Musings

Location, Location, Location

I have an African Violet plant that hasn't flowered for years. 

Despite good care, the plant only grew lush, fuzzy green leaves.

Until now.

Three purple blossoms with bright yellow centers bloomed on top the plant. Six more await unfurlment.

What happened?

Violets

I moved the plant a mere 25 feet, from a northerly window indirect sun to an easterly window with a few hours of direct sunlight.

In our writing life, sometimes we need to change locations in order to blossom.

This could mean changing our mental orientation--for example, from discouraged to hopeful--or it may mean an actual, physical change in where we write.

If you're stuck on uninspired, try writing:

  • In the bathtub
  • On a park bench
  • At the library
  • In a cafe
  • On a step
  • In the care (not while driving!)
  • On a grassy lawn
  • In a shopping mall
  • Poolside
  • In a cemetery
  • At a ski lodge
  • On the bus
  • Under a tree
  • At the beach
  • In bed
  • At your dining room table
  • In the basement
  • At a friend's house

A change of location brings a different perspective--as well as varied sights, sounds and smells--providing fresh grist for the creative mill.

How has a change of location helped your writing life? Do tell!


What's So Great About the Truth?


After watching an episode titled "Back to Nature" on The Andy Griffith Show where Andy deceives Barney into thinking he has pioneer skills, I was offended. "It's a total lie", I said to my son, who was watching the show with me.


Noah then asked me a rather profound question: "What's so great about the truth?"

Back to nature 300I sputtered, "Being true to yourself! Being authentic!"

But as I thought about my obsession with striving for authenticity and honesty on social media--and where it's got me (don't ask--it's the liars and ass-kissers that get ahead)--I had to wonder if my child had a point.

Then, I happened to read James Frey's interview in the book Why We Write. You know, the James Frey that was burned at the stake by Oprah and the world for writing a fictional memoir (a book, by the way, that Frey tried to convince his publishers to sell as fiction--but they refused and went with memoir). 

Frey loves making up pseudonyms, saying:

Being a writer is about creating a public mythology, creating a writerly persona, as much as it's about what you write.

On Hemingway, Kerouac and others, Frey notes:

[They] had big public personas, and their public personas almost destroyed them. They got lost. They forgot that there's a line between who you are at home and who you are in public.

After reading this, I realized that there's one letter separating "public" and "pubic".

But I digress...

Compared to losing a kid, losing a friend, having your heart broken--those horrific experiences as a writer are just bad days at work.

Frey should know; he and his wife lost their son Leo 11 days after he was born.

I had an epiphany after reading Frey's insightful interview. 

Wow, I thought, maybe instead of striving for authenticity online--which always backfires--maybe I should strive for public artifice (otherwise known as "business as usual" for most other writers). 

Instead of closing the gap between the "real me" and the "public me", I should widen it like a canyon--never allowing the two to touch, let alone overlap.

Maybe it's the "artist's life" (or "artist's illusion") that destroys so many writers.

Maybe writers are better off regarding writing as "punching the clock", while research, daydreaming and germinating are nothing but overtime.

When I'm at the machine, when I'm James Frey the writer, that evaporates. I have no fear. Nobody can hurt me, nobody can say shit that means anything to me. When I'm in the act of writing that's not ego, it's just work, just struggle and challenge. I keep a pretty strict wall between those things. People get into trouble when that wall falls down.

Wise words. More writers, including myself, would benefit from building a thick, high wall between their personal Self and public Self.

That's the beauty of it: all the bullshit in the world, and all that really matters to me, to readers, to history, is are the books good enough.

Isn't that the million dollar question? Are our books good enough?


When Is It Time to Quit Social Media?


Many publishing “experts” admonish writers and authors to establish a platform, maintain a Facebook page, gaggle on Google+, chirp on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and blog until your eyes bleed.

Some even advocate ingratiating on Goodreads, lollygagging at LibraryThing or swimming down the deep, dark Amazon Forums.

But once you have one or two books under your belt, with others under contract, do you really need to “do” social media? What about if you pen a column, sell a steady stream of articles or publish stories on a regular basis?

In all honesty, it depends.

TypeIt depends on four things, as I see it:

1. Your goals as an author
2. The health of your writing life
3. The state of your personal life
4. The condition of your emotional life 

If your authorial goals involve networking with other writers, hobnobbing with industry pros (if they’ll even talk to you), securing an agent and (trying) to stay current with publishing trends, remaining active in social media may very well be beneficial to you.

However, you can get a similar experience (arguably, a better one) by choosing to opt out of real-time socializing and, instead, subscribing to informative blogs and industry mags, as well as joining supportive, professional groups organized by genre, topic or skill. In addition, some authors swear by writing conferences.

And if you’re trying to reach more readers, allow me to let you in on a secret: you attract more (and better quality) readers by continuing to publish great work. Another way to attract more readers? Getting interviewed on radio shows or podcasts. Go to BlogTalkRadio.com, for example, and search topics relevant to your writing, books and expertise.

Twitter Egg eyesOn Twitter, for example, what you mostly find are other authors clamoring for readers, many who sound like carnival barkers. Good luck being “heard” above the herd.

If your authorial goals tend towards writing more books and publishing more articles or stories, then beware of the social media time suck. Do you really want to be spending your time chatting about what you had for dinner, the latest internet meme, your mile-high TBR list or some smoke-and-mirrors scandal?

If you’re spending more time on social media than you are actual butt-in-chair writing (that is, writing towards publication), the health of your writing life may be flat lining. Some signs that your writing life needs attention STAT include:

  • Lack of focus
  • Unclear writing goals
  • Absence of regular writing practice
  • Unsubmitted queries or proposals
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Procrastination
  • Dry creative well
  • Indecision

The very act of unplugging your computer and avoiding internet access for at least a week (yes, it’s doable) can be enough to refocus your attention, recharge your batteries and resuscitate your writing life. The question is, do you have the courage to do so? Is your writing life worth it? Or would you be hunky dory with keeping things exactly as they are?

While our writing life is important, our personal life is just as important (arguably, for many, it’s more important). Some of us are wives, husbands, mothers and fathers. Others are taking care of aging parents or disabled siblings. Some have enjoyable “day jobs” with no intention of quitting despite publication success. Then there’s volunteering, spiritual/religious involvement, homeschooling/school-related events, domestic duties, close relationships, hobbies and so on.

For many writers, these enriching “personal” aspects of our life trump writing success every time. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, unless something interferes with our happiness.

If you feel “torn” between a satisfying personal life and a rewarding writing life (especially if, for some reason, you’re finding it difficult to have both), then it’s time to do a values clarification inventory. You must ask yourself these hard questions:

  • Decisions manWhat is important to me?
  • What part of my personal life needs attention?
  • What can I afford to “let go”?
  • What is non-negotiable?
  • What am I not willing to sacrifice?
  • What would I regret neglecting?
  • What am I after?
  • How do I define success?
  • How do I want my life to look 10 years from now? 20? 30?

Nothing sharpens our focus faster than clarifying values. (If you don’t even know what your values are, how do you expect to maintain them? Or live a satisfying life? In this case, take the time to discover and determine your values, then take steps to live in alignment with them. One of the biggest causes of personal dissatisfaction is living out of alignment with deeply held values.)

For example, if you say your kids are a priority, but you spend 5 hours a day on social media—and lay your head down every night wracked with guilt for neglecting to spend time with them—then your personal life is suffering. In this case, you do not value your kids as you say (we spend both time and money on what we truly value), or you value social media more than you value your kids or you’re caught up with internet addiction and can use some professional help.

Lastly, there’s the issue of our emotional life. If you think about it, every goal and ambition we have is—at core—the desire to feel something. As Tony Robbins points out, men don’t really want a shiny new red Ferrari. What they want is to feel virile and youthful. The Ferrari is merely a symbol or catalyst for that feelings state.

Authors want book deals, syndication and sold articles in order to feel successful, accomplished, smart, worthy, productive [fill in the blank]. Writers write for various reasons, and seek publication for a host of (sometimes) different ones.


If your desired emotional “bottom line” involves feeling the following on a regular basis—and social media cuts into or thwarts that—then it may be time to walk away:

  • Peace
  • Harmony
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Positivism
  • Optimism
  • Acceptance


Thus, if hanging around on social media distracts, irritates, upsets, discourages, bores or angers you, then you need to ask yourself if spending time tweeting or +ing is worth the time and aggravation.

After all, no one is guaranteed another minute of life, let alone another day or year.

OutstretchedDo you really want to spend your valuable time on social media, especially if the negatives outweigh the positives? If it’s contributing to living out of alignment with your core values? If it’s taking time from creating, writing and publishing? If it’s making you miserable?

Only you can answer these questions—not an industry expert, a social media guru, an internet marketer or a well-meaning fellow author. After all, they’re not living your life…you are.

And, let’s face it, 99% of the virtual people in your life right now sure as hell aren’t going to be with you on your deathbed where you’ll either be proud of who you are, how you lived and what you accomplished…or end up regretting all the mindless time sucks, stupid flamewars, jockeying for position and flailing for attention you’ve participated in online.