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

Climbing out of the Envelope

Just because my life wasn’t hectic enough, I recently decided to add one more activity to my already over-booked schedule. But I’m not allowed to complain because I did this to myself.  Besides, the payoff is already enormous.

I signed up for a free writing workshop taught by one of my new heroes, Ami Hendrickson, and I swear I come home every Wednesday night with my brain exploding with new knowledge while my newest book is screaming to get out of me. After an hour and a half in her workshop, I can see so many places in my work where I’ve done something wrong.

At the same time, though, I see so many places where I’ve done something right.  And then I get all giddy and self-congratulatory because I got it right without really knowing exactly how I got it right.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong believer in continuing education. I will never know all there is to know about writing; I will never reach the point at which I am the best I am ever going to be.  Being a good writer is all about learning and growing, evolving into something bigger and better with each story or book that I write. I am constantly working my way through workbooks and how-to manuals and I take every RWA class I can jam into my schedule. I read articles and blog posts by people like Kristen Lamb and Ryan Lantz, and I absorb every possible bit of information I can find.

But I haven’t taken an actual sit-down creative writing class since my college days. And to be perfectly honest, Dr. Schiffer was more of a facilitator than an instructor. He would sort of throw topics at us and then sit back and nod sagely when we read our assignments aloud the next day. We were a bunch of college kids who went a little crazy with the lack of structure or rules, and I seem to remember that we wrote some really bad stories and poetry with a lot of swearing and sex simply because we had no one telling us that we couldn’t.

The greatest thing I learned from Dr. Schiffer was his insistence that “you can’t climb out of the envelope with your work.” When we read our work out loud in class, he wouldn’t let us spend any time on setting it up. It had to stand on its own, without any introduction or explanation.  Over the years, I have remembered that bit of advice every time I complete a story or novel and put it out there for critique or review.

Now, thirty years later, I’m attending a workshop that is absolutely blowing my mind. And not just because I’m learning about ways to structure my books better. I’m learning how to better mesh my blog with my books, how to turn a “great idea” into something more, and how to write faster, more efficiently. Even more important than all of that, Ami Hendrickson is teaching us about networking with other writers at our same level so we can help each other and grow together.

Once again, I’m delighted to discover that truly professional and successful writers are all about support, all about raising each other up, all about helping each other and learning to accept help when we need it. Our work may have to stand on its own, but we don’t have to. We stand with each other.

Yeah, I have to say it again: I love being a writer. If you love it too, take the time to find a workshop or class or some kind of in-person experience with other writers. You stand to gain so much more than just a little bit of knowledge.

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.

Impediments

When it comes to cliques, they aren’t all bad.

Today’s blog post isn’t going to be one of my usual ones. I need to take care of a little business, and this week’s prompt about cliques seems to be the perfect opportunity to do so.

First, I’ve been really lucky about finding work this summer. Unfortunately, none of the jobs are full-time, so that means I’m working several part-time jobs.  That also means that I am so busy I’m sort of expecting to meet myself coming or going on my own doorstep one of these days.

One of those jobs has involved painting with a group of really nice people who have been incredibly supportive of me as I learn which of my physical limitations to respect and which ones to ignore. I’ve been bending, stretching, reaching and yes, swearing, and I’m figuring out that I’m a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for.

There’s a woman on the painting crew who likes that say that different things are “impedin’ the progress” whenever we run into a problem. She says it with a grim little smile and a laugh, and then she dives back in to work around whatever it may be that’s impeding her progress.

I’m trying to learn from her wonderful attitude, and that’s what I need to talk about today.

I’m a writer. I am forty-nine years old, and I am finally writing and publishing the books that I have wanted to write since I was four years old. That’s forty-five years of dreaming, finally coming true.

Sort of.

Stay with me here. I’m going to make my point soon.

I started blogging because I needed to gain some discipline as a writer. Somewhere along the line, I also figured out that I have a pretty good sense of humor. I learned about marketing and terms like “engagement” and a lot of business-y stuff that I had never really thought about. I met a lot of wonderful bloggers and writers, and I found out that I really get a lot out of staying positive and surrounding myself with helpful and supportive people.

In short, I started having fun.

At the same time, I finished two books in my “Beach Haven” series and added a short novella as a sort of a prequel to the series. I figured out how to format, how to work with an editor and take suggestions without being offended, and I think I also became a better person through the steady contact with a nice little “clique” made up of just the right people.

I also met a couple of writers/bloggers who delight in tearing others down as well, but I’ve made the choice to ignore them. Life is too short to worry about the opinions of people who are focused on the fact that I am fat, middle-aged, and not exactly a beauty queen.  Stressing over that would just be impeding my progress, especially since none of those things have any bearing on whether or not I can write.

As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.”

In recent months, I’ve learned about different groups of writers who work hard to support and defend each other. In a way, they make up an exclusive clique that works very hard to exclude those who choose negativity and cruelty over support and camaraderie. So yes, even though the word “clique” can have a negative connotation, I am proud to be a part of this particular one.

I am a writer. I’m not the best or the most successful, but I’m writing.

The problem is that I’m not writing my next book.

I’m ghost-writing a few things for very poor pay. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s money. That’s right: I’m prostituting my writing skills to pay the rent. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

I’m writing my blog, which is fun but doesn’t help me finish my book or pay my rent.

I’m doing little tasks at Amazon Mechanical Turk for pennies at a time. It doesn’t help much, but I need a lot more pennies.

I’m babysitting, cleaning houses, working, working, working. All the time. And I’m not making it. Not getting the book finished, not making the rent, not even making enough money to say I’m “squeaking by.”

And I am trying – really, really hard! – not to sink into a puddle of anger and self-pity because my neck injury forces me to work twice as hard to earn half as much. I don’t want to impede my progress by giving in to that anger. I want to stay part of the Positive Clique.

Which brings me to my point.

I’m going to have to cut back on blogging. I used to aim for three posts per week; I’m cutting back to a goal of once a week. I hate to give it up, but the very little time I have for writing needs to be devoted to jobs that are going to bring in money to support my writing. I don’t ever expect to get rich from my little romance novels, but I’m hoping to someday reach the point where I can only work one job while writing them. And to do that, well, I have to write them.

I’ve got to prioritize. I’ve got to stop impeding my own progress.

I’ve also swallowed my pride and added a “donate” button to my page. I’ve seen other bloggers do it, and I’ve always scoffed at them for begging for donations on a free blog. Well, I’m not scoffing any more. I’m right there, begging with the best of them.

I am a writer. I’ve waited a lifetime to be able to say that, and I am honored to be part of the small, exclusive clique of writers who strive to be kind to each other. I’m proud to be part of the blogging community as well, and incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped along this journey to making me a better  person as I become a better writer.

As I wrap this up, I want to leave you all with a link to a truly uplifting and astonishing video I discovered last week. The speaker is an old childhood friend of mine who has always understood the value of kindness better than most. She is a good soul, a dear friend, and an all-around wonderful person.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to cliques . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocalsand Michelle from Crumpets and Bollocks.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Thanks!

Well, I survived my first real book-signing and had a fabulous time!

603802_1093553653993750_1454731173966033297_n

Everyone was so sweet and asked such wonderful questions that the time flew by much faster than I expected.  I talked a bit about my background and why I write what I write, shared a few opinions, and probably babbled a little more than I intended. Then the librarian asked me to read a couple of her favorite bits from Have a Goode One, and it was so rewarding to hear the chuckles and giggles from everyone. After that, it was time to answer questions and sign some books.

11225523_1093847500631032_1584359939_n11210321_1093847507297698_1548392512_n

One of the highlights was seeing a couple of fellow local authors who came out to support me. For such a small town, we seem to have an awful lot of artsy people.  Maybe something in the water?

Look! It's Connie Myres!
Look! It’s Connie Myres!

Afterward, I was asked to help put together a local writers’ group. I’m nervous about taking on that responsibility, but I’m thrilled at the prospect. I guess there’s no point in complaining about the lack of a support group if I’m not willing to start one myself!

My biggest fan: my sister!
My biggest fan: my sister! (It’s okay; I’m HER biggest fan, too!)

All in all, it was one of those experiences that I’m going to remember forever as one of the best days ever. I want to thank everyone who supported me, encouraged me, and helped push me just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

11216108_1093847477297701_642223465_n

Full Support

8c69d-iwsg2bbadge

The absolute best part of being in The Insecure Writers Support Group is that it’s an awful lot like being hit upside the head by a good friend as she screams, “You’re not alone, so stop freaking out!”

I always bought into the myth that writing is a solitary thing, and I guess it is true to a certain extent.  After all, I sit down at the computer and spin tales out of my own imagination, and there’s nothing more solitary than that.  I can talk to others and take breaks in mid-chapter if I really need a bit of social interaction once in a while, but in the long run this is something I’ve got to do on my own.

However, I have a hard time remembering that I don’t have to be alone every step of the way. No matter what I’m working on, no matter what I’m feeling, no matter how much I’m struggling, there are other writers who have been right here before.  Either that, or they are right here with me now. Worried that everyone will hate your book? Been there.  Scared that your first book was the only good one you’ve got in you? Felt that.  Afraid that you really have no talent, but your friends are all too nice to tell you the truth?  Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. I drive through that neighborhood every day.

I used to think that writers’ groups were all about providing critiques of each other’s work.  Hey, I’m all in favor of that.  Every single one of us needs to hear honest feedback – the good, the bad, and the incredibly painful.  We also need to learn to take that honest feedback and learn from it without getting defensive or developing a victim complex. A good writers’ group is a great place to get all that.

But I’m finally starting to understand that there is so much more to it.  Let me make a comparison here.

I used to be a cosmetologist, and the high point of my year was the annual Hair Show in the fall. It was basically two days of education and sales while surrounded by hundreds of well-dressed beauty professionals with gorgeous hair and fabulous make-up.  Lots of samples, too much talking, and far too much alcohol, but oh-so-inspirational.  An hour spent listening to Michael Cole, Susie Fields-Carder or Geno Stampora was like super-charging my soul.  I would come back to work so motivated, so in love with my career, so full of faith in myself and my ability to thrive in a salon.

That’s what I get from being in writing groups like the KDP Author Forums or The Insecure Writers Support Group.  I don’t comment often, but I have become a Lurker Extraordinaire.  I read what everyone else is talking about, and I see other writers stepping forward to help each other rather than tear each other apart, which makes me feel like I’ve found a place to recharge whenever my self-doubts start threatening to take over.

It’s not about needing praise and good reviews, although those things are always appreciated.  It’s not even about finding someone who’s honest enough to tell me when my work is weak and where it needs improvement, although – again – those things are so, so appreciated.

It’s about knowing that I’m not alone.  I write by myself, but as a writer I’m part of something bigger.  Whether it’s a bunch of small town writer wannabees meeting at the local library, or an online writers’ forum, we need each other.  We are all part of a community.

Most of the time, I feel like I am in the position of needing more help and support than I give out to others, but it’s so important for all of us to remember that we’re all in this together.  Sure, we’re competitors in the Big Picture, but we’re all co-workers in a lot of smaller pictures.

And I don’t know about anyone else, but I like it that way.

Be The Change

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.– Winston Churchill

Some of you may have noticed a few changes here at A Good One.  I’ve changed the theme and color, added a few pages, and really tried to streamline things a bit. My blog was feeling a little cluttered to me, and the start of a new year seems like the perfect time to clear some of that clutter and start fresh.

I have some other changes in mind as well, but they aren’t all about appearance. For starters, I have been doing a lot of thinking about all of the wonderful people who have gone out of their way to help and guide me in the process of learning how to blog, how to share, how to dig deep within myself to find things to say.  I’ve grown so much, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the more experienced bloggers and authors who have taken the time to reach out to me.

I’m still not the biggest or best blogger around; I know I still have a long way to go.  However, I feel like the time has come for me to give a little something back.

That’s why I’m adding some new features here.  Once a week, I would like to shine a light on another blogger or indie author in an interview or perhaps a review.  Right now, I’m still working out a few of the details, so I probably won’t be launching the new feature until mid-February.  In the meantime, if you are interested in being interviewed or having your work spotlighted here, please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

I am also looking for guest bloggers once or twice per month.  I’ve never had one before, so this will definitely be a learning experience for everyone involved.

The description of my blog says, “Sometimes, life defies description.  But I’ll try anyway.”  Which is my way of saying that I may cover just about any subject, any genre . . . anything at all.  Let me know what you want to talk about, and I’ll let you know what I think.  My only real requirement when it comes to subject matter is that I won’t accept guest posts that are used to tear another individual down.

When it comes right down to it, we’re all in this together. Bloggers, authors, writers of all kinds; we’re a community, and we need to focus on supporting each other.

The last few months have also taught me a lot about negativity and all of the ways we can poison one another if we choose to take to the low road. There are those who choose mount an attack against a perceived enemy or competitor, and there are those who choose to walk away and seek out the good in others.  It’s up to each one of us to make that choice and decide which road to take.

As for me, I’m taking the high road, and I’m looking for a few traveling companions.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

Two

IMG_20120621_163948

This is what’s left of the tree that fell on me in my van two years ago today.

The flowers are the daylilies my daughter used to decorate the trunk for the little prayer service we held at the spot one year ago today.

It was once a beautiful old maple, more than four feet in diameter at the point that landed on me.   The tree that stood beside it also fell in the big storm last week, and although that one had the decency to fall away from traffic, it still shook me up to see it lying there.  As my friend put it, “Your sister-tree fell last night!”

It’s been a long two years.  I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of good people, and that I can survive just about anything as long as I keep my sense of humor intact.

IMG_20110703_112225

I wanted to write something moving and deeply meaningful today.  I found a bunch of gory, shocking pictures that I was going to include with my post, and I tried to think of the right spin to put on the story.  I planned on using real names and really digging into every tiny detail of that night.

And then I saw my daughter’s Facebook post today:

On this day 2 years ago, my entire family’s life changed. June 21, 2011 is a date that will always be sketched into our memories, but now is a time to let go. Now is a time to reflect on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative of this day. For everything that happens, there is a reason and God would never give us anything that we couldn’t handle. If anything, we are stronger now in both life and our faith and I am thankful for that. I love my family, and although sometimes we fight and have disagreements, I couldn’t imagine my life any different.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So let me close here with a couple of pictures and a word of thanks to all of the people who saved my life that night, and to the people who have saved my sanity in the two years since.  They brought food and Diet Coke, cleaned my kitchen, drove my sorry butt to appointments and just listened to me piss and moan on the bad days.  Most of all, they reminded me of the strength in friendship and laughter.

018

013