The Importance of Gratitude

Gratitude is such a powerful force in our lives, yet one we often lose sight of.

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We are now deep into Autumn here in the Northeastern United States. Nestled between the otherworldly fascinations of Halloween and the cheerful joys of the Yuletide season, is one of America’s oldest holidays: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. For me, it’s always been a day of delicious home cooking and intimate family gatherings. As an adult, I have grown to value the real meaning of the holiday– gratitude.

These days, Thanksgiving is unfortunately viewed by many as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  Many chain stores have reduced it to an excuse to lure customers in with sales that really aren’t as steep as they seem — and some of the population is following along. I personally will never set foot in a retail store on Thanksgiving and stand firmly with the “Boycott Black Thursday” crowd.

But I digress.

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Thanksgiving sheds light on the importance of gratitude. Gratitude is such a powerful force in our lives, yet one we often lose sight of. I confess I am not immune to this obliviousness. Some days I find myself sucked into the drama of modern existence where every first-world molehill is magnified into a mountain. For these poisonous times, I have found gratitude to be an effective antidote. Feeling gratitude forces us to center, to take stock of ourselves, to count our blessings. It is a very effective spiritual practice which people of any faith can participate in.

Despite the fact that I have not achieved everything I had hoped to by this age, I have much to be grateful for. My family, my friends, a steady job, a roof over my head, mostly good health. This is more than many people can lay claim to.

I am also intensely grateful for being a writer. I have read about writers talking about the hardships of writing and pretty much bemoaning their lots in life. This puzzles me. Writing has always been one of my “happy places” and one of my greatest sources of satisfaction. Though there is no scientific proof of talent being something a human is born with, I believe storytelling is part of my spiritual purpose in this lifetime. Whatever challenges this work may bring, for me, will be worth it.

I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! May your bellies be full and your hearts be thankful! Feel free to share what you are grateful for in the comments! ❤

 

 

Music and Writing: Like Peanut Butter and Jelly!

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I have always thought music and writing went together like peanut butter and jelly. (Or in my case, Nutella and jelly, on warm bread.) They are both arts and both can inspire the other.

Since childhood, I have always loved music. As I grew, my tastes widened and my appreciation for music in its various forms deepened. I enjoy all sorts of music from classic rock and pop to classical and opera. I have also found music to be a great help with my writing.

Sometimes songs have inspired me to write certain scenes or stories.  With each novel I have worked on, I have had at least one unofficial “soundtrack” — a collection of songs I gather on my laptop and play while I am writing. For my current WIP I have two different soundtracks — one focusing more on the love theme and the other on the darker moments. Sometimes the songs are from the time period I am working in and sometimes they are contemporary songs that resonate with a theme or scene in the story. Other movie scores also make great music for writing.

I frequently take my music along in the car so the spirit of my story remains with me while I am attending to real-world matters, such as driving to work. I really feel that these small actions have proved very successful in motivating me to continue on my project and even given me fresh fiction ideas. Sometimes music even helps alleviate writer’s block. Now if only I could buckle down enough to master an instrument. But that’s going to have to wait until the book is published! 😉

Do you have soundtracks for writing or even for different parts of daily life? Share with me!

Write on!

Halloween, Masks, and Writing: What’s The Connection?

“Slipping into a mask has much in common with slipping between the pages of a book.”

 

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It’s that time  of year again. No, not Christmas, too early. The Yuletide season will not begin for me until Black Friday (As it should. Do not even get me started on the  obnoxious consumerism of shopping on Thanksgiving Day. But that’s a post for next month.)

No. As the Nightmare Before Christmas Song goes “This is Halloween”.

Here in America, Halloween has become a widely celebrated holiday. No longer just the domain of children, adults now spend millions every year on costumes, decorations and parties. People visit “haunted” attractions and binge watch shows such as My Haunted House and Ghost Adventures. Bags of candy are sold everywhere. Everyone is seeking out some spooky fun. Like these guys below! 🙂

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I have many fond memories of Halloween in my household. My parents took me costume shopping in late September to ensure I got exactly what I wanted. I have dressed up as everything from Princess Jasmine to a Power Ranger to Scarlett O’Hara. My father would take Halloween off every year so he could take me trick or treating. Nothing could be better than roaming the neighborhoods in costume, at night, ringing doorbells and being rewarded with enough candy to last for weeks afterwards. I have been very saddened to see the declining amounts of trick-or-treaters in the last several years and I hope this great tradition does not die out before I have children of my own.

As an adult, I carry on the tradition of dressing up with my friends and attending parties. Me and one of my besties will be Disney Princesses for one evening this year. Halloween is a two-fold event for me, partially to celebrate the absolute end of a season and to give a thought to loved ones who have shed their earthly skins and are dwelling on the “Other Side” now, even as a reminder that I am not getting any younger and time is of the essence. And, of course, to dress up, carve pumpkins and eat candy.

One thing I have always loved is masks, particularly masquerade/Carnivale  masks. I have used them in costumes before and have even bought an ornate few to put on display for my own enjoyment. Browsing my local pop-up Halloween store, I got to thinking about the ancient symbolism of masks and why we continue to love and be fascinated  by them. Then I got to thinking about the connection between all of this and writing. (I just can’t help philosophizing everywhere I go.)

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So what is the connection?

My sentiments are this: We love Halloween and dressing up because it nourishes our inner child and allows us to indulge in the much needed play adults generally go without. It also allows us to pretend that we are something that we are not; to experience life as a princess or a vampire or a unicorn for a little while. And to a great extent that is something fiction gives us as well.

As does dressing up and heading to a party, reading gives us the chance to decompress, to forget the real world for a while and become adventurers without the worries or the financial expense of leaving behind our ordinary lives. It allows us to easily experience places, time periods and emotions we might not have experienced otherwise–and might not want to experience in real life. Much like the ancient shamanic usage of masks to make contact with or temporarily assume the traits of a spirit helper for guidance or healing, books allow us to ease into another mode, another world–and maybe we will also bring back guidance or healing of some sort when we look up from the pages of our paperback or the screen of our Kindle.  We might find ourselves hungry to experience new things and level up our lives or build deep empathy. Or maybe we will just have forgotten our own troubles for a while and that is okay too. It’s interesting (and not surprising) that masks have been used in storytelling traditions around the world. Slipping into a mask  has much in common with slipping between the pages of a book.

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So those are my musings for today. If you are celebrating this fascinating autumn holiday in a secular or religious fashion this week, I wish you a very safe and enjoyable time! Happy Halloween/Blessed Samhain! If you enjoyed this post, browse my others and find me on Facebook and Twitter!

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Yes, Writers Deserve To Be Paid

A look at erroneous ideas surrounding writers and money.

 

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There is a longstanding idea in our society that writers should not always expect to be paid for their writing. Those who espouse this opinion often justify it with one or a composite of the following ideas:

“Exposure is just as good/better than being paid.”
“Writers should just be glad anybody reads their work at all.”
“Writers write for fun, and they should be okay with just having an audience/ you don’t get paid for having fun.”
“Charging money for your writing degrades the craft of writing.”
“Writing is unnecessary.”

Let’s take a look at each of these beliefs, shall we?

For emerging writers, exposure can be a blessing even if you do not get paid. I am blogging after all to build an audience. Simply seeing your name in print can be validating. Writers can also reach readers by giving out some freebies on occasion. But taking all these actions to the extreme deprives writers of the financial compensation of which they are worthy and, most importantly, of the means to support themselves.

As far as being glad anyone reads your work at all, sure writers are generally tickled pink to gain fans, however that does not negate the need to keep a roof over your head. Romantic notions of writers living in ramshackle apartments or holed up above cafes in glamorous cities not knowing where their next meal will come from are unrealistic and only romantic in movies where you know the writer characters are going to make it big.

With regards to not getting paid to have fun…there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, fashion-designers, teachers, and truckdrivers who enjoy their jobs, but they all still get paid –exactly as they should! Just because a person enjoys something does not mean they should not receive money in return.

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The idea that charging money for a service somehow “defiles” it is to me unbelievably erroneous. This is a common problem among artists of all sorts as well as those who work in the complimentary/alternative medicine fields — massage therapists, Reiki masters, etc. Money has gotten a bit of a bad reputation in Western culture. We are taught to go out and make money but also told that  “money is the root of all evil”. (I would say human greed is the root of all evil is much more accurate.) Many spiritual paths that revolve around a doctrine of self-denial and the righteousness  of poverty also promote shame around living an abundant life. These are massively  disempowering ideas that seep into a lot of writers’ brains by default. Money at its most basic is another form of embodied energy, one that enables us to feed ourselves and our families and to help others in need as well. Life becomes stressful when you do not have enough money and stress hampers creativity. Paying someone for their time and services or charging money for services rendered is perfectly moral.

But I think the most egregious idea yet is the last one: that writing is unnecessary. Writing, and any other artistic pursuits, are not unnecessary. They give tired minds an opportunity to relax and heal, they inspire us to be our best selves, they instruct us  and add a spectacular rainbow of color to our world. Can you imagine a world in which there were no books, no paintings, no music? I can — and it would be a world I would not want to inhabit for long. The arts preserve the very history of humanity. If we think that is unnecessary for our growth as human beings, we have failed.

So do not feel guilty about wanting to be paid for your writing. It’s natural, it’s ethical, and it does not degrade the very act of writing. May you become a best seller! 🙂

What do you think? What was the lamest reason you ever heard for writers not being paid? Share with me in the comments!

 

Why I Have Decided To Self-Publish

With proper time and effort, self-published books can look and be as good as traditionally published books.

Book and daisiesBefore I proceed, I have not written this post to disparage those who work in the traditional publishing fields such as editors and literary agents. I am sure these people work hard at their jobs and are passionate about the written word. But I have chosen a different path.

After a great deal of thought, I decided to self-publish the novel I am currently at work on. This avenue had been suggested to me before by other people in my midst, but I fought the idea tooth and nail, justifying it with my erroneous belief that truly talented (or “real”) writers don’t need to self-publish. I thought no publisher would overlook something that is truly good and readers would sniff contemptuously at anything they discovered to be self-published. I have thankfully broken free of those beliefs. Why? Because they are false.

Many fine books have been rejected numerous times by the big houses only to become best sellers. It was only due to perseverance on the authors’ parts that we have those books to enjoy. They persisted but I wonder how many other skilled writers gave up after one too many discouraging e-mails, the gems they might have penned relegated to a desk drawer forever? I also happen to know other very talented wordsmiths who have received rejection notices even after rewriting and having their manuscripts professionally edited. Contrary to popular belief, books do not always get rejected because they are bad. Sometimes, the publisher has already published a similar work and cannot take on another, or it simply didn’t tickle someone’s fancy enough.
 
So far I have poured three and a half years into my novel. I would hate to see a project I have given my heart and soul to languishing in a slush pile forever. The writing world these days is highly competitive and the odds are pretty heavily stacked against new authors. They are just too risky to take a financial gamble on in a world where producing and marketing books is so expensive.
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Another variable that makes self-publishing an attractive option is not needing an agent. As great as I am sure agents are, they are difficult to acquire and, well, also have to be paid fairly for their work which dips into my author income.
 
My third and honestly, biggest reason for self-publishing is (almost) full creative control. I am free to chose the cover design, book length, publishing house name, and make the final call on what ultimately gets cut and what stays in the story. I can also set my price and earn higher royalties. These are all particulars I understand traditionally published authors have little control over.
 
Am I worried that readers may not buy my book if they know it is self-published? Not a great deal. Some readers do balk at self-published books over concerns that they are low quality. Admittedly, there are self-published books that are low quality, but that isn’t simply because they are self-published or the authors lack talent. From what I have seen as a reader, writers get so excited over sharing their book with the world that they forget to revise and take their time crafting a quality work. I share that excitement, I truly do; but years of working in sales has taught me that in order to make a good name for yourself and build a loyal customer base, you must offer a product that people love, that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money on, a product good enough that they will come back for more. These sorts of products take time and I intend to polish my work to the best of my ability.  
                                                                                    
Will people be able to tell my book is self-published? My guess is no (unless they read this blog. 🙂 ). With proper time and effort, self-published books can look and be as good as traditionally published books and I intend to put in the time and effort. I am sure self-publishing will be a big challenge, but I plan to give it my best. (I might be a Libra, but I have strong Virgo influences in my chart and Virgo is nothing if not exacting. 🙂 ) The internet has opened up a whole new field to writers and the publishing landscape is indeed changing. Follow my blog for updates on my progress!
 
What are your thoughts on self-publishing? I would love to hear them!

What Do Baking And Writing Have In Common?

A good story, like a good cake, is a composition of many ingredients — plot, characters, theme, and word usage to name the most important ones.

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Happy Monday! I generally only blog twice a month, but I was inspired last night after baking a Dutch apple bread. 🙂 ❤

As you are well aware, writing is my oldest passion. One of my other great loves is food and the preparation of food. I just love cooking and baking. (Baking particularly lets me play with one of my favorite things– chocolate!) I post recipes compulsively on Facebook and stare longingly at high quality cookware. I am an addict.

So what on earth does food preparation have in common with writing? For me, quite a bit, I have found.

Timing

As we have to take time into consideration with baking, so do we with writing.  When baking, you need time to gather the ingredients and get your baking area set up (prep time) as well as actual bake time. When writing a novel, you must consider your “prep time” as well as your “bake time”. You must first gather all of your “ingredients” — writing materials, your outline, inspiration, and any research you must do before setting to work. You should certainly figure your prep time into the entire process.

You also must observe the bake time. You cannot remove a cake from the oven too quickly nor can you leave it in too long.  It will either be under-done or burnt. The same is true for a story. You cannot hurry it along because it will seem flat, rushed or full of errors–things the keen eyes of your readers will certainly catch and not appreciate. You also cannot drag the story out by adding too many extraneous details or scenes or allow it to molder inside of you and die.

Ingredients

All ingredients must be gradually added together to form a delectable (or hopefully delectable) creation. Most recipes give specific instructions as to when and how the ingredients are to be combined. First, last, creamed, beaten, stirred, sifted, mixed, folded, etc. A good story, like a good cake, is a composition of many ingredients — plot, characters, theme, and word usage to name the most important ones. They must blend well together and each will unfold and develop in a certain order and in their own good time. Each genre also requires a special touch or effect. Just as there are all sorts of cooks and bakers, there are writers who excel at each genre.

Trial and Error

Not all kitchen experiments are successful. Sometimes you follow an inferior recipe and sometimes you make a mistake or several that destroy the food. Whatever the reason, we all fail sometimes and we can all learn from our failures.  Being a writer is the same as being a baker. Sometimes your writing is delicious and close to perfect. Other times, it falls flat. Sometimes it’s a success but does not get the attention it deserves. That’s okay.  You always have tomorrow to go back to the kitchen or to your writing office and begin anew.

Bon Appetit and have a wonderful week! ❤

 

 

Autumn Aspirations

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Every year around this time, I mourn a little. Mourn the passing of summer and all the fun and beauty it brings.  Up here where the winter lingers deep into the spring and snow often competes with daffodils and cherry blossoms, the summer can’t be long enough for most of us.  Gone are our long days, beach trips, sandals, state fair funnel cakes, and summer berries — and we feel it. Hard.

But Fall also brings its own delights — colorful leaves, apple and pumpkin picking, cornstalk mazes, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. The nights are cool enough for outdoor fires and baking.  It’s the season of the harvest–the time during which we take stock of what has grown outside as well as within and give thanks for it.

I had a lot of big dreams this year. One of those dreams was to finish the second draft of my novel. I had hoped to be done by this time, but things don’t always work the way we would like. I am back on the path, posting here again for whoever might be reading in the hopes of building an audience, and forging ahead with the rewrite. I have about another hundred pages to go before  it’s completed though the work will still be far from done.

I intend to build my social media audience and get more serious in a variety of ventures in my personal existence. Over the coming months, you will begin to see some different posts here about things besides my writing journey. These posts will be inspired by the contents of my book and I hope you will enjoy them. Hopefully, my book will be out within the next six to eight months.

The drapes are closed now on another season (at least on the East Coast) and it’s time to turn within and put my nose to the grindstone indoors. Let’s see if I might bring one of these dreams into being by New Year’s.