IWSG: Working Without A Net

IWSG

One of my friends from long-ago is the unrivaled King of Snark. He prefers to think of himself as the Crown Prince, but I think he’s being modest. And right now, even as I write this, I am working my way into a full-blown crisis of confidence because of him.

Okay, well it’s not really his fault. I was already in mid-crisis long before I contacted him.

I just asked him to read a chapter from my newest book and give me honest feedback, and now I’m freaking out while I wait for him to get back to me. Not because I’m afraid he’ll hate it and tear it to shreds, but because I’m afraid he’ll say he likes it and I won’t believe him.

You see, in Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal, I don’t have a lot of filters. One would think that should be fairly obvious from the title, but now I’m not so sure. It seemed funny when I thought of it; it seemed funny when I wrote the first draft. But now? Now I’m starting to have doubts. I’m scared I’ve gone too far. Even the title might be too much, I’m afraid.

 

nervous

I’m from a generation of women who don’t talk about personal things like Menopause. Women who lie about their age. Who refer to themselves as “curvy” or “voluptuous” but never ever come right out and say the “f” word. What the heck is wrong with me? Why in God’s name would I write a book about being fat, fifty and menopausal? I’m afraid this is all too personal, too much. That I’ve crossed the line into an uncomfortable level of self-disclosure.

What if no one finds it funny? What if the King of Snark comes back to me later tonight with nothing more than a patronizing comment like, “It’s cute. Thanks for sharing”?

Part of me hopes the book comes out and disappears without a trace like my other book in the “Humor” category. That no one ever reads it and we can all just politely agree to pretend that it never happened.

At the same time, I really do believe in this project. I wanted to write it because the last five years of my life have been sheer hell, and I feel as though the only thing that got me through it was my sense of humor. There were days when finding a reason to laugh became a survival technique, and that’s what I’m trying to convey with this book —  that it’s crucial to be able to laugh even when things are looking pretty dark.

My inner critic is telling me to cancel the pre-order on Amazon and stick to the relative safety of writing romance novels about people who don’t really exist outside of my  imagination. My inner critic is a bit of a jerk, to be totally honest. I’m not listening to her.

I want to be the kind of writer who takes risks. Who pushes the envelope. Who walks that really fine line between doing something brilliant or something really, incredibly stupid.

I don’t know about the other writers out there, but this — this feeling of terror mingled with anticipation, of pride mixed with panic, of hope muddled with doubt — this feeling that I have right now is why I wanted to be a writer when I was a little girl pounding out short stories on a toy typewriter.

Sometimes in life, you just have to take a risk and work without a net.

If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.  — Seth Godin

This was written as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. To find out more about this wonderfully supportive group and find out how to join the blog hop, click here.

 

Insecure Writer Wednesday

IWSG

 

Okay, it needs to be said.

I write romance because I read romance.

Deal with it.

I am so tired of hearing people dismiss romantic fiction as being somehow substandard. Being a fan of romantic fiction doesn’t mean I am stupid. Nor does it mean that my books are easy to write or that I am in some way “selling out” by writing in a popular market. It doesn’t mean that I am sexually frustrated, lonely, or lost in a dreamworld of unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

It just means that I enjoy stories in which everyone gets a Happily Ever After. So sue me. Okay, so I’m also frustrated, lonely, and lost in a dreamworld of unrealistic expectations when it comes to love, but that’s not why I write romance novels. That’s just a lucky bonus, I guess.

Other writers are the worst. In writing forums, there are those who bemoan their own lack of sales and then say things like, “I should just give up and write romance novels to pay my bills until my REAL books start selling.”

How’s that working out for you?

One of my friends, a man whose writing talent leaves me in awe, has told me on more than one occasion that “You are a really talented writer, Amy; I don’t see why you waste your talent writing romance novels.”

Ouch. He means it as a compliment, but I rank it right up there with compliments like, “You’re really pretty for a fat girl”.

Do I sound defensive? Probably. But damn it, I am defensive.  I could list all kinds of statistics and facts about the popularity of romantic fiction; I could throw out some dollar figures that would blow your mind. I could even take a scholarly route and point out the classic, respected authors throughout history whose works could be classified as romantic fiction. But I don’t think it would change many opinions.

Or maybe I could take a deeper look and ask myself just exactly why I’m feeling so defensive on the subject.

You know, romance novels are not the only kind I want to write. When I was growing up, I wanted to create the next Three Investigators or Trixie Belden series. I still want to write for young adults. I want to write mysteries too. Or adventures. Or historical fiction. I’ve even thought about writing my own memoir detailing my 2011 freak accident and the long recovery that followed.  But right now, I choose to write romance. I’m not settling. I’m not selling out. I’m choosing a genre that I love, and I hope I’m good at it.

I’m still planning on trying all those things. Okay, maybe not the memoir. Nobody wants to read that. Then again, nobody seems to want to read my collection of humorous essays, but that didn’t stop me from writing and publishing it. I’m sure the thirteen people who bought it have really enjoyed it.

The truth is that I have doubts, too. Most of the time, I’m content to set my writing goals at “Have fun, make people happy, try to make enough money to pay my bills.” Most of the time, I can accept the fact that, as a romance writer, I’m a very small fish in a very big sea. Odds are good that I am never going to be a multi-millionaire making guest appearances on “The View” to talk about the billions of people whose lives were changed by reading my masterpiece. I am happy doing what I love, living out my dream of being a writer, making a little bit of money.

I have my bad days when the doubts take my breath away and I wonder if I’m wasting my time writing in a genre that isn’t going to be taken seriously. Like when I just read Wool by Hugh Howey. I have to be honest; I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it was all hype and no substance. Ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong. So very wrong. It was amazing. I don’t think I breathed the entire time I was reading it. I had to follow it up immediately with Shift and Dust, and then I dropped into a huge, deep pit of despair at the realization that I will probably never, ever write anything that good.

But I might. I may still have the Great American Novel churning away somewhere inside me, trying to get out. Then again, that may be gas.

Either way, I want to write the books that give me pleasure. I like entertaining people with the things that I write, and I’m having a blast coming up with ideas to write about in several genres — and yes, that includes romance. It takes effort, practice and talent to write well in any genre, and we all suffer from enough doubts and insecurities on our own. 

Can’t we all, as writers, be supportive of our fellow writers in all genres? Because, to be honest, I sometimes feel like romance writers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the writing world.

respect

 

This post was written as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group, where writers gather to share our concerns and show our support for each other.  Remember, guys, we’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

Dare to Compare

IWSG

Back when I was in my late twenties, I went to a career counseling center and took a personality test that was supposed to tell me what career I was best suited for. When the results came back, I learned that I would make a great cosmetologist. Since I had three successful  cosmetologists n my family already at that time, I wasn’t really surprised.

What did surprise me, however, was the other end of the list, which showed the career that least suited my personality: Writer.

Well, crap. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. I got pretty upset with the whole  Meyers-Briggs testing people and decided that they knew nothing about me, despite their being pretty much on-target with the cosmetology recommendation.

Looking back, I have to say that I understand those results now. I am, after all, a social creature. I love being around people. Talking to people. Making people happy. This is why I thrive in customer service jobs. It’s why I am a fantastic retail salesperson but failed miserably as an office worker staring at a monitor in my solitary cubicle for forty hours per week.

Writing is not a social career. Sure, we can interact with each other in writing groups and online forums, but it’s not the same as that one-on-one personal interaction with others. The act of writing is a solitary, lonely activity that does not bring out the best in me. It brings out the urge to call my friends and tell them about what I’ve just written, or to go post a stupid question in an online forum just because I feel the need to talk to someone, anyone, about anything.

I’ve been lucky in recent months to find a couple of writing groups that seem to understand this need for human interaction. I even got to attend a four-week writing workshop this summer, where I got to meet other writers face-to-face and watch their eyes glaze over in person when I droned on too long about one of my projects.

Oh, yeah, I know it happens. I’m just able to deny it when it happens online.

As much as I love the interaction with other writers, there is a downside. And I’m not talking about things like internet trolls or spite reviews or any of those behaviors. Yeah, I know those things happen, too, but I do my best to stay firmly entrenched in my own denial when it comes to them. Denial is something else I’m very good at.

For me, the downside of all of this interaction with other authors is my tendency to compare myself to them.

For the most part, I can be pretty realistic about my expectations. I’m a slow writer, producing only one or two short romance novels per year. I’m an unknown, and I’m still learning as I go. I can’t afford any kind of extensive advertising campaigns to boost sales, either. I don’t expect to sell tens of thousands of books or hit any bestseller lists (not yet, anyway).. At this stage of my writing career, I have no delusions about supporting myself with the money I bring in from Amazon each month. I’ve had months in which I’ve made a couple hundred dollars, and months in which I’ve made a couple dollars.

True story. June and July of this year brought in almost enough to pay the rent. August and September sales barely paid for my coffee.

That’s to be expected at this point, however, and I’m okay with it.

Until, that is, I  encounter my fellow “newbies” asking questions about the 500+ sales made in the first two weeks. I’m happy for them, of course, but oh, wowza, does that just suck the confidence right out of me! I start comparing myself to them, wondering where I’ve gone wrong. Are my books too short? Too much sex or not enough? Should I have done more editing? Are the plots weak?

And the biggee: Am I really not any good at this at all? Is it time to give up and learn something less painful, like sword-juggling?

Then I start comparing myself to other writers who talk about writing ten or twelve novels in a year. Seriously?! I start doubting my commitment to my craft. I wake up early to write before my kids get up for school. I write during the half-hour between jobs, and I write in the evenings on the days my kids are with their dad. I write in ten-minute increments if that’s all I can squeeze in.

But is it enough?

Seeing the numbers and word counts tossed about by these prolific folks always  chips away at my confidence. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, I tell myself. Maybe I’m wasting my precious writing time on things like blogging or going to writing forums. Maybe I should get up even earlier or  go to  bed a little later. Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.

Those little nagging self-doubts creep in, and I don’t know how to fight them. All the reassurance, all the compliments and glowing reviews in the world can’t stop them. I am my own worst enemy, my own biggest critic, my own weakest link.

I am gradually learning that I have to stop comparing myself to other writers. I can –and should– learn from them, but the only way to restore my confidence is to compare myself to myself and no one else. Is this book selling better than the last one? Is it better than the last one? Am I still getting better at this every day?

Have I done the absolute best I can do at this time?

If I can answer yes to all of those, then it has to be enough.

How about the rest of you? What triggers your own self-doubts and chips away at your self-confidence? And how do you fight it?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people! 

Decisions, Decisions

IWSG

The idea of self-publishing used to terrify me, but not for the reason one might expect. It had nothing to do with a fear of failure; as an overweight, divorced, bankrupt and often-unemployed woman nearing her fiftieth birthday, I pretty much deal with failure on a daily basis. Believe me, I could write a long and detailed blog post about all of the areas in my life where I have failed.

I fail at a lot of things, and I usually do so spectacularly.

I am not afraid of failure.

But I was afraid to be a self-published author.  You see, I heard all the horror stories. I read the warnings when I haunted the writing forums to learn what the self-published authors were talking about. I learned terms like “carpet bombing” and “Goodreads bullies” and “trolls” and I almost bailed without ever trying.

It was intimidating. No, it was terrifying to think that years of hard work and effort could all be washed down the drain for reasons that had nothing to do with writing skills — or lack thereof. I was afraid to self-publish because I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the wrong people. I was scared of pissing off someone who might take revenge on my book, because, hey, I read about it happening all the time.

But I have never been able to resist a challenge, so I swallowed my fear and self-published Her House Divided in February of 2014. I made a lot of mistakes and I realized that I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but it’s been a great ride. A bumpy ride, but still a  thrilling one.

And the people I was warned about? Yep, they exist. Trolls and Bullies and Whackadoodles, oh my!

But I’ve learned that those guys are the minority. A noisy minority, to be sure, but a minority nonetheless. For the most part, the world of self-publishing has turned out to be filled with helpful, supportive, and productive people who really do seem to look out for each other. I have been so warmly welcomed into the community by writers in every genre, at every different stage in their writing careers.

It’s a matter of finding the supportive people and walking away from the destructive ones.

Easier said than done, right?

Here’s how I see it. I can go to the writing forums and spend my time with the people who want to look for the negative in everything. I can argue with every writer who swears Amazon is stealing their money or lying about their sales, and I can end up embroiled in unproductive arguments about every aspect of writing and publishing. In the end, it would be sort of like arguing with a rattlesnake to convince it that it’s a garter snake — it’s an argument I can’t win, and I’ll just end up filled with venom.

Or . . . . I can surround myself with the kind of professionals who understand that we are all part of the same community.That’s been the “bumpy” part of the learning process I referred to earlier. I’ve wasted far too many hours over the past year and a half, spent far too much time around the kind of folks who are more concerned with dragging down than raising up.  

For every author who spends their time mocking a particular genre or writer, there are authors like Marysol James and Mae Martini, who are always ready to offer honest feedback and practical suggestions of what works for them.  There’s an M. Lauryl Lewis  standing by to chit-chat about marketing strategies and share her ideas.

For every author who takes delight in the poor sales of a competitor, there is a Nancy Gideon offering words of encouragement instead.  There’s a Jasinda Wilder reaching out to say “Don’t be jealous of me honey! … Just keep writing. Get the next book out because that is more room on the shelf. I’m rooting for you.”

For every angry blogger posting insults and criticisms aimed at their fellow writers, there are bloggers like Ryan Lanz, Chris McMullen and Kristen Lamb, who use their blogs to offer guidance and support to their fellow writers.  And let’s not forget that Kristen Lamb is also responsible for creating the “MyWANA” hashtag, which is there to remind us all that we are not alone.

We are not alone. That’s what Alex Cavanaugh and his Insecure Writers Support Group are all about. We share our insecurities, and our fellow writers swoop in to offer advice or encouragement, or sometimes just a bit of virtual online hand-holding when needed.

If you go into self-publishing expecting trolls and whackadoodles, chances are good that you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for. So why not look for something better? Be something better. Surround yourself with those who lift each other up, and try to do a little lifting yourself when you can.

In the week ahead, I want to challenge all of you to step out of your comfort zone and do something nice for another writer. Share a link to someone else’s book. Leave a comment on a blog you’ve never visited before. Reach out and offer a word of encouragement to an author who’s dealing with slow sales or a bad review.

Make a choice. What kind of writer do you want to be?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!  http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Just

IWSG

Back in the late 1980’s, when I entered the workforce as a secretary, I was told that it was somehow demeaning to refer to myself as a secretary. I was an “administrative assistant” or “office assistant.” Some days, I was a “member of clerical support services staff” or a “word processing technician.” It was supposed to be all about taking pride in my work and demanding respect as an equal, sort of along the lines of not getting the coffee for the men in the office.

I went to a training seminar in Grand Rapids, where the instructor told us it didn’t matter what we called ourselves as long as we left out one very important word: Just. As in “I’m just a secretary” or “She’s the VP, and I’m just her assistant.”

That did more for my self-respect than any of those inflated titles, and I’ve held onto that lesson through the years. In later career moves, I never referred to myself as just a hairdresser, just a stay-home mom, or just a lunchlady. My ex-husband was never just a maintenance man, and in all his years on our local fire department, he was never just a volunteer firefighter.

That’s a big part of why, all these years later, I bristle when people ask me if my books are just self-published.

It’s true that anyone can self-publish a book these days. It’s estimated that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 new books self-published every year. It costs nothing to slap together some pages, create a cheap cover, and upload it to Amazon or Smashwords. Anyone can do it with any book, good or bad, but that doesn’t meant that all self-published books are slapped-together garbage.

Okay, some of them are. Let’s be honest. There are an awful lot of discussions in writers’ groups about a need for standards and gatekeepers and ways to improve the perception of self-publishing in general, but I feel that the change in that perception begins with how we refer to ourselves. It goes without saying that we need to produce the best work we possibly can, but it goes beyond that. If we want to be respected, we need to start by treating ourselves with respect. 

If I agree that I am just a self-published author, I am quietly agreeing that all self-published books are in some way inferior to those that are traditionally published. I’m apologizing for not being traditionally published. I’m dismissing my own accomplishments as unimportant. If I say, “My books are just self-published,” it sounds an awful lot like, “They aren’t good enough for traditional publishing.”

It is an insult to say that a book is just self-published. Here’s a backhanded compliment I saw in a review not too long ago: “It’s self-published, but it was actually good.” As though the reviewer was surprised! Just a wee bit condescending, don’t you think?

As writers, if we want our books to stand out from the flood of self-published works out there, it starts with how we treat ourselves and our work. If we want to change public perception, we have to set an example by treating ourselves right.  We are not just self-published.

For that matter, we are not just romance writers or just science fiction authors. Short story writers, do you tell people you just write short stories? What about those of you who write children’s books — do you say that you just write kids’ books?

Stop that.

I have a challenge for all of you. For the next twenty-four hours, wipe the word just from your vocabulary. Don’t be just anything.  Not just an indie author, not just an aspiring writer, not just a beginner.

You might be surprised to discover how many times each day you dismiss your own importance, your own accomplishments, with that one little word: just

Give a Little Bit

IWSG

As a member of the Insecure Writers Support Group, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my insecurities and worries with like-minded people. It has been so refreshing to discover that other writers are feeling some of the same things, fighting some of the same inner battles.  Two things I keep hearing over and over: we’re all in this together, and we are not alone.

So what’s my freak-out for this month’s IWSG post?

I worry that I take more than I give. After all, what have I got to offer other writers? Who am I to give advice? Let’s face it; I’m a self-published romance writer who doesn’t earn enough to support myself with my writing. I’m part of a crowd, lost in a sea of self-published authors in a huge genre. I’m not exactly a glowing success with heaps of wisdom to bestow on others.

Some folks might even call me a failure as a writer.

I work three part-time jobs on top of writing and still can’t make my rent, but I’m optimistic enough to keep writing anyway. Or stupid enough. I’m not sure which. Depends on how much coffee I’ve had on any given day, I guess.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet one of my writing heroes. She treated me with respect as a fellow writer; she gave me useful advice and some great writing tips, but she did so much more than that. She believed in me. She didn’t mock me or condescend to me, or treat me like someone chasing a stupid dream. I don’t think I would have finished my first book without her encouragement.

Since then, I’ve encountered so many others who have given me that same gift. The kindness of my fellow writers has been nearly overwhelming. These guys give, give, give. Sometimes they give great advice, and sometimes they merely dispense a heartfelt “attagirl” at just the right moment. There are days when my fellow writers tell me something I really need to hear at a time when I really don’t want to hear it, and they care enough to tell me anyway.

How many times can I say thank you before the words begin to lose their meaning? How do I give back? In the grand scheme of things in the writing world, I’m pretty much a nobody at this point.

I worry that I’m wearing out my welcome among writing groups by always taking, taking, taking the good stuff and having so little to offer in return. If the time ever comes that I can truly call myself a success, I’ll do everything I can to reach out for those who are struggling in all the ways I’m struggling right now. But until that day, how do I pull my own weight among my peers?

I’m interested in hearing what some of you do to support each other, no matter what your level of success. I’d welcome any tips or suggestions on what I can do to give little something back to the writing community.