I Have a Hunger to Write a Book

” I have loved words and books since I was a child. I feel I have a hunger to write a book brewing back in my subconscious. Hoping that in my lifetime it can come to fruition by the right timing and place in my life, not while working fulll time as an RN.”

Courtney wrote the above in a comment on one of my posts about writing. This is my response:

Courtney – There is no such thing as “right timing” to begin writing. Yes, there will hopefully come a time when work and family are not so demanding you you have more time to pursue things that please you. I know many authors who started writing in retirement.

But if you wait until the perfect day comes, chances are you will eagerly clear your desk, sharpen your pencils (or load a new cartridge in your fountain pen, or set up that writing software), shoo your spouse off to play golf, then sit down and open your notebook or document …

And draw a complete blank.

You will make false starts that will have you deciding you’re not quite ready.  You will decide to do research, you will retreat to read books by popular authors to help you decide what you should write. Maybe you will invest in a bunch of writing books and tutorials to help you get started.

None of these things will help.

After many unproductive and unrewarding days, you will find it easier to watch Seinfeld reruns and that book you want to write will slip away as a silly dream of your youth.

Waiting to begin is a bad strategy. Think about friends who have decided to get fit. Maybe they set a goal, they will hike the Appalachian Trail, run a marathon or even bike across America. None of these people waited until the day came to get started, and we understand why: to launch yourself into such a lofty goal with no preparation is to doom yourself to failure.

Writing a book can be compared to hiking the Appalachian Trail. It is an overwhelming  undertaking. You are guaranteed to find yourself stuck in  the woods during a torrential downpour regretting that you ever left your cozy home. And when you finish you will feel a satisfaction as great as anything you ever accomplish in your life.

The thing is, when you run into trouble on the trail, you’re miles from civilization. You can only go forward or back, and back is just as painful as forward, so it is easier to make the decision to stick with it.

(Ten years ago I crossed the Andes on horseback, riding over a skinny trail  that hugged the mountainside—a trail covered with loose gravel from many rockslides. Have I mentioned that I am terrified of heights? It was an incredible experience, but one I only completed because I had No Way Out.)

 

You are focussing on the wrong things. It’s all well and good to buy a map if you want to walk the Appalachian Trail, but no amount of knowledge, time or money will help if you don’t exercise your legs and strengthen them slowly over time.

A writer’s legs is his/her imagination. This is the muscle you need to exercise and strengthen so that when the time comes it does not fail you. Everything else is secondary.

Start today. Play the What If game. The advantage of this is that there is no pressure and you can play with characters and scenarios to your heart’s content. You can play What If in five minute increments, anywhere. You can do this on the bus, while you are doing dishes, or even during boring sexual encounters.

The advantage to this approach is that you are under no pressure to be productive and therefore your imagination will not disappear faster than a teenager who has been told to mow the lawn.

As you exercise your imagination, you are also exploring ideas that you will use later. And if you jot down your ideas (say keep them in One Note on your phone) you will find yourself refining a book treatment without thinking about it.

BONUS: Folks with demanding jobs will find a quick round of What If is a great way to handle stress. Especially if they indulge in question #5, below.

When it comes time to write your book (and you will become so enthused you will FIND the time), you will already know what to write and it will be FUN.

Playing What If is easy. All you do is ask yourself questions and play with the answers. My dad travelled for work and used to amuse himself on the road by speculating what the people around him in restaurants were doing – where they came from, why they were with the people they were with, and the nature of their conversations.

Anything can inspire a round of What If, and you can create your own questions. Here are some examples to get your started:

  1. What kind of heroine do I want to read about in a book?
  2. What world does she live in?
  3. How does she get her laundry done?
  4. What does she do when she’s pissed off?
  5. What would be the most enjoyable way to murder my boss?
  6. How could I get away with it?
  7. What are the two women in the next booth talking about?
  8. What is my dog thinking?
  9. What, besides cockroaches and Twinkles (oh, wait, we no longer have Twinkles) will survive Armageddon?
  10. Where is that weird-looking guy going and what is he going to do when he gets there? How will that work out for him? For everyone around him? What will he do next?

It really is that easy. Quick now, the next person you lay eyes on, what will they do if they will the lottery?

 

Mastering Productivity with Food

TBI makes me the canary in the coal mine when it comes to focus, and nothing brings on brain fog faster than food. I’ve known which foods to eat for years, but it’s taken me longer to accept which foods not to eat and to develop a comprehensive strategy around my eating.

Last November I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world—from aspiring to published—commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. I knew if I was going to be successful I would have to rehab my eating. Not only was November my most productive month since my injury, I started losing weight.

STRATEGIES

Cut the Carbs. This means refined sugar, grain, and starchy vegetables. Sweets and bread vie for top offender.

Limit sugar to fruit and very small amounts of a raw honey, pure maple syrup, or dehydrated cane syrup. Any kind of corn syrup—now the primary sweetener used in commercial foods—is horrible and should be eliminated. Stevia is okay, if you like it (I don’t). There are a lot of issues around artificial sweeteners and studies that demonstrate they actually make you eat more to make up for the calories your body expected to get with the sweetness.

Wheat and gluten have been associated with brain fog, so it’s doubly important to cut back or eliminate wheat products. Sprouted wheat is acceptable. I buy Food for Life sprouted grain bread. (Bonus: their Ezekiel 4:9 bread is available at Costco). I keep it in the freezer and pop slices in the toaster whenever I need it. I’ll use it instead of a bun when I make a hamburger at home. No, it doesn’t have the same mouth feel, but I like it better. Especially after I’ve grilled it in ghee and spread it with pesto and mozzarella cheese.

My favorite pasta substitutes are spaghetti squash and raw zucchini noodles. I’ll bake a couple whole spaghetti squash for about an hour until the skin is soft, let them cool, then scrape out the “strings” inside. I package single servings in baggies and freeze enough for weeks.

Zucchini noodles are great because they are fast, fresh and raw. Raw foods are fabulous for health and energy. I have a device like an oversized pencil sharpener that allows you turn an 8 inch zucchini into a single serving of raw pasta in less than 5 minutes. Then you can top it with anything your heart desires.

I eat sweet potatoes instead of white. They’re still starchy, so I save them for the evening. I’ll microwave the potato and mash it up with ghee, walnuts and a touch of maple syrup. You could try curry and cashews instead of the maple syrup and walnuts for a savory taste. Bonus: The turmeric in curry is associated with cancer prevention as well as having a healing effect on dementia. Turmeric also helps manage arthritis.

If you must have a grain, quinoa is your best bet for a variety of reasons.

I  don’t advise giving carbs up entirely because to do so is likely to cause rebellion and binging. Instead, schedule your once or twice weekly carb-y treats for late in the day when focus is no longer an issue.

I developed specific eating strategies to promote maximum mental focus that I pulled together . Happily, this strategy is also excellent for losing weight and I dropped 17 pounds over the holidays.

Control your potions. Overeating causes food comas. The average restaurant meal is twice the size of what your body comfortably handles. Yes, the average person can consume a quart of food without discomfort, but it is not optimal to do so. I’ve cut back my meals to a single item, no more than a pint of easily digestible food. I eat 4 – 5 times a day, saving anything heavy or carb-y for evenings.

The lighter your meals, the better your focus. People who fast one day a week report being very focused and productive on fasting days. Some day I will try this, but I’m not there yet.

An average day for me:

2 hard-boiled eggs in the morning followed by decaf coffee. I boil up a dozen at a time using either my Dash egg cooker or my InstantPot, so it’s easy to grab them on my way out the door to the dog park.

Mid-morning I make up a 1 quart smoothie (1 cup blueberries, ½ avocado-frozen for convenience, 1 banana, my assortment of superfoods and Silk almond milk.) I’ll sip on this over the few hours. It keeps me until 2-3 p.m.

Late afternoon I’ll have something that is heavy on vegetables with some protein. One of my favorite things is nuking chopped spinach and tossing in a handful of mozzarella cheese along with a mashed can of sardines. If I have something lighter, I’ll eat heavier in the evening.

Somewhere in here I may sip on 24 ounces of water with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds (I’ll make this in my water bottle a day in advance to give the chia seeds chance to soften and germinate) flavored with tart cherry juice and a little raw honey.

Later in the evening, I’ll have a snack – a banana, a sweet potato, or Costco’s Mega-Omega Trail Mix. Another favorite snack is dipping romaine leaves into dressing, salsa or sauce.

You must have fats. Fats are essential for brain function and are a much better brain food than sugar. Not all fats are equal, and some of the most widely used are linked with health issues. There are exotic oils I have jet to experiment with, but the best and most readily available fats are coconut oil (for cooking, but I also make brain candy with it), Olive oil for salads, and my newest best friend, ghee, which is clarified butter. Butter is good, though ghee tolerates higher temperatures and the same country which brought us cancer-fighting curry has claimed ghee as a healer for centuries.

Ghee adds wonderful flavor to foods. I cook eggs in it. I grill sprouted-gran bread in it. I’ll add a large spoonful to soups and sauces.

Other sources of healthy fats are nuts—walnuts are a special brain food (not peanuts – they contain aflatoxin and should not be eaten), avocados, and oily fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines and anchovies. Bonus: canned sardines and anchovies are no only super convenient, they are caught young, before they have time to accumulate high levels of mercury, making them among the safest fish to eat.)

As for animal fats, this long reviled food has seen a rehabilitated reputation in recent years. Do your due diligence on this.

Eliminate stimulants. The more powerful the stimulant, the bigger the crash. Most Americans live in a constant cycle of consuming stimulants followed by crashes. Get rid of all of them. This includes carbs, especially sugar, and caffeine. That doughnut and coffee (or soda) you eat first thing in the morning is setting you up for a major crash.

People who crawl to their coffee maker in the morning don’t realize that they are in caffeine withdrawal. Their morning cup is necessary to make them feel normal. They often get started on this cycle because they don’t get enough rest and drink coffee in the morning to make up the difference.

Ditch the coffee or cola. If you must have your morning joe, switch to decaf. It will take less than a week to clear the caffeine out of your system (tough out the headaches they only last a few days.) Provided you get enough rest and aren’t taking medications that interfere with your natural rest cycle, you’ll wake up feeling rested and alert and feeling better than you have in years.

If you feel the need for extra focus, raw cacao powder (I put it in smoothies and make brain candy with it) and green tea will give you a boost but do not cause the extreme crashes of coffee and colas.

Avoid processed foods. They’re full of everything bad for you: high fructose corn syrup, wheat or other carbs, and a whole host of chemicals that do Heaven knows what to you. Instead, get bags of frozen vegetables (reasonably priced bulk frozen organic vegetables are available at Costco) you can nuke a serving at a time and top these with carefully vetted, preferably organic, condiments and sauces.

If you must have convenience foods, buy imported foods and check the labels carefully. Many other countries do not dump chemicals into their food supply the way we do. Some countries will not allow our processed foods to be imported for this reason. I do not profess to be an expert here. Do your due diligence. Tip: shop at culture specific groceries (Mexican, Asian, Indian) for great deals.

Forget fast food, or at least limit it to once a week, preferably less. It’s full of everything bad. You may, with careful research, find an item or two on the menu that is acceptable.

Eat lots of veggies. raw veggies in salads are excellent for focus. Frozen veggies that don’t contain extra sauce are good. Carefully vet canned food. Too much of it contains additives that aren’t good for you.

Keep it green. The greener the better. Kale and Swiss chard are the best of land greens. Romane lettuce is far behind but better than other lettuces and has the bonus of being raw. Seaweeds are fabulous. Some folks supplement their green intake with algae powders such as chlorella, which studies indicate has benefits for the brain.

Get your protein, but not too much. A high protein, low carb diet is optimal for brain focus. Keep your portions of protein small, a quarter pound or less. More can send you into a food coma. You can, however, have as many veggies as you like.

About alcohol and recreational drugs. Seriously? You have to ask this? No. Just no. Some folks say a glass of red wine a week is okay, but why torture yourself?

BRAIN SUPERFOODS

  • Avocados
  • Basil
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cacao
  • Celery
  • Chlorella
  • Coconut Oil
  • Egg yolks
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Oily fish, Wild-caught salmon, sardines and anchovies
  • Rosemary
  • Salmon
  • Seaweed
  • Shrimp
  • Turmeric
  • Walnuts

Endless Rewrites and How to Stop Them

Someone shared the above graphic in Taylor Stevens Facebook group recently. Podcaster and really good guy Stephen Campbell of The Author Biz commented: “For me, the erasing and retyping what you just wrote areas need to be larger, which probably shrinks that already small purple section.”

It was a call for help. Not really, but it felt like one and it got all my “gotta fix this” neurons buzzing. Our group was just wrapping up a conversation about how annoying it is to get unsolicited advice, so instead of telling Steve what he should do, I am tossing my thoughts here where people can stumble upon them and be awed by my wisdom (yeah, right).

NOTE: None of the thoughts below are commentary on Steve’s writing or his processes. The first is quite competent and the second I know nothing about. These are my thoughts, generated in response to his statement.

What does it mean when you keep rewriting the same scene, paragraph, sentence, over and over? 

  1. You aren’t clear about your characters’ motivations.
  2. You know something is wrong, but you don’t know what.
  3. You don’t believe the way you write is good enough and you’re chasing “Style.”
  4. You’re afraid.

Which one it is depends on the nature of your rewrites.

CHARACTER MOTIVATION

If you keep changing what your characters say and do, if you’re unsure what should happen and how it should happen, it points to not being grounded in who your characters are and why they do what they do. Maybe you are too focused on the what and not enough on the why.

Action starts with motivation. If you know what motivates your characters, you don’t have to invent what happens next. You just have to ask them how they’re going to deal with matters as they stand.

Inventing a character’s motivations and personality from scratch is, to me, an overwhelming process of “if X experienced Y, she is now motivated by the need for Z and is likely to do A, B and C.”

After five novels, I am more comfortable inventing characters. In the beginning I drew on people I knew – in some case, soup-to-nuts, with their permission. (BTW, I don’t recommend this. It has worked for me, but with the caveat that I have to consider how they will feel about what I do with them in my books.) Most authors do this to some extent.

Pick your boozy Uncle George to be the alcoholic father of your victim, but make him a plumber instead of a stockbroker, make him 50 pounds lighter and shave his head. This gives you plausible deniability.

When your detective questions him, you’ll know exactly how he will respond and what he will say because you’ve been watching Uncle George all your life. Perhaps you’ve given George sixteen tentacles or super strength. You still understand him well  enough to know what he’d do what that kind of power.

This is a form of working backwards, taking an existing personality and unpacking it. You may never have considered why George acts the way he does, but you start out instinctively knowing what he will do. Over the course of your book you can explore NotGeorge and discover important things about him that will enrich your story. Meanwhile, you will have a believable character with consistent behavior.

The bonus of this strategy is the events in your story evolve in an organic fashion, with solid grounding, and complications will emerge on their own.

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG

Something in your story isn’t working, so you keep rewriting bits, hoping it will come together. The rewrites aren’t helping because they don’t address the real problem. There are three issues that will kill a story:

Your lead character isn’t compelling enough. The character isn’t sympathetic or admirable. They don’t have to be perfect. It’s better if they’re not. But you do have to give us reason to care about them or your story will fall flat and readers won’t finish your book.

Your story lacks structure. A story is like a house. If it doesn’t have all the parts we expect, nobody will buy it. This topic is beyond the scope of a blog post, but there are many books on the subject.

The stakes aren’t high enough. You haven’t communicated why all the drama in your book matters. Ho hum.

CHASING STYLE

You want to be a wordsmith with a unique voice. I get it. We all want that. Pursuit of a “mature” style was something everyone aspired to during my years in art school. The thing is, if you pursue it for it’s own sake, you are likely to wind up sounding like someone else or very contrived.

Imagine we are all ice cream. We look around us and we see Sally, who is chocolate ice cream. David is cherry cordial ice cream and Becky is black raspberry chocolate chip. And there’s us, and we’re just plain old ice cream. No flavor. It’s horribly demoralizing.

What I need to understand is I’ve got a flavor, I just don’t know what it is and I need to grow into it. Other people can see it but it’s invisible to me because it’s just the way I do things, and since I do it all the time, it’s nothing special.

True style grows from the inside out. It results from your unique tastes, sense of logic, and priorities. If you ignore everything else out there and listen to yourself when you look at your work, what makes a sentence or a paragraph fulfill its purpose—in your eyes, you will get there.

Focus on the story and what it takes to tell it. Please yourself in the process. Style will take care of itself.

Chances are you have heroes who are amazing wordsmiths. They didn’t start out that way, and it takes years to learn enough—about writing, about yourself—to make tweaking every word a productive enterprise. In early days it’s more likely to be a case of polishing the deck on the Titanic.

Focus on your story and getting it told. Get it all down on paper, and expect much if not most of it to be written badly. Put it away for a month and when you come back, apply yourself to structural issues. chances are, your issues are there, not in how you word your sentences. If you tell a good story, 95% of readers won’t notice that you’ve used “that” ten times on one page.

Save line editing for the third go round. Focus on whether your sentences flow well and convey what they need to convey, no more. If you spend a lot of time prettying up your verbage, you risk creating “darlings,” those precious but useless sentences we refuse to cut because they are so adorable.

You’re allowed to own a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, but read it and forget about it.

FEAR

Endlessly rewriting your stuff can be a means of coping with fear. You can sit down at your computer and work on your book every day without ever coming close to having a finished manuscript. This keeps you safe from ever having to face public opinion.

The way to reduce fear is to manage your expectations. Very few writers launch their careers with bestsellers. If they did, chances are, Like Harper Lee, they had extensive mentoring and editing before they published. (Taylor Stevens is another matter. We won’t talk about her.)

Most big name authors published not-so-great stuff under a different name before they hit upon their secret sauce and big success. I’m talking Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, and even Lawrence Block, who wrote lesbian porn early in his career. Tami Hoag published meh romantic suspense early in her career before she wrote A Thin Dark Line.

But what about first books that became NYT bestsellers? The Celestine Prophecy? The Christmas Box? Fifty Shades of Grey? Slammed? In every one of those cases, the author wrote a book to please themselves, one that was not available in the market place. The books were personal and originally not intended for the marketplace. The books took off because their authenticity resonated with the public.

Fifty Shades and Celestine Prophecy (along with many titles by very successful self-published writers) have been castigated for sub-par writing. That should tell you that the average reader cares more about good storytelling than they do about perfect English. If you tell a good story, people will forgive a lack of eloquence as long as your writing is adequate.

The other thing you you need to accept is there is no way to get around your fear except to plow through it. Tell yourself, “Yes, I’m terrified, but if I don’t finish this book and get it out there, I will look back on my life as a failure to pursue my dreams and I will wind up old and bitter and have nothing to show for myself. I would rather give it my best shot and fail than live with never having tried.”

Mastering Productivity with the Path of Least Resistance

TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) limits your resources to the point where you must be creative if you are to have any kind of a life. You have to decide what is essential and what is the minimal amount of effort necessary to make that happen.

Between fatigue issues and only being able to hold so much in my brain at one time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and hit the wall. Then your day is over before it started. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to abandon what I was doing to get myself home before I crashed. Several times I had to abandon full grocery carts because I couldn’t cope with the checkout line.

Lessons I learned to manage my life with TBI can apply to anyone who isn’t accomplishing what they want.

Lesson 1: Eliminate anything that isn’t essential.

for many years after my head injury, If I went through the normal routines people do to get out the door in the morning, I would be too exhausted to leave before I was finished getting ready. This is a problem because I own dogs and they have to go to the dog park first thing in the morning. If we don’t go to the park, I have to walk them, which is way more exhausting.

My solution? Sleep in my sweats and roll out the door as soon as I wake up. Pick up coffee on the way.  The dogs cared more about getting out than about the way I looked. Skipping morning hygiene meant the difference between being able to take care of them vs. having to give them up.

Consider everything. It is said that people spend 80% of their work time performing tasks that don’t bring in income. Savvy, productive folks say to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of tasks that matter.

I know other writers that tabulate their sales daily and keep complex spread sheets so they can analyze trends. They can tell you how many copies they’ve sold of every book in their list. Power to them.

That kind of tracking would wipe out what energy I have for writing, and it doesn’t bring in any income. I check my sales every few days and have a general idea how I’m doing by the earnings tally on my KDP dashboard.

Eliminating decisions preserves brain power for important things. With TBI, you learn quickly what saps your brain and what doesn’t. Decisions consume more energy than anything.

I once read that Mark Zuckerberg, one of the creators of Facebook, only owned black jeans and black tee shirts so he didn’t have to spend time and energy deciding what to wear.

Sometimes deciding—what to wear, what to eat, which way to drive— adds pleasure (and therefore value) to your life, but many times it just bogs things down. Eliminate every non-essential and non-life-enhancing decision you can, or at least put them on hold during times when life is demanding.

Plants are an essential part of my life, but I have eliminated labor-intensive house plants for snake plants and succulents, which do well with neglect and are difficult to kill.

For years, I used paper plates and disposable cups to eliminate washing dishes.

Eliminating anything non-essential extends to all aspects of my life, including people. If I am deep in a first draft, Facebook is the first thing to go out the window, as well as any other type of social engagement or distraction that interferes with my productivity. I won’t look at my inbox for days, and I may not answer the phone.

Lesson 2: Tools are great—to a point.

Running a small business is demanding for anyone and especially for someone with TBI. Bookkeeping is the worst.

I set up Intuit’s Quicken for Self-Employed and it automatically logs my expenses and income for me. I don’t spend a lot of time with this. I go into it every so often to categorize expenses, but I don’t sweat it.

There are many tools available to help you achieve whatever you want to do. The trick is to choose tools that will save you time and customize them to save even more. My Quicken account is a lifesaver, but there are many tools that add a layer of complexity to your process while adding little value. Make sure your electronic bells and whistles do more for you than ding or toot.

Lesson 3: Create the path of least resistance.

Over the years, I’ve arranged things to remove the obstacles to getting things done.

Web site designers understand that if you make someone jump too many hoops before they get to their objective, people will abandon a site and go elsewhere. I use the same philosophy in arranging my life.

The trick is to organize your life in a way that functions for you. this can look illogical to anyone else. I put things where I will see them when I need them.

This is a no-brainer when it comes to leaving your keys in a dish by the door, but it can look odd to anyone else, including your significant other or roommate.

My toothbrush is in a cup on the window sill over my kitchen sink. That’s where I’ve learned I’m most likely to use it. My supplements are on my desk. The bathroom scale sits by my bed, and the week’s clothes hang on a rack on the outside of my bathroom door. All the superfoods I toss into my smoothies sit next to my blender.

Everything is arranged to remind me to perform certain tasks and eliminate obstacles to doing them. I live alone (except for the dogs), so arranging things to suit me is not an issue.

As for the dogs, now that Shadda is old and sometimes incontinent, I prefer she sleep in a crate at night. My solution? I put the crate in front of her favorite heating vent.

 

Winter Dog Park Survival

I don’t care what the calendar says. It’s officially winter when it’s 10 degrees outside and the first thing I have to do is run Gypsy. In the interest of public safety, here’s my winter dog park survival guide.

Layers are critical. Yes you will look like a bag lady. Homeless people die if they don’t stay warm. That makes them experts in my book.

My layers consist of:

  1. Knit maxi-dress. Last year I discovered that wearing pants under a knit maxi-dress will keep you warmer than wearing two pairs of pants because it creates a space for air to heat up around your legs.
  2. Knit pants.
  3. Hiking socks.
  4. Insulated nylon boots. I don’t like the way they flop around on my feet, but they’re cheap and they work.
  5. Long-sleeved fleece pullover or jacket with a high neck.
  6. Fisherman’s or traveller’s vest. This is an essential part of my dog park gear year round. It enables me to carry everything I need hands free, including treats, poop bags, tennis balls and a telescoping ball launcher. NOTE: I keep my phone in a designated pocket. If you put your phone, iPod, or Kindle in the same pocket as your dog treats, you risk getting crumbs in your device ports. That is not a good thing. In especially cold weather I wear this under my top layer because the bulk creates pockets of arm air.
  7. Fake shearling lined hoodie. I got mine at Costco for $20 two years ago. With the additional layers, it is sufficient in single digit temps while allowing for ease of movement.
  8. Heavy knit cap or bomber cap. Knit caps are not created equal. Sarah, (guest star in Muddy Mouth) knitted the one I’m wearing. It’s acrylic and warmer (to my distress) than the hand-knitted alpaca caps I brought back from Peru. Bomber caps with ear flaps are also great, though they have to fit right or it may pop off your head like the knit bomber cap Martha (from Maximum Security) gave me.
  9. Gloves. Currently the gloves I wear (from Target) have leather palms and are thinsulate lined, a gift from She-Who-Refuses-To-Be-Named. If the temp are above freezing, I wear gorgeous fingerless gloves knitted by urban fantasy author Meghan Doidge (People seem to worry about me freezing in the park). I got along fine for years layering cheap knit gloves with cheap cotton workman gloves (the kind you get in convenience stores). Seriously, it’s an inexpensive solution that works great and you can pull off the outer glove anytime you need dexterity to open a poop bag or clip a leash onto a collar.
  10. Chemical hand warmers. I use these when the temperature is below 20 degrees. They take a while to heat up, so I start mine when I leave the house. Leave them inside your gloves and they will still be toasty hours later for another walk. I buy a 40 pack box of Little Hotties and Costco at a fraction of the price of buying individually in convenience stores. On Amazon, HotHands are a great choice. They work best if they are kneaded occasionally. I have tried toe warmers but have not found them effective, possibly because you can’t knead them inside your boots. 😉

Keep moving! At my park, the guys like to start a fire in one of the leftover picnic grills. Then they stand around, roasting in the front, freezing in the back and inhaling smoke. Moving will keep you warmer. I carry 2 or 3 tennis balls and launch them for Gypsy as I walk across the park. I carry more than one so I can have a ball in the launcher when she returns with the one she just snagged. When she sees that ball in the launcher, she immediately drops the one she has instead of making me play keep away. That keeps us all moving. NOTE: tennis balls can freeze when left in your car overnight. If your dogs like to snag balls out of the air, they could break a tooth. During the winter months, I bring them indoors.

Don’t forget your dogs! Shadda is a wooly bear and doesn’t need a coat, but Gypsy does. here are some I like:

Shearling Dog Coat Gypsy is stylin’ in this easy -on, easy-off, faux-shearling coat with Velcro fasteners. The down-side of this coat is that it comes off when Hamish tussles with her.

Insulated Dog Vest-(Small Dogs Only! 🙁 ) I bought this for Chewy. It’s water resistant, and with a zipper up the back, it’s  very easy to put on and take off.

Adorable Dog Hoodie Gypsy wore this last winter, when she was an itty-bitty thing. It comes in all sizes and lots of colors. I may get her another to layer under her shearling coat. I may get her another anyway because it is just too cool for school.

Bonus: Thanks to my Dash Egg Cooker, I keep a supply of hard-boiled eggs and I’ll shell 2  and pop them in a baggie and take them with me so I can have some easily assimilated protein first thing in the morning. Thankfully, my vest of many pockets has room for a traveling salt shaker.

Stay Warm!

Fun With Pre-orders

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Here is a picture of Shadda for absolutely no reason.

I’m a big fan of The Author Biz. Stephen Campbell’s podcast is my go-to for keeping up with the ways Indie authors are marketing books – something that is constantly changing. I was thrilled (still am) to be interviewed for the latest podcast along with my good friend, Bobbi Holmes. Check it out here http://theauthorbiz.com/two-different-approaches-to-successful-pre-orders/

I’m So Ashamed

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Gypsy gets her cardio with regular bouts of wrestling.

Exercise is important, critically so for folks who spend as much time at the computer as I do. I know this. I know what to do and how to do it. I have done it and I know how much better I feel when I keep my blood moving.

Last fall I was in the groove. Maybe not an Olympic groove, but I resumed old routines and was on my way to wellness. Bicycling a couple miles 3 days a week with an eye to building my stamina, 20 minutes or more at my treadmill desk every day, and a yoga routine called The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth, AKA The Five Rites.

Then I realized I was not going to make my deadline for Muddy Mouth. I scrapped the exercise, loaded up on the healthiest microwave food I could find, and hunkered down.

That was in November. The book came out in digital format March 2nd. I emerged to find dozens of dropped balls and smoldering fires. I had a convention coming up. I still had to format the print edition.

By the time I could breathe, six months had passed and a flight of steps had me huffing like a freight train. I told myself Gypsy’s weekly classes in obedience and agility were a good start and put “Start Exercising” in my planning app. That was three weeks ago.

Today I listened to Stephen Campbell’s interview with Colleen M.Story on The Author Biz. In the middle of it, I got up, took the dogs out for their afternoon pee, then hopped on my treadmill for the first time since November. Colleen is an expert on author wellness and makes the point that caring for our selves physically will enhance the quality and quantity of our work.

It is my intent to put my health before my books from now on. For the record, here are the items on my wellness list:

Varier Variable Balans chair

I gave up my monthly visits to the chiropractor when I bought this chair. There are many kneeling chairs around for much less than this one, but the rocker is essential to keep your spine fluid. Even without exercise, I kept back pain away with this chair. Yes, it can get hard on the shins after a while. You can always plant your feet on the floor if you aren’t ready to take a break.

The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth

I can’t say enough about this yoga program. It is designed for people who are older, are sedentary and have not exercised for a very long time, if ever. Yet you can build it into a great 20 minute workout. You can find web-sites and videos devoted to this practice all over the web. I prefer the original book because it talks about adapting the routine to your current fitness level and includes detailed instructions for each of the five rites.

LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 Treadmill Desk

I have several friends who write on this desk. I have one as well, though I use it to watch webinars and online classes or listen to podcasts. Either way, it’s a handy way to get your blood moving. The conclusion in my group is that the TR1200-DT5 is the best option for quality, features and price.

Schwinn Siro

Yes, I bought my bike on Amazon. If you choose to purchase a bike online, be sure to take it to your local bike shop and pay them to assemble and fine-tune it. I love this bike. It’s comfortable, the gears shift well and you can’t beat the cool sea foam green paint. After my run in with the Ford Taurus, I am no fan of riding on streets. I stick to Spring Grove Cemetery and Mount Airy Forest. The roads are lightly traveled, the posted speeds are low and the scenery is food for the soul. I love it so much that I bought one of these for Gypsy:

Walky Dog Plus

We made our first foray yesterday. I walked the bike with Gypsy clipped to the lead to get her used to it first, then went for a short, slow ride. She loved it.

Me, I have some yoga to do.

25 things I Learned About Writing That Will Help You Succeed at Anything, in no particular order

This is the guts of a talk I am giving for the Cincinnati Chapter of MENSA’s annual gathering tomorrow – a bit long, but hopefully worth it.

  1.   Not everybody is going to like what you do. Some people will. Some people won’t. Your job is to be yourself, the best ‘you’ you can be, and create the most authentic, book, painting, or widget you can. Then go find those people who do like and want what you do. It takes work, flexibility, and the willingness to get up off your ass when life knocks you down. You’ve got to get rid of your preconceived ideas of what help, opportunity and success look like. You need to be determined to learn what you need to know and able to look at your stuff with an unbiased, critical eye. You must do all this with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. … Or you can hang out in obscure little coffee houses, waiting for the Book Fairy to sprinkle stardust on you.
  2.   The failure to comprehend a problem is sometimes the best way to transcend it. If you don’t know how hard it is to do something, you are less likely to stop yourself from doing it. This applies to my trip through the Andes as well as my journey in publishing. The folks who made a killing in the early days of self-publishing were those who were either ignorant of the realities of publishing or chose to disregard them. i.e., it takes 10 years of rejection letters to get anywhere, and the only way to success is the right publisher.
  3.   Do the numbers. Success amounts to overhead vs sales. Be creative in handling your overhead, and you can make a success out of a niche that can’t support a larger business. It’s a great way to get your foot into a market. My mother was after me to get an agent when she read my first manuscript. I self published instead. In less time than it would take for me to get my first rejection letter, I earned enough to take the rest of the year off to finish my second book and haven’t had a job since.
  4.   Write what you want to read. That way you know that at least one person will enjoy it, and if one person enjoys it, more will. Breakthrough successes by no-name authors were books that were written purely for themselves, by folks who had no intention of publishing. Think, “The Christmas Box,” “50 Shades of Grey” And “Slammed.”
  5.   At some point in the process, you will hate your book. You will think it is the worst piece of trash ever created, and you will not want to look at it, ever again. This happens with every book, with every author. Successful authors know that this is a phase and they power on.
  6.   Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman said: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
  7.   Brilliant people are often assholes, not because you have to be an asshole to be brilliant, but because your average asshole has the confidence of his convictions to do what he wants to do, the way he wants to do it, regardless of other people’s opinions. You have to have that confidence in yourself to dare to be different. You have to believe your work is more important than other obligations. You have to put yourself (via your work) first. Your belief in yourself has to be strong enough to withstand all external evidence that you will never make it, because the world will heap that on you. (rejection letters).
  8.   Professionalism and consistency combined with competency will beat out talent every time. Being an asshole makes it hard to get ahead because nobody wants work with you if they can help it.You will get further being competent, professional and easy to get along with than you ever will by being an ego-driven diva.
  9.   A rising tide lifts all boats/You need friends. Create a peer group. Not a Master Mind group, but a closed environment (Secret group on Facebook) a safe place where members have similar pursuits and issues, and where they can share anything as long as they are polite and people will help each other if they are available and have something to offer. Having a group with the goal that we want everyone in it to benefit form our experiences has enabled those who have applied themselves to our collective wisdom to become full time breadwinners with their writing.
  10.   Word of Mouth and direct contact Rule. A friend, VP in a publishing house told me 6 months ago that they were seeing no difference in sales whether they did or did not advertise, because readers made purchases based on word or mouth and reader reviews. Not critic reviews, but reader reviews. Based on their observations, they cut a 600K advertising budget with Amazon to 0.
  11.   Part 2: I invest the majority of my effort into an email list developed from a link in the back of my books. I send them fun content every month and have giveaways. I treat them like gold because they are the ones who are most likely to tell people about my books. I respond to all emails. And if anyone writes me and tells me they told their book club or dog walking group about my books, I send them a tee shirt. Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover are fantastic at engaging fans.
  12.   Part 3: The best way to get people to do something is to ask them personally. Let them know WHY you want them, specifically, to do it. If you need a bunch of people, ask every one of them individually.
  13.   Part 4: If you need a bunch of people, progress from your easy asks to your most difficult. First go for accumulating numbers of folks you can rely on. Then, when you have a base, start asking the folks you don’t know as well, and toss in, “I’ve already got XXX number and XXX names (if they know folks you already have). Build up to the folks who are your star prospects so that by the time you ask them, your project looks like a big deal that they don’t want to be left out of.
  14.   Success requires discipline. Create a structure for your writing to build strong neural pathways. If you consistently write in the same place at the same time of day, your brain will be ready to write when you sit down at your desk. Just like my dogs are ready for their afternoon walk at the same time every day and will disrupt whatever I’m doing to make sure it happens.
  15.   Pick a genre and concept and stick to it. In my writer’s group (80 + self-published authors), some folks wrote series and some folks wrote multiple books in multiple genres. The books that took off were all in a series. NONE of the stand-alone books has achieved any traction. Even successful writers lose traction when they take time out to write in another genre. Granted, it’s not all about the money. Remember, money equals readerage, and that’s a good thing.
  16.   Brand yourself. It gives readers confidence. It starts with what you write, but extends to your cover, Your business cards, your online posts, and even your comments on other people’s blogs. (The internet is forever. Don’t have a melt-down)
  17. Understand what your readers want. Your readers will love you if you push the envelope on their expectations. They will hate you if you promise one thing and deliver another.
  18.   Yes, you need to have an original hook. It’s not as hard as it sounds. – Pick your favorite genre, the one type of fiction that you’ll read and be entertained, even when the books are mediocre. – If you are truly ready to be an author, you will be vaguely unsatisfied with most of what you read. Some writing will be too violent, some not racy enough, and some will lack description or likable characters. You’ll follow plots and think, “If I were writing this, I would (fill in the blank).” Your niggling complaints reveal what you want out of a book. Use that. — Next look around you. Places you’ve lived, careers you’ve had, disciplines you’ve studied. How can you add your experiences to your concept? Now, just Be yourself.
  19.   Dare to be different. Part of the success of Indie publishing is that the voices have not been homogenized by the publishing industry.
  20. People judge books by their covers. You may not like it, but if you don’t respect it, it will sink you. This is the most important place you must invest. Get the best you can afford.
  21.   You can’t do everything. Know where the gaps in your skills are and find talented people to help you.
  22.   Say thank you whenever possible.
  23.   A Book is never finished. It will never be perfect, but it can be overwritten. Learn when to let go. Learn to live with good enough. I counted 12 egregious typos in a Nora Roberts eBook, including “she tarred herself up” instead of tarted.
  24.   You can never prepare enough to be perfect the first time. You will learn more, faster, by putting yourself out there. Tami Hoag’s first books were awful. Try the low bar strategy. Exactly how good do you need to be to get in the game? Pick someone you know you can beat, then work up the ladder.
  25.   You can’t just create it and set it adrift. you have to tend it. Publishing the book is only the beginning.

BONUS: Buy plants you cant kill. Simplify your life wherever possible.

BONUS #2: Five years from now, people will merely think you are eccentric if your wash piles up for 2 months while you write the great American novel. Don’t let trivialities get in the way of your dreams.

Dogs, romance, and the occasional dead body