Saturday, May 28, 2011

How easy is it for you to promote yourself?

Please help me research a book on self-promotion.  I would so appreciate it if you would answer the following questions in the comment section below.  This questionnaire is highly unscientific and you may leave an anonymous answer and I will not identify you in any way.  However, your experience would be so very helpful to me.  I am not looking for promotional tips, as they are all over the internet.  I am looking for the presence or absence of blocks to putting yourself out there.  Many thanks in advance.

1.  Male ____   Female _______

2.  Please describe in a word or two whether you are an entrepreneur, artisan, practitioner needing to acquire clients, business owner, other?  To what degree does your success depend on promoting yourself?

3.  On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most difficult, 10 being the absence of difficulty, rate the ease you feel in putting yourself out there on a day to day basis and saying, I have what you need, hire me, buy from me, listen to me.

4.  If you feel blocked when it comes to promoting yourself, do you have any sense of the origin of the block:  you never received encouragement as a child, your culture and/or social environment frowns on women speaking up for themselves, you are an introvert, you are afraid of rejection, you find it embarrassing, other?

5.  If you feel comfortable promoting yourself, do you have any sense of where this ease originated in you: I've never thought of it, just easy to do, I've always received encouragement and support for my endeavors; I'm an extrovert; it just makes sense.

6.  If promoting yourself is difficult, what helps you do it:  Nothing-I can't do it, therapy, a mentor, I hire someone to do it for me, other.

7.  On a scale of 1-10, please rate your confidence in your abilities and talent, one being no confidence, 10 being abundant confidence.

8.  If you would like to, I'd appreciate your amplifying what it is like for you to promote yourself.

Many, many thanks.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Five Fatal Feedback Mistakes

1.    You don’t ask for feedback.

Breathes there a writer so humble that he or she does not believe, at least for a nanosecond, that the piece of prose inching out of the printer is not ready for its New Yorker acceptance letter without first showing it to a Trusted Advisor and asking, “What do you think?”

I caution you that, unless you have a solid collection of literary awards smartly lined up on your mantle, you must not indulge this deranged line of thinking.  Even the most decorated NYT best seller list authors thank their editors, among others, in their Acknowledgements for saving their manuscripts from fatal flaws.  Lesson:  Even the greats need help. 

Always ask a critical but compassionate reader to first point out the strengths of your manuscript (a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down), and next the less than stellar prose.  This can prevent an editor from slamming the virtual door in your face and forever associating your name with one dimensional characters, mixed metaphors or some other writing trap that a little (or a lot) perceptive feedback might have corrected.

If you find asking for feedback humbling, do it anyway and then make an appointment with your therapist.

2.     You receive feedback but don’t pay attention to it.

I’ve read that Philip Roth sends his manuscripts to four or five friends for review.  They make comments, which he always ignores, and sends the book off to his editor just the way he wrote it.   Now such literary lights have earned the right to march to their own drummer.  But those of us who run to our writing groups waving the latest draft of a story and make notes all over the pages as our readers make comments, then promptly throw those notes away and say to ourselves, what do they know—well, what was it Mark Twain said, those who can read but don’t are not better off than those that can’t, or something like that. 

It is hard to hear criticism of a piece you love like your own flesh and blood.  It is maddening to realize that a spot on suggestion to tighten a paragraph requires rewriting of the whole damn chapter.  But do you want to be like the architect on a project I once saw who had placed the gate to a circular stairwell opposite the steps?  I’ll never forget the owner of the property bellowing, didn’t he ask anyone to review the plans? 

Bottom line:  when your brain is telling you the story is perfect the way it is, don't believe everything you think.

3.     You ask for feedback from the wrong people.

Don’t ask a science fiction writer to review a chapter in your YA novel.  Don’t show your cookbook draft to a poet.  Don’t email your latest short story to your friend who just received a blistering rejection letter.  Don't ask someone who can't even write a grocery list for advice on point of view.  And NEVER ask the guy who wants to bed you right then for his opinion on your newest poem—even when the guy is your husband.

Always pick readers you trust, who understand what you are trying to say/accomplish in your writing and who respect your efforts even when they question a method or two.  This is especially important on days when you just can't read another word of your own writing without someone telling you whether it is worthy.  Resist the urge to show your pages to a stranger on the street, take a deep breath and wait for your Trusted Advisor to pick up the phone.

4.     You ask for feedback when what you need is unconditional love.

As a dear friend used to say, some days the bear gets you and some days the bear gets you.  If it’s a day when the manuscript is too new, the fear of rejection is too great, the sense of overwhelm at the requirements of a publishable piece of prose threatens to crush you, or you will confuse feedback with rejection, then by all means, show your poem to the guy who wants to bed you.  He’ll say this is the best thing I’ve ever read and your words will live to face an honest critique another day.

But when your confidence is in the gutter, don’t ask the writer who flourishes her red pen like a rapier with spot on comments to take a look.  Ask your mother instead, or anyone who will say, this is wonderful.  How do you do it? 

Writing is a mind game.  Do whatever is necessary to help your fragile writer’s ego (we all have one) to survive.

5.     You ask for feedback from too many people.

You can’t get enough.  Of people saying your prose is deathless, your protagonist is memorable.  Maybe you can’t get enough of someone just reading your work.  So you ask reader, after reader, after reader to take a look.  And you end up with too much feedback to process, conflicting opinions (you can’t please all the people all the time), you lose track of the notes of readers who get your work and whose comments help you to ratchet it up a notch.

Be careful and selective in your requests for feedback and follow the advice of someone who helps you open up the story you are trying to tell over someone asking you to write a different story.  And stop there!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What am I willing to do for my writing?

Too often I have flailed around in my commitment to writing because I was looking at it as a burden.  Yes, I had this writing project I wanted to finish, or, I had this idea that I wanted to be a writer.  I’d find it easy to push ahead for a while, until I ran out of time or I couldn’t think of what happened next in the story.  Or, worse, I’d get some feedback that I had a serious problem with the plot or a character and had to rethink some chapters.  Then I’d find myself resenting my story, or doubting myself or in some way.  I’d be angry at writing for demanding so much of me, usually something I couldn’t deliver, such as a talent just a notch greater than what I possessed.

Over time I was able to make a consistent commitment to writing and develop a daily practice.  But it wasn’t always easy to turn on my computer in the morning rather than read the paper before going to work.  Yet, somehow my desire to write overcame my resistance.  But my recent post about The Twelve Steps To A Writing Practice ( made me think about what we need to have in place in order to commit to something as challenging as writing.  While I don’t practice a twelve step program, I believe I hit upon one of the cornerstones of such programs:  willingness.  I’ve had to be willing to do what was necessary to bring my manuscript to completion.   When I had a book contract, of course, it went without saying that I would go the distance for the book.  But I don’t have a contract for my novel, or my blog, or any other writing I do.  At least, not yet.  So I have to find the willingness within myself to get the work done. 

To me, willingness comes before everything else.  I have to be willing to spend the time, learn the craft, work with myself to overcome my shortcomings, whether they are in my mind in the form of doubt or negative thinking, or in my endurance for pain.  I have to have the willingness to develop the necessary discipline to move my writing along, to fill in the holes in my mastery of the craft, and I have to have especially the willingness to sit in front of a blank page until the words come. 

And, somehow I have been able to do that, develop the willingness, but it has often been a fight.  When the words weren’t flowing, my writing was a burden, something I had to wrestle with.  But as I’ve mulled over the steps to establishing a writing practice, I now see that fight in the same light as resenting my child because she needed feeding or changing or loving.  It isn’t the manuscript’s fault I have to figure out how to tighten the opening (which is my current challenge).  

It isn’t the fault of my desire to write that I have to say no to TV or internet browsing or a meet up with friends in order to carve out time to write.  It isn’t my story that is to blame for not yet having the insights and skill to bring it to fruition.  I have chosen to write and that choice comes with certain requirements and responsibilities.  I can approach them with grown up willingness or adolescent  resentment.  I can say, damn, I don‘t have enough time.  Or, what will writing teach me in the fifteen minutes I have to give it today?  Willingness helps get the job done.  I’ve claimed for years that writing is my spiritual discipline because it teaches me about myself.  It helps me be a grown up.  If I’m willing.   

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Permission Slip

Dear Universe,

_________________ (insert your name) has my permission to spend _______ hours each day/week (circle one) on the creative project of his or choice.  Please do not interfere with bearer’s creative process by asking irrelevant questions such as, Is this any good?  Will it make money?  Do you have something important to say?  What about dinner?  After all, who gave you permission to butt in on someone else’s life?


The Daily Writing Coach

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Twelve Step Program to a Daily Writing Practice

Okay, so a Twelve Step Program for writers isn't the most original idea on the web.  There are others, some funny, some even less clever than mine.  But as I got to thinking about this idea, I think it has some usefulness.  It can provide a focus and I am a firm believer in communicating with your muse.  It took me a long time to understand this concept, steeped as it is in poetic mystery.  Years ago it seemed the benevolent muse was the province of the male artist, but then I began to notice that certain people set off a spark in me.  When I was around them, ideas burgeoned, energy and enthusiasm fueled my writing.  I've long been inspired by music and sometimes a particular piece will attach itself to my work.  Sometimes when I get bogged down in my Irish novel, certain traditional songs will bring it back to life.  Rituals work for writers, sometimes rooms or views seem to lift us out of a torpor and get us working again.  Your muse is whatever inspires you, encourages you.  As a sandtray coach, I believe in the power of images to stir up the psyche.  Today, my muse is a treasure chest full of inspiration, belief in myself and energy.   Feel free to use this image or find your own Muse to help you do the thing you want to do.  Write.  Use these twelve ideas to keep you tethered to your writing space, your creativity, your muse.

Twelve Step Program to a Daily Writing Practice:
It works if you work it; anything works if you work it

1.     Admit you are powerless over inertia; that your writing life has become unmanageable

2.     Accept that a consistent writing practice of at least 15 minutes a day can restore you to sanity

3.     Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of your Muse as you understand her/him for at least 15 minutes a day

4.     Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of your negative and damaging writing beliefs

5.     Admit to your Muse, to yourself and to another human being the exact nature of your negative approach to your writing life

6.     Become entirely ready to have your Muse remove all these thinking and behavioral defects

7.     Humbly ask the Muse to remove your shortcomings, for at least 15 minutes a day

8.     Make a list of all characters and writing projects you have ignored, abandoned, harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all

9.     Make direct amends to such entities wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others (don’t fix what ain’t broke)

10.  Continue to take personal inventory and when you are wrong promptly admit it (never hurts, whether or not you are a writer)

11.  Seek through communion with your Muse and your writing support community to improve your conscious contact with your Muse as you understand her for a minimum of 15 minutes a day, praying only for knowledge of her/his will for you and the power to carry that out

12.  Having had a creative awakening as the result of these steps, try to carry this message of daily writing to other suffering and blocked writers, and to practice these principles in all your creative endeavors.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Meditations on The Writing Practice: The Mind Game

Like golf, writing is a mind game.  Each day you have to talk yourself down from procrastination in all its beguiling forms:  cleaning the refrigerator, emailing long-lost friends you don’t really care about . . . I’ve been known to exercise just to put off writing.  Why is it so hard to write that first sentence every day?  Because once you have one sentence down, others follow and you’re off and running, more or less.  I can tell you that the answer isn’t in figuring it out.  Not that you shouldn’t try to understand your reluctance to do the thing you love most.  It’s just that while you are navel gazing, you could be writing.  Navel gazing, sitting and worrying about why you can’t write is not an exercise in self-knowledge when you do it instead of writing.  Write a line or two and then worry about why it is so hard.

Regard writing as important as any life or death activity, such as feeding your children, and you will get to it.  But like mealtime, you don’t have to serve a ten course banquet to get the job done.  Sometimes a snack is all that’s needed to tide your beloved over until the dinner bell rings.  A line or two of prose, five minutes of description and you’re done.  A few of these morsels every day, and you can find yourself building up your tolerance until you find you can complete a paragraph a day, a page or four. 

If you don’t feed your offspring every day, you know what will happen.  And if you don’t write your lines every day you starve as well.  In time your spirit withers, your confidence crumbles, recriminations rob you of the sense of fulfillment that comes from saying, I did my writing today.  Even if you just get a few words down, you nourish yourself.  And then do it again tomorrow.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Top Ten Essential Self-Editing Tips

Writers can break every style rule if it is with intent and furthers the manuscript.  But nothing screams newbie like a flood of adverbs and every sentence beginning with a gerund.  These tips won’t guarantee publication, but be warned, ignoring them will have any mag worthy of your adoration dragging your submission into the trash icon.  Before you send your work out into the cruel world of publishing, make sure you clothe it in well-edited garb.  I recommend you read your final draft ten times if you are a beginning writer, once for each of these checks.  You will probably find other errors to correct as you do, so much the better.  If this seems like too much trouble (first lesson for would be writers: it is damn hard work), check any article or story in The New Yorker, New York Times or other publication holding high standards and see how many times their writers ignore these tips. 

  1. Watch out for passive voice. It creeps up on the best of us.  Remember the rule:  Use “Do not use passive voice,” instead of “Passive voice should not be used.” 
  2. Ration those adverbs, the ly word,s and if you use them, treat them as though they will bite you.  (Notice I didn’t say use them sparingly!)  When you force yourself to give up writer’s shorthand, you strengthen your prose.
  3. Check your use of had, as in I had called him after I had put my dinner in the microwave last night and he had called me back before I had gone to bed.   For this one, drop the had as soon as you establish past tense.  “I had called him after I put my dinner in the microwave last night and he called me back before I went to bed.”
  4. Ditch non-specific adjectives such as wonderful, beautiful, amazing and terrific, unless they are in dialogue and reveal character, e.g., someone who says everything is wonderful as a way of demonstrating she blinds herself to unhappy realities.   A beautiful sunset to you might be ordinary to me.  Rather, let the reader see what is beautiful. The setting sun threw a mantle of orange and red over the horizon.  Or some such.  Specificity is the writer’s best friend. 
  5. Read for word repetition.  Never use the same word twice in a sentence, and don’t allow it to show up more than twice in the same paragraph, once if it is a short paragraph.  The OED lists almost 172,000 words in the English language.  Find an alternative.
  6. Check that you don’t say the same thing two or three different ways.  If you do, pick the one you like best and delete the others.  A note to writers who find it hard to delete a favorite sentence.  Use it someplace else or realize that if you can write something that good once, you can do it again another time.
  7. Tighten your prose by using sentences with the fewest words possible and words with the fewest letters.  Think about this:  is it more important to show off your vocabulary or hold onto your reader?
  8. Check your characters’ names.  Don’t have them beginning with the same letter or your reader will get confused.
  9. Rein in those gerunds, especially at the beginning of a paragraph.  Running down the street, she tripped on a tree branch slows down the action, whereas putting the action first, She tripped on a tree branch . . .gets the blood racing.
  10. Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation.  Don’t confuse your reader with a misplaced or absent punctuation mark.  Read Eats Shoots Leaves if you need a refresher.