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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Make Friends With Fear

Today I'm revisiting a blog post from when I began my career as a writer. I'm killing off the Lyn Cash blog, because it's been a long time since I've written under that name. The lessons I learned, however, are still with me. I still have jitters when submitting, fifty books and over sixty magazine articles later. I still fidget when meeting an editor or agent I don't know. In other words, fear is with me probably as much as it is you.


Sometimes it is the very act of moving instead of staying stagnant and still that gives us the necessary momentum to accomplish our next goal. Many a creature, including man, has faced Demon Fear only to die of a heart attack or something related to fear. "Deer in headlights" is an expression that best describes the paralysis that short-circuits our brains and freezes us.


Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar refers to FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. All I can say is that the slogan works for me. If it didn't, I'd have caved in many a time to what was more internal panic than some gaping black hole of external force that threatened to swallow me. Or as one friend puts it when I'm tempted to shy away from a task, an interview, a mission..."They can't eat you."


Some of us are more afraid of success than failure (raises hand here - must include me...I've had too many friends and family members tell me so for me to ignore the possibility). One friend went so far as to say that when I get money, I only elevate myself to a higher level of poor, that it's not success so much as a fear of being responsible for my own well being that pushes my buttons.


Another friend is just the opposite--she's so paralyzed by the thought that she won't "make it" that she refuses to submit anything, for fear that those who know will ridicule or...the worst for her...pity her. She's so used to being "the golden girl" that she can't stomach the idea that she won't be the best, much less stand and be counted as someone who succeeded.


Writing takes magnificent courage--we put our own lives under a microscope, allowing those who read our words to peer into our souls, our thoughts and dreams, the dark places that even we don't like to visit, much less spotlight for others to view. As one writer puts it: If I get published, the people I don't like will have ammunition to hurt me, to make me feel bad about myself.


Very telling, huh? That one has a fear of exposure? Not really. To me, it's simply that they already hand too much power to others, that they measure themselves by someone else's yardstick rather than their own.


Once we identify what holds us back, as writers and individuals, we're able to conquer our demons, to make friends with the very things that we allow to limit us. We're not puppets, with someone else pulling the strings, unless we string ourself and hand over the reins. Once we realize that it's probably self-doubt more than our egos on the line, we can move forward.


Life isn't a specator sport unless we make it such. Writers are people-watchers, spectators, sure. We're also participants when we take charge and forge ahead. Writing is an adventure. Put on your Indiana Jones hat, crack the whip, and press on. Give yourself permission to fail...and to succeed. Celebrate each step that takes you closer to your goal.


You've read in my blogs about my son. If I've done anything "right" in my life, it was producing that boy. When I got serious about my writing and put my energies where my mouth was, he gave me a Mother's Day present that I'll never forget. It was a beat-up felt hat, same color and style as the one worn by Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies. With it was a note: Happy Mother's Day to my adventurous mom.


 I'm taking that hat with me to Australia next month.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So You Want To Write By Heidi Senesac

The following article was first used in the January 2012 issue of MRW Impressions and may be reprinted by sister RWA chapters with acknowledgement to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to this article but not republish it. Author Heidi Senesac has graciously allowed us to use it in this blog post.

You’ve tumbled the words around in your head until they’re shiny and smooth, like pebbles fresh from the polishing machine. It’s time. You’re ready to commit to sharing the novel you know you’re capable of writing with the world. But you’re left with questions. Like, where do you start?
Maybe you’ve already joined a writers group. Or, you’ve starting taking online courses. And you’ve noticed there are hundreds of writing tricks or techniques. You have friends who plot every moment of the novel. For every goal, there is an equal and opposite conflict or motivation. Others call themselves ‘pantsers’. There’s no planning, but they know instinctively what comes next. Some authors set times for when or how long they’ll write. Others will sit at their computer and let the words pour out of them until they are wrung dry. And just what is deep POV anyway?
Keep in mind that what is right for others may not work with you. I’ve recently seen a string of emails about how individual writers determine a ritual of what works for them. This discussion clanged like Big Ben for me. I struggled with the best way to put those first words on paper. Some authors reported starting their writing day with coffee, a little Facebook time, then music to pound the keys by.  Others expressed a preference for a glass of wine, scented candles and warm lamplight illuminating their keyboard as they transcribe the action in their head. And, don’t overlook the value of noise cancelling headphones. Every author has a ritual or process. And that process will be as personal as your favorite handbag or pair of shoes.
As you begin your journey toward becoming a published author, you’ll set your own routine. With luck, it will come naturally. Experiment with time, place and ambiance. I worked from several different rooms in my home until I settled on one with a picture window overlooking the yard, outdoor scented candles and instrumental music. This location and atmosphere stirred my inner creative. Find the routine that allows words to flow freely for you. Then write. Refining, editing, learning, polishing, entering contests, marketing and promotion will follow. Everyone has to start somewhere. Pick your spot and get busy.
Heidi Senesac writes contemporary romance as Gemma Brocata. She is the new Vice President in charge of programs for Midwest Romance Authors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Welcome to 2012, the year of living dangerously. - by Leigh Stites

The following article was first used in the January, 2012, issue of MRW Impressions and may be reproduced by sister RWA chapters with acknowledgement to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to the article but not republish it. The author, Leigh Stites, has graciously allowed me to post the article here in order to share it with other writers.

 Dear Authors,

 Welcome to 2012, the year of living dangerously.

 As I sat down to write my first column as President of MRW, it struck me that this year promises to be the most dangerous year of my life.  Before you think I’m planning something illegal, let me explain.  At no time in history, (well, maybe when Guttenberg was around, but no time since) has the publishing world faced such seismic change.  In the slightly less than four years since I’ve been pursuing writing as a career, I’ve seen the gut-wrenching fall of Borders, the spectacular rise of e-books, the surprising march of the ‘Indies’, and the not-so-surprising ascension of Amazon as King of Publishing.   I suspect the aftershocks will be stronger than the quake.  Amidst all this chaos, what’s an author to do?

 Now, I don’t want to limit my metaphors to natural disasters because that would imply this is a bad thing.  In truth, it may be the best thing that’s ever happened for those of us who’ve been wishing there was someone else in charge of ‘Book Nation’.   As authors, we’ve been liberated (like it or not) and can put our books out into the world without having to go through the maze of gatekeepers that determined our entry into the kingdom in days of yore.  However, getting a pass doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.  That takes more.

 By now, you may be pounding your fist on the desk, demanding: “So tell me, what does it take?”  I won’t patronize you by saying ‘write a good book’ because those of us laboring away at this fully intend to ‘write a good book’ or we would be wasting our time.  Besides, what makes for a ‘good book’ is highly subjective.  What we, as authors, should strive to do is write the best book we are able to write.   That hasn’t changed, and there are many opportunities for learning how to become better storytellers and writers.   My advice on this is simple: keep learning, keep writing, keep honing your skills and feeding your artist, but don’t cut your own throat by cutting corners.  If anything, authors need to be more committed than ever to making sure their best work is what gets into the hands of the reading public.  

Once you’ve written that book, you can pursue a traditional route (as I have for the past three years) or try alternatives.  What I’ve decided to do this year is to become savvy to what those alternatives are, more scientific in how I experiment with them, and a lot more sensible about managing my career.  It would be nice to think someone else would do this for me, but that’s kind of like a child thinking her parents will take care of everything for the rest of her life.  I’m talking to myself here, because I’ve not been doing these things to the extent I need to in order to be successful.  I’ve been writing and pitching and getting rejected, and writing and pitching and getting rejected some more, and writing and pitching and…well, you get the idea.   I’m ‘nuts’ if I keep doing things the same way and expect a different result.  So, this year I’m doing things differently. 

 MRW’s theme 2012 is Finding Success in a Changing Industry.  Along these lines, we’ll be developing programs, running workshops, writing newsletters and engaging in conversations (live and online) to help our membership understand what’s going on in our industry, find out how others are responding, explore the opportunities presented, share our own experiments (positive and otherwise), and, of course, learn more about honing our craft and improving the products we put out there.   I say ‘we’ because it will take every one of us participating to make this year’s activities and information meaningful and useful.  (Translated: you will be asked to/expected to do something this year if you are a member of this organization.)

We all write about heroes and heroines who risk everything to take charge of their destinies.  Can we do less?  I hope you will join me in living dangerously this year.   Let’s get prepared, have a little faith, and JUMP.

 Blessings for the New Year,

Leigh           

Leigh Stites, writing as Elisabeth Burke, is a Golden Heart finalist, 2010, for The Healer. Website: www.elisabethburke.com




Saturday, March 3, 2012

Snafus & Such

Nothing like starting a new blog and having something derail. For whatever reason, the "comments" function isn't working, and I've been told by those wishing to comment that they can't comment. I have a note in to Blogger to help fix this.

Thank you for stopping by - new posts should appear every 5 days (and once some of the other contributors start posting, more often than that).

You can still join as a Follower and receive emails when new posts appear. Again, my apologies for the comment function.

It's overcast here. Snow yesterday morning followed by an afternoon of sunshine and temps in the lower 60's. WEIRD.

I had some interesting emails yesterday. It astonishes most of us when articles we write are picked up by other newsletters, and it feels really good. Even with those of us who haven't done articles in ages, those who've never done them and those who forget how often we write them. So...in a nutshell...I contacted someone whose article I snagged for the next newsletter I do. She was beyond happy, and her enthusiasm and thanks set my mood for the night.

One of the reasons I love my local RWA group, Midwest Romance Writers, is because we aren't afraid to reach for help and we are good with the atta-girls. Their appreciation of my work on the newsletters ALWAYS puts me in a good space. Makes me more appreciative of them as well as those whose articles I snag for our newsletters. (Therefore, my private note to the one writer that I enjoyed her article and wished to reprint it with her permission.) There was a time when newsletters were a passion for me that faded. It's nice to enjoy myself again when I do them.

It's "pet the cat"...lol. Guy goes to work, boss is hard on him. He then goes home and grouches at the wife, who snaps at her children. Then one of them is in a foul mood and kicks the cat. I like it that we pet kitty.

Meow...purrrrrr....

Take a look at the new MRW website. http://www.mrw-rwa.org/

Have a great weekend! See you again on the 5th, if not before, in here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Safari of the Writer's Soul...or If the Shoe Fits

I've experienced a tremendous amount that has changed who I am, what I know, and what I write...and what I'm afraid to write. For instance, I was late getting downtown, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995. Another five minutes and I'd have been too close to the explosion, not setting up the sheriffs' command post. The whole experience rocked my views on everything from God (your higher power might be Allah, Buddha, or George--they're all the same to me), to how I begin my day, to how I feel about capital punishment, to how I write. But it's taken me nearly twenty years to discover that before I shoot for something, it's better to have a target, even a moving one.


In the writing business, the target is generally in motion, shifting course. That's why I'm thrilled to be a part of my local chapter. The theme in 2012 for the Midwest Romance Writers is Finding Success in a Changing Industry. (Thank you, Leigh Stites for coming up with that one!) To embrace that theme, the philosophy that survival and success are achievable...that's a powerful aphrodisiac. How to do it is the trick.


Since my physical body has changed over the years, my extended trip to Australia must be a solid fit. In order to walk, climb, hike, I'm better prepared if I eat right, exercise, give up smoking (easier said than done), and know my targets. Attending wine country excursions, sure. Spending more than a couple days wandering the Outback? Not so much.


My targets involve touchstones. Feeding a kangaroo, holding a koala, watching whales breach foamy waters, viewing sites, tasting new foods (I'm even contemplating Vegemite...ugh). In keeping with my journey, I also know better than to wear a pair of heels to the Outback.


Over the years, my writing essence has altered as well. I'm not as interested in seeing my name on the spine of a book as much as I crave writing what's between the covers and stirring someone's soul with what I've written. First--I must stir my own. Therefore, my goals have changed, along with my touchstones. I'm still interested in making money, but my greater need is to make memories and to become absorbed in every day's writing..the actual meat to seat, thoughts from mind to fingertips action. I've donned my traveling shoes for a reason, because in order to become more adventurous and dig into the present, I need to shed my Ruby Slippers and be ready to move. Excavating my secret desires and why I'm leery of putting myself on the page emotionally is proving to be a dirty business.


How are your feet? Are you comfortable in the same writing shoes you've been wearing? Are they taking you Somewhere or Somewhere Specific? As one good friend told another lately when the woman was so negative: You can't change others all the time. Sometimes you need to change yourself. The same goes for situations--you can't always change circumstances, but you have the power to control your reactions.


How often do we sit at our computers dreading the blank page, or the edits, the art fact sheets, the rewrites, or the time involved? Not to get too metaphysical on you, but as Chevy Chase uttered in "Caddyshack" over thirty years ago: Be the ball. Dive in. Immerse yourself in your writing. Site the target and shoot. You'll land Somewhere anyway. Why not chart your course and better your odds of arriving Somewhere Specific--where you want to go?


If your grammar stinks, take a class. Poor use of language? Read, read, read, and "people watch"--listen to them. Observe how they interact. Too close to your project? You're not a tree. Move. Go outside, watch a movie, get on the Internet. Call someone. Volunteer at a womens shelter or pet sanctuary.


Have the opposite problem, need to focus or just write? Suck it up and get busy. Want more sales? Write better books. Quit being stubborn and clinging to old habits. Learn networking skills. If nothing changes...guess what? Nothing changes. YOU must change in order to secure a different outcome.


Thing is, life will go on with or without you, but this is YOUR life. Don't be a spectator, be a participant before you have no choice. If writing is your passion, feed it. If you lack a passion, find one. Discover what makes you tick, what thrills you, and you'll have fodder for volumes.


Interested in BDSM? Go for it. Your erotic romances will zing with authenticity if you know your subject. Have a penchant for Lady Windameer's Fan? Delve into histories, diaries, and maps of Regency England. Westerns more your style? Write a good cowboy romance.


The following is as I see it, not what works for everyone.


Goal #1 of your writer's journey is to find a starting point. What is your touchstone, your reason for writing? Are you prepared to do what it takes to reach your goal? For me, if I wish to stir others, I need to stir myself, to be adventurous in exploring my honesty and authenticity as a writer, to be unafraid to write about people, places, things that touch me. Nearly twenty years after the Oklahoma City Bombing, I have difficulty writing emotion, because while working eighteen hours, much of it in rain, I had to shut down emotionally in order to secure the site, turn a blind eye to body parts, debris, stench, screaming parents who wanted their babies, and firemen and policemen who would later commit suicide rather than deal with the trauma.


Goal #2...establish your rhythm. You'll work better if you adjust your writing to fit your life, not the other way around. Quakers have a unique philosophy. Everything moves in accordance to simple daily rituals. As Sarah Ban Breathnach points out, they have rhythm, reverence, and reflection. Apply those to your writing. in my case, with my medical issues, I know that mornings, getting out of bed are the hardest. For you, it might be working with or around insomnia. Maybe you can't concentrate if your house is dirty. Maybe you just need excuses. It's not that you have issues--we ALL do. It's how you cope that affects your life and your writing.


Goal #3 is to FEEL as you write. (It always comes back to emotion.) Allow yourself the gift of time to explore your own thoughts, processes, reactions. Check your pulse periodically to see if what you write moves you.One of my early critique partners whacked me with something unexpected. She said I had a lack of emotion as I wrote La Bella Luna. She said she could always tell when I came to a passage that unnerved me for whatever reason. Seems my character would smart off, pick a fight, or withdraw...because I did. Once Merry Stahel. pointed that out to me, I began using my weakness as a strength, to build tension then drop the bombshell of emotion. First, I had to be in tune with my character, with what was going on emotionally. The book was better for it, and I suspect I was, too.


Don't fret over rules and goals, though--you'll discover what works for you once you fire up your passion, take off on your writing expedition, and let your desires fuel your enthusiasm for the outcome. Truly, it's all about the journey. Or the shoes. Your choice. Remember that if you don't have a pair of shoes (we'll go with that analogy) in mind, you could wind up with a pair that either doesn't fit or is inappropriate. Editors have rejected manuscripts for eons because they didn't fit specific guidelines or lacked that certain spark of passion or authenticity. Find yours, and your writing will reward you.


Sunny