Saturday, June 15, 2019

I am Enough, Part One

I am Enough
Part One

Like many other artists, I have wrestled with feelings of inadequacy. No matter how good I got at something, I never felt enough. Not good enough, not fast enough, not strong enough. Not enough. It wasn’t just what I believed I could do, or not do, but also how I looked. I never felt tall enough, pretty enough, thin enough. On and on it went. This belief affected many aspects of my life in a significant, negative way.

I became the self-assigned Queen of I Can’t. I can’t because I don’t think I can. This went on for decades.

What a shitty way to live.

My life took a turn for the worse when I got divorced many years back. My now-ex-husband found someone younger, taller, and prettier and he wasted no time dumping my sorry fat ass for her. Whatever self-esteem I had at the time died a painful death and I was left an empty shell, solid in my belief that I was Not Enough.

It wasn’t that I was pining for my husband or the life we had. In truth, we never did quite fit together. He wanted things that I had no interest in, and it was the same for me. He went fishing while I was stuck at the day job, doing work that had zero meaning. Depression became my constant companion.

This doesn’t make him a bad guy, nor was he responsible in any way for me being as miserable as I was. That’s all on me.

So when he left, I began a descent into a hell of my own making. I left a good job (that I hated), and started dabbling with various art forms. I’d already returned to writing and had recently gotten published, which was awesome.

My head was still in a very bad place, despite that accomplishment. My descent continued. I couldn’t find a job, and though my art was selling, it wasn’t enough to pay all the bills. I lost nearly everything. I lost things I loved.

There is nothing more terrifying than standing naked before God with nothing, really, to show for your time on Earth. I felt like I’d completely failed to be an acceptable human being.

I waited for God to give up on me and send me into nothingness, which is where I felt I belonged. I was a void on the planet. Emptiness. Meaningless. Useless. I wanted God to send me into nothingness because then I would be out of my hell. It would be a relief.

I didn’t get the release I was looking for. What I did get was people who thought I was worth saving. Friends let me stay with them, a server at a restaurant gave me a salad when I didn’t have enough money. Their belief that I was worth saving made me think that maybe I was. I didn’t know what they saw in me, but maybe I could find out.

That led me to the complete understanding that God was never going to send me anywhere or do anything to get me out of hell. Whatever I did, wherever I went, whoever I became, was going to be up to me. This understanding led to the realization that life must not be done with me. So I'm here for a reason. What is it? I decided I wanted to find out.

I got a job at Walmart. It was a far cry from my last job, but I was grateful to have it. Many years ago, Michael Gates Gill wrote a book called “How Starbucks Saved My Life”. He told the story of his own descent and how Starbucks offered him a chance to start again. Walmart did the same for me.

Thus began my ascent.

Friday, June 14, 2019

I am Enough, Part Two

There should be some kind of reward for surviving hell.

I managed to get an apartment. It was old and very vintage. I loved it. Little by little, I got furniture for it, mostly from Craigslist. When I was married, I had contemporary furnishings, and my colors were always neutral or soft and warm.

Fuck that.

I'd been in hell for a while. There, I lived with a very uncertain future. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was determined to lift myself out of the mire I'd fallen into. I wanted a better life for myself, one I created from what I wanted. Just me.

I accepted that I needed to live an authentic life, that I was okay just as I am, proud to fly my freak flag for all to see.

What that meant for me was that I needed to stop saying "I can't", because maybe I could. Maybe I could do more than I believed. I wanted to find out. So, I did. As time passed, I learned that I was right. My confidence rose, as did my sense of self-worth.

My new colors were blue and purple. My furniture was eclectic, and I painted a lot of it to add my own unique signature. They became my wonderful creations and I loved them all. My space now is uniquely me, perfect for the insane bohemian I've become.

It took years of continual work on myself to heal old hurts, to become stronger, more confident in my abilities, and happier. I still have moments, and my heart is still broken, but my days are better.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Selling Books

Some writers think that once they’ve gotten their book published, their job is done, and it’s time to sit back and watch the sales roll in. They believe it’s the publisher’s job, or the agent’s job, to sell the book. Having a career as a writer (which is very difficult to pull off) means 20% writing, and 80% promotion. Truth is, if you want the book to sell, you must get out there and show people what you’ve got. The public, in general, has a very short memory. If you’re not putting your book in front of them on a regular basis, they’re going to forget you. That’s why you still see ads for huge companies like Verizon, Uber, and Progressive. They’re all successful companies in part because they don’t let you forget them. They also offer something you need or want.

Everyone and their dog thinks they can write a book. There’s a big difference between writing a book and telling a great story. My father was a journalist. He wrote for newspapers, and then for the federal government. All non-fiction. He wanted to write novels, so sat down one day and wrote one. Months later, he tried to get it published, and no one wanted it. He found a company that would help him publish and sent his manuscript to them. They read it and said he wrote like a journalist. The story required a lot of revisions. Instead, he gave up. After he passed away, I found the manuscript and attempted to read it. My father never knew I’d gotten published. He struggled with it for a long time and never got anywhere. My first book was published in hardback four years after I started writing again. I wasn’t really close to my father, but didn’t have the heart to tell him. Right or wrong, I just couldn’t do it.

Anyway, his book was very difficult to read. I got through one page before giving up. The story wasn’t engaging and the characters weren’t interesting.

Self publishing seems like a great solution when no one else seems interested. It definitely can be, but at the same time, you need to be sure that what you’ve written is actually good. You do this through feedback and reviews. I know people who’ve self-published and actually launched real careers that way. It is possible.

So let’s say you finally got your book out there. Whether you found a publisher, or you did it yourself, the next step is telling people about it. I’ve taken out multiple ads for ridiculous amounts of money only to have nothing happen. The key to successful promotion is repetition. Get out there, stay out there, and be patient. Nothing happens right away.

To find readers, go to bookstores, conventions, and talk about your book. Take out ads online, get t-shirts made with the cover of your book. See if you can arrange for a book signing. Yes, it can easily mean you’re sitting there alone, feeling like a miserable failure, and wanting to just chuck it all. Don’t. Be patient. Look for new ways to get the word out about your book.

Most importantly, keep going. Believe in your story.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Where Do You Get Your Stories?

I've been to cons where readers will ask me where I get my stories. My inner Sarcastic Asshole always wants to say, "Why, The Plot Store, of course. Isn't that where all writers go for stories?" I don't say that, ever. I just think it.

The truth is, maybe Shakespeare told original stories, but that was long ago, and people have told millions of stories since then. We're just retelling our version of the same story over and over again.

I've read articles that suggest there are 7 basic plots. Some say there are 36. My feeling, for what that's worth, is that there are 3. In no particular order:

1. The monster: a guy walks into town, kills a bunch of people, then everyone freaks out, but then they rally together, fight the monster (the guy), kill it, and then all is well again. This is basically the plot of every monster movie ever made.

2. The journey. Our [hero, heroine] might be looking for revenge, or treasure, or just a good time. No matter the reason, [he, she] gets into [his, her] [car, horse, spaceship, time travel machine] and races off to get what [he's, she's] looking for. [He, she] usually runs into a lot of trouble along the way and it nearly costs [him, her] [his, her] life. That's the black moment in the story where it seems like all is lost. But then [he, she] figures out how to save the [day, girl, guy, treasure, his honor], does it, and all is well again. Only sometimes it's not. Sometimes [he, she] returns battered and broken, and that's good enough for now.

3. The romance. Guy meets [guy, girl, alien, android]. They get to know each other, make mistakes, cry, break up, get back together, and then all is well. Sometimes.

There is a Wikipedia entry by Christopher Booker that says there are 7 plots. See the article here.

According to Booker, the plots are as follows:

1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
5. Comedy
6. Tragedy
7. Rebirth

My feeling is that several of these plots can be boiled down further. A rags-to-riches story could be a quest or a voyage-and-return. For the record, I think quest and voyage-and-return are pretty much the same. A comedy or tragedy could be a romance, and rebirth could be part of a quest or a voyage-and-return.  But I say that by themselves, comedies or tragedies are not plots, but genres. Your quest or voyage-and-return could be either a comedy or a tragedy.

However many plots you decide there actually are, it should be reasonably clear that there aren't any new ones. All you can do is put your own spin on a story that's already been out there for decades.  This makes your job as a writer a little bit easier. You don't need to go to The Plot Store, just pick a story you like and figure out how to make it yours.

This article is also published at Sassy Girls.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Non-Fiction Articles and the Art of Encouragement

I occasionally write non-fiction articles. I've done a few for Scripted and some for Sassy Girls Book Expo. Here's a link to my page at Sassy Girls.

I like to write about the experience of being a writer, telling stories, promotion, all that. The point is to provide encouragement for new writers. It's a hard job. Sometimes it's just nice to know that someone else understands that.

Just before my divorce, way back when, I went to the Romance Writers of America yearly conference. It was informative, but pretty much a disaster for me.

While I was there, three ladies came up to me and started hassling me about the tag line I was using for my stories. I'm, like, holy shit, did I just go back in time to high school? These were grown women, hassling me for God knew what reason. I don't know if the point was to start a fist fight (now that would've been fun), embarrass me into slinking back into my room, or what. To this day, I have no clue. I remember them hassling me but not how it ended. Knowing me, I probably just looked bored and walked away. Too bad, though, that the fist fight didn't happen.

My point in telling this story is that writers hassling other writers is just bad form. It's stupid and petty and oh-so-high-school. Have we not evolved from that time? Seriously? We should be happy for someone else's success and have the inner strength to tell them so. Why? Why not?