Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fool me once, shame on you…

Last week I posted about the fact that I’ve tasked myself with learning something new about writing, blogging or marketing every month. It’s the best way to sharpen my skills in the writing craft and provide rewarding experiences in my journey as an author. It will also prevent my growth as a writer from becoming stunted.

In addition to learning more about how to increase my knowledge when it comes to my passion as an author, I’m always trying to learn more relating to other aspects of my life…home, work, health, wellness, spirituality…what works for others doesn’t always work for me, but I enjoy learning how others relate and react to the same challenges I face. You never know when you might pick up some precious and useful gems of advice or unearth an “ah-ha” moment that clears up questions, limitations or reservations that may have been holding you back.

As much as I love to learn, something I’m a sucker for is a challenge. Hands down, if the challenge is structured, useful, positive and insightful for any particular area in my life, I’m a willing participant. With regard to writing, I take part in either NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo usually every year because it is a useful tool in creating a book under pressure. I’ve also taken part in journaling challenges, photo challenges, a platform challenge, and I’m thinking about taking part in a decluttering challenge. Describing them as a “challenge” doesn’t mean I’m in competition with others; they are personal journeys but the journey or portions of the experience can also be shared with the host of the challenge or other participants, if you so choose. 

So the other day I thought I landed upon a useful challenge, to occur every day for about a month and a half, and I was led to believe I would be receiving e-mails relating to this challenge every day during the challenge. This challenge would possibility reveal to me useful insight with regard to my spiritual wellness. So I signed up.

Day one: I received an e-mail, a printable journal page for day one and the news that quite a few copies of the whole journal used in this challenge would be given away during the course of the challenge. The e-mail was cheery and optimistic, and left me with the promise of another printable journal page the following day along with a special story. I was looking forward to what the challenge had to offer.

Day two: I received another e-mail, another printable journal page but not for day two, for day twenty-seven. There was also no special story, only additional information on how to use the journal page provided, and that the journal for the complete challenge was available for purchase as a download if I wanted the complete journal today.

Day three:  I received an e-mail, but this time not with a printable journal page, or a special story.  Instead, I got the news that I would not be receiving any more e-mails for this challenge because the host just couldn’t afford to keep up with the cost of creating, hosting and delivering the challenge. However, I was informed that I could still purchase the complete journal, again only as a download (I prefer actual books) or I could just do the challenge myself with the quick reference guide that had been offered. The host ended with the promise of following up on my status periodically.

So how did I feel after receiving e-mail number three? A good guess would be disappointed, duped and a little dismayed at this marketing ploy.

If you have ever taken part in offering an item for free, you know the best way to do so is via e-mails or by offering a book in pdf or e-book formats because it cuts down on actual costs dramatically. And you do this in order to gain readers who will continue to follow you and who may also decide to purchase other items you have to offer for sale. You do not offer something for free to readers, have them begin to invest themselves emotionally into what they trust you will be providing to them, only to yank it away and ask them to buy a product from you instead. 

There is the saying, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. My expectations were high when I signed up for this challenge because so far, the hosts for the challenges I've taken part in before have always followed through with what they promised. It’s possible I may run into this situation again since I’m always looking for ways to learn from others; however, even at the risk of being fooled a second time, I won’t let one bad experience sour my belief in others. 

While this last challenge was a letdown, it did teach me something. I thought I was going to learn something about myself personally but what I actually learned was how not to market myself professionally. 

And with that, I unexpectantly checked off another lesson learned about marketing for the month of February, so it was actually bonus.  J

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Focus…one simple word but not always an easy task

I’ve tasked myself with learning something new about writing, blogging or marketing every month.  Whether it’s with articles, on-line or in-person classes, books or video tutorials, I want to continue learning when it comes to writing, blogging about my writing journey, publishing and marketing my work.

The trick, of course, is figuring out how to write, while regularly learning more about writing so that I continue to polish my craft, how to market what I write, while also learning more about marketing, as I also continue to blog about writing, publishing and marketing, all while running a household and working a full-time job.

Yeah, it makes me tired just reading that paragraph too.

But it can be done.  We just have to focus on our goals and figure out what will get us to where it is we want to finally be. 

Ever heard the saying, “Do what you Love, Love what you do?” In a perfect world, we’d all be happy doing what we love.  Even if we’re not quite to that point, we can certainly strive for that result.  It just takes actual focus to get there.  Whether or not we love what we do, we do what we have to in order to pay the bills, keep the cars and house, put our kids through college, or go on nice vacations.  However, while focusing on what we have to do, we can also make every effort to reach certain goals so that eventually we can do what it is we love to do.  Sometimes, it takes doing both at the same time for awhile, before we can finally peel away the layers of what we have to do, until we can finally focus on what we love to do. 

But the key to this, in order to reach the goals we hope to achieve, is to remain focused.  It’s easy enough for me to say I want to be the next great writer, having sold enough books to live happily ever after, never having to work for anyone else and never having to worry about money again.  Projected in that way, it’s really not an easy dream to achieve.  In fact, it will remain just that…a dream. 

There is the saying, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”  It’s a great saying, really.  It’s never wrong to aim high.  To expect the most out of your adventures.  But will you be happy if you don’t make it to the moon and only land among the stars?  That’s what you have to be prepared for – only the lucky few make it to the moon.  

Keeping our focus is still the key even if the end result is only to land among the stars.  Saying, “I want…” and expecting to achieve whatever is in our dream of dreams is never enough, especially if we don’t do the work or make a focused plan to get there.  Those who achieve their goals make a plan and then narrow down that plan into bits and pieces that are relevant, easy to fit into their everyday life and which are stepping stones to help get to the next step, and then the next, until they are that much closer to landing among the stars, or if they are the lucky few, to landing on the bright and wonderful moon.

As easy as it is to say that focus is a necessary approach in order to reach our most desired goals, it is admittedly not always an easy task.  Life is distracting and sometimes we get off course.  Sometimes our goals are very broad, and it may be difficult to break up and identify the necessary tasks and stepping stones that will help us reach them.  Sometimes, we know what we want, but we just can’t quite figure out how to get there.  Whatever the obstacle, the only way to map a course to our destination is to make a solid plan, give ourselves tasks to help us reach each stepping stone towards the large goal, keep in mind that nothing ever happens overnight, and most importantly, continue to remain focused.

There’s a learning curve when it comes to staying focused and not losing our ground as we work towards our goals.  But those who figure out how to stay on task, by keeping their focus, or who figure out how to get back on track even if they get knocked off course at some point, will be those who land among the stars or, in their dream of dreams, possibly even make it to the moon. 

So stay on course and have a great week!

Monday, February 15, 2016

I’m a Plunger, a Panster, an Organic Story-Teller

Photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo
If you are a writer, you know the debate over whether to outline or not to outline, to be a planner or a plunger (or a panster), to stick to a rigid story idea or to write organically. There is no one-size fits all, unless you’re in school and the teacher is telling you so, which unfortunately does nothing to really tap into a writer’s true creativity…but that’s another argument to be had. The point is, everyone is different and everyone creates differently. Once an author offers up a great story for readers to enjoy, does it really matter how they got there?

As for me…I don’t believe I fit the norm when it comes to what people would expect should they actually know me. In life, I am a planner.  When it comes to my daily routine, I like to plan, schedule, and be organized so that I can complete and check off to-do lists, and know what to expect. If someone veers me off course, it can sort of ruin my day (I’m trying to learn how to change this aspect of my personality a bit…but it’s still a WIP). 

When it comes to writing, I am the alter ego of myself.  I’m a plunger, a panster, a very organic story-teller. My stories begin with a thought, a vision, a dream about a character or an idea that just won’t go away. When the character or idea won’t leave me alone, I jot down notes as they come to me but when I finally decide to write the story, it’s like putting a puzzle together without having a photo to go by. Have you ever tried that? I have…it was actually a mystery puzzle I had to put together after reading a short mystery story and it was meant to be difficult for that very reason. It was fun but not easy.

Writing is the same way for me because I am an organic writer, and not able to rely fully on a complete outline. Even if I was able to put together a complete outline, it would change on me.  Scratch that, the characters would change it on me. My “outline” is pretty basic…I have certain ideas about what I expect to happen, new characters I plan to introduce and develop, and I have certain mysteries I expect to occur during the novel. But how the ideas happen, whether the characters pan out or how the mysteries are resolved can sometimes come to me on a whim, as I’m writing, or as the characters decide they wish to express themselves. Due to that fact, my outline is created as I’m writing, as it is happening in real time, and so that I can refer to it later as I need to.

Personally, I would rather write without an outline. The creative process is much different, more fun and less rigid than sticking to a strict outline. But that’s a personal preference and not one every writer can employ. When writing organically, you have to give up the idea that you know exactly what to expect or that your story should turn out a certain way. That’s what makes the creative process of writing so much fun. It may be a challenge to write organically but the story can also be as fun to you, and even as surprising, as it is to your readers.

Sounds a little odd, maybe, to anyone who isn’t able to understand the process from this perspective, but that’s the way it is when it comes to how I create. Everyone creates differently, which is actually a good thing. If we all had the same creative process, we wouldn’t be able to learn from one another.

So as I continue to plunge into organic story-telling, I’ve been balancing my time between two books:  the fourth in the Jorja Matthews mystery series and also my young adult novel. My focus has been shifting back and forth, depending on which characters speak the loudest. Yesterday the characters from my young adult novel were much more vocal with me, while today it’s Jorja and the others who I’ve been able to focus on. Since I’ve gotten back in the saddle and been able to keep up with a writing schedule, it has been so satisfying to be able to focus on not one, but two novels that I’m excited to share with others. I had thought I may only publish one of these books this year but at this rate, I may be able to publish both. Obviously, only time will tell, but I am excited about not only getting the fourth book in the series out but also publishing a novel in a completely different genre. 

Well, time to get back to it. I just wanted to take a break to check in, say hello, and post an update about my progress. It’s a holiday weekend so I’m taking advantage of the time off work to get more writing done. 

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Love is in the air…or is it?

I’m working on the fourth book in the Jorja Matthews mystery series and I’m going back and forth about the romantic interest between Jorja and Fritz (Officer Fritz of the local police department) and the old romantic interest between Jorja and Brad Dawson (high school sweetheart and current high school football coach). 

As it stands, with the ending of the third book, Ties That Bind, we left Jorja healing after her escape from harm at the hands of a dangerous adversary.  She was weak with emotion, stress and pain when Fritz showed her a side of himself he usually keeps hidden from others.  Someday, we’ll learn about Fritz’s past and what made him become the man, and cop, he is today.  Regardless of his past, Fritz made an attempt to show Jorja he cares and is interested on where their relationship may go.  Did he purposefully approach her and show this side of himself knowing she was already weak with so many emotions?  Or did he decide to set aside his usual rigid attitude after realizing how relieved he was that she had survived her ordeal?

In his personal life Fritz is not one to take advantage at the emotional sake of others so my vote is for the second option.  After all, it is only when you believe you’ve lost someone that you may finally realize how important they are to you. 

When I started this series, I really hadn’t thought much more than what was going to happen with the mystery involving Jorja and her family and the mini mysteries Jorja would solve as a private investigator.  The idea of romance…well, it never really crossed my mind.  When the possibility of romance popped up during the initial draft of the first novel, I wasn’t sure who Jorja might end up dating, or if she would ever date anyone at all.  I enjoy the friction between Jorja and Fritz and I also enjoy the easy-going relationship she has with Brad, but we all know conflict is key when it comes to stories, which is why I also enjoy the fun Brad has at Fritz’s expense when it comes to putting him on the spot with Jorja. 

I’m not writing romance, but I can’t deny romance won’t seep into the story because the characters will ultimately form relationships that may blossom into something more than friendship.  Jorja’s best friend, Taylor, and the local bakery owner, Dylan Rhoades, were quick to become more than friends and are engage to be married already.  I hadn’t planned on having to research wedding details but now that the wedding is set to happen in the fifth book in the series, I do look forward to introducing Taylor’s dysfunctional family to the mix of characters.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself here – the fourth book in the series has its own interesting and dysfunctional characters that I’m having fun with and will also include another cold case, this time involving the disappearance of an alcoholic and abusive father.

A stand-alone mystery may include only that, a who-done-it mystery.  But when we’re working with a mystery series, we tag along as the characters expose more of themselves to us.  Characters tend to find various ways to interact with each other, form bonds and close relationships, or show their annoyances, and even loathing between each other.  And sometimes, characters do fall in love, whether we plan on it or not.  Where Jorja and Fritz go from here, and whether Brad will back off, just be there as a friend or wait for his opportunity the next time Jorja and Fritz battle it out, will remain to be seen.