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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.

I also got:  “FAIL CONTINUOUSLY, EFFICIENTLY, AND NON-REPETITIVELY.”

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:

I WILL REPORT YOU. YOU PIECE OF SHIT…
Hey,

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.

 

In Search of DIY

So I tried to do some DIY plumbing the other day.  It didn’t work out the way I hoped:  easy, simple, straightforward.  Just like in the YouTube videos.

Instead I found myself having a breakdown.  Tears, self-recriminations, the whole bit.  I was a terrible person who never should have tried.  (I’m 43.)  And the only way to solve this was to deal with some jackass who was going to sneer at me for screwing things up, because obviously I was always going to have screwed things up.

I know my parents loved me, growing up, but they weren’t actually encouraging, especially when it came to me doing things that were stereotypically male-oriented.  Fixing stuff?  Not my purview.  That’s how they were raised, though.  Everyone had a place and a role—and you better train for that role and no other.  Their biggest challenges have always been having to adapt to changing or not-so-clear-cut roles, something I find hard as well—but not as hard as they have.  (I usually end up crying a lot at pivot points, then changing my approach and moving on.)

It feels weird having to think of myself as someone who attempts DIY projects.  I keep catching myself going, That’s someone else’s job.  You’re just support crew.  Go cook, clean, take care of the garden, raise the kid, run the errands, organize all the things…

And honestly there were a couple of days where I was so anxious about dealing with the plumber coming to fix what I screwed up that I was numb.  Nothing to see here.  Just move along.

The guy was nice, polite, funny, and willing to let me watch him work.  “Engineering on the fly,” he called it, and it was.  He also tried to charge me $10,000 and two goats.  “No more first-born children for me,” he said.  “They offered me too many teenagers.”

In the end, I had to admit to myself that it never was a DIY project.  I leaned on Lee for his experience and emotional support (and raw muscle strength in one spot).  I leaned on my daughter Ray for emotional support, too.  I leaned on three different plumbing places, one of which admitted that he wouldn’t be able to fix the leak because of weird parts being involved.  (He admitted he couldn’t do something!  I was impressed.)  I leaned on the Internet to find reviews of places recommended by women, and to find the original YouTube videos covering the process.  I leaned on the kindness of strangers who just wanted people to know how to fix their own plumbing and were willing to do a lot of work to post videos about same.

Not DIY.  An experiment.  Not a failure:  a process where I drew in the resources I needed to get the job done, and where I shifted roles throughout that process.  The process didn’t fail because there were obstacles at some of the steps.  The process succeeded because I cried, changed my approach, and moved on.

I can live with that.

 

 

 

Review and Interview Up: Jeremy Hepler’s THE BOULEVARD MONSTER

I did a review and interview of Jeremy Hepler for his horror-thriller novel, The Boulevard Monster, for Ginger Nuts of Horror.  I liked and recommend it if that’s your thing.

Review

Interview

I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD ABOUT ME

You say that I am a madman. You say that I am dangerous. You say that I am the one who has been abducting women, slaughtering them, and burying their corpses all around this city for years. You are wrong, because only part of that statement is true…

I AM NOT A KILLER

I know that you probably won’t believe me. Not now. Not after all that has happened, but I need to tell my side of the story. You need to know how this all began. You need to hear about the birds, but most of all, you need to understand…

I AM NOT THE BOULEVARD MONSTER

You can find the book for purchase here.

Marketing Brainstorming: Priority Order

Because it’s me, I keep trying to figure out how to systematize some kind of approach to book marketing.  I’ve been working a lot on various things with greater or lesser success, and I worked out a general idea of what marketing is and does; click here for more explanation.  But that’s kind of complex, which makes it a difficult place to start.

So this morning I was trying to work out some obscure point of what a retention campaign was and how I might be able to approach it (longer story than I want to get into here), and I sat down to journal it out.  Some good stuff popped out.

Hint:  None of this is easy.  I’m just trying to sort out how to prioritize.

The priority order for an organic (rather than planned out from the start) marketing strategy might go like this:

  1. Content.
  2. A place to call home that you can control.
  3. Connections between stuff.
  4. Your brand.
  5. Tweaking and leveling up on the previous items.

1. Everything goes back to content.  If you don’t have content, you can’t sell stuff.

  • Content that you create in order to sell under your own name, and for which you retain rights but can license.
  • Content that you create in order to promote yourself, that you control (blog posts).
  • Content that you create in order to promote yourself, that you don’t fully control (social media, blog tour posts).
  • Content that you create that you don’t control but you still have credit for (freelancing work with credits).
  • Content that you create that you don’t control and don’t get credit for but that can still build a reputation (ghostwriting).
  • Content that other people create about you or your work, to promote you.  Don’t pay for this; it will come back to haunt you.
  • Content that you pay for and control (ghosted work).

2.  A place to call home that you can control.

  • A website with its own separate domain name and an independent hosting service.
  • A website that falls under a free website platform (WordPress, LiveJournal, Blogger, oh my god I’m dating myself aren’t I?).
  • A social media platform that really isn’t separate from other users on the same site (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).
  • Nothing, you don’t have a website, social media, or anything else set up.

3.  Connections between stuff (more info here).

  • Direct contact information.
  • Resume, bio, bibliography.
  • Link to what you have for sale on website.
  • Link to what you have for sale on social media.
  • Link your website and your social media.
  • Direct outreach on website (newsletter).
  • Links between everything that isn’t your website, prioritizing your newsletter.
  • Free promo via third parties (blog tours, giveaways, Goodreads events).
  • Paid promo via third parties (ads, contests).

4. Your brand.

  • What do you make and who you make it for and why (sub-brands okay).
  • Research to find out where the market says that is now and find out how to make yours fit but stand out (80% like everything else; 20% catchy and different).
  • Start back at the beginning of item 1 and make sure all elements fit your brand or that you expand your brand to fit what you’re selling.

5.  Tweaking and leveling up.

  • Keep writing content.  Keep studying so you can write better content.
  • Improve existing content, especially covers and blurbs, as you improve.
  • Check with customers to make sure you’re still providing what they want (reviews, private emails and comments, public comments, polls/surveys, sales numbers).
  • Check that your brand and the market still are in sync (80% in sync/20% different).
  • Keep up with marketing methods to see if there’s anything you can do that produces high benefits at a low cost (usually, this is early adopters/first big wave adopters who see the biggest benefits, which is why you want to keep up).
  • Check for broken or inefficient connections (e.g., boot newsletter subscribers who aren’t opening their emails).
  • Check to make sure your brand still feels comfortable and lets you write what you want to write.

Obviously, you can’t do all this stuff in order.  Sometimes you just have to put a mental pin in something and move on.  But this at least sums up what I know at this point.  As you go through iterations of this list, things will have more or less importance than you see here–for example, it’s hitting me now that branding is way more important than I thought.  But then I already have books for sale, a website, and social media set up, and I can tweak my branding stuff for all that.  If I tried to do my brand first and my writing later…I might write something that didn’t fit to brand, and then where would I be?

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Book Review, Horror: The Boulevard Monster, by Jeremy Hepler

You can find Jeremy Helper’s book The Boulevard Monster on Amazon and in print.

Disclosure: I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

So once upon a time there was this guy. He meant well. Or at least…51% well over 49% ill. On average he meant well. And then he made a mistake. One teensy, tiny little mistake. But clearly not one that shifted the balance the other direction. Clearly he’s still a good guy. Who at least still means well.

One teensy, tiny little mistake after another, and he’s not sure where he is anymore. Did he mean well? Or ill? Or something else? Is ANY of this his fault? Surely not all of it is his fault…

You’ve read that story before; it’s the classic tale of a life gone wrong. Almost always, for reasons that vary from book to book, it was already going wrong anyway, before the monsters and uncanny stepped in.

What sets The Boulevard Monster apart is the warmth that fills the pages. Unlike many of the anti-heroes that carry out their own self-destruction, aided by the supernatural, bad luck, and Very Bad Men, our hero Seth Fowler is actually, genuinely likable, not just a self-justifying jerk of an unreliable narrator. He spends his time caring for other people, trying to make their lives a little easier. He has fond and even delightful memories of the past; he is grounded in solid realities rather than ambition and drive. When the time comes for him to make an ethical choice (at the very beginning of the book), he makes it without hesitation: in fact it’s his ethical choice that gets him in trouble. When he digs himself deeper and deeper into gray and then black areas of morality, you know that he’s making a very clear-cut choice between bad and worse. The mistakes he makes are the ones that we all make every day, out of the desire to help our loved ones, or prevent them from coming to harm. And his family is actually worth it.

This is no whiny, self-centered character who you secretly wish would get a two-by-four-sized clue stick to the side of the head. This is a genuinely nice guy, which gives the classic tale a lot more impact than I expected. I couldn’t hold myself back and go, “Well, if only he’d admitted that he was wrong here, here, and here, then he would never be in this place.” There was never a moment where I could say that. The actions that the character take throughout the novel have nothing but admiration and sympathy from me. Even during Seth’s worst moment, I went, “Ahhhhh…I’d have at least been tempted.”

The ending, in my opinion, nailed it. I’d like to see more in this universe, too. Recommend.

Journal: Self-faith, self-promotion.

Last night I delivered a writer craft talk for Pikes Peak Writers.  Usually what happens with this kind of thing is extreme anxiety before the talk, then beating myself up afterwards.  I was very anxious beforehand, but it went well, and on the way home I just focused on not punishing myself.  “You didn’t do XYZ correctly,” went the self-talk, but I examined it and found that it was really about the fact that I tried.  Not that I wasn’t perfect, but that I had put myself forward at all.

Ah, yes.  Midwestern upbringing strikes again.

This morning, I’m still struggling with the dread that something terrible is going to happen to me.  From the end of the journaling this morning:

Self-promotion is going to have to become a rather strenuous, ill-balanced exercise in self-faith.  I did this!  I believe in it!  Exercise:  working out weak muscles that are wobbly and shaky.  Getting done and feeling nauseous.  You can believe in yourself in one aspect and not others, the same way you can overwork one set of muscles and the other won’t magically become strong (just out of wishing they would).  And getting out in the real world and doing [ things that require self-faith] is never quite the same… Upping the weight of self-faith, upping the reps. Planning ahead for days with no willpower.

So at least for a little while, I’m going to write down my “self-promotion” tasks as “self-faith” in order to remind me that it’s not just my work that I’m putting in front of others, but my freedom to be an actual person with free will and a chance of success that I’m building up.  Strength.

Today!  If you like this post, please “follow” me on Amazon.  Unless you’re anti-Amazon, and then just follow me somewhere else.  Because [deep breath] I’m pretty awesome.

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