

I don’t have to tell you guys who have been here lately that I’m pretty much on edge. The only work I did in my world this week was stealing some of Kait’s time to try to brainstorm the details of the upcoming scenes, which mostly was just me telling her stuff I already knew. Because when she had time, I was trying to put supper together and shockingly, was not real focused.

Yesterday I was accomplished in that I wrote to an IP law firm which has a branch in town and told them I needed information and advice, and then contract review if it came to that, but I’ve had no response to that. I’m concerned I will actually have to make a phone call. (I’m kind of phobic about the phone.)  Of course it’s snowing, so there’s probably no one there. I wrote back to the individual who contacted me and asked for patience. I hate feeling like an idiot, but what are you gonna do?

Not like that took all day yesterday. I took my tree out because my husband’s been too busy to do it, and then I set about cleaning up all the pine needles and mud the pets have tracked in (three and they’re indoor/outdoor), that’s been there since Christmas. Since my daughter wanted to skate, I did that on skates. Inefficient, but kind of amusing since I had to move furniture and stuff and kept rolling away. There was also side by side Nintendo DS play morning and evening.

Last week I had pretty good luck with shutting myself in my room to work. Even though there were multiple interruptions, I still got stuff done. Now there are whiny guilt trip fits any time I try to do stuff. We’re both just really tired of it being just us. I’m sure it’s lonely being an only child. I was the kind of kid who spent hours in my own head. I could sit in my room with my dolls, and I didn’t even have to move them around to play with them. I never voiced them out loud, I always played in my head. It’s often hard for me to relate to someone who is outward, social, and always wants connection.

We’re supposed to get a break from the snow tomorrow. I have a commitment in town tomorrow if I can possibly make it, and that, plus at least an hour of travel time each way in this mess, will suck up the whole school day, if there is one.

Hoping everyone else did better on their goals. If you’re blog hopping to find out, here’s the linky.

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The Next Level? What’s an indie to do?

Today I feel like my brain is going to break. Like, moreso than usual.

It all seems pretty straightforward when you start. For the beginning stuff, information is pretty abundant.

Write a book. Well, okay, I’ve read a lot about doing that. Got lots of books on the shelf, have read countless advice on the internet. Been processing all that and practicing for years. Let’s sit down and write a book. Okay, done.

Edit the book. Well, okay. I guess I can pretty much go back to those books and articles and all the practice, and hopefully come up with something readable. Okay, done.

Format the book. Hmm. Well, okay. New searches, new articles, talk to some friendly people. Seems pretty step by step. I think I can do that. Okay, done.

Publish the book. Okaayy… Read the instructions, ask a few questions of the friendly people. Click, click, okay done. Finally. Now let’s sit back and…

Oh, no. Go market that book. Oh, right. Marketing. Okay. More books, more articles, social sites, lots more being friendly. Some comfort zone issues, but also a lot of fun and rewarding. So that’s cool. And oh, look, sales are starting. Awesome!

Write the next book. Sure, okay, did that before. Oh, no wait. This is a sequel. Okay, that’s different. But okay, I can do this. Because of the reading and the practice and stuff. It’s just going to take some different thinking and some more time.

Time. Well, there’s less of that. Nothing is going right. And we need things to be just right. Plus, you know, got all this other stuff to manage. Got all these new friends to follow and get to know and remember all their stuff and want to read their books and check out their blogs, but also gotta keep learning stuff, and gotta reply to comments, tweets, emails. Don’t want to miss anyone. Need everyone to know they’re appreciated. Don’t ever want anyone to feel slighted because I can’t keep up. But my inbox won’t stop refilling itself. Is it possessed? Is all this really necessary? Of course it’s necessary. If they take the time to say something nice, they deserve a thank you. If they ask me a question, they deserve an answer. Does the answer have to be hundreds of words and take the whole morning? Well, maybe not, but I want to be thorough. These are people, and they deserve attention.   But so does my family, and my home, and that poor, unfinished book that those people are waiting for.

Waiting. Right. Two people–more?–are still waiting on interview questions to be answered and sent. Gotta get those done. How many people have I promised giveaway copies to? Are those due yet? I hope they follow up with me, because I don’t have a way to be organized with this stuff.

It’s just those emails got buried under the barrage of alerts I got, and flagged for follow-up, of places advertising my pirated book. Well, what to do about that? Just shrug it off? Say oh, that’s ok, because it probably doesn’t hurt sales anyway and maybe we’ll find a way to make us think it’s actually a good thing. Maybe. I don’t know. It seems wrong. Especially those guys who are trying to sell it for $4 and haven’t offered me a cut. So do I just ignore it? When in doubt, we have to ask ourselves: WWHRD? What would Howard Roark do?

Um, well, when Howard Roark lost control of his work, his designs, he blew up Cortland homes. So…maybe not really. Perhaps we should just go with the lesson that we should make an effort to do something, if only to say look, this is mine, I made it, and it’s not okay for you to give it away without asking me. I’m pretty generous with stuff. My photography isn’t great, but still, a lot of it’s got Creative Commons licensing on it in case it’s useful to someone. I try to blog a lot of useful stuff, information that I might have been able to compile and sell. I try to share what I can and keep back some particular things for myself. So it kind of sucks when someone takes them. I don’t think that’s okay. Not trying to start a movement, not holding a rally or screaming and whining about it. But if I believe in doing what I can to protect my own property, I have to follow the leads, find the files, find the hosts to contact, write and file the proper notices, and this is all stuff I have to learn and do. (And thank goodness I found an awesome friend who has been very generous in helping me get started learning this stuff. Even though a lot of it is still over my head and dealing with me requires a lot of patience.)

Do I want to license out some of my other rights, stuff I can’t do on my own? Umm…well, yeah, I guess so. I mean, really? That would cool. But wait. Is this for real? Is this legit? Google Google, seems okay. But…I have concerns. I need more information. But how do I ask? Is asking for more unprofessional? Will it make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing so I can be taken advantage of? Is this just how it’s done? How is it done? I have no clue, I need help.

But…no one seems to know anything. Google Google, not really getting exactly what I’m looking for. I need to talk to someone who’s done this. Ask a few indies who are farther ahead than I am. Answer: get an agent.

Well, okay, that’s an answer. That would be someone who’s done this. Someone who has answers. Didn’t occur to me that I would need an agent for what I was going to do, or at least need one in the first year with one book out. Didn’t think THAT would come up. But one of the indies I wrote to basically said, paraphrase: if this is coming up now, it’s probably going to come up more.

Couldn’t I learn to just DIY? Um, yeah, I guess. But damn, look at how much DIY I’m already not able to deal with. Having someone to help me, to not go through these mornings of Googling and trying to piece information together, to have someone to go to answer my questions, someone I wouldn’t feel like I was imposing on…that sounds pretty freakin’ good right now.

Does that make me less indie? I don’t know. I kind of don’t see how, and I kind of don’t care. For me, part of independence is that I get to decide my own crap, not have it decided by the indie purist committee because this isn’t the junior high cafeteria.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the fence. After all, what the hell good does deciding to look into getting an agent do me this morning when I have this big red flag in my inbox needing attention right now? It’s not as though I’ve been approached by an agent. From what I’ve GOOGLED (omg I’m as sick of it as you are) there’s nothing for it but to start the process from scratch, as though I were going trad, with the added interest of trying to make them not see me as damaged indie goods.

Excuse me, what? Okay, let’s just skip that part. So should I add read/learn/practice the query process to my to-do and start the process politely asking, in just the right way, for the privilege of being allowed to audition for the person I’d like to hire to help me out with this? I understand, I really do, that there are reasons why the process is the way it is. But it just seems way backward to me, I don’t know if I want to get into that, and I don’t see it helping me deal with today.

Today I just want school to reopen, my house to magically clean itself, and to sit in the quiet and write my book. Write a book. Simple and straightforward, like it was in the beginning.

Should I be apologizing for the level of whining insanity self-disclosure lately? Does anyone else feel just totally overwhelmed?

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