Pretending to be someone else, if only for seconds at a time.
Sometimes I like to think of myself asNora Ephron. I find this particularly helpful when I'm struggling with whether or not to write. If I'm Nora Ephron, the answer seems more obvious: sit down and write, because you're a writer, even when you feel like shit. That, and make sure you get something good to eat.
At other times I like to pretend I'm Eleanor of Aquitaine, who I learned about on this two-part episode of the History Chicks. She generally seemed to have her shit together (smart, rich, powerful), even while married to two different monarchs of varying quality. I like the fact that she and and her husband, Henry, King of England, got to a point where they had done more or less everything they had wanted to do together in their marriage, and then effectively went their separate ways. It's a valid option if Kings and Queens did it.
And sometimes I just pretend that I'm a normal person, going about my day. This helps me get through my editing work. I don't know why, but telling myself, "I'm a normal person, getting a can of seltzer water," somehow makes it easier to then sit down, work, and forget about the fact that I'm going through a divorce. It helps keep self-pity from getting in the way of productivity, because sometimes you just have to get your work done even if you'd rather curl up in bed and watch Mad Men. Also, it's true. I am normal person, even if I have to remind myself of it occasionally.
Have you experienced heartbreak? What helped you get through it? I could use some tips.
After Donald Trump won the election, I made myself an action plan to resist the administration on whatever level I realistically could, if only to feel like I had some small amount of control and positive effect on a world that seemed to have lost its mind. My plan included supporting organizations that I feel strongly about, including the ACLU and the Washington Post, with whatever money I could spare. But I also promised myself that I would donate more of my time to take part in protests, since it's one of the few means we have of exercising our democratic rights at the national level outside of an election.
I'm an introvert, so this was no easy promise for me. There have been many times in the past that I've thought about participating in a demonstration or volunteering my time somehow, but haven't because I'm shy and often struggle with getting out of the house and interacting with other people. Once I get my butt moving, I almost always enjoy the activity, but I know how drained I'll feel by the end of it, and that's been a major obstacle to doing more. I'm working on it, because introversion is no excuse for letting your country circle the drain.
So several months ago, I decided to attend the March for Science. I was going to drive up from North Carolina and stay with my parents in Maryland in order to demonstrate on the National Mall on Earth Day. It was a good plan.
Then my husband and I decided to split up, and frankly since then, it's been really tough. It just feels like I'll never be happy again, even when I know we're making the right decision. I'm trying not to wallow in my sadness and self-pity, but it's hard when you're losing someone you love. Understandably, a lot of my good writing, exercise, and productivity habits have deteriorated over the last few weeks as a result. I'm definitely still working at finding my sense of equilibrium again.
Yet ironically, one of the few things that separating from my husband made easier was attending the March for Science, since I wound up moving back in with parents and was only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from D.C. anyway. Even though I've been feeling pretty low of late, I still managed to get myself out of the house on Saturday, in the pouring rain, so that I could march for a cause I really believe in. This wasn't easy, but I'm glad I did it.
A lot of people were out there marching against the suppression of truth and data by an administration that unabashedly favors big business in the face of damning evidence to choose otherwise. Another perhaps less publicized reason why we were marching was to save our jobs. The Trump administration has proposed unprecedented cuts in funding for scientific research, particularly in the medical field, which makes so little sense. You would think that an administration that claims to put America first would also support American research, so we can all benefit from the basic and applied studies that result in new technologies that can save and improve lives AND make money.
I stopped doing research about a year ago, but I now work as an editor for scientists, helping them to communicate their findings more effectively so they can publish their work faster and in better peer-reviewed journals. So if there are cuts to funding, it will certainly affect my customers, who will either have to tighten their belts, or in some extreme cases - close down their labs and stop conducting research altogether. Under those conditions, very few researchers are going to be able to hire someone like me.
And in the big picture, it's such a loss. Why should we stop supporting scientists, whose highest aim is to find new information that could keep our planet and our bodies healthier, but also could be used to employ more engineers and companies to create amazing new devices and technologies, which will make more jobs! It can all be traced back to the work of a few lowly graduate students and their over-worked, under-paid, and under-funded advisers. It's an investment that pays off. There are so many reasons for supporting science with public funding. I couldn't possibly do the argument justice.
So I marched to show my support, along with several thousand like-minded people around the world. To be frank, it wasn't much fun. It was wet, cold, and over-crowded for me, and I have no doubt that my current state of mind colored my experience more negatively than I would have wished, but I'm glad I did it anyway - using my presence like the vote that I feel was taken from me back in November.
Here's some pics if you have any interest. They don't really do justice for how many people were out there that day, far more than I had expected. Some of the signs were fun, the chants were pretty weak at best, but how much can expect from a bunch of nerdy introverts who have traditionally shied from making political statements. This was a big move for my community and it shows how seriously we take the administration.
Sorry for the delayed post this week. I'm kind of struggling right now.
I'm not a religious person, but I think we all possess some degree of a gut-level belief system. What some people call prayer, I think of as good thoughts and positive energy. Even if at a logical level, I believe such thoughts can have no effect on a rudderless universe, I still appreciate them for what they are. Good intentions I guess. Compassion. Empathy. These are valuable regardless of their effect because they bring us closer together.
These are the kinds of things I've been reading about in The Book of Joy, which I've been finding helpful, given the circumstances. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu basically say it again and again, but a joyful life doesn't mean an absence of suffering or sadness, it's the continued aim to love and connect with others. It's to be generous in all ways, giving yourself whole-heartedly to someone else. It's to feel yourself be part of a community you care for and vice versa.
I would recommend this book to everyone, not just those who are struggling with some kind of loss. It discusses big ideas without getting too abstract. It's very readable and relatable. It's also a good daily reminder to think about myself less, even if that feels hard right now.
If anyone follows my reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the books I've read in 2017), they might have noticed there's a lot of Nora Ephron in there lately. So why is that?
Well, it's because I decided to leave my marriage.
And to make a sad situation a little more bearable, I also decided that the late great Nora Ephron would be my "spiritual" guide through it all. I'm joking of course, but you know what I mean. I figure if you can write a story like When Harry Met Sally, then you might have some helpful thoughts to share about love and heartbreak.
My husband and I went through some problems about a year and a half ago. We even separated for a little while, but got back together after deciding we could work things out. Unfortunately, even though I thought we had made really good efforts to work through those problems, they kind of reared up their ugly heads again. I guess I finally realized that I had done everything I could think to do to save my relationship, but it wasn't enough. I know I gave it my best shot, which makes this time around marginally easier. Last time I felt like I hadn't actually done anything to fight for my marriage and that it wasn't fair to ourselves to walk away so easily. So we tried, we definitely did. At least I feel good about that.
It's one of those sad situations where no one has been "wronged." There was no bad behavior. I never stopped loving him, and I don't think he stopped loving me. We just wanted different things. We also needed different things and weren't able to communicate those wants and needs very well, if at all. Talking about hard issues was never our strong point as a couple. So it's nobody's fault, really, or maybe it's everyone's fault. I don't know. But that doesn't make it any less sad or frustrating.
I go through waves of feeling ok, and then waves of despair where I can barely function. And then more often there are the waves of numbness where it feels like I'll never be genuinely happy again. It's also really hard to let go of the good memories and what they meant to me. It feels almost impossible to say goodbye to a man who has been my best friend for 13 years. So yeah, to say this is rough is an understatement.
Anyway, what does that have to do with Nora Ephron again? Having been divorced twice and married three times, I find she has a funny sense humor and poignancy about it all that I'm finding very comforting. Of the three books of hers I've read in the last week or so, I enjoyed Heartburn the most, which is a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) when she was 7 months pregnant. The other two are collections of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Some of the essays are excellent, others are more or less blog posts, but this one really helped me put things in perspective:
"For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not." - Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I guess the point is, although this may seem like the end of the world, that everything I've ever known or worked so hard to build is falling apart (and I'm the one who's actively torpedoing it, which makes it feel even worse, even though I feel like there's no other way for us both to move forward with our lives and ultimately be happy) - well, this too will pass. There's going to be a new normal, even if I don't know what it looks like yet. And one day in the future, this divorce will not be considered the most important thing that ever happened to me, even if it feels that way at the moment.
So right now I'm just trying to be grateful for all the things I have and have had, and trying to be as hopeful as possible. I'm incredibly fortunate to have two supportive parents who've opened their home to me, my dog, and my cats while I figure out our next step and deal with the necessary logistics of the situation. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a job that I can do anywhere, which makes it possible to move here for the moment.
And I also don't regret my marriage or our time spent together. We did, saw, and made some pretty amazing things as a couple. 13 years together and I wouldn't take back a single one. He's a wonderful person and I really wish him all the happiness in the world. So all things considered, I'm really incredibly lucky. The present is a challenge, to be sure, but I can work through this and everything will be alright in the end.
I can play the piano. So can my Dad. When I was growing up, he would critique my playing while I practiced, which was every. single. day. Let your imagination run wild on how well that worked for our father-daughter relationship (and then imagine how much everything improved when he finally stopped trying to teach me, because that's how that story ultimately ended).
But when it was still happening, it would generally go like this:
"You're timing's not right in this measure. Play it this way."
Just saying those words was usually enough to start a fight, because there was nothing that infuriated my Dad more than an attitude of "I can't." In our house, you got in less trouble for letting a swear word slip than saying "I can't."
Yeah, it was extreme, but there was a grain of truth to it. There was no physical reason I couldn't play a note a certain way. And I certainly understood what to do. Saying "I can't" was just a defeatist attitude that did nothing to help me.
I wish my Dad had taught me not to say or think "I can't" in a nicer way (he has a temper, so do I, it wasn't pretty), but now that we're past all that fighting, I'm sort of grateful he made an effort to excise that phrase from my vocabulary. Honestly, I don't think I say "I can't" much if ever when it comes to trying to achieve something. I know I can, in theory, it's just a matter of learning how, working hard, and having a little luck roll in my favor.
So I don't say "I can't" anymore.
But you know what I do say a lot?
"I worry that..."
I think I say this phrase at least once a week, and that's being generous. It's probably a lot more often. It's this constant refrain in my head: vocalizing worries.
And it helps nothing. It's as bad an attitude if not worse than "I can't."
So I'm trying to stop saying or thinking it, because I wonder if it will have the same effect as getting rid of the phrase "I can't" from my vocabulary. Maybe I can stop worrying so much if I stop using the words that make it possible to do that.
Because the worries are driving me crazy, and yet I have this suspicion that I can control this if I make the effort. I'm pretty sure I can, and I think I'll be a lot happier if I do.
I'm Polish by descent, so growing up, we ate a lot of sauerkraut. Always the store bought stuff, usually caramelized with some onions. It's delicious.
But lately I've been getting into making my own sauerkraut. I use red cabbage because I like the added color it gives to my meals. I eat it with sausages and meat loaf, but more often I put a scoop of it in my salad for some added sour crunch. Supposedly it's healthy to eat fermented foods, but I try to just eat as many vegetables as I can. Sauerkraut just happens to be a very delicious vegetable :)
It's surprisingly easy to do if you have the right tools. My mother-in-law got me this crock for Christmas last year.
I just chop up 3 red cabbages into thin strips, knead them with some salt (~1 tablespoon or so per cabbage), and then I pound the cabbage down in the crock with this wooden stick that my mother-in-law also got me, which makes the job so much easier.
Then you cover everything with a cabbage leaf or two, weight it down with the two pickling stones the crock comes with, and squish them down again with the tamping stick until enough water comes out of the cabbage to more or less cover everything. Then you put the lid on the crock, pour some water into the water seal (the groove in which the lid sits), and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 weeks. Check it every day, squishing down the weighting stones each time. If there's a little scum (dried up bubbles basically), just scoop it off the top. The fermentation microbes make the mixture too acidic for any nasty bacteria to survive.
After at least 2 weeks, remove the lid, remove the weighting stones, remove the big cabbage leaves, and behold the beautiful red sauerkraut that's ready to be put mason jars and kept in the fridge for whenever you need it.
It's really very easy (though a bit physically demanding during the "kneading" stage). Three cabbages make me enough sauerkraut to last for about a third of the year. Yeah, we eat a lot in this house...it's just so good on a hot dog!
The other night, I went to a local book club hosted atMystery Brewing (an excellent pub/brewery in Hillsborough, NC that's well worth a visit if you're in the area). It was my first time going, and I kind of lucked out because the club had organized a Skype session with the author of the book (The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel). Obviously, it was really cool to listen to her thoughts on the novel, which was about the devil in small town Ohio, but I was even more interested in what she had to say about her publishing experience, since I have similar goals.
Although The Summer That Melted Everything was technically her "debut," I think Tiffany said it was something like her eighth completed novel. According to her, she had met some resistance over the years from agents who thought her work was a little too dark to be commercial. I totally respect her for sticking to the stories she wanted to tell, but it's also interesting to know that dark plots can be considered a "problem" in the publishing industry (as unfair as that is).
She also mentioned the amount of marketing she did for the book herself. I've heard that's fairly typical these days, but it was helpful to hear her confirm it, because it made me realize how much more serious I should probably get about building my author "platform" (i.e., this blog).
The thing is, it just feels weird to be soliciting emails for newsletters that you readers aren't interested in because I don't even have a product yet, or something of value to give in return. Yet everyone says to get started as soon as possible. The sooner you begin getting blog subscribers and email addresses, the more you'll have for marketing purposes later on down the road (and boy, did it feel icky just writing that sentence - even if it's true).
I do some self-publishing on Amazon KDP and have a totally separate website for that pen name to list all my titles. So in that instance, I actually do have something to "give" the reader in exchange for their contact information. For instance, I can tell subscribers when I'm running free book promotions. That feels like a fair exchange.
Whatever your thoughts about marketing, since I believe many of you are also writers, I figured the very least I could do is share a tool with you that I use on my KDP website to analyze user information and solicit emails for my newsletter. I spent an entire day looking for a tool that would allow me to easily copy and paste code to create simple subscription pop-ups, click-maps, and compile Google Analytics into a more user friendly interface, and I finally found it:
This website tool is so easy to use and it does exactly what I want it to. It's also free. So if you're trying to build your author platform, don't waste time looking for something better. There are a lot of options out there, but they all cost money, and what I've learned as a KDP author is that your success somewhat depends on how low you can keep your operating costs. Sumo fits the bill. It's exactly what every aspiring author needs to manage their website.
With all that said, I hope giving you this information will also allow you to forgive me if I install Sumo on Wordly-Bird. So if you see a pop-up requesting your email, feel free to ignore it. It just seems like if I want to get serious about being a published author - then I need to get serious and do some things that make me slightly uncomfortable. I'll try and figure out what more I can give to make these kinds of annoying email solicitations more palatable. Hopefully sharing this Sumo tool with you is a start. (Seriously, install it, it's amazing - they also have incredibly helpful download and installation videos on their website.)
Ctrl + Shift + T will reopen a tab that you just closed on Chrome.
(the more you know)
Hello, hello! How's it going? Having a good week? Bad week? Productive? Lazy? Even though I've been updating here fairly consistently, I've been feeling a little disconnected from this blog. I think it's because I haven't been sharing as much personal and inner-life stuff as I'd like. I'm going to work on that because there's nothing I hate more in a blog than a tedious run-down of external life stuff (Here's what I ate! Here's what I wore! Here's where I traveled! Here's a recommendation!). All of that is well and good, but it gets boring without knowing a little more about the writer and their thoughts and hopes, etc. It's a tricky balance.
I've had an unusually light editing week, which has let me focus more on writing and publishing. I always appreciate these moments, because they're so few and far between, but I also find them a little overwhelming. There's so much work to be done. So many stories to write, edit, publish, and market. Being an indie author could easily be a full-time job (and I think it is for some people), though I guess it depends on whether or not the pay is commiserate to the effort.
I haven't talked about this stuff much, but I've been publishing on Amazon Kindle fairly regularly (Kindle Direct Publishing). And just so you know, for almost six months, I had almost no sales. This didn't surprise me in the least. It's hard to break through the algorithm of any online platform and get noticed among the millions of options that are available. But I kept plugging away at it. I don't know why exactly. I guess I felt like I'd be writing this stuff anyway (or something like it), so I may as well post it on Amazon.
And then a funny thing happened. About two or three weeks ago, my sales started to pickup, particularly my KENP numbers (the number of pages that are read). For six months, I had more or less ignored those page counts because they occurred so rarely. Maybe once a week, someone would read one of my stories, and since you only get paid ~half a cent for every page read, that didn't amount to much money. But I did notice that when people read my stories they virtually always read all the way through. That felt pretty good. Like I was on the right track.
Well once I broke through Amazon's algorithm (I think by shear volume of stories) and more people started reading my work, suddenly those KENP numbers started adding up. It's still not a lot of money, but I've now made more in the last two weeks than I had in the previous six months.
So I'm busy trying to capitalize on that momentum. Bundling stories together into book deals. Establishing better social media presence for that pen-name. Tweeting (affiliate) links to those deals. Writing more stories and considering different genres. Like I said, this could be a full-time job.
What stories are these? Unfortunately, I'd never share that trash on this blog in a million years. Basically, I sold out and wrote a lot of commercial romance garbage that I would never feel comfortable attaching my real name to. But I'm still kind of proud of it because it's a fun exercise to put literary merit aside and just focus on writing a story that draws more people in.
Amazon KDP is obviously not a good place to publish if you're interested in being a literary fiction author. The people who sign up for Kindle Unlimited (who will be the most likely to find your ebook) are not there to discover and read the next Hemingway. They're looking for good deals on fun genre fiction (romance, science fiction, maybe some mysteries, etc.). But if you enjoy writing romance, I would highly recommend posting a short novel or a few short stories on KDP. It's fairly easy to do. I find the hardest part is designing a decent cover, but other than that, there's really nothing to lose. It's a fun hobby with the chance to make a few bucks at the same time. It's like the writer's version of Etsy.
I still hope to go through the traditional publishing route one day, and I'm still working on those stories. I wish I could share them with you now, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to publish those particular books on Amazon first, even if I still retain the copyright. I don't know, maybe it doesn't matter. If I had more time, I would devote a lot more effort to understanding traditional publishing, and whether or not publishing on Amazon first is considered a detriment.
Anyone have some advice on that? If you have a story that's good enough for Amazon KDP, but it might also be good enough (with some additional editing and work) to query agents with, should you save it for the traditional publishing route? Or could you "test the waters," so to speak, on Amazon first? It's just so tempting to jump right into the immediate commercial opportunities of self-publishing, but maybe that's short-sighted.
My strategy of late has been to focus on writing more commercial work, post in on Amazon, and hopefully draw enough income from those sources to allow me to cut down on my editing work so that I can devote even more time to writing what I would consider my more literary projects. But maybe that strategy is all backwards. I really don't know.
Seriously, if you have thoughts on this, please comment. I'd love to hear your opinion. Or if you have questions, feel free to post them too. I would love to get a conversation going on this self- vs. traditional publishing debate. Do you start commercial and go literary? Or do you shoot for the literary publication first if that's your real goal?
And if anyone's interested in learning how to publish on KDP and understand some of its quirks, let me know in the comments. I feel like I've learned so much from trial and error over the past six months. I'd be happy to share if you'd find it helpful.