The Writer’s Life – A Few Thoughts

Being a writer is hard work, yo.

We pour our hearts and souls into our work, sell our souls to pay the bills, and hope like hell that all our tampering with words means something to someone somewhere. We subject ourselves to criticism every time we hit publish or send to submit something.

Brace Yourselves Criticism is Coming

That criticism is no longer in the form of blood all over papers submitted in high school or college. No, it’s widespread and typed all over the Internet, sometimes in Comic Sans (shudders). Some people limit it to just the piece which set them off. Others hunt you down on Social Media and tear you a new one for promoting a view with which they disagree. Some try to be helpful and email you or message you about errors in your piece (I actually appreciate that provided it’s not accompanied by “and while you’re fixing your mistake, if you’d add my link” because just no.)

As writers, we are mostly responsible for our own promotions. We cannot simply fling things out into the universe and expect people to promote them for us. Sometimes things may click and spread. But most of the time, it will just sit there, dormant, waiting to be discovered. It’s all about what you DO with your writing that makes it relevant.

I am absolutely guilty of flinging things out into the universe and waiting for something to happen. Then I learned that I have to get behind it and push it – like a car that won’t start. You have to MAKE it start and sometimes that means pushing…hard. If there is one thing I wish I was better at, it’s self-promotion. Improving my self-promotion skills is one of my goals for 2014.

My friend, Pauline, wrote a fabulous piece over at her blog, Aspiring Mama, entitled “Two Rules for Literary Fame.” You should go read it. Literary fame, contrary to popular belief, does not just happen overnight. Even the biggies got rejection notices. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Best-Sellers which were initially rejected.

Guess who’s on that list? Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume, J.D. Salinger, C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, L.M. Montgomery, Margaret Mitchell, L. Frank Baum, Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Herman Melville….and many more. You get my point, right?

In this day and age, self-publication is easier than ever. Write, upload, market, MONEY & FAME. Boom, right? Not really.

You still have to deal with promotion to get to money. In order to get to money, you need to play nice because if you don’t, bad things can happen and the money will never happen. Money doesn’t just waltz right in the door. You have to WORK for it. There is a right way to promote and then there is a terribly wrong way to promote.

First, you are probably cold-emailing people you do not know based on a list, a Google Search, or goodness knows what else if you haven’t taken the time to build up an audience first. All you know about them is based on what they have shared on their blog or their public Social Media Accounts. You try to be friendly and social. Zone in on something which interests them, state an offer, keep your email short. Then, the fun part – waiting for a response. Most of the people you email won’t respond. But the ones that do are the ones you need to connect with because they see some value in what you have to offer.

This is where things can go horribly wrong. They can also go horribly wrong when you write your initial email if you don’t keep it short.

Here are my rules for initial marketing contact based on a recent experience:

1) Keep contact short and simple. The KISS Method. It’s fabulous. Greeting, connection, the goal of your email, what form your book is in and when it releases, a FEW quotes from your book, offer, closing. BAM. Do NOT assume the person you are emailing has all the time in the world to read your email, even if you know them well. SHORT AND SIMPLE. Think Flash Fiction vs. Epic Novel. Always, always go with flash fiction. An elevator pitch format works wonderfully here.

2) If you get a response which asks questions and/or criticizes your initial email because you’ve failed to follow rule #1, suck it up, answer the questions, and work through it to get your book out there. Respond negatively and you will lose that connection.

3) Not responding at all to someone who is an obviously an ass or ignorant is perfectly acceptable. Not responding (or responding negatively) to someone who has asked legitimate questions and offered constructive criticism is a huge no-no and ends up a lot like, well, this blog post being written about you.

Now, am I advocating that you have to put up with assholes on your way to literary fame? Absolutely not. If someone responds and they are clearly a dick, then don’t bother responding at all because well, integrity and all that. But if you get a response and they clearly are offering constructive criticism as well as showing an interest in your book, you best be responding to them in a positive manner. If you cannot handle constructive criticism via email, then you, sir, are no writer.

Not just anyone can be a writer, you know.

Getting your work in front of people takes more work than actually writing the words. You have to have the balls to spill your soul, the chutzpah promote yourself, the guts to take rejection, and the stamina to stand back up after being punched in the gut over to do it all over again the next day.

Think you can handle that?

If so, then welcome to the writer’s world. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

Coffee? Thesaurus? Nap? Chocolate? YouTube Videos of cats? Wine?

No, you’re good? Alrighty, then.

Go forth. Write. You know, after you’re done staring at the blank screen as if you’ve just seen Perry the Platypus dance like Christopher Walken across your screen. Deadline is in an hour.



Turning Writer’s Block into Ruby Slippers

Ever sit in front of your computer, arched like a cat, ready to strike at the keyboard, ideas at the ready and then…they sprout wings and fly out of your head as if they have been summoned by the Wicked Witch of the West to go fight Dorothy and friends as they cross Oz on their journey to see the Wizard?

I am so there. *screams at the fleeing monkeys*

In the past couple of months, I had a brief conversation with @schmutzie on Twitter about poetry and writer’s block. She casually mentioned she did not believe in writer’s block which struck me as interesting as it is something I have struggled with from time to time – heck, all of us writers have, have we not?

Then I seriously considered her idea. Why would we willingly believe in something which only serves as a roadblock to something we so desperately want to do? By doing so, are we giving ourselves permission to daydream instead of dive into the task at hand? The only thing blocking the writer is well, the writer.

What if we refused to believe in writer’s block? Mind over matter and all that. For example, right now? I’m channeling my inner Charles Bukowski and putting his words “writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all” into practice.

Let’s say you go into the kitchen to cook a batch of muffins. You want these muffins more than anything in the world. You preheat the oven, gather your equipment, and put all the ingredients on the counter. But you realize you are out of eggs, a very necessary ingredient. Do you give up on making the muffins? No. If you’re like me, you Google for egg substitutions or you run to the store for eggs. You mix up the recipe, accepting that while it may not be exactly right, it’s better than no muffins at all.

The same is true for writing.

Even if you sit there and write about not being able to write, it is better than not writing at all. For that matter, you could simply copy another text. The method is to get you thinking and following the patterns of language and imaginative thinking. Granted, what you are currently writing may not be the most allegorically amazing thing to ever hit the page but it is writing nonetheless.

I am currently on Day 11 of author Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge. Some days I have put the keyboard to the metal and zoomed by 500 words (like yesterday when I wrote over 1k words) and other days, I have barely managed to crank out the 500 minimum words. Right now, I am eying the word count because frankly, I would rather be doing anything other than writing. Sleep sounds good, actually.

One of the things I have really appreciated about the FB group for Jeff’s challenge is the motivation. Particularly Jeff’s motivation. He has constantly encouraged us every day through example and challenges. Just yesterday he told all of us to stop doubting ourselves – that we were indeed, enough. If I am stuck, I pop into the group and scan through some of the threads for inspiration. Sometimes it works, other times, it doesn’t.

I am noticing, however, that my brain is working differently. Instead of just experiencing things and dismissing them, the most mundane things are turning into potential pieces. In fact, my most liked post from the past week was about the dinner I cooked that evening. Until I cooked that dinner, I had no idea what I would write about that day. Then, boom.

Being a writer is not about contracts. It is not about publication. It is not about writing a perfect piece every time your fingers hit the keyboard or wrap themselves around a pen hovering over paper. Being a writer is about writing when you just don’t want to but you have a deadline to meet or a challenge to fulfill. Being a writer is about seeing everything around you as a potential story. It is about digging deeper and challenging yourself to fill in the gaps.

Tonight, and always, I am a writer. A sleepy writer, but a writer. Are you a writer?

Even though we are 11 days in, you can still join Jeff’s challenge. Go here for more information. If you decide to join, I’m going to toss in an extra challenge (which is implied in Jeff’s challenge but not explicitly stated, I dare you to say to hell with Writer’s Block and write whether you feel like it or not. Use this awesome quote as inspiration:

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”
Lili St. Crow

Go forth and squeeze every single drop out of your Muse. Drain her dry. What you find inside may just surprise the hell out of you. Remember, according to Hemingway, ““There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy realizes that all she has to do is click her ruby red slippers together and say, “There’s no place like home” in order to get back to Kansas. All you have to do as a writer is click your keyboard and whisper “There’s nothing like writing” to defeat your writer’s block. (Even if it’s angry pecking and frustrated whispers or shouting). You got this, right? Good.

Now write.


Don’t Be Decoy Mom

Colourful jars sit atop a shelf in a misty and humid room. Running water slides down her skin as she lathers up with the latest in moisturizing body wash which promises to make her skin glow with youth. She washes her hair with shampoo and conditioner to make it thick, silky, and soft.

As she exits the shower, the drying process begins – softly – so as not to leave any red marks or heaven forbid, pull skin in the wrong direction. Pat the face dry then move down to her toes. She folds the towel in thirds and places it neatly back on the rod before she wraps her hair in a smaller towel.

Grabbing a toothbrush, she measures out the whitening toothpaste and gets to work. Rinses, then gargles with mouthwash to ensure bad breath stays at bay. Then, moisturizer. While that soaks in, she puts on her undergarments. A bra with an underwire and underwear that promises to hold in the stomach which has nurtured the lives of her children close for the past few years. She frowns. Back to the bathroom.

She reaches for the first layer of glow, then dots on concealer. Waits for it to dry before applying an overall foundation and gently blending it together to hide the exhaustion and stress marching across her face. Next up, eye liner and eye shadow. They make the eyes more open and energetic. Mascara goes on next, gently, the kind that lengthens the lashes because again, more awake and conscious. Less tired.

Then she puts on blush to cheer her cheeks up, smiling as she carefully brushes up, not down – happy, not sad, she whispers to herself.

She takes down her hair and gives it a tousle. Plugs in the hair dryer and gives her hair a once over, then pulls it into a messy bun. Walks into the closet and chooses whatever isn’t wrinkled or covered in baby food stains. Grabs a pretty pair of heels then over to the jewelry box to select accessories.

A small hand tugs on her skirt and she looks down.

“Mama? You look beee-yooo-tea-fah. Hug?” her middle daughter asks, covered in chocolate from whatever snack she just finished devouring.

So the mother leans down and gives the child a hug, knowing she will have to change her clothes. She sends her daughter on her way, and walks back into the closet, stripping as she goes. A new outfit selected, she makes it to the car with no child-induced stains on her pretty clothes.

She turns the key, unlocks the door, and slides into the driver’s seat, throwing her miniature purse on the passenger seat beside her. Exhaling, she checks her makeup one last time to be sure she looks human and not like some exhausted creature just waking up from hibernation. She doesn’t. She turns the key, starts the music, and backs out of the driveway.

Transformation into Decoy Mom complete.

Decoy Mom is a mom who goes through great lengths to hide how her life is really going – every stitch must be perfect, every thing in it’s place, nothing negative to be found anywhere. And yet, inside, everything is falling apart. Her heart, her life, her soul – it’s all cracked and crumbling.

I’m not saying that a Mom who has it all pulled together is definitively falling apart. Nor am I saying that a Mom who doesn’t have it all pulled together is well. What I am saying is that we are all “covers” when we are with people and some of us are even “covers” when we are alone. We choose what pieces of ourselves to share and what pieces of ourselves to hide. We are not expected to fully share ourselves with anyone unless WE choose to do so, either. But we should absolutely be at least fully sharing ourselves with ourselves. In order to be authentic with anyone at all, you have to first be authentic with yourself.

Stop hiding behind a mask, telling yourself lies about who or what you are inside and outside. Take a hard look inside. Explore. Make a list of everything that is there whether it is good or bad. Work to improve or reframe the bad (sometimes, negative traits can be utilized for positive things – are you firm & harsh? Figure out how to rein that in by using compassion and understanding). Expand the good.

Figure out what you want out of life this year, make a list, then break it down into smaller goals. Don’t let the big things overwhelm you and don’t let yourself become Decoy Mom. Be the authentic Mom, wife, sister, cousin, aunt, and YOU that you were meant to be. Stop hiding her under layers of crap. You might find that you have more time to BE you if you give up all the hiding.



Day 1: My first 500 Words

For the month of January, I signed up as part of author Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge. Every day, we are to write 500 words. Free-writing. No editing. None. These are today’s 500 words. My goal for 2014 include writing a book as well as writing more here. I’m realizing that while my blog has a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders focus, I am human and do not have to stick to just pieces about PMAD’s. I plan to share more of myself here this year, to do as this piece mentions – to strip down – let the vulnerability of my humanity fly for the world to see.


There is a naked tree behind our house. It is in the middle of a row of evergreens. The tree, in the autumn, has leaves which echo the fierceness of a radiant sunset. But in the winter, it stands alone, naked, at the side of the road. This year, however, there is a lone stubborn leaf clinging to one of the topmost branches.

I cannot help but think that this naked tree is like a writer in the midst of non-writers. As a writer, we are to strip our souls bare and stand out among the crowd for all to see. Our words are our thoughts put to paper. They hang there, as if they were ornaments on a tree. Other words may hang in the air as if they were shreds of torn and dirty paper, floating along in the breeze. But the words that stick, the ones that strip us to our very core, those are the ones for which we write every day.

They are the naked branches on the lone winter tree. The lone leaf is our stubbornness in staying away from the exercise of writing. Using our words, in written form, is like going to the gym for a top athlete. If we fail to get in consistent practice, we fail to stay in top form. Our writing falters, we falter, and we begin to perceive the world around us differently.

When you are a writer, every single instance of life is a potential story. From making tea in the morning, to cooking breakfast, to the actions of neighbors, to your children, to things your friends say, or even the beauty in the day outside your window. It is all a story waiting to be told, sometimes aching to be told. But if you haven’t been flexing your writing muscle, the story will fade into the darkness.

But what if you were the one meant to tell the story? Sometimes a story will cling to you if you are the one meant to tell it but first, we have to be willing to listen to the prompts swirling about us as we live life. It might be our story, it might be someone else’s story, or it might be a tale plucked out of thin air to be fancifully created by only you.

If you think for one second that you are not the one to share it because you are not capable, remind yourself that people have used words to communicate for centuries. One does not have to be particularly talented to use words. Practice makes perfect.

Remember learning how to ride a bike? I would be willing to bet you thought you were never going to get it right. But you kept trying as your parents (or another adult) taught you what to do. This is why reading is a critical part of writing. Swallow books whole – devour them – in addition to writing. You will not only be reflecting what is shared but you will be learning from those who have broken through the barrier of where you find yourself now. They are without training wheels – and you will be without training wheels soon as well.

There is magic, strength, beauty, compassion, truth, and hope in words. Do not find yourself afraid to use them this year. Let this be the year you fearlessly share the story you are meant to share. Go. Write.

In the Silence

There are thoughts in the silence.

They are there, drifting through the quiet waters, hidden beneath the fog which drifts just above the cool water and is held gently by the warm air millimeters above the mostly unbroken surface of the dihydrogen monoxide.

They float just beneath the surface, waiting until you have your back turned to pop through like hungry fish in search of sluggish insects upon which to feed. If we are fortunate, we catch some of these thoughts and pull them out of the water to share with others, much like a fisherman. We, writers, are fishers of words, always on the hunt for new ideas and words to share with the world. We revel in every capture and regale ourselves with dreams of the big ideas lurking even deeper beneath the surface.

But, just as any good fisherman would tell you, it is difficult to fish amidst distractions.

No fisherman wants to cast his pole in the middle of a crowd. No, they tend to seek out the quiet and peaceful spots. Places where the fish are likely to gather and not be scared away by plenty of noise and activity. Sure, you can fish in the midst of a throng but you’re not likely to catch anything. And if you begin to catch a lot at a particular spot – word getting out that the fishing is good there, the spot is ruined so you move on to another spot.

I’ve been quiet on the blog over the past few months. A handful of people know why, and I plan to blog about it once the situation has completely resolved. In non-identifying terms, of course.

A large part of why I have been quiet lately has been due to the situation which has plagued us for the past few months – since May, actually. As I said, you can fish in the midst of a crowd but you’re not likely to catch anything. Writing is the same way for me – I can’t write well when there’s a constant hubbub of noise and interruptions – interruptions and situations which lead to doctor visits for medication for anxiety. It is difficult to hold any sort of idea in my head when I am not functioning at the most basic level.

I am okay. We are all okay. In the end, that’s all that really matters. We are slowly re-adjusting to our new peace and quiet, embracing the sunlight and happiness flooding back into our lives. We have our new fishing spot and it is more amazing with each new day.