Beating Writer’s Block—by Not Writing

Exhibit A: Earrings

I’ve been having some issues with writer’s block lately, so I decided to write about writer’s block. Then I got writer’s block regarding my post about writer’s block. (Insert Inception joke here.) Just to put some icing on the cake, I’m also teaching a class about how to deal with writer’s block at Savvy Authors in May.

What have I done to myself?

I think I’ve given myself writer’s block.

Anyway… Over the last few days, I’ve managed to get pen to paper again and found some words coming out. Not a huge number, although I did squeak out about 800 today, which is a vast improvement over none. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because of the Sculpey.

What does Sculpey have to do with writing, you ask? Well, I have no idea. It’s just a theory. But recently, getting frustrated over my lack of wordflow, I got a sudden urge to buy either a cake decorating set or a stack of Sculpey bricks. The Sculpey was cheaper and has considerably fewer calories, so, armed with a coupon, I marched into Michael’s and bought a box of assorted colors and a book featuring Very Impressive Sculpey Art I Will Never Be Able to Do.

And I made some earrings.

Two days later, I started writing again.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m going forward on the theory that there’s a cause/effect relationship here. I was feeling blocked, so I looked for another creative outlet. I found one, expressed it, and in the midst of finding some form of creative zen, the words started flowing again.

It’s made me wonder if this kind of thing has happened in the past, and I just haven’t put two and two together. I frequently get obsessed with creative things. I’ll go into a craft store and buy a bunch of colored pencils, or watercolors, or a stack of pastels. One time I went on a rubber-band-bracelet kick. It’s as if sometimes my brain needs a swift kick in the creative rear—or a break from the particular creative demands of writing.

Let’s face it—writing a novel is a long-term proposition. It takes tens of thousands of words all strung together in an order that (hopefully) makes sense. You have to stay focused for weeks and months and even years sometimes. There are a gajillion small details. So maybe our muses get intimidated, and approaching another art form helps soothe them. Think about it. I made a pair of earrings a couple nights ago. It took me less than an hour. I have a final product I can do something with. It was physically soothing and achieved a nice result. That’s a lot different from putting one word after another for weeks and weeks before I can slap “The End” on a book.

Many other forms of creativity are also more physical. Putting paint on a canvas. Smooshing pastels into a piece of paper. Kneading bits of clay. Knitting a sock. They’re meditative, too, and in many cases while you’re creating a smaller, more physical project, the writing part of your brain can wander around and play with ideas while you’re not really paying attention.

I think it just might have been the key (although I hope it doesn’t stop working now that I’ve made that connection). So next time you’re feeling like the writing isn’t quite clicking, maybe give it a try. Buy a bar of Sculpey, or just bake up some Play-Doh. Draw some birds or paint a picture. See if it shakes the words loose. It’s worth a try, and even if doesn’t take care of the writer’s block, you’ll still have something to show for it.

Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

Putting together the Western Slope workshops has allowed me to meet a lot of new writers. Just this last weekend we had two dozen writers attend, and nearly all of them were new faces. It’s amazing to know how many writers are around me when before I joined RMFW I thought I was the lone stranger in these parts.

I’ve been writing for almost 4 decades (I started in the womb, of course). My first manuscript was partially hand-written, partially typed, some “wheelwriter” (part typewriter/part computer), and eventually I had to type the whole thing into my first PC. It took me nearly 25 years to write “the end.” By that time I’d raised two kids, worked at several different jobs, bought a business, and gone through a lot of LIFE.

When I finished that manuscript I was so excited! I immediately printed it out, typed up my letter to the publisher, boxed it up (yeah, that was before the days of e-mail, you young whipper-snappers!) and sent it to Avon because they published Kathleen Woodiwiss and my book was really similar to her style of writing. (I can hear you laughing – that’s not very polite!).

It didn’t take long to get my first rejection letter. But about that time I also stumbled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined them even though the annual rate was pretty steep for someone in my financial condition. I started getting their magazine, which I devoured. After the first paragraph of the first article I was already cringing from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing writing a book.

Yes, I could write a story. I had interesting characters. I had excitement. And, of course, romance. But I also had POV issues all over the place (mainly because I’d never hear of point of view and when I got contest notes back that said I had POV problems I still had no idea what they were talking about). It wasn’t until one poor judge took pity on me and highlighted the different POVs that I actually figured out what they were talking about (again, this is before I could Google the answer - you younger writers have no idea how lucky you are!).

Over the years I joined RMFW, entered contests, joined a critique group, went to conferences and workshops, read books on writing, followed blogs – whatever I could find that would teach me to know what I didn’t know. And learned a ton about writing. I’ve set that original manuscript aside, although I think some day it WILL see the light of day. I wrote a book that a small publisher picked up and went through four rounds of edits, learning more about what I didn’t know. I’ve written several more manuscripts and have seen my contest scores increase, but never been #1 with a bullet.

Now I understand that there are a lot of things about writing that I don’t know, and a lot of things about writing that I do know. Most of all I know I’ll keep learning more as I go along. My manuscripts are better. I believe I’ll publish again. I know I’ll make more mistakes. I just sent a query letter to an agent that had me waking up in the middle of the night and saying, out loud, “Did I really write that sentence like I think I did, and if so, WHY!!!!!” (by the way, yes I did, and it resulted in the by-then-expected rejection).

So learn. Listen. Read. Attend. Critique. AND WRITE ON! See you at Gold or one of the workshops or at the bookstore or library.

And Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

Define Yourself As A Writer

Are you a writer?

First, are you SURE you want to be a writer? It's a tough business. Even in these wide-open days of self-publishing you need to write a good story and hope it strikes a chord with (many) readers.

If you want to go the traditional route, your fate is in other hands, accept it.

If you want to self-publish, you're going to have to become an excellent promoter and put money behind your dream.

So, if you're continuing to read this, you have an inner fire that needs to be released. Or maybe you just need to silence those imaginary voices whispering in your head.

One of the first things you can do to become a writer is DEFINE YOURSELF AS A WRITER. That is now your self-image. And as we all know, a character will fight to the death to keep his/her self image intact (and, of course, they have a new one by the end of the story, that's character arc).

I am a writer.

I am also a daughter, sister, owner (or owned by) cats, a dozen other things, but my basic core identity is as a writer. This is even more solid for me than others because I have no spouse or children to dilute this solidity of identification as a . . . profession.

I celebrate being a writer and creativity, I surround myself with people of the same ilk, and I absolutely look at the world through the filter of being a writer. I would not know who I was if you took this identity away from me.

And to be a writer, by definition, you have to write. So you will find me at my computer every day (or, occasionally, outside on the patio with pen and paper), writing. Writing snippets, writing plot points, writing ideas that will go nowhere or get revised out of existence.

Writing one of my 100K word novels – because you don't get to 50K or 100K or 135K words by not putting one after the other.

Back to defining yourself as a writer, talk the talk, walk the walk (write), and it will creep up on you. When you first start out, you might say, "I am a paralegal and I write on the side." Then, of course, you get all those comments – Are you published? Who published you? Where can I buy your books? Can I get them at the library? Are they on audio?

I wrote for 8-9 years before I got published traditionally, I know those questions as an unpublished writer and I know the answers. "I've finished my first book, and I'm writing my second." (Huge accomplishment, folks, finishing a first book!) "I'm looking for an agent." "I have an agent submitting my work." "I've finished three books and two are sitting on editors' desks." Find out a graceful way to answer those questions, but come out of the closet and accept your writing identity. Defining yourself as a writer will get you through the hard times of writing, will help you relate to other writers so you know you've come home to your tribe and they have embraced you (like being at the Colorado Gold Conference) and will simply keep you going when you want to quit.

Do you want to quit? If you can, do. There are many other creative ways to spend your time.

I am a writer. Are you?

Let's talk.

Writerly Goals for 2015: Did You Meet Yours?

Christmas Labrador puppy dog wearing Santa hat

Let’s see where I ended up on my goals for 2015:

Write a book.

Check. I wrote at least 2. Take that hernia of my left thumb.

Write a great book, of the all American novel kind.

I’m still working on this one, as in working up the desire to write a book no one will actual ever read, but boy will they say they have.

Write a bestseller.

Yeah, you can see how far that goal has gotten me. 2016 list for sure. I blame my pen. The damn thing never writes a bestseller.

Revise the book hidden in my underwear drawer.

Did I say revise? I meant look at once, cringe, and tuck it even farther back. That book needs serious work. Maybe when I die they’ll use it as one of those long lost manuscripts that goes for millions at auction. Or more likely, toss it in the rubbish bin.

Network with my writerly peers by going to more events.

I would’ve done this one had it not required me to a) leave the house and b) put on pants. Admit it, you hate wearing pants as much as I do.

Attend at least one conference.

Surprisingly I made it to two, RMFW and Pikes Peak. Both were very informative and it was great catching up with my tribe. I no longer felt like a seahorse at the bottom of the tank. Thank you, all of you, those I met, and will meet next conference.

Be healthy.

You wouldn’t think this one is writerly, but maybe even more so than the others. If I don’t take care of myself, then I won’t be able to write. Have you ever seen a chick in traction write a novel? Okay, I probably could dictate. My gosh, everyone’s a critic.

 

Which brings me to the next goal…

 

Ignore my critics.

Five years ago, heck, even three years ago, I would’ve scoffed at this advice, claiming you learn from every criticism. Then I realized something. Since I started writing I haven’t learned anything expect how to a) feel badly about myself and my work and b) that even the best criticism comes with a critic. Meaning, someone else’s ego, subjectivity, and baggage join whatever advice that is doled out. Now I am not saying ignore any and every bit of advice, but instead, use your head. I know what I’m doing (for the most part). I can ‘see’ when the advice is right or when it is driven by more than a desire to fix the page.

Listen, really listen, to advice.

Did I mention that I’m a bit complicated? So here it is, ignore goal 7. Take advice. There are people who can see my work better than I can. Editors for one. Consider their advice. Roll it around my head. And then make the decisions. Don’t discount it out of hand because I ‘know’ best. Though I do. Because this is my goals list, damn it.

Learn new tools and skills

I failed this goal. I had high hopes of starting to dictate my books. Then I tried it, felt stupid talking out loud to my computer, and then on top of that realized it was taking twice as long. My words come from my brain to my typing fingers. Not to my lips.

I also wanted to learn ways to excite my description, so I went to a workshop, and what I found out was, it’s not that description is lacking in excitement. I am. I can twist and turn a phrase with the best of them (not really but it sounded good) but I can’t do it when it’s not something I am interested in, like what a room looks like or how grandma smells. So I’m moving this over to goals for 2016. I plan to sniff plenty of grandmas in the name of research.

Write daily.

I have to admit a terrible truth. I am not a daily writer. I do write daily, just not fiction. I write emails for work, grocery lists, sometimes on the back of my arm for fun… This year was going to be different. Yet it wasn’t. I wrote for three whole weeks, every single day, until I didn’t anymore. So back on the goals for 2016 list it goes.

 

Goals for 2016

  • See list above

What about you? Did you make any goals for last year? How’d you fare on them? Were you crazy enough to make goals for 2016? If so, care to share?

Happy New Year to all my prose-prone friends! May this be your year!

Never Give Up

Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Finish the book
  2. Don't ever give up.

Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.

Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.

Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.

Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count.  If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.

If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.

And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.

But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.

Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.

Look what I ran across the other day:

 

winner

Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.

I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.

My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.

Don't stop.

Don't give up.

Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.

 

Never Ignore Serendipity

I just took a vacation. It was great, but what I took away from it (besides a sunburn and a hangover), was that I need to make sure I never let myself ignore serendipitous moments in time.

While our husbands went fishing, my friend and I decided we’d take a nice little snorkeling trip. Just a couple hours. The snorkel “beach” was actually a pile of granite boulders, with very sharp edges, and massive surf. As in “knock you over and roll you around” surf. Combat snorkeling, if you will. As you can guess, this was not what we signed up for. We didn’t have change for anything to drink, and the water taxi was an hour late coming back for us. This should have been the excursion from hell.

But lest you think I digress, in an instant we got to experience one of those serendipitous moments. The other passengers on our water taxi back to civilization were a group of 20-30-something cruise ship employees from South Africa, England, and a couple other places I forget. The twenty minutes back to town, plus the two or so hours in the bar we spent with them, were truly serendipitous.pelican beach and cruise ship

We were fifty-something women whose husbands had gone fishing. Those “kids”, by all rights, could have made fun of us, should have ignored us. But instead, they decided to hang out with us simply because we talked to them, and told them where they might find drinks and good food. When a Mariachi band came by, one of the crew asked to use a guitar, and began to play – Santana no less. Holy Cow – that Mariachi band was even more surprised than we were. It seems we were in the company of some of Disney’s Cruise Line’s star entertainers. Then another crewman picked up the guitar, played, and sang lead while the others sang along, including the Mariachi that still had instruments. These “kids” were interesting, fun, VERY talented, and talked about everything that came into any of our heads.

If we hadn’t been on that Ponga boat, at that time, on that day, there is no way this diverse group of people would have ever come together, and stayed together for more than a moment. But what we ended up with was something that made that day, and our vacation, so much more memorable than if we’d just followed our itinerary.

Where I’m going with this is: you should never let those moments pass you by. Let those strange little quirks take you wherever they will. As writers, we need these moments to take us away from the tunnel vision of our WIP. To make us experience those things that might not be within our comfort zone, or the genre we write in, or the circle of people we’re comfortable with. And just maybe, to give us an idea for the next story, a great story, a bestselling story.

Serendipity. Grab it when you can, hold on with all you got, and Write On!

Guest Post by Samantha Ross: Four Things to Do

I remember when I first started out writing, I'd stumble, slam into a wall, some days I would realize I was clueless, other days it was pointed out. Again and again I heard “Just keep writing.”

I agree with it.

Up to a point.

I will never be a better writer if all I do is write. It means I repeat my weak areas over and over again. Yes, I write, but I have found I need four other things also.

I need to read. Not just my genre, but read craft books. Instead of fumbling around, I read a book on whatever it is I am struggling with. I visit webpages and blogs on writing. If I really want to grow as a writer, I need to educate myself. Honing my writing is a life long lesson.

Classes, events and conferences. These get budgeted in my calendar, and hopefully into my finances. There is incredible information to be had at these. RMFW gives some of the best, usually for free with their monthly events hosting big name authors and agents. I am amazed at the things I have learned, the contacts and friends I have made by going to these. I ask questions, get answers. I surprise myself sometimes that I didn't need to ask anything, I have conquered that specific weakness. I went to my first conference in Crested Butte, Colorado where I ran into an old friend who pointed me to RMFW. I wouldn't be writing this blog otherwise.

I joined writing groups. I need to talk shop with someone. I did more than just sign up though, I participate, attend meetings, and volunteer. I need others who understands the lingo of plot, character arc, and deus ex machine. Writing groups come in all shapes and sizes. Online and in person, some offer support, some critique, others get together and set writing goals. I found a combination that works for me. I was astounded when after years of looking for a writing group, the local library started one and writers came out of the woodwork. I thought there were only a handful of writers in my area. Now, there are a few formal and informal groups I go to every month. I found my first critique group by going to an event at RMFW. Never underestimate the benefits of joining a group.

I don’t know it all. I will never know it all. No one knows it all. I need a mentor, a "Been there, done that" person. I have found several people who fit this to varying degrees on numerous levels. I love my mentors. And yes, I have more than one. Mentors can come and go, others are for life. I change, they change, goals change. People want to help other people, share knowledge, advice, encouragement, cheer on success. I am a firm believer in mentors, whether they be one on one, through their writing, or their teachings. I am thankful for my mentors and for the other writers who look to me as one of their mentors.

It does not matter where you are in your writing life, do the following:

Join a group, you are not an island.

Read, read, read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more.

Take a class, don't be stagnant.

Be inspired. Find someone you admire. Pass it on.

And keep writing.

 

Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

https://authorsamanthaross.wordpress.com/

 

 

Fear, Failure, and Respect by Terry Banker

“There are three types of hooks used to open a book: fear, lust, and curiosity.” This is what Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, told me after we slammed our shot glasses onto the bar*. She added, “…and curiosity is never enough.” Ever since then, Dorothy’s words haunt me.

I have a confession. Like a good hook, my writing days are filled with fear.

As a novelist, the one thing I fear the most is not a book’s hook. I fear I will run out of time, money, energy, that I will lose my health, faith, or my luck, etc.—all before I can complete the book I’m working on. I worry that as my life changes, so will my writing, and that what I believed important in the beginning will be different by the time I finish.

To summarize: on the bad days, fear of failure leaves me paralyzed.

I have good reason. Out of every writer I’ve ever met, I am the slowest, the least intelligent, the pickiest, the weirdest, the worst speller, the most eccentric, the most regimented, and the least patient writer I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes, I forget what I’ve written, or worse, I’ve forgotten what I’ve edited out. Sometimes I call characters by the wrong names. Sometimes in the middle of a book, the object of importance magically transforms into something else—and I have to go back to the beginning to rework the entrance. After months of work, only Ariadne’s Thread can help me find my way to The End.

How could this be? I used to be smart—well, smart enough. When I was a “new” writer and had yet to write millions of words, writing came effortlessly.  I wasn’t bothered by making situations worse or by what technique to use to tell a story. Point of view and perspective came naturally. I didn’t worry about First versus Third (and never 2nd)—but since then, writing has become more complicated. Now, I think long and hard about using Henry James’ effaced narrative in the simplest of paragraphs.

Something happened to me.

After 10,000+ hours of writing, I became hyper-aware of the many different story elements to select from, and my day-to-day production began to slow. Had I lost my way? More importantly, was I the only writer on the planet who felt like this? The subject seemed taboo. Was it just me or did famous writers fear failure, too? I asked a few.

Dani Shapiro writes memoirs and fiction that Anne Lamott calls “rich in honesty and intelligence.” Dani told me fear of failure never leaves her side. She compares writing to leaping into a pool without water. Every day she stands on the diving board.

It gets worse.

Akhil Sharma wrote over 7000 pages that he edited into his 220-page, bestseller, A Family Life. He explained writing 7000 pages was the equivalent of writing 32 books. The New York Times named A Family Life one of the 10 Best Books of 2014. Akhil told me he feared death (or the haunted house in his head) would take him before he could finish his 12 ½ years of edits. His book was so big, he told me he regularly got lost in his personal history. Even after the book’s immense success, he remains afraid to approach a blank page. The lesson he shared? “Learn to abandon things quickly.”

Andre Dubus III told me to “Always respect fear.” Without facing his fear, he added, he would never have become an author. Andre’s father is the great poet and short story writer, Andre Dubus. Andre III almost couldn’t write a word out of fear of his father’s constant presence. Yet, he was a National Book Award finalist and Oprah beneficiary for his 1999 novel, House of Sand and Fog. Andre is tough. For every hour he works, he hopes for 20 good minutes of writing. Over beers he confessed: more often, he gets less.

And then there’s Richard Russo, who told me he was once lost in fear—despite his 2002 Pulitzer for Empire Falls. When he worked on his first book, Mohawk, he suffered from a “crushing sense of self-doubt and loathing” and was ready to “make a pact with the devil” to pull him through. (He too admitted to forgetting his characters’ names.) What he learned? “I, the author, don’t matter. Only the characters matter.” This fuels his writing to this day.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only writer afraid of failure. Oddly, this didn’t make me feel better. I polled my writer friends for suggestions. This is what we came up with:

  1. BIC – Butt in Chair. Without BIC, nothing gets done. You must be present to win.
  2. Guard your time. It’s all you have. You have the same amount of time as anyone else, from Aristotle to Russo to Zora Neale Hurston. (Get. Off. The. Internet.)
  3. Failure is imminent. Budget your emotional energy.
  4. Not getting what you want is often better than getting it.
  5. Failure at one (paragraph/page/book) is not failure of You—as a writer or a person. Experiment with your eyes, ears, and heart open.
  6. Know your strengths and make them stronger.
  7. Know your weaknesses and learn from them.
  8. Be a kind and generous person.
  9. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

Most importantly,

  1. Be your own voice.

Easy to say and hard to do, right?

One final confession: sometimes I fake it.

To get by, I look at the many successful people around me—in the writing community and in my life—and I emulate their confidence. I pretend that every day in my office is a good day, and that every word I write takes a reader to a magical place. And when I fail, I pout—then I return to work and move on.

Writing is a solitary sport. This world doesn’t need another damn book, yet we continue to write more. Writing is who we are—and we are an obstinate bunch. Success comes when least expected. Remember J.K. Rowling’s final effort to publish a book about a young wizard? Recall a young Stephen King, whose wife pulled his first book, Carrie, from the trash to launch him into living-legend status?

“Don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it.” (Attributed to many people.)

To summarize: on the good days, anything is possible.

No one ever said life is fair. Now get back to work.

Respect the Fear.

BIC,

Terry

 

Terry Banker

Novelist, Ghostwriter, Creative Consultant

*Regarding Dorothy Allison: Okay, we were drinking coffee and didn’t slam our mugs, but what’s the drama in that?

I’m Better Than You

So in this writing game, part of the currency authors are paid in is status. Money might come, but even more important than fabulous cash prizes, in some circles, is status.

And how do you get status? Oh, the status game has many markers.  Who is your agent? Oh, that’s your agent? Wow. You get a hundred status points.

What is the name of your publisher? Oh, you signed a book deal and got a huge advance? You get two hundred status points. And since you earned out, you get bonus status points!

Friends on Facebook? One status point for every friend. Each like above one hundred likes gives you a status point. Traffic to your blog? You have to get at least five hundred hits a day to start accruing status points.

Twitter, Instagram, Wattpad, all work similarly. Email me privately and I’ll let you in on how status points work on those platforms.

A good review in the Publisher’s Weekly? That’s fifty status points, and if they like it, more bonus points. A starred review gives you the gold star bonus. I’ve heard you get special powers if you get the gold star bonus.

A good Kirkus Review? Well, that depends. The Indie Kirkus review only gives you twelve bonus points, but if you get a “real” Kirkus Review, well, that’s forty-nine points.

Are you an Amazon bestseller? Well, in what subcategory? You see, if your book is in the top 100 across all of Amazon, that is a thousand status points. If you are a bestseller in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Coming of Age>Judaism>Horror>Golems, well, you get an honorary five status points, but not much else.

Are you a U.S.A Today bestseller? Impressive. I’ll give you forty-eight status points.

Are you in the “real” game? Are you a New York Times Bestselling author? For realz? If you are, I bet you don’t use the word “realz”.

For every spot on the list, you get exponentially more status points. If you’re like fiftieth, you get X amount of status points. If you are #1? You get X to the fiftieth power. You can use your status points to buy the following: purse dogs, private jets, a date with Kanye West (to convince him to read novels), and a spot on Oprah, which I know is so over, but we have a time machine for you.

If you are #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks in a row, your bonus points quadruple, and you transcend status points. Now, you can count your status in chits.

One trillion status points equals one chit. And one trillion chits equals a Schrute buck. Google Schrute bucks. I love The Office.

I know what you’re thinking. That Aaron Michael Ritchey (three names gives me one status point automatically) is stomping around in his own sour grapes. You are totally right. I get jealous. I have a few status points, sure I do, but not as many as I want.

In the end, I had to really think on this issue. Is status my end goal? Is that why I’m in the game?

To be honest, at first, yeah, that’s what I wanted. I wanted the golden ticket. I wanted to be intrinsically better than you. I wanted you to bow down before my genius and kiss my ring.

And then, the status didn’t come like I wanted, and you know, it might not come.

Which makes me wonder why I’m writing?

I have my answer. I want to write books. I want to write a lot of books. I want to write books with people, and I want to write books alone. And since I already wrote for twenty years without publishing my work, I want to spend the next twenty years publishing what I write because for me, if I don’t get my work out in the world, it loses its meaning. For me, writing must be a selfless act, and for it to be selfless, I must let go of my fear and publish books, by any means necessary.

The status may or may not come.

But the books? The time I spend writing?

It becomes something you can’t buy with status points, chits, or Schrute bucks.

The time I spend crafting novels becomes priceless. And when I’m holding my books in my hand, I’m holding the minutes of my life. After all, I only have a few precious minutes alive on this planet, and I want to use those minutes to write.

However, for every comment on this blog post, I get one status point. Hurray! And for the record, I don't think I'm better than you.

The Sane Writer: Social Media Containment

By Kerry Schafer

Social Media is a wonderful thing. It allows us to connect with others of like mind who live at a distance. It can foster creativity, spur us on to reach our goals, provide both education and entertainment.

It's also chock full of emotional land mines.

The infamous Facebook experiment is a case in point. If you managed to miss the news on this one, Facebook deliberately controlled the positive and negative posts on the feeds of some randomly selected users for a week, as an experiment. This is what happened:

"The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts."

You can read more about it here if you wish.

Really, the results of this experiment aren't surprising. For some reason, we seem to forget that the Internet isn't artificial intelligence. It's created by human beings. And social media, in whatever form, is human beings - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Most of us are pretty aware that if we're hanging out with negative, toxic people we're going to feel the emotional effects of that. If we hang out with supportive, enthusiastic people we're likely to feel better. But for some reason we're surprised that social media can influence our emotions.

And what influences our emotions is going to have an impact on our writing. Maybe it will inspire us, lift us up, increase our creative flow and help us be better writers. Or, maybe, it will make us feel depressed, hopeless, jealous, and all of those other negative things that get between us and our keyboards.

The good news is that it's much easier to control Social Media than the social aspects of our real life worlds. If you've got a co-worker who perpetually rubs your fur the wrong way and makes you wish you could flame like a dragon, chances are you're just going to have to deal with that unless you want to find another job. And family members, unless they are so toxic that you need to take the radical step of severing ties, are there for life.

But social media is a different story. Some virtual friends really are friends in all the ways that matter. But be honest now - how many people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds are you truly connected to? If there is somebody who makes you feel sad, angry, disturbed, or even uncomfortable, is that a person you really need to have in your virtual world?

Most of us don't want to hurt anybody. And we worry about how somebody will feel if we cut them out. I'm not advocating suddenly unfriending somebody you've been virtual friends with for years just because they're going through a bad patch. But that person on your Twitter feed that you never talk to who is irritating you? I believe that any reasonably adjusted adult will be able to weather an unfriending from a stranger.

You have the control. Mute, unfriend, block, whatever you need to do. Life throws enough ugly our way that we have to deal with. What good is served by wading through irritation and negativity when we don't have to? If you are of the persuasion that you want ALL the followers on the chance that maybe some of them will buy your book, you don't have to look at all of their posts. Use Tweetdeck or another app and make lists of the people you do want to see every day.

Even if you carefully control your online environment to include only the people you choose to have in your world, there are still going to be hard times. Because, again, we're all human beings. Every one of us is going to have bad days. We're going to rant. People and pets are going to die. Jobs will be lost. Agents will turn out to be a bad idea, book contracts will go sour. Bad things will happen. Really good things will happen too, and some days it can start to seem like every writer in the world is luckier than you.

And I want to make it clear that I think posting about these things is good and important. I love my online support community and I'm not in any way saying we should try to create a sterile climate that's all sunshine and lollypops.

It's important to support and be supported, to engage in the give and take that makes us compassionate human beings. But there will be days where all of this is just too much. Maybe you have your own grief and just can't shoulder anybody else's right now. Or maybe you're in despair about your own writing and watching a bunch of other writers shouting with glee about the new agent, the new contract, the award nomination, the bestseller ranking or even their latest soaring word count makes you want to take to the streets with a bottle in a brown paper wrapper.

Sometimes a media vacation is in order. It's okay to step away from the internet. We also have control over this with the click of a mouse. If you spend a lot of time online a day or two away might seem daunting at first. You'll be afraid you're going to miss something. And you will, but nothing earth shattering. Anybody really important in your world will know how to find you.

Or, if you really feel the need to check your feeds every day, consider writing before you log on. Meditate first. Journal first. Pet the dog, go for a run, listen to music. Do something to set your mind and your mood before letting all of the other outside influences in.

Experiment and find out what works for you. The best part of the whole social media experience is that you have the control.