Lazy Writer’s Syndrome

Strategies to keep your story hot and productive

There’s nothing worse than Lazy Writer’s Syndrome. There are no symptoms in its early stages. It only becomes apparent when we look up from our busy lives and realize we haven’t been writing for—oh, ten days, ten weeks--ten months.computer-1053809_1280

We have an ongoing accountability system in my critique group. Those of us who choose to participate report in once a week with their new words written.  Originally, we aimed for the word count equivalent of 20 pages.

Any incentive program needs to be flexible to succeed, and ours has. When vacations, illnesses, family emergencies and the like occur, we adjust our weekly goals—or we just keep doing the best we can and turn in a wimpy report with pride because the overall goal is to keep writing new. It’s been an effective program for me.

Our reports vary from “Sent a query and wrote 300 new words” to amazing reports of over 10,000 new words. It depends on what life is presenting to us.

At times when I’m not writing new material, it’s seldom due to writer’s block. Rather, it’s because I’ve let the story get cold. When the story’s cold, the characters don’t drop in and talk to me. For those of you who think that sounds bizarre, it could also be expressed as moments when plot solutions come to you out of the blue—when showering, walking, or during the alpha state when sleeping.

If the story’s not “hot” – fresh and on my mind, as in when I’m writing new material – those character voices and plot inspirations never visit.

Never.

If I’ve allowed the story to get cold, I’m shut out. As Jeff Probst says on Survivor to the losers of the Immunity Challenge, “Head on back to camp. I’ve got nothing for you.” That’s when I languish in an “empty creative mind” state, which makes it paralyzingly difficult to fill the writer’s chair.

Here, then, are my strategies for recovering from Lazy Writer’s Syndrome.

  1. Maintain a calendar for one week.
  2. Record your activities in quarter-hour segments for that week
  3. Review and prioritize. Abandon all "perfect" goals -- neat house, varied cuisine, excessive volunteer work, new hobbies that can be explored another season/year.
  4. Maintain a calendar and enter small writing goals daily. "1 hour writing, "2 hrs writing" etc. I achieve much more success when I draw a little square box in front of my goals. This satisfies the “gold star” child in me because it gives me an opportunity to put a check in that box. I know, it’s silly. But it works!
  5. Only after #4, schedule other stuff that needs to be done. (This “rocks and sand” concept is from First Things First by Stephen Covey—highly recommended reading. It changed my life. It can change yours, too.)
  6. Consider meditation. When you come home from work, go to your special place and decompress with meditation.
  7. If you’re spent from a demanding day, consider a power nap. For me, I only need 15-20 minutes and I'm "almost" as rejuvenated as I am in the morning.
  8. Be kind to yourself. It takes planning and fortitude--and a healthy dose of tenacity.
  9. Finally, team up with a fellow writer or group of writers and agree to post your progress once a week. Once a week gives you the freedom to have a couple of lackluster days but still turn in a respectable week's end report. Call it BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) or create your own name for it.

You can defeat Lazy Writer’s Syndrome! Good luck, and if you have some tips to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Why Bother

At a recent get-together with several writer friends, we got to discussing some of the gloomier aspects of the business: the sheer number of books available, the pain of rejection letters, the struggle to find ways to promote that actually work. The one individual in the group who is still trying to get published traditionally finally threw up her hands and said, “Why do we do it? Why should we even bother writing when everything seems be against us?”

It’s a good question, and one that I—and most writers I know—have struggled with at various times. We joke that we could make more money per hour working in a fast food restaurant. Shake our heads in disbelief at the writers who somehow crank out a half dozen books a year, while we agonize to produce one. Stifle our envy of those who are lucky enough to write the right book at the right time and end up with a bestseller. We long for the good old days, before all the major publishers became corporate entities with little interest in books in themselves, who today only see publishing as a way to make money.

Everywhere you look there are reasons to become discouraged and give up writing. Some of us do. I’ve had several friends who’ve quit writing because of their disgust with the industry. Having had their hearts broken by the system, they are still licking their wounds rather than writing. I understand their pain and their desire to be free of it. I wonder sometimes if I was starting out now, if I would have the resolve to persevere and keep fighting for years for that first contract offer.

And yet, I know I would keep writing. Because I was hooked from that first moment, somewhere in chapter three of my first book, when my characters came to life and shared their story with me while I frantically tried to write it down. There is a writer’s high, just as there is that thrilling state for athletes when they enter the zone, and everything is magic.

There’s a perfectly logical explanation for that mystical state of bliss. Scientists have studied the brains of people as they exercise and clearly tracked the release of endorphins in the brain, those incredibly addictive chemicals that give us a feeling of well-being and even euphoria. I don’t know that they’ve ever studied writers for the same phenomenon, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t have to. I have no doubt that writing fiction does something to my brain, flooding it with feel-good chemicals. It doesn’t always happen. I’ve had weeks and even months go by when writing was more of a slow plod rather than an enticing high. But having experienced writing nirvana, I always know it’s out there. And the tantalizing memory of that lovely altered state keeps me going.

There is another reason why I bother writing. Because writing is an excellent form of escape. Writing soothes me when I’m frustrated and irritated. I may not be able to control the people in my life, but I can (mostly) control my fictional characters. Writing also takes me away from things that stress me. The intense focus of the process distracts me from my problems and helps me put them in perspective. And finally, writing is antidote to the boring and bland. I get to experience the extreme highs of life all over again. Along with my characters, I fall in love for the first time, reach thrilling goals, conquer my fears and experience the satisfaction of great accomplishment. I get to travel to exotic locations and time travel to other eras. I actually get to be other people, and forget about my own reality.

I first discovered this enchanted aspect of fiction when I learned to read. I’m still in thrall to delights of a good book. Books have gotten me through a lot of tough times in my life. I firmly believe that as long as I am able escape into fictional worlds, I can survive almost anything.

Writing is a trickier means of escape than reading, and not always dependable. But when it works it is even more satisfying, resulting in the double pleasure of not only escaping stress, conflict and depression, but creating your own wonderful alternative reality at the same time.

Deep down, that is why a lot of us bother to write. Because we’re getting something in the process that is far more meaningful than publishing success. We’re finding happiness and fulfillment.

Time to Call the Family!

The amazing thing about being a writer is that it automatically makes you part of a family. And who better to call when you're in trouble than family?

The Colorado Gold conference was four months ago. All that fresh energy that boosted us in those first couple months has begun to dissipate. Time has softened our resolutions. We’re lagging in our production and criticizing ourselves.

The flurry of emails with new friends and those we reconnected with has lessened. The daily contact we had has waned. The holidays shifted our attention and we lost touch with one another. Life seems lonely. We’re feeling more isolated and the introversion is creeping in.

Those who received nibbles on their manuscripts have slaved to edit and perfect and complete them. Some have done so and moved forward toward their goals. Others encountered road blocks. A few have had responses from editors and agents that weren’t what they desired.

It’s also the middle of January. We’ve had cold and snow and ice. Spring is still a couple months distant. “Blah” seems to sum up our distaste.

It’s times like this that we turn to those who care and bolster us most—our families.

Relatives, though, may not be the families that we writers most need. No matter how much they love and accept us, our siblings and children and significant others often do not share the experience of writing. They may love us, but that doesn’t mean they truly understand what we’re feeling in our particular unique “winter of discontent.”

These blah stretches are those during which we owe it to ourselves to reach out to our writing family. This is the perfect time to send an email or make a phone call to jump start relationships. These are the days when it’s important to meet for coffee/tea/lunch/drinks and seek one another’s energy. This is the time when we should get together and allow ourselves to whine a bit.

After all, who knows better what a writer is going through than another writer?

Lest we view reaching out as a weakness, we must remember we don’t have to leap into complaints. We just need to make the contact, ask a fellow writer how the winter is going. The conversation will flow, organically, as it always seems to do among writers. One of us is bound to launch the topic as well as to offer the support the other needs. That’s what family does.

And, in giving support to someone else, we are given the support we crave ourselves.

So, my friends…my family…it’s time to reach out, get together, and defeat the doldrums of the post-conference, pre-contest, mid-winter blues!

We owe it to ourselves and to one another.

Getting faster all the time… Not!

I’ve been writing fiction for almost 25 years. You would think in all that time it would get easier and the writing would go faster. But this is how it really is:

I begin my book. Three lines in, I start to agonize. Am I starting in the right place? Is this a dramatic enough opening? No, that sounds too passive. I need action verbs.

Eventually I move on. But, is there too much backstory? Is this description immediate enough? Am I using all five senses?

A few paragraphs more. Am I showing rather than telling? Oh, there’s an extra that. And you’ve already used really. Sheesh. Caught in your usual bad habits. But moving on, is there too much backstory here? It feels like an info-dump. Maybe you need to tell the character’s story through flashback. But that could interrupt the flow of the narrative.

I struggle through a few more pages. But are my characters likeable? Are they going to be able to change and grow enough to satisfy readers? And what’s the motivation in this scene? Their goal?

I finally reach the end of the first chapter. Am I in the right viewpoint? Can the reader really envision this scene? Is it dramatic enough? I can’t end the chapter here. I need a hook to keep them reading.

It goes on. I tell myself I can fix everything in the revision stage. But more and more I find myself going backwards, rewriting the previous scene and trying make it at least tolerable. Then I start worrying, are you trying too hard? Maybe you’re turd polishing, trying to shine up what is actually unredeemable crap.

I grit my teeth and move on. Just get the story down. Let it flow organically. Remember how you used to do it when you didn’t know all that stuff?

Admittedly, it was a lot more fun in those days. My first book I wrote without a critique group or any self-censoring/editing. I felt like if I could just capture what came to me, get down on paper what my characters were feeling and doing as I watched their phantom selves act out the story on my internal screen, it would be magical. I know now that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The magic is in my head. Getting it on paper requires hard, grinding work.

And every year I learn more, and it slows me down. At exactly the time when I need to be more productive. Because to be a successful writer these days, (everyone says) you need to publish a lot of books, as quickly as possible. And here I am, writing slower than ever.

But the other thing that’s happened in the last 25 years is I have a different perspective. Some of the people dearest to me are no longer in this life. Their absence is a reminder that simply being alive is something to celebrate. And if you get too focused and obsessive, you might miss out on some of the joy.

So back to the story. Which seems to get a bit better all the time. I’m starting to like my hero. And my heroine’s not too bad either. And about all those passive verbs, don’t worry so much. You can fix them later.

Do Yer Own Thing

Xmas TreeBy Katriena Knights

Over the holidays, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems like we get inundated with messages about how we “should” celebrate the holidays. What you’re supposed to eat, how you’re supposed to decorate, who you’re supposed to invite where—it gets overwhelming.

A few years ago, I realized Christmas was getting far too stressful for me, mostly because putting up the tree was so time-consuming, and the tree itself took up so much room. So we went out and bought a 3-foot-high, purple, pre-lit tree. My daughter decorates it every year with pictures from whatever fannish thing she’s into that year. This year it’s a Sleepy Hollow tree, and instead of regular Christmas lights, we have jack-o’-lantern lights hung among the stockings. We’ve had a Luigi tree, a Teen Wolf tree, and an Assassins’ Creed tree.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided to mix things up with that holiday, as well. My kids took a vote on what we wanted to eat and discovered nobody really likes turkey. So we had tacos for lunch, then for dinner we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with corn, and green bean casserole.

What’s the point of this, other than that my family is weird? Well, I often find myself similarly overwhelmed with what I “should” be doing with my writing career (and even more overwhelmed sometimes with what I “shouldn’t” be doing). With all these differing voices, I end up chasing other people’s ideas, following other people’s advice, and never quite focusing on what I want from my writing.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to apply my holiday strategy to my relationship with the publishing industry. If the “experts” say I should be eating turkey, I’m going to stop and think really hard about whether I really want to eat turkey. If I’ve got a major jones for a drumstick, then fine—I’ll grab me some drumstick. But if it feels like the right thing to do, I’m going to have tacos instead.

This is my last monthly post for the RMFW blog. I want to thank everybody who’s read my posts for the last year or so. It’s been super fun, but I’m going to focus on my own blog for a while and see if I can’t blow some of the dust out of its nooks and crannies, as it’s been pretty neglected lately. I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season, followed by a new year overflowing with successes and a career direction that feels right for you—even if it means your Christmas tree is full of Abbybod fan art.

Free Your Writing Soul, and Write Better as a Result

By Tina Ann Forkner

My debut novel released in 2008 from a legacy publisher. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? And it was, for a while. When my next novel came out in 2009, it looked to some people like I was on the publishing journey every aspiring writer wanted. When 2010 came and went and I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t worry too much. I was tired, and besides, plenty of writers have gone a few years between books and it didn’t hurt their careers. Maybe 2011 would be my year, but that year came and went too.

Forkner_Waking Up Joy2012 and 2013 were years of several near misses, a few promising projects that fell through before a contract could ever be signed, and several all-out rejections. And now here we are in 2014 and Waking Up Joy has finally released. Yes, that’s five years from my last book, people. Five. So why did it take so long?

The answer is complex, but soon after my second novel was published, the book world was doing somersaults in the midst of huge economic and technological change. Somewhere in the middle of all the publishing craziness when my early novels were releasing, I lost sight of what mattered most. With publishers’ budgets shrinking, I needed to work harder to let people know about my books and it was no longer about writing.

All the pressure made me feel as if blog posts, tweets, and status updates were the keys to selling my books, and I didn’t like it. I felt as if I were toting a box of my books around on my back hollering to anyone who might be listening, “Here, buy my book! PLEASE!” I felt pathetic. I felt fake. I felt like a fraud, but I did it because a lot of people had invested time in my book. I wanted to be a good author, but when multi-published authors like myself were no longer guaranteed publishing contracts, I felt discarded and hurt by the industry. Not knowing when publication would come again, I asked myself why I was still busting my backside for no pay while I had bills to pay and my family stood outside my office door asking if I could come out and play.

I wanted to play again, so I decided to stop taking the pursuit of publication so personally, and I slowed down. Fortunately, I had a great agent who believed in the book I was writing and I knew he would continue to shop my proposals. In the meantime, I had three beautiful kids I’d shown off at both of my book launch parties who were growing up faster than the book industry was changing, and I decided to focus on what meant the most to me. I wrote, of course, but I did so at my own pace. I kept a half-hearted online presence, just in case I ever got published again, but overall, I laid low. Let me tell you, scaling back for a while was the best decision I ever made.

Slowing down might sound like a career killer to some writers, and sometimes I wondered if it would be, but I was willing to risk it for my own sanity, and for my family. It’s not as if I didn’t write during the breaks I took (I took more than one). I did, but on the days I opened my manuscript to revise and fine tune my story, I wrote slower and better. Sometimes, I didn’t write novels at all, and those were the times I gave to my family, to myself, and to my soul. I also went back to work, which I highly recommend for all writers. It’s good to get away from your desk to be around human beings, and I don’t have to tell any of you, there’s nothing like getting paid.

So, if you’re reading this and you know for a fact you don’t need a break, then that’s great. We are all on a different mile of this writing journey. But if you think you’re burning out and publication has become more important than the beautiful act of writing, or worse, more important than your personal well-being, then you might consider scaling back. Personally, it has worked for me.

It’s funny how when I slowed down and focused on the act of writing instead of on the frenzy of publication, the writing flow came back. Now that I’m releasing a new book, I’m back in the race, so to speak, but this time it’s not really a race, and I’m ready.

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Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer and the author of the new novel Waking Up Joy from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us from Random House. Tina’s new book is set in Oklahoma where she was raised, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she is a substitute teacher and lives with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs.

Learn more about Tina and her novels at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.

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Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED

 

How Amazon Turned Me into a Serial Killer

Prior to September of 2012, my life was perfect. I had friends, my books were selling, and all was well. Then Amazon went and ruined my life. Forever.

And no, I am not being melodramatic.

Okay, I am, but just a little.

For those who have an Author Central page on Amazon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, let me give you a little insight into the madness. An Author Central page is a page dedicated just to you, to your books, to your social media, to your profile and customer reviews. It’s a great one stop for all you. A writer/megalomaniac’s dream.

Except for one small thing.

It’s nothing really.

Just a ranking of you versus all the other authors on amazon.

Considering there are over 8 million books on amazon (probably a few million more since I typed that) you can see how you stack up against the population of Colorado and Nevada combined. Good times. Good times.

Now you’re probably asking how an author ranking made me into a serial killer. Well, it wasn’t hard. I was halfway there already. Amazon just added fuel to my fire, along with a target. 15,413 of them as of right now. Updated hourly. Makes it much easier when I don’t have to troll for victims…

You better watch it number 15,412. I’m headed your way.

No really. I have no designs on murdering at least 15,000 authors.

Not anytime soon. You can drop the restraining order Christopher Moore. I promise *wink*

So why in Amazon’s infinite wisdom did they start ranking authors, and more to the point, provided the same authors with said rankings? What can they and you possibly gain?

I wish I had a good answer.

The only foreseeable advantage I see, other than making us nuts (which while fun, probably doesn’t help amazon’s bottom dollar), is to grow more home-grown kindle authors and to have more people buy into Author Central, thereby, in the end, making for lower ebook prices (which equals more units sold) and no traditional publisher middle man.

While it can be easy as an author to get caught up in your author rank, because, let’s face it, we don’t get a lot of ego boosts otherwise. Most days are filled with mediocre reviews and rejection, often from my cat. He really hates when I serve him chicken and salmon cat food. You should check out his yelp reviews, they are downright catty.

But I digress; my point is the ranking system is a trap.

If you looked at my overall author ranking since it was born in 2012, you might think, hey, she must be doing all right if she’s ranked below 20,000 (as an author, the sanity question is still out). But you’d be wrong. While I make some money on book sales, I don’t even make enough to hit the poverty line from my amazon sales. That means, chances are, rank 15,415, 15,416, 15,417 and on and on probably aren’t either.

Now I’m not suggesting you don’t sign up for Author Central. They have a lot of good, helpful tools too for all authors. But remember, there is always an author ranked one number higher looking to bump you off.

And amazon offers plenty of shovels for sale.

Any other thoughts on author rank? Or better yet, anyone know where 15.232 lives?

*All kidding aside, I take any amazon ranking with a grain of salt. For one thing, we have no idea what sort of algorithm they’re using to rank authors. Does the number of books, the sales numbers, and how cute you look in a bathing suit matter? And what’s in a number anyway? Writers are bad at math. We’re lucky if we can add 2 +2, which is why publishers make royalty statements so hard to read.

** This is a follow up post to Amazon Ranking: From Loser to Bestseller and Back Again which I wrote on March 25.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Going to the Garden to Eat Worms

By Kerry Schafer

 

"I'm a failure."

"I suck."

"I wish I were a better writer."

"If only I were smarter/had more talent/had a different brain…"

Sound familiar?

Most of us humans are really good at beating ourselves up.  As writers, I think we are even more adept at this fun and dangerous pastime than the average denizen of the human race. We say things to ourselves that would be considered abusive if we directed them at our partners or our children or our friends. And yet we say them to ourselves, over and over and over again.

Conjure up some of the things you routinely say to yourself when you haven't lived up to your own (or somebody else's) expectations. Even better, actually jot them down. I know time is precious and it takes a minute, but it's worth the time to gain the awareness of the soundtrack playing out in your head.

Here's one of mine. Every single time I check my email and there isn't any (or there is only spam), or if nobody is talking to me on Facebook or Twitter at a given time, I catch these words running through my head and heart:

"Nobody loves me."

If there's no publishing news, this turns into, "My agent doesn't love me. My editor hates the book." Now, this is untrue and I know it. A lot of people care about me and have shown this over and over again. My agent is awesome and my editor is a dedicated professional who has done wonderful things for my novels. The truth is that the people in my world—family, friends, and publishing people--are busy doing many and varied things. They have lives.

The lack of activity on social media or in my Inbox has no direct association to the number of people in my world who care about me and my career. I know this. And when I catch those words running through my head I've learned to take immediate corrective action.

When I tell you I say this to myself, though, it's sort of acceptable, right? A little human quirk. Yep, writers are like that. No big deal. We tend to sort of shrug and smile and acknowledge that yeah, we're not as nice to ourselves as we could be. And then we keep right on with the self abuse.

Make no question about this: it is abuse.

Picture this. You and I are out for a  drink or a cup of coffee, and I look at you across the table and say, "Nobody loves you." As soon as I say these words out loud and direct them at another human being I've stopped being quirky and turned into a bitch. Especially if I follow up with some other gems like, "You've got no talent. I don't know why you're trying to write this novel because it's totally beyond your grasp. Why don't you just give up? You're never going to succeed in publishing…"

At this point you'd be justified in throwing your drink in my face and never talking to me again.

Abuse is destructive. It does nothing toward inspiring creativity, motivating us toward goals, or becoming better human beings. And yet we go on, day after day, indulging ourselves in this litany of hateful commentary towards our selves. It's time to stop it, people. We've gone on long enough. We need to be kind to ourselves, encourage ourselves, motivate ourselves to be the best writers we can be.

For some of us that's a very difficult thing and some time talking to a good counselor might be in order. Since I actually am a counselor and have spent a lot of time working with clients on this issue, I'm offering five tips to get you started on changing the way you talk to yourself.

Try this:

1. If you skipped the opportunity to write down your negative self talk, take a few minutes to do it now and then come back here.  Done? Good job.

2. Now imagine that you are talking to somebody you love and value. Choose somebody who matters to you. A writer friend. Your child. Your lover. Image their face as clearly as you can, and now picture yourself saying these things to them.

3. Shift the self talk into something positive that you would actually say to somebody you were trying to encourage. (I suggest that you do write this down. There is something in the physical act of putting those words on paper that helps us rewire our brains.)

Example: "If only I had more talent…" might change to "I am working every day on mastering my craft and learning new skills."

"I'm never going to succeed in publishing" might shift to, "I'm going to write the best book I can. And then I'm going to write another one. The more I write and the more I hone my skills, the more likely it is that I will succeed."

Take the time to shift every one of the abusive self statements you wrote down earlier.

4. Monitor your thoughts. These patterns of self talk are engrained and don't just magically go away. Watch for them. When you have a sinking feeling of doom and gloom, check what's playing in your head and change the station.

5. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for self abusive thinking. Just don't allow it. When you catch yourself doing it, make yourself stop. Make the shift to something positive. Have some compassion for yourself, as you do for others.

Remember: you are stronger and braver than you believe yourself to be.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kerry Schafer loves to hang out where the weird things are—in the space where reality and fantasy meet. She is the author of The Books of the Between, published by Berkley Press. Her bestselling debut, Between, is available in mass market paperback, Kindle, and Nook. The second book in the trilogy, Wakeworld, releases in April 2014. For more about Kerry, visit her website.

Amazon Ranking: From Loser to Bestseller and Back Again

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

*The words/numbers I am about to bore you with are all true.

- You can trust me. I would never lie.

Amazon…*sigh*

Did anyone else get a little flutter just saying the word? Are your hands starting to sweat?

If not, then you probably haven’t launched a book recently. You see, Amazon is now the big dog in book distribution and indie publishing (as to if this is a good thing, that’s another discussion for another time, but let me just say, you shouldn’t trust that a corporation has your best interest at heart and/or put all your pretty Easter eggs in one basket).

In their ultimate wisdom, Amazon has kindly ranked you and your sales (try and hold your applause).

In some ways it's nice of them since before ranking our sales an author would have only their publisher (which could take months) or Bookscan’s word (which is only a piece of the sales pie) on how well your book is doing or not doing.

So you were basically in the dark unless you hit some bestseller list.

Ah, it was such a saner time.

You lived your days writing instead of obsessing this or that particular number meant.

What does a ranking of 15,038 mean in terms of sales? How many books did I sell today? What does it mean when I drop 100 ranking points? Will someone show me how to work this damn DVR?

But I digress. This is not a tale of personal sales self-discovery. Okay, it is, but there is a bigger point.

On February 28, 2012 my first book, CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale hit the shelves.curses

This was the day my descent into true madness began (which is good to know when explaining your incoherent mumblings about sales to the guys with the white, hug-me jackets). The first few days my sales ranking hovered around 40k (for the sake of brevity, I’m going to only talk Kindle sales and not print copies). When I googled this number, it supposedly meant I was selling about 1-3 books a day (using the kindle sales rank calculator).

Cha-ching!

Yeah, I was as disappointed as you are.

Okay, much, much more. But stay with me.

I was checking my sales ranking every day, and feeling more and more desperate for sales, after all, I’d heard so many times about the horrors of a debut author’s first book tanking. I was convinced I would have to change my name, and move to Florida (Yes, I said it. Florida, a fate worse than Ohio).

Then something magical happened.

Amazon and Kensington (the publisher) worked out some deal where CURSES would be on Amazon’s month long $3.99 and under deal for the month of May 2012. Suddenly my sales ranking dropped to around 700. I hit number 2 on the bestseller list for Science Fiction& Fantasy.

For the entire month I stayed within the top 10. Suffice it to say, I checked those numbers every hour. I grew so obsessed about my ranking that I couldn’t stand to be away from the computer for long, fearing I would miss a big sales jump.

Yeah, I was a wee bit crazed.

But by June 5th my run was over, and my sales started to slump to an average of 20k once again. I still checked every day, sometimes up to seven or eight times for a nice little dip. But slowly my sales ranking obsession eased, and I could focus on writing again.

FROGGY STYLE COVEROver the next months, a couple of other books of mine were released, none setting the Amazon rankings on fire. I did see dips in my sales after certain promotions, the biggest one being when I was on John Scalzi’s The Big Idea with Froggy Style. My sales dropped to somewhere in the 5-7k range.

Which is one of the advantages of sanely watching your sales ranking, you can sometimes figure out what sort of promotional event or marketing worked. Then again, sometimes you have no idea why or what is prompting or hurting your sales.

The disadvantages are many, the main one being, everyone else can see how much you suck too!

Go ahead, look at my rankings. I know you want to. *sigh* I’ll wait.

Oh, you’re back?

Quit laughing. That's just mean...

Anyway, since Froggy Style was released in March of 2013, I stopped watching my sales ranking so much, checking in maybe once every couple of months. I stopped because, while it’s nice to know how my books are doing on Amazon, sales rankings aren’t the whole picture.

And even more important, I have little to no control over the ups and downs. I cannot control if and when someone buys my books (Yes, I have to repeat this daily, hourly even).

I was feeling much better about my writing career and more importantly myself at this point.

A ranking was no longer controlling me or my life.

And then my latest book, a romantic suspense, The Assassin’s Heart, came out to little fanfare. assassins_heartExcept a few days after its release, RT Book Reviews gave it a 4 ½ stars as well as a gold designation, calling it ‘in a class by itself’. Odd since I’m fairly sure I’m a total hack.

After that, my ranking plummeted from 70k to 1,500 in a day. And the Amazon monkey hopped on my back once again. For three days I obsessed, didn’t write a single word, and watched as a website took control over my life once again.

As of writing this, my sales’ rank for The Assassin’s Heart hovers around 10k (I only checked for the sake of this post. I swear.)

And I’ve joined a 12-step program.

I hear admitting you have a problem is half the battle.

The other half, of course, is your internet connection.

Next time I want to talk about your author ranking on amazon, and how it can turn you into a mass murderer. In the meantime, anyone else experienced sales ranking obsession (SRO)? How do you handle it?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.