Monday, January 26, 2015

Marketing True Magics 16 – What do You Mean, Start Over?

As much as I’d love to say, “New Year, New Ideas!” that is not the case here.  The reality of the part-time marketer is that the best-laid plans go awry.

Three things led my marketing plan astray:

1. Took longer than I expected to finish the last edit of the book, which meant time way from marketing (We’re still good for our April launch though!).

2. Facebook changed its algorithm again, which means I have to rethink (read: ditch and do something different) all the Facebook stuff I was planning.

3. And then I got sick.  Dammit.

But on the bright side, this mean you all get to follow me on a desperate journey to figure out how to market the book without much time! How exciting is that? I’m thrilled to go on this adventure! Thrilled!  Like Bilbo Baggins with a dining room full of dwarves! Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole!  Like Sir Gawain awaiting the strike from the Green Knight’s axe!

All right, maybe “thrilled” is not the word I’m looking for….

But stay tuned!  In two weeks I’ll be putting up my first new marketing post of the year: Cutting to the Chase or Biggest Bang for the Buck!

Meanwhile, buy Small Magics and Cold Magics, because you want to know what all the fuss is about, don’t you?

Next Week: This Writing Life 20: My Many Methods of Outlining

Thursday, January 22, 2015

This Writing Life 19: Fear

First off, Happy New Year, 22 days late!

I suffer from migraines, which are a massive pain (HA!).  This week I had one that started as an attack of blind panic.  Complete mental immobilization. Scared of everything. I couldn’t think, couldn’t work, couldn’t focus my brain.  It wasn’t until my head started hurting that I figured out what was going on, took some drugs and was finally able to focus again. By the time I did, I’d lost a day.

I hate it when that happens.

And much as I’d like to say that was the inspiration for this blog post, it wasn’t.  But it did act as a catalyst to finally write what’s been kicking around in my head for about three months. Because there’s stuff I’m afraid of, and it affects my work.

What If…

 “What if” is one of my favourite questions. It’s the beginning of all fiction. Without “What if” there would be no stories.

Unfortunately, it’s also the beginning of all the fears:

What if I can’t finish the story? What if it won’t sell? What if I’m wasting my time?  What if it’s no good? What if everything I write is actually garbage? What if everyone decides I’m a fraud? What if I never sell anything ever again? What if the people reading this don’t immediately go out and buy Small Magics and Cold Magics?  (hint, hint) What if no one buys True Magics (coming in April) and my social media campaign fails and I have to go back to working in offices? What if, what if, what if…

Too many of the bad “What if” questions and suddenly you’re suffering from…

Fear Paralysis

The amygdala (fun word to say out loud. Amygdala. Amygdala… but I digress) is the part of the brain that, among other things, controls our basic emotional responses. Originally, there were believed to be only two responses: fight or flight.  New research into the amygdala indicates there is at least one more: freeze.  Makes perfect sense really. “There is a giant sabretooth tiger out there trying to kill me. If I hold perfectly still, nothing bad will happen.”

Unfortunately, the freeze reaction that can keep us alive against sabretooths (sabreteeth?) can also overwhelm us when we’re engaged in high-stress situations, like trying to make a living as a writer and all the nasty, self-exposing tasks that are involved in this line of work.

It’s gets so tempting to give into the freezing.

“If I don’t do anything, then nothing bad will happen,” is a wonderfully comforting idea. No risk, no danger, no nothing. Just hiding comfortably under the covers, with occasional ventures out for the bathroom and food.

The problem is, it’s a false idea. The truth is “If I don’t do anything, then nothing will happen. Ever.” No success, no new stories, no chance of ever being something more than an office drone.

But it is so tempting, some days…

Breaking the Paralysis

So what can we do to stop he paralysis that keeps us from getting things done? Three ideas:

1. Do Something Scarier. In my time I’ve scrambled up mountains, earned two black belts, and stood in the delivery room waiting for my daughter to take her first breath long after she should have (she did, eventually, which proves that stubbornness runs in the family).  And when you have scary things like that under your belt, you can use them to counter the other fears. Sure, a marketing plan is hard. So is writing a book or sending it to an agent for the first time. But if you can say to yourself “I did this scary thing, so how hard can that be?” it can help you break the paralysis.

2. Use Logic. Much of our paralysis comes from ongoing negative self-talk (to fall into psychology-speak for a moment). We think bad things about ourselves and keep repeating them until we start to believe them. The talk makes the problems bigger and bigger until they seem insurmountable. When we start thinking logically about the problem and questioning that self-talk, we can take control of the fear and that can help us break the paralysis.

3. Count to Three and Jump (and have someone help you). I am afraid of heights. All right, terrified. And when I ran the Tough Mudder (which is not on my list of hard things because really, not that tough) there was an obstacle that was a 15-foot jump into water. So I worked out a plan with my partner. We would stand at the top, count to three, and on three we would jump. We did, I did, and it worked fine (I don’t recall if I screamed all the way down or not, but 15 feet is a relatively short fall).  And sometimes, that’s the only way to beat the fear paralysis. Count down and jump.

But have someone counting with you, because scary things are a lot easier to do when you have someone counting with you.

Next week: Back to to marketing with, "What do you mean, start over?"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Eve Ghost Story

Merry Christmas Eve! And to add a little spice to your evening, have a brand new ghost story:

'Til Dawn Comes

Merry Christmas, all. See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Writing Life 18 – Holi-Whats?

(Note: Wow did I lie to myself about how long it would take to finish editing True Magics. But it's done! And now, a blog post!)

It’s the time when income slows down to a trickle and expenses are blooming like dandelions in a Kentucky Bluegrass lawn in spring and you wonder how in the world you’re going to survive until January when everyone realizes that there’s a ton to do before year end and wonders who is going to write their annual report (hint: me) or whatever.

So as I sit here in my kitchen at 4:30 a.m., regretting my movie night snack choices over a cup of mint and ginger tea, I thought it would be a great time to talk about holidays. Or, as I like to think of them…

Selective Unemployment

Because let’s face it, if you’re freelancing, you don’t get vacation pay, you don’t get retirement pay, and you don’t get health insurance.  You get work, you get a pay cheque, and with a little luck you get by, at least for the first few years. Who has time for a holidays?

You do.

You Need a Holiday

If you’re a writer, your world can become very small. Mine consists of a kitchen and a computer, most days. Even if you love your job (and I really, really love my job), you need some time away from it.

Holidays allow us to see beyond ourselves. They refresh body and spirit, and expand horizons and let us see some of the world and our fellow humans. All of this feeds you creatively, recharges you and becomes grist for the mill.

The nice thing is that holidays don’t have to be expensive. You don’t always need to fly off to a foreign, exotic destination (pauses to imagine…. OK, back now). Going hiking or touring your own city’s tourist spots or visiting the relatives you like can all be just as nice.

But no matter how little or much you spend, holidays do mean taking a break from your routine, which means not earning money.

So Plan for It

The space between Christmas and New Year is a great time to sit down and say, “what do I want to do next year?”

I’m not talking namby-pamby “resolutions,” here.  Those are for people who don't want to commit.

I’m talking hard-core, project-management-style planning, with a white board and sticky notes and a spreadsheet and whatever other tools you need to get where you want to go.

Five steps:

  1. Figure out what you want to do and how much it’s going to cost
  2. Figure out what you need to spend to survive (food, shelter, bills, debts, taxes, retirement savings, education funds, insurance, whatever)
  3. Figure out the difference between the two.
  4. Develop a S.M.A.R.T.* plan to either:
    1. save the difference or 
    2. earn the difference.
  5. Commit to saving/earning that money and stick to it.

Yeah, I know that last one is the hard part. But it’s worth it.

Be Realistic

Sorry to be a downer here but yes, you need to put some realism in your planning. If your take home is only exceeding your expenses by few cents a day, now is not the time to drop $100,000 on a week on a private island.  Plan for something you can afford, or something you can reasonably work toward affording without selling organs or your children.

(Seriously, don’t sell your kids. I know it can be tempting sometimes but the market is down and you’ll never get back what they cost. Also, what sort of a bad person are you?)

That’s it until the New Year. Happy Holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, and I’ll blog at you again in January.

Next Time… I have no clue. So come back in January to find out!

*S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Specific

Monday, December 08, 2014

Blog Pause!

My Editor is giving me the side eye for True Magics, so I'll be taking the week off blogging to get that done and out.

Meanwhile, Have you bought Small Magics or Cold Magics? Because you'd hate to be behind when True Magics comes out in April.

Talk to you all next week!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

This Writing Life 17: When is a Project Dead?

Sometimes we have pieces that just don’t work.  At all.  I’ve got at least a half-dozen short stories and one novel that will never, ever see the light of day.  Ever. But how do you know when you’ve gotten to that point?  How do you know when your labour of love/hate is dead as a Dickensian doornail and needs to be abandoned?

So let’s start with the obvious:

How Big is the Project?

If it’s a Haiku
And you’re not happy with it
Write another one.

Anything larger (and even that haiku) is worth a one last look.  And if it’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year that you’re two-thirds of the way done but just can’t get to “the end” then it’s definitely worth trying to figure out what’s wrong with it before you toss it away.

So how do we do that?

Step Away From It

Sometimes, the best thing you need to do is to take time away from the project. Work on something else. Clean your apartment/house/whatever. Go for a seven-day hike in the bush. Whatever it is you do to put some time between yourself and a project, go do that. And when you are done that, come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Figure Out Why It Isn’t Working

Sometimes, once you know why something isn’t working, you can fix it. With both Small Magics and Cold Magics (which you really should buy), I got badly stuck. So bad I didn’t think I could go on.  So I went back and read through each one and in both cases, figured out what I did wrong and managed to finish the book.

So go through your work and find out what’s wrong:

  • Is it a character thing?  
  • A plot thing?
  • Are you focusing too much on the theme at the expense of the story? 
  • Do you just absolutely and completely hate everything about the book and everyone in it?

Then ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I fix it?
  • Is it worth the effort?

Usually the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no.  Both are all right, because they allow you to move on.

Let Someone Else Look at It

I don’t usually recommend this with unfinished work, but sometimes you just need an outside set of eyes to look it over and help you see the problems and get past them. If you do decide to do that, make sure of three things:

  1. The person you get to read it will be brutally honest with you.
  2. The person knows you only want them to help find what's wrong, not to help you write it.
  3. You can deal with it like an adult if they agree with you that it’s so bad it can’t be fixed.

As with Figuring out what's wrong, this may lead to a fix, it may not. Both results are good.

Let It Go

Cue Disney song here and no, I’m not linking to the video.

Seriously. You’ve taken time off, you’ve figured out what’s wrong, you’ve had friends try to help.  If, after doing that, you decide it can’t be fixed, or that you hate it too much to bother, then let it go. Move on to your next project with a lighter heart and a happy grin because you tried.

Two Notes:

If You’re Getting Paid for It, Finish It

If the contract is signed, you need to deliver, whether or not you end up working on stuff you don’t like/hate/despise with a holy passion. Finish it anyway. Because writers who don’t finish work they’re getting paid for are writers who quickly end up with no work to do.

That Said…

If you are ready to chuck in the towel on a paid project, you need to ask yourself some things first:
  • How much money will you lose?
  • What damage will it do to your relationship with the client?
  • What damage will it cause to your reputation?
  • Will you be sued for non-completion of the contract?

If the answers to those questions are something you can live with, quitting may be an option, but generally, if you are getting paid, the best thing to do is to finish.

Then, you can promise yourself to never work for that client/ on that type of project/for that little money again.

Next Time: But I don't WANT to read in public...

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