Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Humor & Inspiration in Writing: Writers With Personality

Colleen M. Story:
Author, editor, ghost writer
It's been a pleasure to host authors, writers, and bloggers this year. I'm never sure what they'll share in the Humor & Inspiration Features, but I've been impressed with the depth, insight, and relatablity of their posts. 

Colleen M. Story fits right in with the high-quality artists who have graced the Humor & Inspiration stage in the past few months. Colleen is a full-time writer and editor with a passion for health and wellness, animals of all shapes and sizes, and the country life. She mentors, shares, uplifts, and encourages other writers. (FYI last year, I was honored to be featured on her Writing and Wellness website.) 

Today Colleen poses an interesting question about authors and their colorful personalities (or lack thereof). Be ready for some deep thoughts (and a conscience twinge or two) as she explores this topic. 
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Are Writers with Personality an Endangered Species?

I’ve admired authors for a long time. When meeting some of my heroes at conferences and writing events, I’ve felt the awe that a groupie likely feels for a rock band.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard that to a common, everyday person (i.e., not a writer), authors aren’t really all that exciting. In fact, according to her, they don’t have much personality at all.

What the Common Person Thinks of Writers
As a full-time freelance writer, I spend most of my days slaving away over a computer in my home office, so one of my favorite things to do in my off hours is to get out, often to a café for lunch or dinner and some nice hot coffee. I have a couple favorite locations I frequent, and the staff starts to recognize me after awhile.

So when I walked into one of these locations several months ago, it wasn’t a surprise to be greeted by a waitress like I was an old pal. We’ll call her “Grace” for fun, because she is very graceful. A tiny person not only in stature but figure, she wears her long hair in a perfectly wound braid, has small, defined, features, and looks like someone who does yoga every morning to perfect her already elegant posture.

Grace moves from one table to the next like she’s floating, and always has the best of manners. She says things like, “And what looks good today?” when asking for your order, and “great choice” whatever you choose. When she checks up on you later, she doesn’t ask how the meal is, but says, “And are we loving dinner tonight?” or “Is that just tasting wonderful today?” If you need anything more she’ll rush to get it, and tell you things like, “Oh absolutely, happy to do it.”

I’ve grown fond of Grace and have exchanged short conversations with her. I’ve learned that one of the young male waiters is her son, and that she actually doesn’t do yoga, but that she probably should, in her opinion, to enjoy the health benefits. I usually don’t get in too many questions, though, before she’s off and rushing to be sure all her tables are well taken care of.

So it was a rare treat one day when she stopped long enough to ask me what it was I was working on. She mentioned that others came into the café with computers, but that rarely did they seem to focus as much as I usually did. If I didn’t mind, sharing, of course.

I told her I was a writer.

Now, understand—usually when I say that people raise their eyebrows and act impressed or at least intrigued, and follow up with the usual question of, “What do you write?” So I was ready for that.

Not Grace.

She said, “Oh really? That’s surprising. I never thought writers had all that much personality.”

We’ve All Known “Those” Kind of Writers
I have to admit, I was taken aback by her statement. My first reaction was to be glad that the way she said it, it seemed she believed I did have a personality, so obviously I was the exception to most writers, which I supposed was a good thing.

My second reaction was to laugh out loud. Admit it. We’ve all been around those authors who are so wrapped up in themselves that even other writers don’t enjoy being around them.

I’ll never forget the first writer’s conference I ever attended. In one class the instructor was trying to teach us all something—I can’t remember now what—but this one writer/attendee kept getting up to ask questions throughout, questions that were all about him and had nothing to do with the class. In the end he was still talking about how horrible publishers were and how he couldn’t get anyone to look at his manuscript and what was the matter with all of them and on and on until finally the class ended.

Of course, after that, he had to go up front and continue to badger the instructor about his problems with “publishers.”

I met some great people at that conference, too, and I’ve continued to meet some very nice authors over the years. But I have to say I’ve met just as many that weren’t so great.

Let Me Tell You All About ME
I’ve started conversations with writers only to be roped into listening about every wonderful thing they ever wrote, including all their awards and publications and oh, but wait, there’s more!, until I had to physically walk away to stop the madness.

I’ve talked with authors who were so painfully wrapped up in their own heads that they came off as wanting nothing to do with any sort of conversation with anyone. Others have failed to take any interest whatsoever until I started asking them about themselves, after which they were happy to monopolize my time for the rest of the night.

Above it all are those huge authors I’ve met at signings. These are beacons of wonderfulness, warm and caring people that genuinely love to connect with those who read their books.  They’re the ones that by taking a genuine interest in their fans for only a few spare minutes manage to leave them feeling as if they’ve just been sprinkled with magic author dust, a rare element known to induce spontaneous smiling.

But then there are other well-known individuals who have failed to even look me in the eye while signing, or those who busied themselves in conversations with buddies at the table while scratching up my book and then handing it back as if I should be grateful they took the 10 seconds.

Was Grace right? Do most authors simply lack personality? Are they so wrapped up in themselves that they fail to see the effect they have on others, especially on—gasp—their fans?

I’m Looking for Writers with Personality
Grace is still serving at the local café. We chat now and then, though the subject of writers and their personalities never came up again. She doesn’t ask. I don’t tell. I work away, and she lets me work, and we occupy our own worlds except for the few spare moments when she’s taking my order.

But I’ll never forget her comment. Whenever I’m at a writing event, I tell myself to leave my ego at the door, and remember what my father always said—that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I do my best to keep my writing ambitions on the back burner (even though I know we’re supposed to NETWORK!), and to value my interactions as more about being human and less about furthering my career.

I continue to meet other writers that fit Grace’s description. More than I’d like to admit, actually. But that makes those few gems even more special, the ones that are writers but are still people, too.

Writers with personalities. Maybe they really are rare in today’s world.

Are you one of them?
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Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction, and has been a full-time writer, editor, and ghostwriter for nearly 20 years. Her literary novel, Loreena’s Gift, was released in April 2016 by Dzanc Books. Her recent fantasy novel, Rise of the Sidenah, was a North American Book Awards winner, and was named Official Selection, young adult, in the 2015 New Apple Books Awards.

She maintains a robust inspirational blog for writers and other creatives at Writing and Wellness, with her own personal website at Follow her on Twitter @colleen_m_story.

Loreena’s Gift: A blind girl’s terrifying “gift” allows her to regain her eyesight—but only as she ferries the recently deceased into the afterlife.
Available now from Dzanc Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and online Indie bookstores.

Rise of the Sidenah is a magical fantasy about a young sculptress forbidden from practicing her art, until a powerful man offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse. Available at Amazon.
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Colleen's a prime example of a writer with personality! And totally worth stalking online (seriously, I just saw the cutest baby goats on the planet!). Just for the record, I have issues with writers who use their occupation as a reason to be antisocial. My experience? Because of who I am--more in teacher mode than writer mode most days--no one has ever greeted my writer status with scorn. Indifference, yes. Curiosity, naturally. And excitement?Absolutely. But never scorn. Colleen and I would love to hear about your experience with writers. Leave a comment below!
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Learn more about the other writers, authors, and bloggers from the Humor & Inspiration Features

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Shift: Traditional to Indie

The Waiting Game is loads of fun.
Because learning that your story isn't an agent's or publisher's cup of tea builds character, right?

And who doesn't appreciate waiting and waiting and waiting to hear if your story is good enough or if it fits into the Holy Publishing Schedule?

The truth is no matter which path you take, indie or traditional, the lion's share of the work will fall to you. Whether you ask for it or not, advice on plot, character arc, blocking, and a myriad of other topics will come your way. And baby, the marketing alone can knock you flat.

Because of the labor intensive nature of publishing, I thought I'd pose the question to my followers:

Do you have a preference between traditional or indie books?

The response was overwhelming: NO ONE CARED. As long as the story was worth reading, it would be read, they claimed. My confession? I lean toward traditionally published books, but only those with high-quality storytelling and great cover art. Send an indie book with the same characteristics my way and I'll snatch it up too!

Why bring this up now? Because my waiting game has reached an end. And I'm on my way to becoming an indie author. The big pieces are in place. A professional editor and a cover artist have been secured, and I'm in the middle of editing my twist on The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

As I jump into uncharted waters and try not to sink, I'll need all your support, kindness, and patience. And I'll be pleased to answer when you ask:

Because it hits shelves later this year, my dears! And that in itself is exciting. I still have so much to learn about self-publishing and I welcome your tips and warnings. Leave me a comment below!

And keep your eyes open for a new version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, penned by yours truly!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Humor & Inspiration in Writing: Four Steps Away From the Cliff

Allison Maruska:
Author, Blogger, Mama, Coffee Enthusiast
Dealing with drama is something we in the Writing World refer to as part of the business. I've faced my share of annoyances, disappointments, and overwhelming urges to chuck the laptop off the balcony. (Especially the demon laptop of yesteryear...)

Allison Maruska, today's Humor & Inspiration guest, will tackle the topic of dealing with writer drama head on. But first, a bit of background on Allison. The author of several books, Allison is also a teacher, wife, mama, and humor blogger. She's an adorable human being and always up for a chat and a bit of writer mentoring. Without any further ado, here she is!
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First, I want to thank Sarah for allowing me to use her space to espouse my mostly nonsensical banter. When she messaged me a list of suggestions for a topic, one (or a combination of two, rather) stood out to me: what do I do on those days I want to throw my laptop off a balcony and/or jump off a cliff?

And this is where the post ends, because neither of those things has happened to me.

*sobs into tin of chocolate I’m currently binge eating*
Of course I have those days. Everyone who has created anything in the history of ever has those days. 

I call them quit days.

Quit days are the magical combination of non-productivity and irrationality. They somehow blur any kind of accomplishment you’ve had and rub your face in the mess of criticism, poor sales, or general lack of “the groove.” Quit days make taking a janitorial night shift position at Costco appealing.  I bet it’s easy to see and measure success there.
My most recent quit day lasted three days, when usually they are closer to a literal day.  Those other days could be the result of a bad night’s sleep or bad nutrition or…you know, hormones. On those days, everything I write sucks and my social media presence sucks and no one cares what I do and…somebody call the whambulance!
I make light of these days because they aren’t rational and may not be connected to any concrete event. I’m not talking about those days when you get a tough critique or an editing letter or yet another agent rejection. These are real things that happen and you legit feel crappy about them. But more often than not (at least for me), after a brief period of self-deprecating malaise, I launch back into the task at hand with a renewed sense of purpose.

But what if there are more to quit days than single events or a bad mood?

Back to my three-day quit day marathon. It was spawned by a combination of factors that on their own wouldn’t have bothered me for long. But by the end of the first day I felt pelted in the face by rocks. Big rocks. With points and jags that pelted me with their pointy jags. By the end of day three, I finally did the things I’m about to tell you, the things I knew help me cope with quit days.

Step 1: Step away
You gotta gain some perspective, and that’s tough to do when you’re swimming in the problem. Go for a walk. Take the significant other or your bestie out to dinner. Netflix binge. Anything that’s not a writerly thing, at least for an evening.

Step 2: Indulge a little
There’s a reason I said “tin of chocolate” at the beginning of the post. Find a guilty pleasure and tap into it. Quit days aren’t forever, so you need not feel guilty. Get a few endorphins moving.

Step 3: Do something active
Exercise is also great at getting endorphins moving, and if you hate it you’ll be distracted from your quit day. You’ll be looking for the cliff to launch yourself from, but it will be for a different reason.

Step 4: Talk to a trusted friend
I started here on my three-day experience, and I should have done it on day 1. We both have labeled these days “quit days,” so he speaks my language and told me to do steps 1-3 after he let me vent for a while. Your friend won’t judge you for your quit day because everyone has them.

So I hope when quit days come knocking, you’ll see them as annoying yet temporary elements of your creative life. 
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Allison Maruska's debut novel, The Fourth Descendant, was released on February 4, 2015 and has figured on Amazon best seller lists. Her YA urban fantasy called Drake and the Fliers was released in November, 2015, and is proving to be a fan favorite.
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Thanks for taking over the blog, Allison! We all have awful days when carrying on seems pointless. And though your brain knows it doesn't make sense to give up, it seems the most rational course of action. Here's to holding it together, reaching out for support, and carrying on like champs! So friends, if you ever need anyone to chat with, drop me a message, because I've been there

Also, you can always connect with Allison Maruska:
Author Website & Blog
Facebook Author Page
Allison Maruska on Twitter

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Thanks for dropping by, lovely readers!