Take Your Day

First, admissions: I’m sitting on a folding chair in a gym in Anaheim, CA, surrounded by at least a hundred screaming, volleyball-playing teenage girls. I have not had enough sleep, and I’m terrifically annoyed by the itty-bitty keyboard on this phone that keeps recommending words I don’t want to use.

Continue reading “Take Your Day”

Forget the Setup, Eddie

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”

Smelling Like a Duck

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.

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#writersofinstagram #bookworm #bookstagram #writing #booklover

Five Years to Independence: Year Three – The Year of Accomplishment

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!

Oh, and, visit my Smashwords page, or my online home.

Five Years to Independence: Year Two – The Year of Confidence

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!

 

 

 

 

It’s Cool When Worlds Collide

You remember that dorky sci-fi movie from the ’50’s “When Worlds Collide,” right? If you don’t,  count yourself lucky. Earth was gonna get smashed by an asteroid, see, and so the scientists build these giant spaceships to fly away into space, see, and, well, you get the drift.

You’re a writer – you know how it is. You’ve got your work out there, doing its reader-generating thing, and you’re looking at your pile of ideas, wondering what’s going to call you next.

Same thing here.

Except, well, the ideas and facts work in funny ways, don’t they?  Check this out.

My next book, please don’t tell anybody, is all about Blackbeard the pirate. Very in-depth, but fun, too, because, well, hey, it’s what I do.  I’m still knuckle-deep in research, but I ran over a really cool, really helpful set of truths.

Was you a pirate in the early 1700’s, you were a rough-and-tumble sort of chap. Climbing rigging, whacking people with cutlasses, yelling “arrrgh”, that wasn’t for oldsters.

So, Captain Charles Johnson, in his book A General History of Pirates, which he penned in 1724, may have made a goof when he wrote that Blackbeard was born in 1680. Kevin Duffus, in his recent book The Last Days of Blackbeard, reasoned that such a birth year would have made the pirate 38 years old at the height of his career – quite old for an active  in those days.

More likely, Duffus writes, that he was born in 1690.

Record skidding noise…

Wait. My character Phineas Caswell, from my novel Marigold’s End, was born in 1694. Er-ma-gersh, I can see the next novel to follow this Blackbeard piece: how cool would it be to get Phineas aboard young Blackbeard’s ship, before he turned pirate? Phineas is twelve, Blackbeard is 16, both are fresh to the sea… this will be great!

So, chasing one idea leads to another. One novel collides with another… when worlds collide!

Nah. It doesn’t work for me, either.

The Golden Carrot of Immortality

You run marathons for the joy of running, right? Surely it can’t be for the prize money. But you don’t devote your life to it, either. What do I do? Oh, I’m a marathon runner – oh, and I also work as a nuclear scientist, you know, during the week.

But, you’re a writer. You know how it goes. Writing is like breathing – like running. When it flows it’s golden, and when it doesn’t, you worry about getting it flowing. Writing is… everything.

But, everything else is everything, too. Somehow, some way, we all find a way to weasel in a little time to write – as I’m writing this, my daughter’s getting a cavity filled.

But, where running is glorious simply for the sake of running, writing doesn’t achieve its true glory until it’s been read. Until you transform someone’s thinking with your ideas, writing is just a mental exercise.

You know the difference between writers and wannabe writers, right? One does, while the other wishes he did. Writing tons of stuff and packing it away, never to be read, doesn’t do it, either. If no one reads your stuff, you’re not writing, just expressing.

So, what can the prize be? I am truly blessed to work as a professional videographer, writing and telling industrial stories. I am married to a terrific woman, have three successful, wonderful children, and live in a great house in a beach town. Hello?

For all that, my writer’s eye is still attracted to that shining bauble of intellectual immortality, that celestial club that includes Shakespeare and Hemingway, Milton, and, yes, Rowling. That club that persists far beyond the wash of generations.

Isn’t that why you write? Aren’t your ideas larger than your life? Don’t your characters extend beyond you?

If you impress somebody – change their mind, make them laugh, bring them an image they’d never seen – is that it? Are you done?

Or are you like a machine, an authorial savant, cranking and cranking out scenes and images, ad infinitum?

Is there a prize – a golden carrot of immortality? Does it show up one day in the mail? And, if you got it, could you stop writing?

These are the things that keep me up at night… well, that and seeking the flow… and making sure the mortgage is paid and the plumbing doesn’t leak and getting the dog’s teeth fixed and paying the taxes and that odd ticking when I turn the car and my son’s upcoming wedding and finding a good school for my daughter…

You’re a writer. You know how it goes.

Going Responsive

Responsive websites? I always thought your website was responsive if you just answered your emails.

You’re a writer – you know how it is. You toil and slave over your book, you publish it yourself, you get your website, your Facebook page, your logo… and then, who knew, it’s useless if your website isn’t responsive. Useless. Who knew?

While, the standard, desktop, not-so-responsive website still has value if you’re a corporation that sells oodles of things that deserve their own big pictures and stuff, the little screen, however, is clearly the road ahead.

So, what does it mean to “go responsive?” It simply means that you scale your website to look good on mobile devices. That’s it.

Sort of. Once you scale your whole website down to that itty-bitty size, you realize that your whole outlook about your website changes. Gone are the stacked images, the carefully layered pages that had a certain snap to them. Gone are the cool, zoomy galleries of your favorite pictures.

Those big, splashy pages have been replaced with simple, easy-to-read, direct-to-the-point, cell-phone sized articles and galleries and images.

It’s great news if you’re a writer, which you are. All you have to do is write! You don’t have to be a web designer? You just write – that’s really what you and I do best anyway!

PhineasCaswell.com has been a desktop site for quite a while. I built it with Open Element software – free!!!   But, Open Element doesn’t support responsive websites yet. Rats.

For around $30 USD, I found Serif’s WebPlus – I’m running x7, whatever that means. It has a set of really simple templates for making a responsive website. It was seriously easy to make the conversion.

I’m trying to sell my novel, Droppington Place. It’s aimed at the young adult market, which is comprised mainly of mobile device users. Market? Meet website. Website. Market.

As you know, I’m a big proponent of Gorilla Marketing – do nothing and hope for the best. I did a little something by going responsive, and now I don’t have to do anything else. My site is ready for the world to beat a path to my door.

Ah, success.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention my other Gorilla Marketing project – you’ll like this. It’s called Soon to be a Major Motion Picture. All you have to do is download Droppington Place – do it for free, if you’d like. Encourage your friends to do the same. If your friends tell their friends, who tell their friends, who tell…you get the idea… why, we’ll be way over a gazillion reads, which is more than enough for any savvy movie studio or book publisher to jump on the bandwagon and make Droppington Place into a major motion picture. Brilliant!

So, download Droppington Place, and go tell all your friends.

This is gonna be great!

Let the Marketers Market

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You’re washing your face in the bathroom sink. The warm water makes a pleasant gurgle as it swirls down the drain. It’s California, so you don’t run the water too long.

Suddenly, the water reverses course, and comes up out of the drain.  Thinking quickly, you shut off the tap. No good. The water is gray and malicious, and soon the sink is full. It stops filling before the water spills over the edge, but just barely.

So? What do you do? The sink is full, which means the pipes under the sink are full. Are you a plumber?

In my household, I would attempt to fix it, would flood the bathroom, and never hear the end of it from my wife and teenaged daughter.

“Why don’t you just call a plumber?”

“I can fix it, honey! See, it’s just a… oh.”

Slosh, gush. Gaglub, gaglub, gaglub.

“Nice going, Dad.”

You’re a writer. You know how it is. We write, you and I. Unless you’re a marketing writer, the whole business of promotion and publicity is outside our bailiwick.

So, here we are in the world of self-publishing. I did all the work – I wrote Droppington Place, I edited it, had it read and ignored by family and friends, I published it, I created a Facebook page for Phineas Caswell, I opened a website,  PhineasCaswell, and I even bought a book about Dummies marketing on Facebook.

So far, I’ve sold 4 copies of the book – three to people I know and one that might actually be legit.

By day, I’m a technical writer/illustrator. I do what I do because I enjoy it, and am good at it. I’m not a plumber, although I do get my hands wet upon occasion. But, I am a miserable excuse for a plumber.

So, my writer friend, must it be true with marketing. Here we are in the most freewheeling, enabled, and unshackled time in history for writers – dude, anyone could read your book right now! – but are fettered at the gate of success by a lack of time and marketing knowhow.

The answer is to let the plumbers plumb and the marketers market. The answer is the same as it always was: do what you do best. If you need the help of a specialist, for goodness sake, hire the specialist!  Unless you can do your own dentistry.

As for me, I’ve got to fix this sink before my wife gets home… it’ll all be done and she won’t even know I did it myself until I tell her!

Crack. Gaglu, gaglug, gaglug…