One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein...
"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
I've always interpreted this to mean, "be courageous". Take risks, and give yourself credit for the successes in your life, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to the onlookers.
As an author, I think that courage is a pre-requisite to the endeavor. I don't see a lot of timid authors out in the world. Writers, I think, by nature - whether introvert or extrovert - are people who take risks. We write stories and characters that sometimes make us uncomfortable and challenge our belief systems. We ask questions of ourselves like, "Would they really do or say that? Does that make sense?" We craft story lines that risk losing a reader in complexity or diversion. We birth books like children, taking the risk that the dialogue we speak may not ring true in a reader's ears. We ask people to think.
We send books, like ships, out into the world in search of a safe harbor... while what we really strive for is the adventure. We want to rock the boat on a sea of undulating perspectives. We want to hunt the great white whale of success while charting new courses for our craft. We want to discover how we can make our own voice heard over the crashing surf, while remaining constant to our own True North. It's a perilous journey, fraught with danger and uncertainty. And yet, we continue on, mustering the courage to reef the mainsail and head into the wind, knowing the harbor is safe, but that's not what our ship was built for.
Trends and tides in the publishing world are vigorous with change. Occasionally, we land upon the soft, sandy beaches of bookshops and festivals, taking reprieve and respite from the tumult of crashing waves. But after a few days, we grow restless and bored. It is in our nature to seek out new island nations of readers at libraries, festivals, and fairs. We crave the adventure of the open air, the sting of constructive criticism that makes us better writers, and the bounty of opportunity to chart a new course, discovering new genres, characters, and plot twists with every connection of pen and keyboard.
This year has been frustrating for us all. Our ships have been beached for far too long. Moored outside of the harbor's safety, yet trapped just inside the coral reefs, preventing us from reaching the wide open sea. We've tried to seek out alternative adventures, diving deep below decks, stretching fathoms beneath in search of hibernating mermen and merwomen who might also be avid readers. We've sent out literary seagulls, Zooming into the air, screeching our stories in hopes that passersby might hear, and be intrigued to follow and read. We've stayed safe, heeding the harbormaster's suggestion that the adventure is never worth sails being torn to shreds by gale force winds, people thrown overboard, and not enough life rings to save everyone. But it hasn't been easy.
The new sailing season will soon be upon us, however, and it'll hold more adventure than we can imagine. New writers will join the regatta. They've been waiting all year to angle their tillers and raise their spinnakers in search of the reading rainbow just off the horizon, their publishing tridents held high with a confidence all greenhorns should possess. The seasoned veterans of our craft will once again set their course and watch for the tell-tale signs that a favorable current is drawing near. They'll ready their nets and cast a carefully crafted first line synopsis, hoping for a bountiful catch. Everywhere, we will hear the gentle songs of loyal literary sirens, singing our praises with reviews and five-star recommendations.
Until then, my dear friends, winterize your hulls, install bubblers to avoid the crushing effects of ice, stock provisions of ink, paper, and chocolate to last the long winter days, and remember... all is not lost. Take courage. Our storied ships will indeed sail again, after all, that's what they were built for.
An observation from my writing desk while perusing writing forums on the Internet…
It seems to me that many writers are engaged with a full measure of devotion to the “entitlement program”. Many feel that their work is so stupendous that a publisher should not only “discover” them and their book, but also court them and offer to publish their writing with absolutely no author investment or participation in the risks. It’s a little disconcerting. Remember, the definition of a publisher is any person who decides that a book is likely to be profitable, finances its printing, distributes it, and takes the risk of a loss if it does not sell, or the profit if it does.
What many people don’t realize is that Benjamin Franklin, often revered as the father of American Publishing, did it all on his own. He worked hard to create his writings… long nights with pen and ink by candlelight after his regular workday was done. He spent his own, hard-earned money to buy the paper and ink for the press, and added his own sweat equity into the process, tugging at the machinery to get the pages bound. In the end, he reaped the rewards of his creative labor. Franklin didn’t submit his writings to some publishing house in New York, Quebec, Great Britain, or Australia, waiting to be “picked up”. He just went out and did it. He was the first self-published author in America.
So often I hear from writers at various festivals or conferences, or read on blogs and in writing forums, “You should NEVER pay to have your work published!” That statement is usually followed by a highly volatile lecture about why self-publishing is the devil’s tool; and how, if you want to be respected as an author, you should NEVER self-publish! When did we, as a writing community, become so full of ourselves that doing it ourselves, with the assistance of professional guidance and advice, is no longer respected?
I wonder if Benjamin Franklin would have lived to see his work published if he had taken the same attitude? Imagine the conversation… “No, John, I’m not going to publish my book on my own, that’s a lot of work, and it will cost more than I should spend. After all, I took all that time to create it. This is damn fine writing, John; I should be paid to offer readers the privilege to enjoy my work! I’m just going to send it off to London and let them do it for me. Surely, my writing is so wonderful that once they read it, they will see how readers will clamor to buy it. I’ll make millions!”
Yeah, I’m pretty sure the conversation didn’t happen that way.
Here’s what I think the conversation actually sounded like: “You know, John, I spent so much time and took so much effort to create these words, that they feel sacred to me. I think I should retain control over who gets to publish them. I mean, let’s face it; England hasn’t established a great track record for helping us without bleeding our purses dry in the process. No, John, I’m going to publish it myself, my way. Sure, I’ll consider the advice of other writers in the community – to make my book the best it can be – and I’ll pay them, just as I would want to be paid for my expertise. Yes, it’ll be a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I’ll be in control if it’s appearance and who gets to sell it, and at what price. And in the end, John, I’ll keep all the profits. This is what I deserve. After all, I’m doing the work.”
Now, that’s a conversation that sounds a bit more realistic.
Somewhere along the way, through all the decades that passed since the days of Benjamin Franklin, writers lost sight of this founding father’s understanding of what literature should be… writers taking the risk to put their creativity into the world and hope that readers enjoy it. Now, too many writers are so full of themselves that they can’t accept that writing is both work and risk.
A writer isn’t entitled to be published. A writer isn’t entitled to the paycheck they think will be generated by their astounding words showing up on the page. Sometimes, if you want to see a dream fulfilled, you have to take the risk, invest the sweat equity, and pay to make it happen.
Remember, you’re going to pay for it, regardless.
If you choose to self-publish, you pay for the experience and expertise of professional guidance along the way… Information services like ISBNs and copyright registration (because the government always takes their cut if you want your work protected); editors (because we’re all smart enough to understand that we should NEVER edit our own work); interior layout designers… whether print or e-book, it’s important to get it right (yes, this is indeed a task many of us are capable of taking on ourselves, but most shouldn’t); cover designers… because, let’s face it, the cover makes the biggest impression on the reader – whether in print or e-book – it’s the first impression you have toward gaining a new reader and fan (some of us are artistic enough to do this… most of us aren’t).
The point is, even before you get to promotion and sales, there are a lot of expenses involved when creating a book that readers will someday read and share with their friends. Yet, after all this investment of time and money, you will enjoy the pleasure of not having to share your royalty checks with anyone else. In the end, you will reap the greatest reward, a full share in equity and complete ownership of the creative process and the finished work. What could possibly be more fulfilling than that?!
If you choose to wait until a “traditional” publisher picks up your book… you still pay for that privilege… just on the back end. First, you’ll have to find an agent, because traditional publishers don’t take manuscripts without one. The government still wants their cut of your creative endeavor, so your publisher will send them a check. Their staff editors will make changes to your book, and they get paid for their time. Their cover designer and interior layout designers will contribute their skills to your manuscript, and your publisher will pay them, as well.
So far, no money has come out of your pocket. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not really. You see, after your book actually hits the shelves, you’ll still have to pay all of that back. It’s called “recoupment”. It means that you won’t see one thin dime until your publisher makes back every cent they put into creating your book. Oh, and once your book does hit shelves, you will also owe your agent a cut of each book that sells, which again, you won’t be able to pay until the publisher has enjoyed full recoupment first. So, it may be five, ten or perhaps fifteen years until you see a penny’s reward for your creativity. Oh, and you’ve lost ownership of your work, as publishers won’t give you the rights back until they have realized full recoupment. Some never give you back your rights.
So, to those indignant writers reprimanding other writers who have chosen to self-publish, independently publish or partnership publish, rather than waiting for the windfall of a traditional publisher… and to those of you who try to strip us of our status as a “legitimate author” simply because we wanted more creative and economic freedom and control… you, my friend, are a PUBLISHING BIGOT*.
I can understand and support your decision if you feel that traditional publishing is the best choice for you and your writing career. We all must make the best decisions for our creative lives. However, the fact that you feel it necessary to degrade other writers for choosing a different path is NOT your right. There is no “wrong” or “right” path to pursue as a writer. And, for you to humiliate other creative souls because you don’t agree with their chosen path is at best, rude. At worst, it’s completely offensive. This behavior needs to change.
Please, support your fellow authors. Regard their creative spirit in the same way that your creative spirit wants to be understood, as sacred. Support their choice to follow the path that is right for them and their writing career, even if it’s not the decision you made for yourself.
Our goal as writers should be to create excellent books for readers to enjoy, not quibble over and ostracize others about how that goal is accomplished.
*Bigot: A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.
It was near midnight on a night in late December. The madness of the holiday season was nearly over... just the ball drop to go... before the New Year began. I was at home, alone, reading. I was curled up on the couch with a book by one of my favorite Indie Authors, Andy Lockwood. I was finally getting around to reading his novel, House Of Thirteen. Our dog, Charlie, was snuggled up nearby. My husband was away for the weekend; spending time at our cabin with his guitar, and our other dog, Finnigan.
As I turned a page and sipped a bit of cocoa, I heard a faint mumbling voice emitting from the bookshelves to my left. Filled with my most treasured things; family photographs, stuffed ducks, books signed by Indie Authors, and a Snoopy music box - a gift from my husband - I was startled by the noise. There wasn't anything on those shelves, let alone in the whole house, that could have produced such a sound. Charlie hadn't stirred. The room became silent again, and I shook my head; surely I'd imagined it. After all, being deaf in one ear, I spend a lot of time hearing things and not hearing things differently than the rest of the world. I went back to reading.
A few more pages and sips of cocoa later, I heard the sound again. A muffled, mumbling voice. The words weren't clear, but it was definitely a voice. Then, the room became quiet again. Andy's writing was messing with my head. His story was getting into my brain. He's done that before. I got off the couch, reached over, and turned on the other lamp. Of course, extra light would eliminate the problem.
I sat back down, turned the page, and reached for my cocoa. As the cup drew close to my lips, I heard it again. A bit louder this time, low and rumbling, insistent in the expectation that I respond. No discernible words, mind you. Just a tone that required my full attention. I set my book and mug on the coffee table, and walked closer to the bookshelves. Charlie perked up his ears at my movement, but remained comfortable on the couch. The muffled voice persisted. I lifted the music box, thinking perhaps its mechanism was stuck. Nope. Snoopy was silent and perfectly still. Not even the slightest vibration. Then I heard it again. A low rumbled whisper, and as I bent to the lower shelf, it became louder. I reached for the leather-bound journal I bought a few weeks earlier. I hadn't used it yet... I was waiting for the right time, the new year, creatively important things to record...
I pulled the book from the shelf and it vibrated in my hands. I reached for the leather strap and unwound it from the clasp. The parchment pages fell open to the near-middle of the book, and a faint whiff of the scent of burning wood from a campfire lofted up from the binding. "I am the Genie of The Book," came a voice from somewhere inside.
I dropped the thing on the couch and ran across the room. Charlie yelped, raced into the bedroom, and crawled under the comforter. This was not normal behavior from a book, certainly not a blank book, even Charlie knew that. I glanced at House of Thirteen, still sitting next to my cocoa mug, and whispered, "Thanks, Andy."
The journal, still sitting open on my couch, puffed out a little bit of grey smoke and said again, "I am the Genie of The Book." I hesitated... but then, curiosity acting instead of intelligence; I picked up the book. "I am The Genie of The Book," it intoned yet again. It was nothing if not persistently redundant.
"Um, okay," I said. "What do you want?"
"It's not about what I want," it said. "It's rarely about what I want... It's about what you want. What do you want?"
Completely gobsmacked - and that is not a word I ever use, but nothing else fits here - I sat down on the couch, held the book in my lap, and replied, "Uh... I don't know what you mean. Can you rephrase the question in a form that might make sense to me, because right now, nothing is making a lot of sense to me. I've got a book talking to me - for which I blame a nightmare of Andy's courting, - and perhaps sour milk in my cocoa. So..."
The voice cleared it's throat, sounding much like a disgruntled Harrison Ford as it replied with exasperation, "I am the Genie of The Book..."
"Yes, you said that..."
"And, I'm here to grant you three Writing Wishes."
"Writing Wishes?" I asked
"Yes, Writing Wishes... what other kind of wishes do you think a Book Genie would grant?" Another small puff of charcoal smoke circled up to my nose. I swear, if it had eyes, the journal would have rolled them at me. The disgruntled Harrison Ford voice was not pleased.
"Ah... alright... Can you make my book a NYT Bestseller?"
"Why not?" I said, a bit frustrated and beginning to doubt the validity of the Genie. "That's a wish every writer has; I'm sure you've encountered that request before, haven't you? I'd think it would be an easy one."
"Of course, it's what every Indie Author wants. But that's not writing. That's selling. Two different things. One's controllable, the other one's SOOOO not."
"Oh. Well then, I'll need a little bit of time to think about this. How many wishes do I get; is it the standard three?"
"Well, sure," said the Genie, now with more of a soothing Tom Hanks voice. "Everything's got to have it's standards. Wishes are no different."
"Got it. And I'm guessing that asking for the annihilation of an author I don't like or getting Neil Gaiman to attend my next book signing is out of the question, too, right?"
"Now you're catching on. See, this isn't that hard. And don't forget to begin with 'I wish'; you should at least know that part, right? Everybody knows that part. You've seen Labyrinth." The voice shifted into a condescending Prince Humperdink. The changing voices thing was beginning to get a little unnerving. This thing would be so much easier to believe if the stupid Genie had an agreeable Robin Williams voice... something that at least made sense.
"Okay, three Writing Wishes." I thought for a minute. What would make writing better, easier, more fun... what did I need to improve my craft? I'd always been told - and told others - writing didn't involve magic - so this was a bit of a stretch for me.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes of thought, throughout which the book emitted silent three inch tall mushroom clouds of wispy smoke with an exasperated wheeze on every puff, I made my requests. "Okay, I think I'm ready."
"It's about time. I could have yellowed with age from all your procrastination." The Book Genie's Harrison Ford impersonation was really quite impressive. "Can we get on with this, please?"
"First, I wish for perfect grammar and spelling. That would eliminate the need for at least one editorial pass; but you've got to keep it current... none of this Canterbury Tales Olde English nonsense. Chaucer's nice, but he's dead. Let's keep him that way, okay?"
"Done," said the Genie, returning to the much more calming Tom Hanks voice. A green puff of smoke emitted from the middle of the binding, and a page magically turned. Did I say magically... well, okay, there really isn't a better way to describe it. The page turned by itself... I didn't touch the thing. The windows were all closed, no breezes in the room, magic was the only reasonable explanation. Okay, perhaps not reasonable - but it's an explanation... sort of. "What's next?"
"Okay, um, thank you." It seemed odd to be talking to a book... but I thought that if I was talking to it, and it was talking back, the least I could do was be polite. Who knows how this stuff will come back to bite you if you aren't respectful. "Second, I wish for one-click instant cover formatting and interior formatting with pagination so I'll never have file upload issues with the print house ever again. You can't even begin to imagine how frustrating it is to receive email after email from robots telling you that something is wrong with the formatting, but never being quite specific enough with the details so you can fix the problem on the first pass. Avoiding that headache would be magical, indeed."
"Sounds like a reasonable request to me." There was a yellow puff of smoke, more like a jet stream, than a mushroom cloud this time, and again the page turned. The tingling sensation that moved from my right hand to my left was small but perceptible as the page flipped. Also, this time, a little woosh noise happened as the pages changed position. Did a formatting wish take more energy to grant? Logically, it made sense. It was a heartier wish than spelling and grammar, after all. "You got it. Now what?"
"Wow, that's great. Thank you." I was down to one wish. What was a writer to do? You would think that with all the imagination stored up in my little brain, and the vast number of stories I can concoct on a near-hourly basis, this would be easy, but it's not. Wishes are difficult - more so when you know that there's a better than excellent chance they're actually going to come to fruition. You don't want to be wasteful, but you don't want to be ordinary. You don't want to wish for something you know you could accomplish without the help... but you don't want to miss an opportunity to make the writing craft easier, either. This wishing business was an arduous task. Who would have thunk?
It took a few more minutes of contemplation to decide on my final wish. It was a conundrum. The book was softly humming the theme from Jeopardy. It was a little distracting. After two choruses of the theme, the Book Genie said, "Can we move it along here... I've got places to be, stories to tell." The exasperated Harrison Ford voice was back.
"Alright," I said with a sigh, "I think I've got it." I took a deep breath and spoke my final wish. "I wish that the book reviews I receive from readers are honest, and that I learn to handle them with grace, without frustration, and without ego." The book was silent for a long moment. I knew that I was asking for something big... but really, if I had only one Writing Wish to have granted, this would be the one. Was it within the realm of what the Book Genie could accomplish? I didn't know. The book remained silent... two small puffs of alternating blue and magenta smoke, like smoke stacks, emitted from the middle of the binding.
After about three full minutes, the book spoke, and this time, much to my delight, with the intonation of Robin Williams. "Wow!" it said. "That's never been wished for before. "Whew! That's a big one." With a final, simultaneous puff of blue and magenta smoke, and a sound that resembled the crashing of waves upon the northern Maine coastline, the page turned and the Book Genie said, "Your wish has been granted." The book quivered in my hands for a brief moment, and then fell silent and still.
I felt Charlie's tiny, wet tongue licking my eyelashes and my nose. I opened my eyes. I must have fallen asleep on the couch. Andy's book and my now cold cocoa mug were on the coffee table, my journal was open on my lap to the first page. Written in my handwriting was a single entry:
Thank you is the best you can do,
and the greatest honor you can bestow upon any reviewer.
Don't Screw This Up!
There's been a trend in recent years to gift books at a baby shower in lieu of cards. I think it's a fantastic idea, and something I've been doing long since before it became a trend. I've always been a firm believer that a child should have as many books - as they have toys... and preferably more books. When you gift a book to a child, what helps you make that final decision? Do you focus on the book's message or lesson? The characters? The pictures? When I gift a book, be it to a child or an adult, I always think first about how that book touched me, and I make a gift hoping the recipient will enjoy it in the same way I did. I hope it will build the same memories for them.
These are the top three children's books that created the most lasting impression on my childhood. This list is so much greater than three... and the books I discovered when I had my son would go on a completely different list... but this is a good start. If I was limited to share only three titles with the children in my life forever, these would the books I would choose. I hope you'll take the time to discover and share their wonderment with a young person in your life.
Santa Mouse by Michael Brown
This is one of my first memories of literature. I think I was about four when I first had this book read to me during the holidays. I can't remember if it was one that already lived on our shelves, or if it was a gift; but I remember the story very clearly. This is a wonderful tale of altruism demonstrated by a tiny little mouse thinking of someone far bigger then he, Santa Claus, and how perhaps Santa doesn't receive gifts on Christmas. The story, written in a simple rhyme that I had memorized by the third or fourth reading (and can still recite almost perfectly today), is about how the little mouse sets out to make it right. When Santa encounters the gift and is touched by the gesture, he asks the mouse his name, to thank him properly. But, the mouse doesn't have a name. So, Santa adopts him. He gives him a tiny little suit, and shiny black boots, and even a tiny little beard. In that moment, he is officially Santa Mouse, and spends the rest of his days spreading the joy of altruism throughout the holiday season. I remember that this book made a terrific impact on me because it made me clearly understand that no matter how small or inconsequential I thought I was... there was much good I could do, and the good I did wouldn't go unnoticed. This book had such an impact on my life that I shared it with my son and have given it as gifts more times than I can count. We still have a copy on our shelves to this day. When I was a child, we didn't have Elf on a Shelf to remind us of why kindness was important during the season; we had Santa Mouse!
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
I love this book! In this story, a steam shovel, named MaryAnn becomes the center of attention as she digs the basement for the new city center/courthouse. As the story goes, the more people gather around to watch MaryAnn dig, the faster she digs. The result: she dug the basement in just one day! But... she dug so fast, and so well, she forgot to leave a ramp to get out once the digging was done. What to do? Retire, and become the furnace to keep the courthouse warm. A perfect solution. I love this story because it reminds us that tenacity is important... stick to it and get the job done. It also reminds us how important it is for us to be aware that we are always doing things that are an inspiration to others - even when we make mistakes. The mistake made doesn't need to hold us back from a comfortable and successful life. We get to choose how to realign our priorities and our understanding of the future. Even as a young child, these messages were well received. The trick, of course, is following through on them as an adult! I was crushed when this book was out of print for a while; but now it's back, and I will continue to gift it to children and adults alike. The message bears repeating, even in our older years. Tenacity is a trait to be embraced... and so is flexibility. Both hold outcomes that will enrich our lives.
The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
This is by far the one children's book that has stuck with me throughout all of the adventures (and misadventures) of my life. It was the first story I read to my son the day I brought him home from the hospital, and a small Pooh stuffed bear sat in the bassinet with him at the hospital just after his birth. He still has it. I love the Pooh stories because of the characters. They are rich and vibrant, and show us that simply being ourselves really is enough in this world. Pooh is simple, but wise. Owl is wise but needs nurturing. Eeyore is quiet and strong, even when alone. Tigger is filled with joy and still finds ways to learn. Kanga is tender and playful. Roo is eager to learn and always loyal. Rabbit is quick to take charge, and also quick to humility. Piglet is very tiny but more brave than all the rest; more brave than me, even. Christopher Robin was the key that allowed us into the secret forest. After that, it was out of his hands... and he was okay with that. Christopher was okay with not being the spotlight, he was ego-free; and happy because of it. Whenever I feel dislocated from my place in the world, I read a little bit of Pooh and somehow reconnect and become at ease with my insecurities and frustrations. Whenever anyone asks what book I'd like to be stranded with on an island in the middle of nowhere... this is the one I will always choose. These are my best friends.
Literacy is such a wonderful gift. Be sure to give your favorite books whenever you have the opportunity... to mark the milestones of birthdays, anniversaries, and graduation. Remember too, that books are the best "just because I was thinking of you" gift. Gift a book today. No excuse required.
What are your top three memorable children's books? Leave your list in the comments below.
It's a dilemma I face every year... buying a new journal/planner. I have a lot of stuff going on in my life, personally and professionally, and I have always needed a place to keep it all in order. Years ago, I only kept a daily journal in a basic "blank" book that I bought at the local bookshop. I had friends who used a really basic spiral notebook... but I liked the hardcover for durability. I found that simply writing in it every day, with reminders at the end of an entry about what needed to be done the next day, was sufficient. I was able to take my daily emotional and intellectual inventory, track goals, and remind myself of what I needed to do the next day. Super simple. It worked great for two and a half decades.
Then my son was born, and I began pursuing a more ambitious writing career. Time to find a better tool. I discovered the Franklin Planner, while working at a newspaper, and it worked quite well for several years. I was able to keep track of interviews, writing deadlines, family obligations, and my son's extra activities at school. My daily journal still worked well to keep track of emotional components, personal inventory, and goals. Two books to keep my life well ordered didn't seem excessive, especially because I generally used one during the day, and the other only at night.
Enter computers into my daily life, college, and the adventure of building my own businesses; three of them, over the years. Carrying around a laptop computer, AND a daily planner book, PLUS my daily journal felt like doing the work three times. I'm not a fan of redundancies, so, I shopped and shopped, trying several different styles of planners. Some worked, others didn't. I went digital for a while, and then back to paper. But frustration lingered because I still felt like I had too many tools, doing the work too many times over, and never truly finding an effective solution.
It's now 2019, soon to be 2020, and let's face it... I'm getting older. My tolerance for extraneous nonsense is dwindling. I have a husband whom I love to spend time with, books to read, books to write, a business to grow, my family is a constantly changing component to my existence... and I have dogs! At this point, I'm all about simplifying wherever possible and only focusing energy on what I really want in my life, not doing the work three times!
In October, I began shopping, again. The planner that I found and used last year worked well... but it was still too much work, and it didn't really have the daily emotional piece I was looking for. It was nice, just not perfect. I wanted a planner that would combine my daily journal work, daily personal inventory trackers to eliminate the need for long-winded entries, a system to track goals and progress on those goals, and a daily calendar to keep my professional responsibilities and appointments in a format that reduces stress. I searched both digital and printed formats for nearly a month... I couldn't find anything that met all of my needs and requirements.
Frustration can sometimes be the wizard of invention. Out of sheer shopping overwhelm (and a desire to spend as little money as possible), I sat down one weekend, and I made my own planner. From my experience with the Internet "window" shopping I did on Amazon and other websites beforehand, I figure I saved about $35.
Using Microsoft Excel, I made a monthly page, a weekly page, and a daily page. Each one contains all the aspects of recording, tracking, and managing my emotionally undulating, very busy life. I have a comb binding machine, which I obtained years ago when I was making training manuals, and bought some plastic "month tabs" from the office supply store. I grabbed a couple of pages of card stock and plastic overlays, and created my own cover... something that would remind me that I am in control and responsible for my own destiny - a mini vision board, essentially (see above). I put it all together, and was extremely pleased with the outcome.
The vision board piece is another thing I try to do every year, so it was helpful to have everything pulled together in a single resource that I could always carry around with me.
In December, I began my beta test. I wanted to start a month early on the off chance that I hated it and needed to actually buy something else. Just like with writing a new book, you never can tell how it's all going to turn out until you beta test it. It's printed on standard 8.5" x 11" paper, and fits neatly into my tablet briefcase or laptop backpack, so I can take it to meetings and events. No, it's not digital, and yes, I still keep my appointments in my Google calendar synchronized on my tablet, phone, and computer... but the simple fact that it allows me to contain, track, and reflect daily in a single book, is a huge step forward in stress reduction. The best thing about having DIY'd this project is that after using it for a year, I have the ability to tweak it... move things, eliminate things, add things, in any way that I find most effective. And, I don't have to spend a lot of money doing it!
Yup, frustration is indeed sometimes the motivator of creation.
Click the images below to see the detail of my planning pages.
So, this year marks my 55th trip around the sun. So far, it's been a fun ride. Every year as June 14th (my actual birth date) comes around, I sit back and reflect on where I've been, how I've grown, and I realign my goals for the next year. I tend to look into the reflecting pond at this time of year, rather than in January, with the rest of humanity for two reasons:
First, It's cold in January, and I'm usually still in hibernation mode, trying to keep the old processes warm, adding kindling to the fire that keeps the past year's goals breathing; no small feat. It's tough to keep things growing in the arctic frost. Drake tends to migrate during the cold of winter, so no great help there.
Secondly, everyone else on the planet seems to take that same month to reflect, and albeit with good intentions, I think, also with a foreshadowing of acceptable neglect. The people I've come in contact with, those that make "new years' resolutions", tend to choose things that they don't really want, so that they don't feel like failures when they don't achieve their goals; and they know they won't, because everyone else fails, too. It's rare for your peer group to rave with you when you celebrate a January resolution. Usually, they feign happiness for you, secretly, or not so secretly, frustrated that they couldn't stick to it. Regret is at a high premium in February... I think that's why Hallmark came out with Valentines' Day, so we'd have something to look forward to.
I simply don't like setting myself up to be surrounded by that kind of negative energy, or failure. So, I wait until I feel like my head is in a space where I can reflect and follow my goal setting path with conviction. I do this during a time when we least expect failure - both me and those around me. For some reason, when you announce to the world that you are going to do things differently, and it's not January, there is an energy shift that works to your benefit, rather than your detriment. I like taking advantage of that... the fact that my birthday just so happens to fall during a time of comfort and renewal doesn't hurt, either.
I've raised an amazing little person who has grown into an incredible man... I married an incredible man who has grown into an amazing husband... I've learned more about business than I ever thought possible in one year... I've started a new business... I've established a TV program... I've made a ton of new friends... I've reconnected with some old friends... I've said goodbye to a beloved dog and I've invited a new puppy into my life... I've written more words toward publishing more books... and I've read more words written by spectacular authors. I've spent time sharing with people I care about, and continue to be a cheerleader for those who sincerely want to move their lives and their creativity forward.
How does one celebrate another year? For me, it's all about zero stress. I escaped the "regular world" for a few days, choosing that time to live off-grid and nearer to nature. I feel most at peace when I'm at our little cabin in the woods. And even closer to peace when the rain lasts for hours, and the thunder reminds me of my insignificance. There's something refreshing about being reminded about my smallness in the world. It relieves the pressure of all I want to do, and allows me the energy to simply do what I can... well.
Over the decades of my introspective journey, I've tried to establish a pattern of living that includes this path:
Choose a Goal... Apply Intention... Make A Viable Plan... Research and Learn about what needs to be done... Take Action... Manifest the Outcome... Enjoy the Celebration... Rest... Repeat.
In the coming year, my focus will be on WRITING AND READING BOOKS! There are four writing projects that I have started, each (of course) in a different genre, and each with at least a five-digit word count already created. This indicates to me that Drake thinks they should be written. I've also amassed a TBR shelf that is about forty books long (and I'd really like to buy more). So, I'm resurfacing as a Writer and Reader for 2019. Sure, I'm also pursuing my business and community service work - but that's only because boredom and hunger aren't any fun. But primarily, my emotional energy - and that really is what we're talking about when we discuss re-evaluating one's direction in life - will be focused on writing and reading.
Each November, I try to participate in a program called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge, 30 days, 50,000 words. It's absolutely a challenge easily reached - it's just 1,667 words per day, after all. I do that in a blog post - sometimes in an hour. However, waiting until November each year messes with my intention and momentum. So this year, I'm doing what I'm calling, NaNoWriMo 365. Yes, I'm making a commitment to write a minimum of 1,667 words every day from now until June 14, 2020. On days when I miss, I'm making up for it on another day. I allow myself this little bit of wiggle room because sometimes life intercedes into our strongest intentions and derails our concerted action toward our goals. We become ill and need to recover... We need to celebrate the lives of others... Sometimes, we just need to sleep and recharge after a particularly grueling moment or two; and sometimes, the momentum is so strong that it's difficult to stop - that's when we can take advantage and move a bit slower on a day afterward. So, I've downloaded a word count tracker to my phone and I'm keeping a log of my daily word counts. I'm devoting Monday and Wednesday evenings to sacred writing time, and turning on the focus.
The reading goal is a little bit trickier. I spend so much of my time writing, that I don't indulge myself that down time I used to allow for curling up with a good book and a cup of cocoa on the couch. So, I'm allowing myself "old fashioned reading". What does that mean, exactly? Well, remember when you were a kid and your parents, or a teacher at school used to read out loud to you? We all still considered that reading - we were just doing it orally. We called it storytelling, and I'm embracing that again, now. Instead of criticizing myself for not actually picking up a book and turning pages whenever I want to, I'm allowing myself to read via storytelling... or as we like to say in the 21st century, audio books. Whenever I get in the car, fold laundry, or clean the house, I'm listening to audio books instead of being distracted by television, and my goodness, is it fun! Nothing passes the time like a really great story read out loud. In fact, I'm hearing some new vocabulary words I've not run across before - and when you consider the size of the dictionary, it's not a great surprise. So, just like being in class in second grade, I'm learning, too. Tone inflection, empathy of character, pronunciation, definition within context, secrets about craft that you can only learn from another's mystical practice of putting words to paper, and most curiously, a magical effect on time - from dull to exciting. It's amazing what oral reading can do for you.
Now, don't misunderstand, I am not abdicating printed books for the audio ones... I'm just doing both. My goal is to read two books each month, one orally, one from the printed page (or perhaps digital page). The pure joy of this is to acknowledge that we can get story into our heads in a myriad of ways now, and we shouldn't feel "less than" simply because we're taking advantage of all the methods at our disposal, rather than remaining vigilant to only one. Truth be told, there are some books that I simply haven't been able to find in physical form, but can find them digitally - so I think that's a win - a book discovered and read is wonderment, no matter the form of it's delivery.
So, two books read per month, and 1,667 words written per day, tracking both. I could use a good mutual accountability buddy in human form, but the truth of the matter is that I have yet to find someone with my tenacity for follow through, who can also be nice, as well as firm, with reminders. It's a rare combination. So, my digital nagging system will have to suffice, for now.
The rest of my energy will be spent with those daily "keeping myself alive and the household going" things, as always.
And we will see what my reflection looks like when staring into the pool of my 56th year.
Yesterday afternoon I did something that I never thought would be a part of my life... I hosted my first television series. It is a little strange, and yet oddly comfortable, simultaneously. I thought, television is something that "the big guys" do, not little start-ups... and then I remembered that the world has changed dramatically since I was a teenager, and truly, anything that I can imagine, can indeed become real. With all the advancements in technology, nothing is completely out of reach.
But enough waxing romantic... here's the thing... It is SO MUCH FUN to host a TV show! I worked in the theatre for several years in my younger life, and being in a television studio is akin to that experience... but with more advanced technology. The rush of the technical rehearsal is the same, and the excitement of "show day" is the same. The jitters of actually recording is the same as a live production. Simply put, it's just plain fun!
The show, hosted on CMNTV, a local station in Troy, Michigan, is called Indie Reads TV, and my goal with this program is to shine a much-needed spotlight on Independent Authors and other interesting bookish people. It's so difficult for indie authors to get the kind of exposure that the major publishers can offer, and I wanted to make a little dent in that disparity.
The long-term goal of the program is to produce one-on-one interviews with authors and those who support authors. I also want to also offer opportunities to bring more awareness to special bookish events happening in the community with remote shoots, and to provide additional in-studio programming for audiences like poetry and story slams, storytime readings for children, literary panel discussions, and perhaps even a literary game show. My vision is to utilize this magnificent outreach tool as a way to enhance awareness not only of our local authors as celebrities, but to also offer programming for viewers that encourages them to embrace literature, and get more enjoyment out of picking up a book.
My first day of recording went well, and I'm pleased with the production. Yes, newbies are certain to make a few mistakes... I blundered a few of my questions, didn't always have the "snappy" retort as I would have liked, and we experienced a few technical glitches due to my inexperience with the equipment... but I'm certain that will all get smoothed out the more shows I get under my belt. I hope when you watch, you'll forgive my foibles.
We've got four shows "in the can": Episode One features Donald Levin; Episode Two features Andrew Charles Lark; Episode Three features Brenda Hasse; and Episode Four features Kate McNeil. The broadcast dates will be revealed shortly, and the programs will be available for viewing on CMNTV channel 18 in local neighborhoods, on the CMNTV website, and later on the Pages Promotions website, our YouTube channel, and there will be links to the programs on our social media channels. There will be lots of opportunities for the public - YOU - to watch and learn about these fascinating authors.
I have upcoming interviews with Mel Corrigan from Scribe Publishing, Indie Author Wendy Thomson, Indie Author Andy Lockwood, and Bailey Lockwood of Just Ducky Editing Services. Also, I'm super-excited to take the remote equipment out into the field to film Donald Levin's book launch on Saturday, May 11 at Color & Ink Studios in Hazel Park, so watch for that program to be available shortly, as well.
Watch for broadcast dates and times to be posted shortly. And... come back to our website frequently for more shows and special appearances by People of The Book on Indie Reads TV!
If you're an Indie Author, in an industry (like editing, cover design, etc) that supports Indie Authors, an Indie Bookshop owner, or an English teacher... I want to host you on my program! Please visit the Indie Reads TV show page on our website, and complete the interest form. I'd love to get you on my production schedule.
Before I go... a BIG, HUGE, THANK YOU to CMNTV and their fabulous staff for making television accessible to the community! We appreciate your guidance and support in creating local television.
For many years, I believed that the energies of Fate and Kismet were far more important than the energy of Preparedness. I believed that things happened in my life out of some mystical and strange force from elsewhere unknown that controlled my life's flow. It made me feel less guilty about not achieving what I desired and deserved; but also less in control, and less happy when my life didn't progress as I expected.
As I got older and experienced more of the world, I came to understand that Fate and Kismet, though part and parcel of how life is contrived, are inadequate without a good strong dose of Preparedness. If I did not prepare my body properly, I would not become healthy. If I did not prepare my mind, I would not learn, and grow, and become adaptable to life's changes. If I did not prepare a plan for my future - in all areas of my life: parenting, working, loving, recharging - I would not be comfortable enough in my own spirit to rejoice in all that Fate and Kismet brought to my doorstep.
There is something, surely, to be said for being in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people. However, if you are not well prepared, all of those wonderful resources will be wasted space, energy, and communion. Scar sang of it in The Lion King, but he didn't heed his own advice.
Scar had what he thought was a good plan... kill the king, take over the pride, live happily ever after. The thing he forgot was planning for the future. He was far too short-sighted to realize that poor resource management would eliminate his ability to stay healthy; that isolation from his peers would inhibit his ability to lead effectively; that fear is not enough to keep a new generation from testing limits and making their own plan. Scar was caught unawares and it became his banishment from a life he thought he had well in hand. He was incapable of maintaining his own security and stability. He had grown toxic, and no one came to his rescue.
I must not only collect the best tools and surround myself with honorable friends to assist in my plan - I must also have a plan! I need to Prepare a plan that will take me from step one to step one thousand and one - until my goal is reached. My plan must remain fluid, and designed with empathy and humility, with strength and conviction, with morality and accountability. I need to plan with a seven-generation view, abscond with tunnel vision, and become accountable to life's tracking mechanisms. I must never stop learning more effective methods of planning and doing, continuing to surround myself with those who support my goals and offer counsel without the consorts of fear and humiliation.
I must remember these points, and apply them to my desire to all attain my goals and dreams. If I do not Prepare myself in mind, body, intellect, and spirit to achieve the outcome that I most desire, it will never be, no matter how much I believe Fate made me a victim, or how much I believe Kismet conspired against me. If I am not prepared to adapt, change, and plan... my goals will become banished and I will become toxic; irrelevant in my own existence.
I love the English language. It is by far my favorite thing about having a brain. It is my soap box when I am feeling righteously indignant. I can stand on the eloquence of my forefathers and spew from the top of my lungs my political incorrectness and socially acceptable stances on such subjects as gun control, hunter’s rights, tax reform, higher standards for education, and health care reform. Whether my views and opinions are readily accepted by the masses or deflated with the fervor of another’s soap box; my voice can be heard in all its 26-letter glory.
The English language is my pulpit when I am feeling the moment’s expectation to preach compassion and equality to my fellow man. I can quote from parables and prophets; I can recite song and verse all toward the ultimate goal of bringing about a kinder, gentler approach to friend and foe. I can ease into confrontation with mutual respect and an acceptance of the right to free-flowing idealism.
It is also my podium to teach. It is my opportunity to enliven discussions in areas that I have special knowledge and experience. It is also the place from which I raise my hand with an inquiring mind and an eager soul. It is my chance to demonstrate my strengths and learn from my weaknesses. It is my gateway to remembering history and my toolbox toward not repeating it.
Nouns, adjectives, verbs, conjunctions… they all give me the eloquence to gently comfort a child in a moment of sadness and to celebrate with that same child in a moment of triumphant jubilation. The words, these phrases we use, offer us keys to unlocking the mystery of a perfectly delivered punch line and an equally revealing climax to a ghost story told by campfire light.
English language prose allows me the freedom to create new worlds, interesting characters, and captivating scenes to put them in. Story lines drip from my imagination in sentences and paragraphs leading readers down a murky path of intrigue… through the confiding vulnerabilities of a love triangle gone horribly wrong … or entangled with rapture through the under-the-table dealings of provocative political conspiracies.
There is no inherent leniency to what can be written… no limits to what can be said. No moral obligation or rule of law that dictates if we are to speak or to be silent. We are certainly fortunate to have this wondrous gift.
So, with all this wealth of communication at my disposal, tell me, why is it so difficult to find just the right words to comfort a dear friend who has just been devastated by the mangling of his heart after twenty-five years of devotion and loyalty? Which are the right words to express my deep sympathy and simultaneous rage?
Where is the manual of style that permits me the strong supportive nurturing phrases while gently denying my complete disdain for the wrong perpetrated against him without slandering the one he loves? The simple phrase, “I’m so sorry” just doesn’t seem to convey enough of the emotional fortitude due him. My mastery of the English language suddenly reveals itself to be weak in its conveyance.
Yes, I am completely enamored with the English language. Yet I have discovered there are still many of its nuances left for me to discover and punctuate. And so, disappointingly, “I am so very sorry” will have to suffice … for the moment.
When I was a youngster, in our utility room pantry lived an old five-pound coffee can filled about three-quarters of the way up with keys. There was every style key imaginable in there...small padlock keys... medium sized house keys... skeleton keys from who knows where... car keys from automobiles that I'm sure no one had owned for at least a generation... and tiny luggage keys. Truly, any key you can imagine lived within the depths of this can.
It sat there for weeks, months, years, waiting for someone to need a key, haul it to the kitchen counter, and dump it out... searching for just the right one. Silver keys... Gold keys... Black keys... some had little paper tags attached with faded writing that you could no longer decipher... some had masking tape over them, again, with worn lettering... and some had little plastic pieces attached, color-coding them to one day reveal some deeper meaning that was all too frequently, never discovered.
When the day came when someone in the family found a lock of some sort... perhaps an old bike padlock... or a piece of luggage that held a tiny little lock on it's zipper... or when the teenager's car keys went missing and that teenager needed to find the duplicate... out came the can. It was dumped upon the kitchen counter with a great CRASH! Key's are loud!
Then the fun would begin. We started out by sorting through all the keys that were obviously not the right fit... too small... too big... the wrong shape... and they would get unceremoniously plunked back into the can. The remaining keys were spread out on the counter, as we went through each one... one by one... checking if a particular key fit the lock in question.
If the key fit, then, TA DA! The quest was over and the remaining keys went back into the can and the can was replaced on its shelf in the pantry.
However, if the key didn't fit, it got plunked back into the can with all the other misfits, and another key was tried in the lock. This process continued until the moment of TA DA! and the key was found.
My whole life, this is the parable I used to teach myself, my son, and my friends about rejection, especially in my writing life.
Sure, it can be frustrating when you can't find the right key as soon as you'd like... but the adventure of seeking out that special key for your special lock is well worth the time. Imagine all the really cool keys that you would have never known existed unless you went on the search! And later, when you come across another lock... you will already have some idea of what keys might fit, thereby perhaps shortening your search.
Seeking out the right key is never a personal thing... well, it kind of is personal because finding the right key for your lock is a pretty personal thing. No one is ever going to care about finding the right key as much as you are... but remember, you're the only one who will ever care THAT much about finding THAT key. If you don't find the correct key right away... don't sweat it. It's not a personal attack on your lack of matching skills... or a statement about your lack of intelligence to discern the proper features of the key you're seeking. It's just not the right key... YET.
Have faith... bank on your tenacity and never give up. Soon, you will find the key that fits your lock... and when that day comes, and you get to proclaim TA DA! it'll all be worth the deep digging into the can to come up with the key... YOUR key! And then you can sit there, at the kitchen counter, cup of cocoa at the ready, latching and unlatching the lock as often as you like, knowing that for at least this one lock, you have become a complete success!
Celebrate! You deserve it! Share the moment with friends, family and your community of supporters. And then... when another day comes when you discover a new lock without a key... rejoice in the adventure of seeking out just the right fit!
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