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August 30, 2010
E-books have exploded lately. Now that about half the books sold on Amazon.com are e-books, it’s time to take them seriously.
Since it may highly impact your own writing future–especially if you hope to make a living at writing–I’d encourage you to check out these articles:
“The Future of Publishing” by Randy Ingermanson is a good overview of the rise of e-books and what the next few years are going to mean, especially for fiction writers.
“The High Cost of Self-Promotion” and how author Jon Konrath was able to go back to writing full-time because of e-books.
“It’s All Hard Work” by Sherryl Clark–with e-book cautions for the new writer breaking into print–and advice on how published authors can make e-books work for them.
The More Things Change…
What do you think about all the news about e-books? Do you personally read a lot of e-books? Do your children read e-books? Would you buy more e-books if the readers were less expensive?
Give me your opinions on this!
August 27, 2010
Judging from some questions and comments I got via email about Wednesday’s post, I think I should have probably explained more.
I believe that many of us–and definitely ME–have a slightly “off” definition of being optimistic. It isn’t about thinking more positively or saying peppy things to yourself to keep going. (I’m good at both of those things.)
The test I scored a zero on measured three things that make up your optimism/pessimism score:
Pessimists come to believe a bad condition is probably permanent (“Diets never work for me.” “You never talk to me.” “Life will always be hard.” “Editors will never want my writing.”)
Conversely, pessimests also believe the good things that happen to them are transcient. (“I tried hard that time.” “My opponent was just tired that day.” “I got lucky that time–it was a fluke.”)
An optimist believes good events came from permanent causes (“I’m smart” and “I’m talented”) and that bad events come from temporary causes (“I was having a bad day” and “she’s just hormonal this week.”)
Pessimists let bad news or events in one area of life spread to other areas. (“I can’t write–I just had a fight with my spouse/teen/best friend.”) Pessimists make blanket judgments. “All editors are unfair.” “Writing books are useless.”)
Conversely, when good things happen, pessimists are very specific. (“I only did well there because I’m smart at math.” “The editor only agreed to look at my book because I was charming at the conference.”)
An optimist can put bad events in a box and not let a failure in one area spread out into all areas of his/her life. Specific events stay separate. (“I’ll deal with my teen later–I’ll write now.” “This writing book is useless.” “The editor asked for my manuscript because my pitch–which I worked on for days–was good!”)
This is when taking responsibility for your part in things (which is good) becomes self-blame (where you take all the responsibility for a problem, whether any or all of it is your fault or not.) You may have been raised with blame or live with someone who makes everything your fault. Either way, when things don’t work out in some area of your life, you automatically assume 100% of the blame. (“I’m just stupid.” “I’m insecure.” “I have no talent.”)
An optimist is realistic about how much responsibility to take for a problem. She doesn’t feel guilty assigning blame to others or events beyond her control when appropriate. She feels responsible for herself, not everyone she knows. [This was my biggest downfall on the test!]
It All Works Together
The test I took scored you on all three aspects. I scored high on some and low on others, which is how I got a zero. Some things–like taking too responsibility for things–turned out to be a bigger issue than I would have guessed. Apparently there’s nothing quite as depressing as trying to control something you have no control over!
More on all this later…but I wanted to clear up some confusion. Have a great weekend!
August 25, 2010
Because pessimism measures (in part) your ability to keep going and not quit in the face of unpleasant or disappointing circumstances, I didn’t expect the book Learned Optimism to have much to say to me.
My whole life has been about not quitting in the face of severe physical problems, depressing family life issues, and major publishing downturns. It’s been about taking responsibility, learning from things, and moving on.
“I’m no quitter” is as much a part of me as my hair color (under the Preference by L’Oreal) and my brown eyes. Yes, I sometimes took on too much. Yes, my health wasn’t always the best. But I always pressed on even if things looked hopeless.
That should earn me a high score on the book’s lengthy optimism test, right?
This Can’t Be Right!
I was shocked. I called my best friend who had read the book and asked what her score was. She got a 9–meaning very high optimism. I’m not surprised. She’s a great encourager.
I got a 0. (Oh, I got +14 on some good stuff, but a -14 on the bad stuff, effectively cancelling out the positives.) The test and research are based on what author Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. calls your “explanatory style.” It’s how you perceive the reasons behind the good things and bad things that happen to you-and your assumptions about the future.
According to Seligman, “It matters a great deal if your explanatory style is pessimistic. If you scored poorly, there are four areas where you will encounter (and probably already have encountered) trouble.”
He mentioned that you’ll (1) get depressed more easily, (2) achieve less at your career than your talent warrants [listen, writers!], (3) have poorer physical health and an immune system not as good as it should be, and (4) life won’t be as pleasurable as it should be.
The author assures me that there are many ways to change your thinking in all these areas of your life. Evidently my “explanatory style” needs a major revamping. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book. It’s very research-heavy in the first half, so I may skip to the chapters on “how to fix it.”
Expect to hear more about this in future weeks! In this time of publishing upheaval and downturns, might you benefit from some “learned optimism” yourself?
August 23, 2010
“Enthusiasm, motivation, and dedication are necessary for your success as a writer,” says Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life.
But…what if you don’t have all those emotional tools (the enthusiasm, motivation and dedication) at your disposal? “Don’t worry,” says Kelly. “They can be learned as part of the thought-feeling-behavior cycle.”
Same Old Thing? Not!
I’ve heard before that thoughts cause your feelings which cause your actions, and you probably have too. However, Ms. Stone gives a very helpful twist to the “you can change how you feel and act by changing how you think” mantra. And this “plus” makes the idea instantly useful to anyone trying to improve her writing life.
How? By seeing this as a cycle, not a linear set of events. I’d always heard that you had to go in order–1, 2, 3. You change your thoughts first, then your feelings would change, and then your behavior would change. However, this author claims (and I agree after trying it out) that it’s not a straight line, but instead a cycle that runs like a loop.
What does this mean to writers? It means that if you change any one element of the cycle, you will by necessity change the other two parts. You don’t have to start with changing your thoughts if you don’t want to–or if it feels too hard. You can change your writing life by changing whatever is easiest for you.
For example, maybe you’re a Nike-Just-Do-It! kind of writer. You can’t bring your thoughts or emotions into subjection, but you can grit your teeth and sit yourself down at the keyboard right on schedule. If that’s true–if controlling behavior is the easiest part of the cycle for you–then skip worrying about your thoughts and feelings and hit the behavior first.
Maybe it’s easier for you to deal with feelings. I know a perky, sanguine writer whose depressed anxious feelings rebound to optimism just by taking a nap! However, maybe for a variety of publishing and non-publishing reasons, your feelings about writing are sour, and fixing those ricocheting feelings is a losing battle. Then tackle another part of the cycle that is easier for you. (Personally, no matter what I’m going through, I find controlling or changing feelings the hardest part.)
Of the three aspects of the cycle, thoughts are easiest for me to change. It means I have to tell myself the truth, but in a kind way. (See Pitch It to Yourself and In Your Write Mind.) Over the years, for many problems that I faced, I learned the importance of positive affirmations based on truth. I saw that repeating these truths daily for weeks and months could totally reprogram my brain and change my attitude, my feelings, and the resultant actions.
No Right or Wrong Way
The point? Whatever part of the cycle is easiest for you on any given day, do that. You only need to change one element of the cycle in order to affect the other parts. One day you might find it easiest to self-talk your feelings into shape; other days it might just be easier to sit down and write and forget about your depression for a while. Whichever aspect you choose, it will affect your writing.
If you think more positively about your writing, your feelings will improve and you’ll find yourself wanting to sit down and write.
Or you can work on the feelings part: the author suggested saying, “I love to write!” whenever your feelings were negative. Those improved feelings will prompt you to write, and writing for an hour or two will change how you think about yourself.
Or work on the behaviors part–bribe yourself to sit down and write each morning for a set amount of time, and see how that reprograms your thoughts and feelings about yourself as a writer.
It All Adds Up
Changing one aspect of the cycle changes them all. You may have to experiment to find which part changes most easily for you. Instead of succumbing to a downward negative spiral, one change and you boost the cycle upward.
“You can see how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are directly connected,” says Ms. Stone. “This is why learning to control your thought-feeling-behavior cycle is so important–because it’s cumulative and self-perpetuating.”
Which part of the cycle do you suspect would be the easiest part for you to change ? Leave a comment below!
August 20, 2010
If a friend from your critique group told you ”I just can’t get started on my story today,” what would you say? “Get moving, you lazy do-nothing wannabe!” I hope not!
If your writing friend bemoans receiving another rejection, do you say, “Well, what did you expect? Your novel stinks!”?
I would hope not. Most of us are better friends than that…except to ourselves.
Your Own Best Friend
Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you procrastinate, do you beat yourself up? Do you call yourself names? And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Does it spur you on to do your best writing–or to give up and eat a pint of ice cream?
When you receive a rejection, do you downgrade your writing? Do you tell yourself that publishing is just a pipe dream, that it’s for others but not for you?
Do you say things to yourself that you would NEVER say to a writer friend?
Time to STOP!
Learn to tell yourself the truth–but with kindness. Be a mirror that reflects back understanding. If you got off course, gently encourage yourself back on the writing path you want to travel.
- You’re so lazy that you’ll never get anything written and published.
- No editor or agent will ever read your novel, much less publish it!
- You only have friends on Facebook because they don’t really know you.
Say this instead:
- You may have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of something. Try journaling to get to the bottom of it.
- You may (or may not) find an editor who loves your novel–but you’ll never know if you don’t keep sending it out. Let’s try one more time.
- Many people in your real life know you and love you. Make a list. Be thankful for each person on the list.
Be That Good Friend
The next time you stall or hit a rough spot in your work, talk to yourself like a true friend would. Be kind, be understanding, give some praise, and encourage yourself to try again.
You can be your own best friend.
August 18, 2010
“Some days, even the best dentist doesn’t feel like being a dentist,” says Seth Godin on his blog. “And a lifeguard might not feel like being a lifeguard. Fortunately, they have appointments, commitments and jobs. They have to show up. They have to start doing the work.”
“Most of the time, this jump start is sufficient to get them over the hump, and then they go back to being in the zone and doing their best work.”
But…What About Writers?
If we work at home, we don’t have to keep strict office hours. No one will know–or the little ones underfoot won’t care–if we keep that “appointment” with our novel or article or lesson. No one will fire us if we don’t show up and do our writing.
It’s not that writers can’t have the momentum of the dentist or lifeguard. It’s just that no outside boss is going to help you get going, get over the hump, and build that momentum. You will have to do it yourself.
You must be a self-starter. (Gulp.) That’s the truth.
Help Is on the Way
There are terrific motivational books for writers. I’ve blogged about many of them. You can also re-read some blog entries on getting started or entries on the psychology of writing. These will often be enough to prime the pump and get you to the computer or legal pad.
Getting started and building your own writing momentum is a struggle for ALL writers. That’s why ten chapters in my Writer’s First Aid book are devoted to getting started and ten more on work habits that work for you. (Here you’ll find four sample chapters.)
What about you? What is one technique or ritual you use that gets you started writing?
[NOTE: see Nancy's comment below--great idea!]
August 16, 2010
Are you a pessimist? You might be surprised. Choosing to be an optimist, according to author Randy Ingermanson, can change your writing life. Read his article below, reprinted with permission. It’s long–but worth it!
What’s Holding You Back?
I recently discovered something about myself that surprised me. Something that makes me take a lot longer to get things done than I should. Something that sometimes keeps me from finishing tasks. Something that occasionally even keeps me from trying in the first place.
I’m a pessimist.
This came as quite a surprise. After all, I’m not nearly as pessimistic as “Joe,” a guy I used to work with. Every time I suggested a new idea to “Joe,” the first thing he’d say was, “Now be careful! There’s a lot of things you haven’t thought about yet.” Then he’d shoot the idea down with rocket-powered grenades.
After a while, I learned not to run ideas past “Joe” because apparently, all my ideas were bad.
I haven’t seen “Joe” in years, and I’m pretty sure I’m not as pessimistic as he is. But somewhere along the way, I definitely went over to the Dark Side. I became more like him than I ever imagined possible.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that pessimism is not forever. You can quit being a pessimist and start being an optimist.
But should you? Aren’t those pesky pessimists more in touch with reality than those annoying optimists?
Yes and no.
Yes, pessimists generally do have a better grasp of the hard realities of the situation. “Life sucks” and all that. You can prove in the lab that pessimists are better at recognizing reality.
But no, no, no, because in very real ways, you make your own reality. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. Those work both ways. Optimists are
happier, healthier, and get more done. Because they expect to. Pessimists are less happy, less healthy, and get less done. Because they expect to. Again, you can measure that difference in the lab.
If you’re a pessimist and you want to know what’s holding you back in life, just go look in a mirror.
It’s you. But you already knew that, and you were already down on yourself, and now you’re mad at me for blaming you, but realistically, you secretly believe it’s your own darned fault, so you’re really just mad at me for telling you what you already knew.
Sorry about that. I feel your pain. Remember, I’m a pessimist too, and I’m probably a bigger one than you are.
I’m a pessimist, but I’m going to change. Which is actually an optimistic thing to say, and it means the cure is already working.
What is pessimism? And what is optimism? And how do you know which you are?
I’m not the expert on this. Martin Seligman is the expert, and he has been for a long time. Recently, somebody recommended Seligman’s book to me. The title is LEARNED OPTIMISM.
I grabbed a copy off Amazon and began reading. Seligman hooked me right away with his account of how he and a number of other researchers broke the stranglehold on psychology that had been held for decades by the
Behaviorists taught that people were created by their environment. To change a person, you had to condition him to a new behavior. A person couldn’t change himself merely by thinking differently, because thinking didn’t matter. Only conditioning mattered.
What Seligman and others showed was that the behaviorists were wrong. The way you think matters. Thinking optimistically, you could change things for the better. Thinking pessimistically, you could change things for the worse–or at best just wallow in the “life sucks” mud.
There’s a test you can take in LEARNED OPTIMISM that helps you figure out your particular style of thinking. There are three particular aspects to measure:
* Permanence — if things are good (or bad), do you expect them to stay like that for a long time?
* Pervasiveness — if one thing is good (or bad), do you expect everything else to be like that?
* Personalization — if things are good (or bad), who gets the credit (or blame) — you or somebody else?
Optimists think that good things will continue on but that bad things will go away soon. Likewise, they think that good things are pervasive whereas bad things are merely aberrations from the norm. When good things happen, optimists are willing to take a fair share of the credit; when bad things happen, they’re willing to let others take a fair share of the blame.
Pessimists are the opposite on all of these.
I took the test and discovered that I’m somewhat pessimistic in two of these aspects and strongly pessimistic in the other.
That’s not good. But (having now read the book) it’s not permanent. I can change if I want to. Furthermore, that pessimism is in my head, it’s not a pervasive feature of the universe. Most importantly, my pessimism isn’t entirely my fault, because I can see now who taught it to me.
The above paragraph is a model of how to change from pessimism to optimism. Both optimism and pessimism are driven by your beliefs, which are driven by what you tell yourself.
When you change your self-talk, you change your beliefs. When you change your beliefs, you change your behavior. When you change your behavior, you change your life. Chapters 12, 13, and 14 of LEARNED OPTIIMISM
teach you the techniques you need to change your self-talk.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Optimism is not about the alleged “power of positive thinking,” not about making those wretchedly gooey self-affirmations, and not about telling lies to yourself.
Optimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to improving your life.
Pessimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to disimproving your life.
Which of those is likely to make you happier, healthier, and more productive? Bringing this home to the topic of fiction writing, which of those is likely to help you get your novel written, get it read by an agent, and get it published?
Research shows that optimism is an invaluable tool in dealing with criticism and rejection. If you’ve ever shut down for three days after a tough critique, or stopped sending out query letters for three months after getting a rejection from that perfect agent, then you can see the value of learning optimism.
Optimism will keep you going through the hard times as a writer. And you are going to have hard times. That will never change. What can change is how you respond to those hard times.
There is no way I can explain in 500 words exactly how it all works. The best I can do is to point you to Martin Seligman’s book and tell you that I think it’s gold. I expect this book is going to revolutionize my life in the next year. I hope it changes yours too.
Here’s Randy’s Amazon affiliate link to LEARNED OPTIMISM:
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 21,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/>http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.
August 13, 2010
At a recent retreat, several writer friends were waxing nostalgic, longing for the “good old days” of publishing.
Back then it was easier to get published. Back then it was common to have editorial attention and hand-holding. If only we could go back, they lamented.
Well, recently I had a rare chance to time travel back to the “good old days” and see what a writer’s life was like 54 years ago . . .
Writing Circa 1950’s
While sorting donated books and magazines for a library book sale, I came across a real treasure: a 1956 Writer’s Digest. Priced at 35 cents, it was a far cry from the large glossy print magazine or colorful web site of today.
I wondered if any writers in 1956 had envisioned the e-zines and e-publishing of today, the huge publishing conglomerates, writing with computers, or the differences in pay scales. (I found references to one-tenth-cent, quarter-cent, and half-cent-per-word rates!) The rates might sound puny, but a quick glance through the market listings showed that most magazines still paid on acceptance.
Ahhh, I thought, another world. I was eager to read the articles next, to see what “wisdom of the ages” was dispensed for such a different writing world.
The more things change…
As I thumbed through the yellowed magazine pages, however, I was surprised by a number of things. First were the numerous ads for co-operative publishing and subsidy publishing (or vanity presses). For some reason, I had assumed they were a plague of the ‘90’s and early 21st Century writing world, an answer for the age we lived in where it was so difficult to sell a manuscript to a “big name” publisher or even a small press.
My second surprise was a full-page ad on the back of the magazine for a bookdoctor, something else I had believed to be the result of present market realities.The ad read: “Sure, you’re going to be an author. But right now you are having ahard time making folks believe it! Friends and neighbors regard your literary ambitions with a quiet smile, but members of the family are less subtle. Not only are you getting no help from them—you aren’t even being encouraged. One day you’ll show ‘em. But what can you show until you have a published book? And how can a book become publishable in today’s selective market without professional counsel?”
Sound familiar? Every word of this book doctor’s ad is just as true in 2010 as it was in 1956!
A Writer’s Life in the Good Old Days
My biggest surprises came in an article called “Roses and Thorns” by Jim Kjelgaard (a juvenile writer). He reflected on his 25 years of writing, which had begun in the early depression years. It would be hard to find a writer whose experiences were further removed from mine than someone who began writing after the crash on Wall Street. Or would it?
I was shocked to find out how much we had in common. For example, Jim’s thoughts on writing only when inspiration strikes sounded identical to the advice I gave a new writer last month. He wrote of “the grueling discipline, the long hours spent over their typewriters” that was required. He called writing “an exacting job that often requires many more hours of hard work than most jobs. . . All the successful writers I know are successful mainly because they work hard,” not because they only wrote when inspired. Not any different today.
Don’t waste your time looking back to the “good old days.” Each period has its challenges, its ups and its downs. The best time to be a writer is always today. So…go write!
August 11, 2010
There are days you wake up feeling ache-y because, although you slept hard, you slept funny. There’s a kink in your back or neck. Something isn’t right.
Some evenings your spirit feels “not quite right” as well. Could it be that on those days you worked hard, but you “worked funny”?
This idea of working “funny” came from Seth Godin’s blog a few days ago, and it really made me think. He said that there are days you work long and hard, convinced that you’ve accomplished something–but you haven’t.
We react, respond, put out fires, attend to others’ projects, answer emails, go to meetings, check off items on a list–yet we’re out of sorts and feel lousy and unproductive at the end of the day.
Which One is You?
I vacillate from one extreme to another, it seems. For example, yesterday, before doing any lessons or blogging or emails, I wrote more than three hours on a novel I had been neglecting for weeks. Then I felt productive and happy and satisfied.
The previous weeks, though, I worked funny. I attended to lengthy lists of chores and office jobs daily, but felt dissatisfied and unproductive. (Truthfully, “working funny” is harder on my spirit than sleeping badly.) Despite being exhausted by evening, I felt restless as well.
If you’re a writer, I suspect you can identify with the “working funny” dissatisfaction and restlessness described above. Or is it just me?
How does skipping your writing in favor of other busy work make you feel at the end of the day?
August 9, 2010
Time pressure and interruptions–they’re always with us. Right? To a certain extent, yes.
I have several appointments coming up that will take three hours out of several different days and a couple of favors I didn’t have the nerve to say “no” to. I was bemoaning the chunk of work time that would be deducted from my 40-hour work week.
How would I get my writing done?
Then I realized that my husband hasn’t missed an hour of work in months, yet he keeps his doctors’ appointments and other special commitments. He does what I need to do myself–he makes up for lost time. Usually he works days. If he has a morning doctor’s appointment, he switches shifts, goes to his appointment, and works 3-11.
Yes, he gets less sleep that night. Yes, he’s a bit tired the next day, but he just goes to bed earlier. He doesn’t moan and groan about time pressure, he doesn’t miss any work, and he takes care of important appointments.
Keeping Office Hours
I need to follow his example in that area. If I’m going to say “yes” to a favor or a long phone call with a friend, I need to “clock out” of the office for that time, and then make it up in the evening. Or, better yet, I need to get up earlier that day and log in the extra writing time before my appointments.
If I diligently make up the writing every time I quit work for some reason, I bet I will get better at saying “no” to some requests. In fact, I can almost guarantee it! While my husband works late to make up for important things (eye exams, yearly physicals, occasional volunteer projects), he doesn’t switch shifts and work late for every little thing someone might want him to do. And I can’t ever recall a time he was stressed about finding enough hours to get his work done.
Home Office Hours
Yes, it’s easier if you work at an office with a boss. None of your friends or family members expect things from you during the day when you work outside the home. So your only option is learning to say “no.” I’ve been working in my home office (mostly full-time) for thirty years. People still half-assume that since I’m at home, I’m not really working.
So, as usual, it comes down to this. *I* need to take my writing schedule seriously before anyone else will. It’s not about convincing the people in my life that I’m serious about my writing. It’s about convincing me.
Once I do that, I suspect the schedule will fall into place.Newer Posts »