Author: DeAnna Knippling (Page 1 of 30)

Options for Impossible Dilemmas

Dilemmas usually defined as when you have to decide between two impossible choices.  Mine are almost always between “I can’t do this” and “I must do this.”

Some options:

  • Avoid the situation (and thus cognitive dissonance related to it), but incur a heavy personal cost of lost or damaged trust and relationships.  Ghosting.
  • Tell the people involved that you’re out of the situation (using a plausible excuse or no excuse).  More difficult in stress and confrontation, but cheaper in relationship costs:  at least you told someone.
  • Tell everyone involved about the dilemma you’re in, being honest about it; this has variable costs.  Sometimes this costs more than ghosting, because this is where bridges get well and truly burned.  “I love you but I can’t stay because you’re a fucking racist.”  Sometimes it’s better to “grow apart.”
  • Try to force yourself into compliance through the can’t-do aspects, honoring only the must-do.  Variable costs:  sometimes resistance is just stupid ego stuff (“But I don’t waaaaant to try sushi!  It’s raw fish!”) and sometimes it’s preventing you from destroying your personality, a la Get Out.
  • Try to renegotiate the situation openly.  “I have claustrophobia and can’t deal with elevators; can we meet somewhere else other than the top of the Empire State Building?”
  • Subvert/ignore the requirements (a.k.a. cheating).
  • Go around/redefine the requirements.  “I know we’re supposed to be on a diet tonight, but I won a free coupon for pizza off the radio today and…”
  • Break the can’t-do, must-do area into its smallest possible issue, the crux of the problem, stripping off as many assumptions as possible, to see if it’s really a can’t-do/must do situation.

This last one works surprisingly well, when I can find the discipline to do it.  Jumping to conclusions happens more often than I think:  often a dilemma is just anxiety in rationalized clothing.

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The Eisenhower Principle: a simple system for an anxiety attack

That grid that has “urgent” along one axis and “important” along the other axis (the Eisenhower Principle) is driven by fear.  It takes an overwhelming mass of all the things and turns them into “yes, but these two things are the only ones you actually need to panic about today.”

The problem is, what do you do with the rest of the stuff?

I know there are guidelines.  If it’s urgent but not important, you’re supposed to reschedule it or delegate.  If it’s not urgent or important, just avoid it.  If it’s important but not urgent, do it when you have time.

But in the real world, urgent but not important tasks take willpower to blow off, and sometimes the tact required is more effort than actually doing the task requires.  What then?  Where’s the social, long-term axis in this grid anyway?  And if I move all the urgent but not important items over to urgent and important items (tell me you never do this to make a boss or a loved one happy, just try), then what?  In what order should the important but not urgent items be done?  By deadline?  What if the deadline items aren’t as important, over the long term, and you sacrifice your dreams because someone else knew how to game the system?

“Just get rid of some of the stuff you do.  Starting with the unimportant and not-urgent.”

What if I’ve already done that and I’m still overwhelmed?

It’s a bullshit grid.  It’s an oversimplification by people who don’t have issues prioritizing on a daily basis in the first place.

Where is, “I’m scared to get started on this important thing that I’ve been putting off for so long that it’s urgent now, and I want to learn how to stop doing that and this @#$%^& grid isn’t helping.  At all”?

Strategies, Tactics, Long-Term Planning

Most of us don’t have conscious end-goals for our lives.  We don’t have principles that we can state.  We don’t know ourselves all that well.  Sometimes we think we have these things and we don’t:  the things we deeply, truly believe in are often beyond our grasp.

So maybe starting off with long-term planning as a writer with “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is maybe not the best approach, because it presupposes that you know those things.

What then?

“I don’t know who I am, but I know that whenever I hit an obstacle and deal with it successfully, I do it by X.” (Mine is, “I analyze it to death.”)

At least find the hammer you’re holding to which everything else looks like a nail, maybe.  Other people have a variety of tools in their toolbox…but maybe you have to start with just one.


Marketing Unicorn

Marketing:  how much effort does this technique take; how durable is the effect of the technique; what is the impact of the technique?  Three axes for a graph: effort, durability, impact.

A book review is high effort, high durability, high impact.  A single tweet is low effort, low durability, low impact.  A well-coordinated social media campaign is high effort, low durability, high impact (although it could be made much more efficient over time).

A good cover is high effort, high durability, high impact.

Writing in a series is high effort, high durability, high impact.

Writing to market trends is high effort, low durability, variable impact (it’ll depend on how well  you write).  Writing to your own personal drummer is high effort, high durability, low impact (but that may change over time, as people find the books they love without the boost of having alsoboughts behind them).

The high effort techniques can probably be made more efficient over time; you can search around for a minimum effort/maximum impact solution and go for medium effort for medium impact with medium durability (writing a pulp series in a popular category that you love already, setting up catchy covers/blurbs/advertising materials for a repeatable social media campaign, etc.).

The ideal would be low effort, high durability, high impact.  Have I come up with anything that fits those criteria, even a hypothetical example?  Nope.  Even the ideal BookBub ad would be low effort, low durability, and high impact.

But now I know that if I ever see such a unicorn, I should get on and ride.

Defining the Story of a Life

I’m used to defining the story of a life.  Not with each character I create, but with each book.  There’s one main character; the entire book becomes a kind of exoskeleton for the character within.  The other characters are reactions, motifs, variations, opinions–all of them filtered and refiltered through the main character’s perspective.  If I were to focus on the same events through a different character–not just switching POV for a few chapters–it would necessarily be an almost unrecognizably different book.

For example I’m working on a book in which the main character’s primary sense is sound.  She lives in a world of sound, even though she doesn’t “hear” background music or anything on a continuous basis.  It changes the way she processes the setting she’s in, her opinions of people, her definition of what good and bad are.  She reminds me that I did some sound design in college; I’m starting to back up and see the world the way she does, drawing from my life experiences in order to be able to recreate hers.  We have some areas in common; I’m trying to refresh those so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to write her.

People do that.  They tell their personal stories based on assumptions that they would generally not think to define–whether sound or vision is more important, for example.  That’s not a story.  Except that it is.  It’s a story on a deeper level than most people will ever consciously know.  I only briefly glimpse my characters’ underlying assumptions, like temporary mental constructs of a four-dimensional shape.  And then they’re gone.


A System to Beat Anxiety

This morning was a pretty serious anxiety attack (for me; I didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything).  I got to the point where I could journal, then started working away at the knot of it, pulling out one thread at a time.  Now, I’m still anxious–but I’m not locked up and frozen.  I think that’s a good goal:  not to overcome anxiety per se, but not to be unable to take action.  (Ironically, when there is an actual emergency, I function quite well, thank you.)

Here’s my current list of workarounds:

  • Make decisions ahead of time so that when I’m least able to make decisions, I don’t have to.I have a list of things that I have planned to do on a daily basis.  (If I’m working on something that takes all day, I blow them off.)  Some are maintenance habits, like journaling, meditation, and exercise; others are marketing-related, like my current goal of writing short Twitter-length hooks for everything I have on sale, and setting them up to auto-post on Hootsuite.  Studying writers.  Clear out emails.  Write reviews.

    I also have 1-2 major projects that I decide on the night before, usually one personal project and one client project.

  • Go numb as long as it takes to get to the point where I’m not pacing the room like a caged tiger, and no longer.  I have to eat and drink during this phase, do self-care.
  • Journal.  Sometimes my anxiety has one key action that I can take that will make me feel better (doing X because it’s been on my mind lately).  Sometimes it’s sorting out one specific action to take that will address a looming concern or something I’m working on. Journaling helps sort out what those often mysterious actions should be.
  • Make an “all the things” list where I write down everything I’m panicked about not getting done right now.  A lot of these are going to be filler.
  • Make a practical list where I write down what I can reasonably accomplish.  If it’s more than a handful of things, then I have to toss it out and start over.
  • Tackle one thing at a time, but allow for side quests.  If I don’t have to force myself to do something, it’s often much easier to do.  “Oh I could just do this one thing while I’m here.”  The side quests are usually where I get most of my work done on days like this.
  • When I can’t do that, clean, cook, put things in order.  Today was cream scones.
  • Watch for clenched solar plexus.  It’s a sign that I’m trying to go numb again…which is only going to make things worse.
  • Watch for gifts.  Anxiety sometimes throws you some weirdly beneficial stuff in the middle of the misery.  An insight that escaped you previously, knowledge of what’s truly important, dissolution of an illusion.

Today’s gift:  I realized that I hate making plans, to the point where I’ll get anxious over doing it.  I’m much better at systems; I would rather take low-cost, high-efficiency, high-reward actions with the option to reassess immediately and change or reinforce/double-down on tactics swiftly and smoothly.

“Reduce the amount of effort it takes to produce quality fiction suited to my cluster of genres; while continuously improving the quality and salability of that work; across an ever-broadening network of readers, fans, and professionals.”

To me, this is far more valuable than a plan.


That I can do.

Plot Twists

I’ve been working with some people (Shannon Lawrence, Veronica Calisto, Pete Aldin, and Melissa Locy) to put together a panel on plot twists for Denver ComicCon, at the end of June.

My line in the sand:  if it’s gonna be an epic, major, unforgettable plot twist…you have to give the reader a key to it in the opening of the story.  Do not spoil it.  But do not hoard the information, either.

Some examples.

And Then There Were None has a clue in the rhyme and [cough] in the names of the characters.  Murder on the Orient Express has one character point something out as usual to Poirot as he gets on the train, which the book then proceeds to overturn but pass off as “coincidence.”  Fingersmith starts out with a clue in the first line.  The Maltese Falcon tells us that Spade is devilish and Wonderly is all curves…except for her white teeth and red lips.  Gene Wolfe’s Peace starts out with a man awakening from a sudden dream…and dropping a single phrase that gives away the whole book.  The opening of Gone Girl tells us who’s responsible for the events that follow, and even that the guy knows that he should have known what happened all along.  The opening of Shutter Island  tell us to question our sanity and that, oh, by the way, this is all about a mental hospital.  My Sister’s Keeper tells us the ending of the book in the first scene.  The beginning of Life of Pi (the author’s note) is all about how a book about 1939 Portugal can be nothing about 1939 Portugal, and the word bamboozle.  

The examples go on and on…yet you usually can’t see what the twist is ahead of time anyway.  You know that some sort of twisty hijinx will ensue.  Something is not quite right here.  But you don’t know what.

You hear about this kind of thing, as a writer.  But it’s not until you really roll in the stink of it do you understand that it is true, true, true…

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Mental blocks that try to look like busyness…

Having a busy, hyperactive mind often shows up in my journaling as a hint that there’s something big on my mind behind all the rest of the stuff.  When I can’t finish a sentence–when I not only can’t finish a sentence but have to start midway through the next sentence–when I’m writing so quickly that I only notice the progress I’ve made when I flip the page. There’s usually a reason.

This morning I dug down through a bunch of what looked like unrelated topics and found…hope?  That small sales successes might be a flash in the pan, but at least they’re coming closer together.  That failures are easier to separate rather than have them stack up on each other.  That one more manifestation of why did you even bother to try is getting stamped out before it can start yet another mental forest fire.

Marketing.  I’m starting to think that it has to be part of my spiritual practice.  I get to try.  I don’t have to apologize for it.  I get to fail and keep trying.

How to Catch A Millenial…?

Note: I’m a GenX-er.

So I got the following spam the other day:


Stop stalking me and my friend or I will report you. You piece of shit, cock-sucker douche. I do not know why you are doing this! You slept together once, only once. It does not mean anything. Have not you heard of hook up?So, f*** off and leave us alone
F*** You

The sender’s address was such that it was obvious that this was spam.

Most of the spam that I get is of the “You deserve free money” or “You deserve free sex” or “Your politics are the right politics” or “I signed you up for this newsletter without asking” type.  This is the second one like this (not exactly like this, but of the same type) that I’ve seen.

It hit me:  most of the spam I see is Greatest-Generation spam (free money).  This is the same generation that loved Publisher’s Clearing House stuff.  Buy our magazine, win a million dollars!

The free sex and political stuff is probably Boomer- and GenX-related (a guess based on the type of political stuff I’m seeing, both left and right).  So is the free newsletter stuff (Online shopping is a thing now!!! Hot shit!!!  I may never get over the idea that you can buy things online, where Millenials are like, duh–this is the type of email that I’m almost caught by semi-regularly.  Maybe I should just check this out…).

But posing as a troll in order to get a rage-filled response?  That spam’s for you, Millenials.  In my heart of hearts, I go, “Too much drama for me.  Also…the term hookup.”

Remember:  spam isn’t there to catch everyone.  Spam’s just there to catch people who a) have live email addresses, and b) are vulnerable to some type of manipulation.  This is clever.

Interview with Rebecca Senese at Blackbird Publishing…


THOMM ebook cover CS3aI have a new interview up at Blackbird Publishing, in support of the Haunted story bundle.  I interview Rebecca Senese, author of “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor,” a twisty tale of family and ghosts that I really liked.  You can find links to the bundle here.


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