The Value of a True Friend

Pumpkin Possibilities

Pumpkin Possibilities

“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” ~ Junot Diaz

“True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“I define friendship as a bond that transcends all barriers. When you are ready to expect anything and everything from friends, good bad or ugly … that’s what I call true friendship.” ~ Harbhajan Singh

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” ~ Helen Keller

I’ve got a terrific writer friend, or maybe she’s my mentor, who has read my manuscript more than once and tells it like it is. Last Friday I got her assessment back on the latest revisions and she wasn’t afraid to tell me I have more work to do. On the one hand, I’m sad when she tells me I need to do more work, on the other it’s a relief. It’s a relief to have a friend who knows exactly what I’m going through writing my first novel, and who doesn’t shy away from telling me what needs improving.

The first time she read my manuscript was in the spring. At that time she told me her story of sending what she thought was a finished manuscript off to a contest thinking she was going to win the prize, get an agent and have her book published by a traditional publisher. When she got the critique from one of the judges that she needed to do more work, she was devastated. “She told me things I didn’t want to hear but in the end her suggestions made the book better.” Right now I can relate to that. And I’m so glad that my friend is willing to do that for me. I could ignore her and publish my book now, but for some reason, that’s just not my style. I want it to be the best it can be.

The thing is, when artists mentor each other by giving honest critiques, there can be a hidden blessing in it. My friend told me my characters and story were good, from a new perspective, but it still needs more work. Thank heavens I don’t have to throw the entire thing out and start over again. I’m sure my friend would have been brutally honest and told me if I needed to do that. I’m not as courageous when giving critique. Or at least not with people I’ve only met online. I think bad news should be delivered in person.

About a year ago I had someone send me their manuscript so I could write a review of the book and post it to my blog. It was a romance novel, not one of my favorite genres, but I agreed. I could tell it was written by an amateur, like me. I think it may have even been a first draft. There were so many mistakes that I gave up reading it. I did learn a great deal from reading the manuscript, but I’m sorry to say I never sent any of my extensive corrections and comments back to the young writer. I was afraid if I did I would discourage her from ever writing another book. And continuing to write is one of the best ways we become better writers.

I’m sorry to say I was a coward. When I wrote the blog post about her book, I couldn’t in good conscience tell people to go buy it. So I couched everything I said about it in terms of what I’d learned from the experience of reading it for review. I have to thank that author for giving me a wakeup call about my own writing.

For those of you who are writers, I’m sure you know exactly how I’m feeling. I want to get my work out into the world. The long gestation period of birthing a novel can get tedious at times. The thing is the baby is born when its ready and not before. My baby isn’t ready to be born yet. I wish she were, but being impatient and rushing the process isn’t good. We don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression with readers. I’m not willing to rush my process just so I can say I’ve published a novel, or so I can sell some books. Nope. I’ll keep plugging away until my friend and I think the book is finished.

I’ll keep you posted about how it’s going. Perhaps I’ll include little snippets of my novel from time to time to get your take on how I’m doing. Creative and constructive criticism is always welcome.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with friends.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

How Do You Know When It’s Finished?

Approved by my readers

Approved by my readers

“The creative process is not like a situation where you get struck by a single lighting bolt. You have ongoing discoveries, and there’s ongoing creative revelations. Yes, it’s really helpful to be marching toward a specific destination, but, along the way, you must allow yourself room for your ideas to blossom, take root, and grow.” ~ Carlton Cuse

“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” ~ Julia Cameron

“Any creative process is about being in a territory which isn’t secure, isn’t necessarily familiar, and isn’t convenient in any sort of way. And that’s the excitement of it.” ~ Susanne Bier

“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” ~ Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

When I first thought of writing this post, I was asking myself, “How in the heck will I know when my book is finished?” It’s been such a long time in coming. Years in fact. After so many revisions, so many I’ve lost count, I wonder if I will know when my manuscript is ready to publish.

Many authors think they are finished with their manuscript so they go through the long process of finding an agent, then a publisher, then there are more edits according to the advice of the publishers. No wonder so many people who think they want to write the next great American novel give up. You spend years writing and revising and then you will probably get rejection after rejection before, or if, someone decides they want to publish your book. And then it takes another year or two before its available in bookstores. I’m not sure I have that much time. After all, I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t begin writing until I was fifty-four years old. I’m now sixty-two. I don’t want to wait another two or three years to see my book published.

That’s why I’ve decided to publish my book myself instead of waiting until a publisher decides its worth their time. Maybe I’m crazy, but something inside tells me to follow my own instincts about every aspect of this process and not rely on the approval of other people. In any case, the way the publishing world has evolved, even a new writer backed by a traditional publisher, needs to have a following in place and they have to do much of the marketing themselves. So, why not self-publish? The process of publishing a book is fairly easy now days.

Even though I’ve decided to publish the book myself, I still have the question in my head, “How will I know when its finished?” This is what I think happens. There is a click in an artists head that tells him or her when their piece is complete. That doesn’t mean perfect, it just means that the work is as finished as the author’s abilities allow at that time. Nothing created is ever perfect, but there comes a point when any changes made to the painting, or the song, or the book are just changes. They don’t improve the piece.

I read a quote recently, I can’t remember where, that said something like, “An author writes the book, it’s the reader who attaches the meaning.” Since I believe that is true, it’s my job to finish telling the story that wants to be told and then send it out into the world. No one will be able to attach the meaning to it that I do because they didn’t live the experiences that brought the book into being. I just hope it touches people. That’s the most I can hope for. Writing this article has helped me see that my manuscript IS nearly finished. There may be a few more tweaks after my writer friends give me their comments, but my instincts tell me that I don’t need to make any more major changes. It’s as good as I can make it and that has to be good enough for me. I hope it’s good enough for my readers.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

Allowing the Stretch

Temporary Book Cover

Temporary Book Cover

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” ~ John Wooden

“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.” ~ Bruce Lee

“There’s no limit possible to the expansion of each of us.” ~ Charles Schwab

“My ambition comes from my passion: finding what I love and then expanding on that.” ~ Miranda Kerr

In general I love learning new things except when I don’t think I have a facility for it. Then I resist the lessons. I have this idea in my mind of my skill set and for the most part I don’t want to stretch past that. Most of us don’t want to do things we don’t think we’re good at. But sometimes we surprise ourselves if we try to learn something new.

When I became a full-time writer, all I wanted to do was concentrate on the writing. I didn’t want to think about the marketing and promotion that I was inevitably going to have to do when I published my books. I’m not a marketing genius, nor am I a good salesperson. The idea of peddling my book made me cringe.

Knowing that at some point I was going to have to address this issue, because I plan to self-publish, I would from time to time read how-to essays by artists and writers about the ins and outs of getting their work noticed by the general public. Unfortunately, after reading only a short portion of the book or article, my eyes would glass over and the pit of my stomach would sink. The experts I read said you have to be aggressive, you have to get your name out there, you have to talk about your work on social media, you have to push, push, push. Ugh. I hated it.

I’m an introvert. I don’t want to do blast marketing where every hour a tweet or post screams at people to go buy my book. That’s just not me. It seemed to me that most marketing and promotion wisdom is created by extroverts who have no problem tooting their own horn. I have a difficult time doing that. But the problem of how to market my book kept nagging at me. I knew I needed to come up with a plan but what?

So, I meditated and prayed about the problem. I hoped that providence would send me a new way to promote myself and my work that wouldn’t feel awful. I was just beginning to despair when Hay House sent me an email about Jeff Walker, with an internet marketing scheme that intrigued me. His business is called the Product Launch Formula (trademark). I watched the first video and was surprised that he gave so much great information about how to market anything I might want to sell but, as he said in the video, not is a sleazy or used car salesman kind of way. A few days later another email with a video link came and a few days another. By the time I’d watched the three videos I had the outline of how to market my book in a way that fits who I am.

Jeff is all about giving good value to your prospect ahead of time and asking for their advice and comments. If you can get to know the people who are interested in what you have to offer, it’s easier to promote your product. I loved that! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sign up for his six month course this time. But when I was poking around his site I discovered he had written a book (Launch) that contains the information I needed to get started. I bought it that very day and have since read it. As I read, all kinds of great ideas of how to promote my work popped into my mind. This method was exactly what I needed. Because of this book I feel like I can be an expert at building a list of followers without coercing them to buy. That’s something I didn’t ever think I’d be able to do.

Before the Jeff Walker videos, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to build a list of followers. Part of my mind was closed. I didn’t want to have to market my books myself. Couldn’t I just have someone do it for me? However, the reality for authors today is that you’ve got to be actively engaged with your readers or potential readers even if your book is published in the conventional way. There are so many books being published, that it’s hard for new authors to get noticed and to gain a following. Jeff suggests you begin by using your email list to grow your customer base. You can start small by directing potential customers to an opt in page and you can also use word of mouth to attract new followers. I love that!

Even before learning about Jeff Walker, I made it a practice to avoid the best seller lists and read books by authors who aren’t as well known. If I like their book, I write a review on Amazon, iBooks, and/or Goodreads so that hopefully the author will expand their readership. Already I’ve made some online writer friends because I’ve written reviews, or retweeted the link to their book. It’s amazing how many new people I’ve met using this method.

Maybe I’ll coin a new phrase, “Karma Marketing,” in which helping others be successful will help me be successful too. That’s what Jeff Walker advocates. As you start your business, you make connections with people who resonate with you, and you support each other. He uses the term Mastermind Group, which is more than just a networking group. In your mastermind group, you hold each other accountable for improving your business by offering new products or services that your customers or fan base can use. Always give more value than they expect. It’s a new trend in business to be of service, rather than bilk your customers by selling inferior products and getting top dollar for those products. That’s something I can get behind.

Of course building a fan base takes time and effort, but it’s effort I’m willing to make if I can offer my readers something they will enjoy. Something extra I’ve created just for them. When I do this I may make some friends along the way. That’s always a good thing. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief. Finally someone who thinks like I do, and who is willing to help me build a business that is people friendly.

I’m going to do a little bit of word of mouth promotion for Jeff. If you buy his book, Launch, you get a step by step process that will help you begin your business, and access to a resource page with videos and instructions on how to do some of the technical stuff that an online business requires. This is what makes me excited. I won’t be alone as I step outside my comfort zone and stretch into learning a new but vital skill I will need to help me grow my fan base. Thanks Jeff and thanks Providence!

Feel free to leave a comment and thanks for reading.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

Mind Shift from Amateur to Professional

Shakespeare - There's a Professional

Shakespeare – There’s a Professional

“Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.” ~ Steven Pressfield

“Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.” ~ Brit Hume

“At 20, I realized that I could not possibly adjust to a feminine role as conceived by my father and asked him permission to engage in a professional career. In eight months I filled my gaps in Latin, Greek and mathematics, graduated from high school, and entered medical school in Turin.” ~ Rita Levi-Montalcini

About a year or so ago, I read the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and it changed my life. Six years earlier I’d retired from teaching public school to follow my dream of being a writer. I thought it would be easy to work from home, another dream come true, but it wasn’t. Every morning I found all kinds of excuses and tasks to do INSTEAD of making writing my first priority. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves, but I’ve seen lots of people do the same thing when they attempt to follow their dream. What is it about humans that makes us sabotage ourselves? Anyway when I read Pressfield’s book I realized that there was a switch in my head that had not been flipped from amateur to professional. By the end of the book, I’d flipped the switch and I’m immensely happy that I did.

Steven Pressfield’s concept of what it means to be a professional is very simple. A professional puts the work they want to be doing first every day no matter what. For me that means that I have to set a time to be in my office everyday with my hands on the computer keys working on my latest project. Writing is my work, and I must treat it like any other job even on the days when the ideas don’t come easily, or when there is a shift from one task to another. At the end of the writing day, I may throw out all that I’ve written, but at least I stuck to my commitment.

Being creative is like anything else in life, sometimes it flows easily and other times we’re faced with difficult challenges and feel like we’ll never create anything wonderful again, we’ll never be happy again, and we’ll be stuck in our misery forever. Yet, if we are willing to do the work, we always come through to a happier situation. Our muse comes back and we find the solution to the problems we’d been struggling with.

I’m in a little bit of a lull period in terms of my fiction writing right now. My novel is in the hands of writer friends and I’m waiting to get their comments back so I know whether I need to do more work or if I can have my manuscript edited and published. That’s a completely different set of tasks. My fingers itch to be working on something creative, but so far all I’ve been writing are this blog and pieces I hope to use in marketing my book. It’s good to work on those types of writing too, but I don’t find as much joy in writing them as I do creating characters and the worlds in which they live.

As I was typing that last paragraph, I remembered a story Pressfield shares in the book about finishing his first novel. When he’d finished the first draft, he went to tell his mentor that he’d finished the book. He felt a great sense of accomplishment, but his mentor said, “Good. Now go start the next one.” Remembering that little story helps me realize that I’ve fallen down on my commitment to myself. I did what Pressfield’s mentor said when I finished the rough draft of The Space Between Time. I sat down immediately and started the sequel. But then I got caught up in revisions of the first book, which were rather extensive. I haven’t gone back to the second book even though I’ve got this span of time while I’m waiting for feedback. That’s not good. I need to be working on the sequel in addition to my promotional materials.

I’m convinced that every creative person has to find their own “voice”, their own method of creating and being a professional. Maybe it’s more about finding their own rhythm. I’m still new to this writing thing and still learning how to juggle the various parts of the process. For now, I plan to go back and do more work on the sequel to my first novel. Who knows perhaps parts of the sequel novel can be things I include in the promotional materials for this first book.

Thanks for reading. I hope you don’t mind that I used Shakespeare’s picture again this week. He’s my idea of the ultimate professional. If you’ve got ideas about how I can improve my creative process, feel free to leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015