First, let us be clear. Oh, so very clear. Clear like a mountain stream, like a windswept sky, like a razor in the eye (clearly painful…): I have not made it big. This is not about that.Continue reading “On Making it Big”
You’re a writer. You know how it goes. You work your keester off writing something that you just think is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the Maharajah’s… uh, well, you get the idea.
But life happens and stuff happens and somehow it just doesn’t seem to be the big hit you expected. And then, one day…Continue reading “Twinklings of the Past”
You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You think up an idea, you jot some notes, you toss it into a drawer somewhere…a drawer labeled whenever. If you’re like me, things go into the drawer, but never seem to come back out.
I have a huge, mondo-sized, drawer overflowing with ideas, all labeled “whenever.”Continue reading “No Step, No Journey”
What’s the difference between a gorilla and a pound of oranges?
Once, in a galaxy far, far, etc., I had my first novel roll across an editor’s desk at Random House. The editor liked the book, but suggested a small gaggle of changes before they would sign it.Continue reading “Forget the Setup, Eddie”
If it looks like a duck, and floats like a duck, but doesn’t smell like a duck, is it a duck? Or is it a decoy? A fake duck? Perhaps a wannabe duck.
You’re a writer – you know how it goes. You pour your heart and soul into your work, you polish every single word, and then you launch it out into the world. But… how?
Once I was in a restaurant and the waitress asked me what I wanted. I told her I’d been thinking about the turkey sandwich, to which she replied “and what did you decide?”
I used to think that the difference between writers and folks who thought they’d like to take a stab at writing is that writers write. I still believe that to be true, but perhaps not as thoroughly true as I once thought.
Suppose you wrote your brains out, but shoved all your work into the furnace and sent it up in flames? If no one reads it, did it have meaning?
Obviously it did to you, but only to you. You’re a writer – you have a story to tell. If you don’t tell it, or if you tell it only to yourself, well, are you a writer?
It’s a long way to get to the point that we must publish. My books are at Smashwords – yes, that was a shameless plug, but it illustrates a point.
Once upon a time we would hawk our words to agents who would hawk our words to publishers who would bring our words to the world at large. In Shakespeare’s time, Will had to hawk his words to his publisher – there was no agent – and together they hawked his words to the world.
I’m thinking that Mr. Shakespeare’s paradigm has returned, now that the writer’s world has turned into a Wild West of Self Publishing.
I found this great website, run by Joanna Penn, called the Creative Penn. Her site is full of good ideas and great tools and is generally a lot of fun to wander about. While I don’t know Ms. Penn, and only recently discovered her site, I believe there is a lesson there for us all.
You, my writer friend, and I, unless we are to be mistaken for decoys, or wannabe ducks, must actively, and intensely, pursue the task of hawking our words to the world. It’s up to you and me.
Unless we do that, I believe that we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are somehow successful authors for having published ourselves. While that is truth, it an incomplete and rather shallow truth.
You, my friend, and I, must embrace the fact that if we do not actively market our work, we do not, in fact, smell like a duck.
#writersofinstagram #bookworm #bookstagram #writing #booklover
Welcome to year three of the Five Years to Independence program. Or system, or scheme, or deal… what it’s called isn’t as important as what it is. What’s in a name?
Name notwithstanding, this is not a self-help program, or a get rich quick scheme. This is just a different way to view the road you’ve traveled, and to adjust your thinking to find success in the way ahead.
Here’s something I hadn’t considered but is true: although this program is meant to help you if you know you’re talented, have spent your life hiding from it, but now realize you must become who you are, this scheme actually works if you’re living on your talents, but want to move up to a higher plateau. I know this because I developed this thing to turn my own life around, and am now using it again to further my products (the novels Droppington Place and Marigold’s End). You marketers: did you see this shameless plug? Shameless.
Year one, as we recall, was the Year of No Regrets, in which you stopped whacking yourself upside the head for not having explored your talents when you were younger. You changed the way you looked at the past, recognizing that the road you took led you to this new road.
Year two was the Year of Confidence, in which you viewed yourself as the creative talent you know yourself to be. If you dance, in this year you become a dancer, or a writer, or a painter, or a videographer. The Year of Confidence is the year in which you stop hiding behind the ordinary to finally be the extraordinary person that you are.
The secret behind these two years of mind-changing is that you were also practicing your art: working on your talent, albeit behind closed doors. You did this so that, when you announce to the cosmos that you ARE a singer, you’ve been singing for at least as year. That’s the keystone to this whole project: stop hiding from your talent, stop regretting that you’ve waited so long, and USE IT!
If we do a bit of math… let’s see, carry the one… that brings us to Year Three: The Year of Accomplishment.
Here is where the chicken hits the road. In this year, we move our art from inside ourselves out into the world. Yes, into the world.
Years ago I worked for a major international bank, helping people find solutions to their mortgage problems. The management catchphrase in use there was “if you didn’t document it, it never happened.” Essentially, if no one saw the transaction, it never took place.
In my revision of myself, I realized that a writer who thinks about writing but doesn’t do it is not a writer – he’s a thinker. A writer writes.
But that’s not quite right, is it? If I wrote beautiful poems every day, but kept them hidden in a closet, or burned them, is that writing? A writer’s work needs to be read, just as a painting needs to be seen and a song needs to be heard. A song sung to one’s self may be beautiful, but does not further one’s career.
So, this year, we stop singing to ourselves, and we put our talent out there. Out there on the world stage, come what may.
The glory of this age in which we live is that you now, finally, have a world stage at your fingertips. Now you can do your stand-up before a world audience – every nation in the world can see you dance, hear your song, read your words.
That’s an accomplishment, to get your work out there into the world. I’ve advocated doing that throughout the previous two years, if you’re brave enough. If you haven’t been brave enough to do it before, then this is the year you overcome that fear and let ‘er rip.
So, here’s how I faced my fear of the World Stage: It’s a busy place, with a hundred million voices all clamoring for their moment in the sun. Being one in a hundred million is a pretty safe, anonymous place to be. (For example, my books (see the shameless plug, above) are out there, waiting to be read. and have only sold 17 copies so far). That’s a nice comfort. On the other hand, I’ve sold 17 books so far, which means that a shaft of sunlight DID shine on my work, at least 17 times.
So, that’s your job this year. Put yourself out there, either in the safe and comfortable way of YouTube or Instagram, or, as I did, pushing my online published work to literary agents (can you spell “rejection letter?”).
Do it. Don’t hide from it. If no one sees your dance, how can you become known to the world as a dancer? Don’t forget, that’s the point of this whole exercise.
You’re a talented individual who has hidden from that talent all your life. You can keep hiding, or you can become who you really are.
“Be brave, little Piglet.” Owl’s stentorian tone emboldens little Piglet to hold on and endure the flood of the Hundred Acre Wood, according to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
You and I, we must be brave. What is talent, except the bravery to do the unusual, isn’t it? The talented have a vision, a world view, that needs to be shared.
You’re talented. Let’s get out there and share it!
This is really long-winded, I realize, but it’s important.
Ideally, by the end of the Year of Accomplishment, you’ve exhibited your talent in a place that will get you noticed. Ideally, that shaft of sunlight will illuminate your work, and you’re on your way.
The first time I ran this program, my Year of Accomplishment took two years, at the end of which I made the leap from under-employed customer service rep/novelist to technical writer/novelist. I became a writer.
I’m in another round of the program, with the goal of accomplishing the title change from technical writer/novelist to novelist/technical writer. I’m in year two of that accomplishment. The accomplishment will be to get seriously published: that’s a big one.
Like the speed limit on the freeway, the five-year structure of this program is just a suggestion: it may take you seven years, or six months.
Thanks for staying with me. Two more years to go!
If you’re just tuning in, this series of posts is about a self-improvement (ick, I hate that term) a self-developmental program that I’ve put myself through twice (yes, twice) which I call Five Years to Independence. If you follow the steps, yes it takes a long time, and no, no harm will come to you, and, in the end, you’ll feel better about your talents, and will find yourself accomplished in your field.
This plan works for you if you are not currently using your chosen talent to support yourself. If, for example, you are a fine painter, but you spend your days checking tax returns for a living, this plan is for you. I myself spent half of my life trapped in a succession of customer service positions before I figured this out.
Year One was all about not looking back, about honoring the road you’ve chosen so far in life. Although it hasn’t led you to success in using your talents, it has led you here.
And here is where we begin Year Two – The Year of Confidence.
Although this year is about self-confidence, it’s not the point. The point is that this year you express, believe, and totally embrace confidence in your talent. Whatever it is.
If you dance, this year you are a dancer. If you write, this year you are a writer. If you act… and so on and so forth.
This is the year in which you give yourself permission to be who you really are. You stop making excuses as to why you’re not that person: you be that person.
It takes a lot of courage to stop thinking of your talent as “well, you know, I dabble in watercolor,” and to instead refer to yourself as a painter. But that’s what this year is all about: courage.
One of the key parts of last year, the Year of No Regrets, was that, while you stopped kicking yourself for never having trusted your talent, you also worked in your art. You wrote, danced, sang, built a resume, even if only you saw it, which says Yes, I Am That Artist.
So, in fact, you are that artist. You write/dance/sing/act/paint. Whether anyone has seen it or not is immaterial. There is now artwork in the world, which you created. Artwork, by its very definition, is created by an artist. And that’s you.
Now, if you skipped the working part of the first year, it’s okay. Start working now. Now. Don’t put it off, or you’re wasting your time.
So, yes, that is who you are, but it does take some courage to admit it. You don’t have to go get new business cards. You need to tell your heart of hearts every single moment of every single day that you are a practicing artist. If you doubt yourself, look at the work you’ve accomplished.
If you are a performance artist, your road is both more difficult and more rewarding. A painter’s painting is a forever thing, but that moment when you catch the audience’s heart – that is fleeting. If you’ve ever done it, you feel it in your soul. For you to practice your art, you need to put yourself in front of an audience so you can pursue and perfect those moments. It’s harder, because you need to be cast in role – I recommend acting classes, either in workshops or for college credit, or both. Community Theater is always a very useful option. But it is so rewarding, because those little moments are such emotional highs. I know, spoken like a true actor. Funnily enough, I chose writing instead.
So, do you now what to do here in Year Two? Be it. Live it. Stop dreaming of it and become it.
So, here is my caveat about the Five Years to Independence: you have to define success. You don’t quite see my name on billboards, or find my novels at Barnes and Noble (yet).
Here’s how the plan has worked for me: I spent literally twenty-eight years in the customer service industry. Starting as a simple rep, I worked my way up through the ranks until I was a corporate director. When that company was sold, I moved on to become a partner in a service business, where my primary function was customer service. All the while, I dabbled in acting, in voice-over, in writing. The Great Recession crashed my business, and I found myself working part time at Bank of America helping people negotiate their failed mortgages.
It was then that I started this program, having built it as I went, and figured out who I really was, and what I wanted to be. I wrote my brains out in the Year of No Regrets, and sold my work for pennies to a number of online publishing sites. In that year, I became a writer.
In the next year, I decided to focus on a practical use for my writing, and learned how to be a technical writer. In the summer of that year, I got myself hired as a full time technical writer.
That, to me, is a huge success. I make my living, pay my bills, support my family, through my art as a writer. I no longer say that I dabble in writing – I do it every single day. It’s not prose or poetry, but it’s my art. And I love it.
To be sure, there’s much more to come – I have two novels, Droppington Place and Marigold’s End, that I’m marketing right now (for you marketers out there, did you notice how I slyly built two links right into this post? I know, I know, brilliance at it’s best).
The caveat, then, is that you must define your success. Getting to where you want to be requires mapping a road. Now that you are confident as an artist, you need to start thinking about where you can ply your trade.
That comes next, in the Year of Accomplishment!
Remember when you were a kid, and you had to do chin-ups at school? OMG, that was the worst thing ever! I always cheated and took a little jump up, so I always got a count of at least one. That second one was murder. And the third? Forget it. Same with push-ups. To this day, when I think of push-ups, I see the unmoving gym floor swim before my eyes…
Marketing is all about getting people to pay attention to you. You could make YouTube videos – tried that. You could make your own website – mine is right here: PhineasCaswell.com. You could make podcasts or something.
Whatever you do, you have to somehow drive traffic to it. That’s the key, the thing, the line over which you must cross to become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
So, I’ve been posting oodles of posts about the famous pirate Blackbeard on my site (see the shameless marketing plug above). In particular, I’ve focused on his most notorious ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Beyond that cool name, there’s just not much information available about her, which I take as a personal challenge. Why?
Okay, sit down – you’re not gonna believe this. My next novel deeply involves Blackbeard. Whoa! Huh? Did not see that coming, right? Blackbeard was born in 1680. My character Phineas Caswell, hero of Marigold’s End, a Phineas Caswell Adventure, was born in 1694. Both were sailing around the Caribbean at the same time, 1706… See? Those gears are a’turnin’,right? Blackbeard was 26 – in command of privateers or something, right? And Phineas… well, I leave it to your imagination to link those guys together. Or, actually, to MY imagination…
Anyway, I just ran a Google search on the phrase Queen Anne’s Revenge. My website didn’t show up on the first page, or the third, or the seventh. I gave up on Page 15, certain that I’m just not out there in the world. In fact, my site would appear, if I could find it, after “great snacks for the kiddos” and “cool dog names.”
Just like in middle school, in gym class, it’s all a question of keeping one’s chin up. Someday. Someday I’ll cross some magical line and come up on the first page of a Google search. And then the angels will sing, and the heavens will open up, and somebody will click through, visit my site, and buy my books.
Or, I could win the Powerball. The odds seem to be about the same.
You’re a writer, you know how it is. You write your book. You push it to agents. Nobody wants to represent it because, well, maybe it’s not that good of a book. Maybe it IS good, but not marketable. That’s what Disney told me.
I had an agent tell me “you should publish this yourself.”
Did so. Well, published this book instead: Droppington Place. But then I sat down and rewrote the book in question, which I have yet to push out to the agently world. That book is this book: Marigold’s End.
Boom – did you see how I did that, there? You notice that here, in the top quarter of my post, I’ve already pitched two products. Boom. Huh? You, my friend, have already been marketed to. Zimzam, what was that? What did it take?
That’s Gorilla Marketing at its best.
Okay, so, contrary to the Gorilla Marketing tenet of “do no work,” I did a little bit of work, and now have something to show you: PhineasCaswell.com.
“Wha… what’s happening?” you exclaim, your mind a whirl of sudden marketing impact. Boom, two books, zimzam, a website, just like that. Whoa. Sit down, my friend, lest you explode or something.
All right, all seriousness aside, if you have a minute, click on the PhineasCaswell.com link – there it is again. Open it in a new window so that you don’t miss any of my glorious words here.
Why is this a big deal? Because, if you publish your own book, you are responsible for marketing it. You need a website to give yourself some bottom – make yourself available for your readers. And, unless you yourself are a web designer, this can be a challenge.
I gave up trying to be a web designer as well as a marketer, an author, a technical writer/illustrator, a videographer, all in addition to being a loving husband and father.
First was Open Element, which gives you free, open-source web design software, with templates that seem to be “responsive” – you know, works well on cell phones as well as desktops. But the software is so so so so so very hard to navigate, and the stuff it seems like you really need? Well, that’s in French, you see…
Next came, Serif, a British company that makes a terrific web design suite. It’s quite inexpensive, but not yet quite up to the challenge of responsive web design.
Then came Google Web Design, which worked for a minute, but I couldn’t figure out the language to navigate their templates… OMG, my website looked ghastly! Like a commercial for Google!
However, GoDaddy, who carries my hosting, has a nifty WordPress plug-in. As above, boom, zimzam, etc, now PhineasCaswell.com is a nice, responsive website, looking equally cool on desktops, tablets and phones (marketers take note: that was yet another link).
Brag about the site though I should, I’m passing on to you, my valued reader, that WordPress seems to be really good at making a responsive website. That means that you don’t have to be.
One little nasty surprise does seem to come with a WordPress plug-in: the SSL certificate. If you haven’t got one of these, your WordPress site actually scares viewers away with a big warning that your site is not safe. I paid $75 to get my certificate. If you don’t pay the $75, you appear to the world as a creepy underworld scum, out to steal passwords. Seems as if there’s a piratical side to fighting pirates that just might be worse…
But you, my marketing self-publishing writer friend, that’s the big news for you, should you be looking for an easy way to build a backend for your authorial effort.
To those who were paying attention, I dropped Phineas Caswell as my nom de plume, and have published both novels under my own name. Not such a big deal for you, but a whopper for me!
You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You settle on a project, or maybe two, and you burn the midnight candle until it’s just a smoldering stub, and you tell everybody what your project is and how it’s your end-all-be-all raison d’etre and stuff…
But it isn’t. You fight the words and wrangle them into place. You beat yourself silly trying to find that structure, that style that sets you apart.You work until your mind bleeds to find the description that’s never been made.
But it doesn’t come.
It’s all the same hack.
I know. I’ve been hacking at the same project for, like, ever…
What to do, oh what to do.
Here’s something terrible that I shouldn’t tell you, but maybe you’ll see it.
I invented a producer, my writing boss. I gave her, (she’s a she) the complete and total task of managing my writing.
With Sydney (her name’s Sydney) in charge, I can mentally offload the task of managing my production to her. It sounds crazy, and I’m certain that is, but it has made my writing much easier.
Sydney’s a breeze to work for, because she doesn’t really exist, which means she hardly ever yells at me!
Yes, it’s nice to have a boss in the writing biz, even though, and I know you’ll agree, it’s crazier than a bag of wieners.
Now I just have to figure out to hit her up for a raise!