Tag Archives: balance

Thinking like an Italian Race Car Driver

raul juliaMany years ago my husband introduced me to the movie “The Gumball Rally” (1976) about an amateur coast-to-coast road race. In it, the Italian driver, Franco, (Raul Julia) says what for me was a memorable line as he ripped off the rear view mirror and tossed it away. “The first rule of Italian driving: what is behind me is not important.”

Ah, if only it were that easy. When I haven’t produced enough new words I’m very adept at looking behind and torturing myself with what I haven’t accomplished, even if I’ve been doing other kinds of productive work like editing and marketing. I found Rachel Aaron’s book 2000 to 10,000 (which she recently updated) both helpful and daunting. I’m still working on regularly producing the 2000 words a day, let alone 10,000. That’s why I found Rachel’s post “Don’t Stomp on My Cake” from 8/22/13 so reassuring. (Thanks to Caroline Mickelson for telling me about it.)

Even someone like Rachel, who is very organized and is productive has days, or weeks, or even months, when other things get in the way of creating. Sometimes those things can be avoided or ignored, but some of them you just have to endure, or in some cases, enjoy.

In The Gumball Rally, Franco is very clear on his priorities. Have fun. Win the race. In that order. He was frequently distracted by beautiful women along the way, but he still came in second and he got the girl. Several girls, actually. Lamenting time lost while making love to a lovely woman wasn’t even on his list. Obviously, a certain amount of reflection is necessary to learn from the past so we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over, but what constitutes a mistake is not always so obvious. Not every side trip is a mistake. Not everything that takes us away from writing is to be lamented.

Lamenting the past steals energy from the present. Don’t give it that power. Relax. Take a¬† a deep breath. Are those flowers you smell?

Now that you’re re-energized, get back to work. ūüôā

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Same Song, Different Verse–Measuring Success

My husband has described me as a terrier. When I get hold of an idea, it’s hard for me to let go of it. My rational mind may know better (Spock, remember?) but emotionally, it’s hard for me to let go of a goal.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in wanting the same phenomenal success that John Locke, J.A Konrath, and Bella Andre have experienced. But I’m not John, Joe, or Bella. I’m not at the same place in my career that they are. I don’t write the same kind of books they write. I don’t put my promotional efforts in the same places with the same force that they do. And neither do you.

We’re all unique. With unique strengths, weaknesses, and demands on our time. With our own measure of luck. Self-publishing is so new, and is changing so rapidly, that we look to each other to see what’s possible and how to do it. We’re lucky indeed to have great examples of success in these people, but we probably shouldn’t measure our own progress against them too closely.

We each have unique values, about what is important to us in our lives, and we can’t afford to ignore them in favor of putting all of our energy into publishing. Success is more than the number of books we sell, even if the latter is more easily measured. Success can be a healthy body, a happy home, great food on the table.

As readers of this blog know, I take self-publishing seriously as a business.¬† Starting a new business is demanding, and we all want to see our efforts bear fruit. Unfortunately, sales are not something we have direct control over, and as such, should only be a small part of how we measure our success. We can control the quality of our books, and how many book reviewers we petition, and how often we blog or tweet, but we can’t control whether someone buys our books. We can only make our books attractive and easy to purchase.

So measure what you have control over, and let your values be your guide. Your book sales may indicate¬† whether what you’re doing is effective, but shouldn’t be the only measure of your success.

And remember:¬† have fun. That’s one of my values.


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My Self-Publishing Journey: Getting Good Information

As you may have gleaned from this blog over time, two of my guiding values are Balance and Perspective. I get nervous when all the information comes from a source that clearly has an axe to grind.¬† I like reading persuasive arguments that disagree with my preconceived notions — but they have to be balanced and logical, not just full of emotion and bombast. It makes me uneasy when I read an argument that supports my point of view but is not well reasoned.

That’s one reason I keep recommending you read The Passive Voice. Passive Guy is an attorney with years of experience in contract law. Whether you like or dislike the traditional publishing model, Passive Guy’s analysis is invaluable if you plan to sign a contract with a publisher. I recently read Passive Guy’s post “How to Read a Book Contract — Contempt.”¬† Even though PG calls it a rant and infuses his post with plenty of snark, he has the knowledge to back up his arguments. As much as anything on the Internet, I can trust what he has to say.

Likewise, Kris Rusch.¬† She’s been in the business for a long time, and she’s talking to a lot of people. She is clearly opinionated, but she is balanced. By that I mean she’s not only focused on indie-publishing. She’s willing to work with traditional publishers as long as the contracts they offer aren’t abusive. She’s also willing to walk away if they are.¬† Her mantra is:

Writers Are Responsible For Their Own Careers.

Writers Are Professionals.

Writers Are In Business, And Should Behave Like Business People.

When I first started thinking about becoming a publisher (which is what you’re doing when you self-publish), it was hard to let go of the old dream (a fantasy, as it turned out) of having an agent do all the work of selling my book and a publisher do all the work of publishing and marketing it. I grew up with that model. There was a prestige associated with that model. A blessing was conferred when a publisher conceded that you were good enough to join the ranks of the published few.

All snark aside, that model still has weight. There is still some benefit in being traditionally published. That’s why Amanda Hocking signed a contract with St. Martins. They offered her a lot of money and quicker market penetration for her physical books. She made a business decision, not an emotional one.¬† Just as Barry Eisler did when he made a deal with Amazon’s Publishing arm, and John Locke did when he made the distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.¬† Business decisions all.¬† Based on facts.

As impatient as I am to get my work out there, I’m taking time to sample the information swirling around out there, always searching for new sources. The publishing environment is changing daily.¬† It’s worth it to spend a little of our precious time keeping tabs on it.¬†¬† To that end I’ll be adding a page to my site in the about two weeks, with links to good information about self-publishing.

I hope the information helps others at it helped me.


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Self-Publishing — The Emotional Component, Continued

My last post discussed some of the emotional baggage we carry that can hold us back from self-publishing our work. I’ve thought of a few more things I’d like to say on that topic.

I’m really interested in how the mind works (or doesn’t) and one interesting tidbit I’ve collected is that no matter how rational we like to think we are, our decisions are affected by our emotions.¬† No matter how much rational information you have, until the emotions line up, nothing happens. The funny thing is, this often happens under the covers. For example, I collected information about self-publishing until I was comfortable taking the next step.¬† I had to reach a tipping point where I wanted the opportunity presented by self-publishing, the potential, more than I valued the opinions of the nay-sayers. I decided that moving forward NOW, having control, was worth the additional work,¬† worth sacrificing some of the traditional markers of success like being recognized by professional writing organizations.

For those who haven’t also sold to advance paying publishers, chosing the self-publishing path results in exclusion from “The Club.”¬† No large professional writing organization that I know of (RWA, SFWA, MWA, HWA) recognizes self-published work.¬† Some specifically exclude it. (Disclosure:¬† I’m a member of RWA and despite not recognizing self-published authors, I highly recommend it.) If you’re self-pubbed you can still join some of these organizations,¬† but you won’t be recognized as published.¬† You can’t even attend the Ninc. conference unless you’ve had two books traditionally published.¬† Potentially losing the respect of the people I admire, of never being seen as a peer slowed me down for a while.¬† (Maybe I should submit to just one more agent, one more editor. . . .)¬† I didn’t even realize that wanting to be a member of “The Club” had been a part of my desire to be published until I thought about losing it.

Through¬† my research, I learned that there’s another club composed of knowledgeable and accomplished¬† people who have succeeded by going their own way, and they are not all the looser-wannabes that proponents of traditional publishing paint them to be. (It’s not superficial to need community.¬† We’re social animals, after all.)¬† Through my research I realized that the issue is not all one sided.¬† There are pros and cons to every choice — but for me, now, self-publishing provides a community I want to be part of.

I’m sharing my journey with you so you’ll find your comfort zone more quickly than I did.


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Hyacinths for the Soul

Many years ago, when I was in the hospital I read a copy of Guideposts magazine.  Bored out of my mind (this was when they used to keep you in the hospital until you were nearly well) I was willing to read anything.  I came upon a short poem that really struck me, and so I memorized it.

If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft . . .
and to thee alone two loaves are left,
sell one, and with the dole,
buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.


This little poem has served to remind me over the years to keep things in balance.¬† The poet doesn’t suggest we preserve security by keeping both loaves.¬† Nor does he counsel us to throw all resources into pleasure.¬† But even when times are difficult, beauty is important.¬† Feeding the soul is important.

Yesterday I fed my soul by visiting a friend who has a litter of puppies.  It is simply not physically possible to frown when surrounded by six bouncing puppies.  You cannot be anything but happy when snuggling a soft, sleepy, warm little body in your lap.

What do you do to feed your soul?

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You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Work Here, But It Helps

I know a lot of creative people.¬† In fact, just about everybody I know pursues some kind of creative endeavor.¬† A few are musicians (even if that isn’t their day job), others are painters, but most are writers and editors.¬† They’re all hanging in there from day to day, paying the bills, minding the children, and getting it done, whatever “it” is that they do.

Some people think that creative types are inherently a little “off.”¬† That comes with the territory.¬† We live in our heads while most people live in the wider world.¬† We hear music no one else hears, see things that don’t exist until we create them.¬† We spend a lot of time with people we know intimately, people we’ve created and who we put through excruciating circumstances, whose emotions we feel as strongly as our own.

If that weren’t enough, some of us also spend time researching obscure facts or historical events so we can put them in our books.¬† Like spies, however, we often find we can’t discuss our work.¬† The details of disease vectors during the Black Plague don’t make good dinner table conversation with one’s in-laws.

And we do all this while trying to find someone who is willing to pay us for our efforts.  We have to stubbornly believe in our selves and our work even while the world is shrugging and turning away.

So yes, sometimes we seem a little peculiar.

You don’t have to be crazy to be an artist.¬† But I know a number of people who think it helps.


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I Am A Real Writer

I have a certificate from the International Association of Real Writers to prove it, too.¬† It’s hanging on the wall next to my desk and it has a gold seal and everything.

Several years ago my friend and critique partner Janni Simner awarded these certificates to all of us in the group, to remind us that it isn’t winning contests or even being published that made us real writers.¬† It was our persistent effort to tell stories.¬† Looking at the certificate certainly helped me through the occasional dark day when I wondered if anyone other than my critique group would ever read my work.

Now I’m in the process of doing the edits my publisher requested for my novel, Veiled Mirror.¬† I’d like to say that I don’t feel any more like a Real Writer than I did before, and for the most part it’s true.¬† I’ve always taken my writing seriously, even before I sold that first short story. But there is something very, very nice about having external validation.

Wait a minute, you say, didn’t you just write a piece about ignoring external input?¬† That the internal voice was the one we should be listening to?

I did.¬† But this isn’t the same thing as letting others influence what you choose to write or how you publish it.

I’m talking about appreciating the achievement of a goal long pursued.¬† As much as you might fight it, making a sale subtly changes how you see yourself, and how others see you.

Someone with a truly zen perspective might be able to navigate the waters of selling and not-selling with no difference in outlook.  That would be wonderfully serene frame of mind.

I haven’t achieved that yet.


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Building Character (Nothing Is Wasted, Part 2)

I jumped the gun on the conclusion to my story about the car problems on our way home through Yuma because I didn’t want the world at large to know we weren’t home yet.¬† We’re home now, and the story didn’t end quite like I expected it would.

When we went to pick up the car, Flash sadly informed us that in addition to the problem with the front wheel bearing (now fixed) there was indeed a problem with the transmission.¬† He could order a rebuilt one or a brand new one (for twice as much), but it would take at least a week between shipping and installation.¬† Now you might think that he was pulling a fast one on us, but remember, my hubby had felt the involuntary gear shift and Team Ramco has beaucoup awards on the shelves.¬† And since they’d missed it the first time around, he was going to discount the cost of fixing the tranny by the amount of the labor of fixing the wheel bearing (about $250).

So we said yes to the rebuilt transmission, rented a car, and drove home.

When we got home, our other car wouldn’t start.¬† It turned out to be just a small thing (that only took $70 dollars to fix!¬† Gah!) but it was the last straw and Brian and I got a little snippy with each other.

So how do your characters act when things go wrong?

We want our characters to be sympathetic.¬† We don’t want them to seem petty and small-minded, but giving them flaws makes them more human.¬† And human characters are sympathetic characters, especially when they later rise above their limitations.¬† So don’t make your characters too perfect.¬† If they screw up now and then, it only makes them more loveable in the end.


Filed under Life, writing

Beware Misleading Statistics

I read this on the Writers’ Digest Newsletter today:

September: Worst Month of 2010 for Bookstores: According to stats from the U.S. Census Bureau, September sales were down 7.7 percent. This followed a 6.5% drop in August.

You’d conclude from this information that brick and mortar bookstores are doomed.¬† That if things continue at this rate they’ll all be out of business in a year.¬† The U.S. Census Bureau says so, right?

This isn’t quite the case, however.¬†¬† I remember reading (though I cannot find the source to cite) that August and September are traditionally slow months for book sales.¬† It’s past the summer reading blitz and too early for Holiday buying to lift the numbers.¬† A comparison between August and September 2009 to 2010 would give you a much more accurate picture of the health of the bookstore industry.

In a better example, [e-reads] uses statistics more carefully in this article about the growth of e-book sales, though¬† I’d have liked them to include a comparison of the 39 million dollars of e-book sales to print sales for the same time period.

Poor statistical reporting leads to massive misunderstanding and misinterpretations.¬† Take Amazon’s announcement that e-bo0k sales had exceeded hardcover sales.¬† Talk show hosts quickly jumped on the drama train, reporting that traditional print books were on the ropes.¬† But as the blog “Me and My Kindle” observed, that wasn’t what Amazon’s statistics implied even if you read them correctly.

We have so much information coming at us everyday it’s impossible to do the fact checking necessary to uncover all the misreporting, let alone the deliberate misleading use of statistics.¬† Always look at the source of the info coming at you, and ask yourself what their bias is.¬† Is their interpretation (and extrapolation) of the data valid?¬† Ask¬† what information is missing.¬† (It’s harder to spot missing contradictory info than it is to spot erroneous data.)

Two books that can help you develop greater clarity of perception: How to Lie with Statistics by Daniel Huff and Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best.

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Today I’m just musing about a variety of things–

As I’ve written before, maintaining balance and a healthy perspective is something that’s important to me.¬† I realized recently that balance is not something you attain and then move on from, like standing in a quiet room or even striding down a smooth level road.¬† No, balance is more like sitting on one of those exercise balls, constantly having to readust to maintain an upright posture.¬† It’s being a weeble: wobbling in response to buffeting events but not falling down.


I watched a gang of quail out my kitchen window this afternoon.¬† We had some pretty big families show up in our yard this summer (one had 20 chicks).¬† They’re all grown now so the males aren’t as testy as they were when the chicks were little.¬† Instead they’re all hanging out together, mobbing the bird seed block like vegetarian pirrhannas and guzzling at the gound level bird bath.


I have laryngitis.¬† Part left over from a cough, part allergies (the wind has been blowing here for two days) I had no voice at all Sunday and Monday.¬† I’m getting better, though.¬† Now I sound like a cross between a goose honking and a braying mule.


My husband’s first full day of retirement was my birthday.¬† Too bad we were both sick.

The normal time cues are gone.¬† We may have to get one of those day of the week clocks.¬† ūüôā

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