Update Day: Boy Do I Have Good News!

It’s hard to imagine, but this is the last Friday of May, which means, for those of you who don’t know, it’s time for me to share my update for the GotGoals? Bloghop.

Cohosted by me and JEN Garrett, this bloghop has its participants set some crazy or just crazy important goals, and then update on the last Friday of every month. If you want to join in the fun, please click here.

So how did May go? You’d think from my prolonged silence this month that it went horribly, but actually, something happened this month that was nothing short of a miracle. One day, I will be able to publicly talk about it, but because of the nature of my original problem that this miracle solved, I can’t really give too much detail.

But yeah. On 3 May, someone basically walked in out of the blue and offered to solve one of the biggest problems that was threatening us. Just like that.

And then, something else amazing happened. So late last month, someone wanted to hire me as one of five people who would write articles for a project she was working on. Since the project deals with female entrepreneurship (a subject dear to my heart), I accepted the offer and started work.

It’s only a short-term job, of the kind I usually do, so I thought nothing more of it, but then when I started submitting my articles, the lady let me know that I was the only one of the five people who wrote the articles the way she wanted. (She wanted stories, which worked for me. ^_^) So awesome. I’m basically going to write all those articles now.

But then last week or the end of the week about that, she said she’d referred me to the company she works for as a communications consultant, and they wanted to hire me as a contract worker, because they needed someone who could do the work I’d proved to her I could do.

So I said yes, because yay extra work.

And then I got the contract.

Guys… It’s flexible and dependent on how much work they send me. But… We’re talking about jumping to almost halfway to my monthly earning goal, assuming I fill the allowed hours.

And having started this week, I have to say I love the work.

So yeah. I had a super exciting month.

It’s really great to be able to share some good news, I have to say.

Does that mean I’m going to set myself short term goals for June?

Not quite. See, because this is a major and new job for me, I want to keep everything as open as possible and settle into a routine. And once I do that, I’ll be able to turn up the throttle on my personal goals again.

How are you guys doing? Anyone else have good news? 

Advertisements

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Probably the Most Damaging Insecurity I’ve Ever Had

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s time for another IWSG post again. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a bloghop where we share our fears, doubts and insecurities once a month. The idea is for everyone to see they’re not alone in what they’re feeling, and also for everyone to encourage each other, or to give advice if you’ve been there and made it through. If you would like more information or to sign up, just click here.

I actually considered skipping today, because man, I’ve been having some serious troubles writing.

But here’s the thing. I realized earlier that the major insecurity I’ve been suffering from for the past two or three months is a lie. 

So I thought I’d share a bit of what’s going on with me. Finally figured out a way in which to put my feelings in a publishable format.

There’s a bit of a challenge, because I can’t really explain why I felt this way. I did explain on my Patreon page, since I wanted my patrons to know where I am in my life, but I couldn’t make it a public posting, because I have quite a good reason not to want to put everything up in public unfiltered where a Google Search can pick it up. So. If you want to see a full picture, I’m afraid it’s going to cost a dollar. If not, no pressure. I think you’ll be able to get by without the full picture.

Why? Because I’m a writer, damn it. I’ll make it work.

Right.

So.

*Deep breath.*

Basically from the beginning of March, I stopped feeling like I had a future worth living for.

Man. That sentence was harder than I thought. Already in tears.

Okay. I can do this.

From the beginning of March, I stopped feeling like I had a future worth living for. Basically for the past ten years, I’ve been keeping myself functioning by relentlessly chasing down my dream of becoming a writer, and then later of making a living off my writing skills.

And that was great, because there was always something to work towards. A book to write/edit. Marketing to do… And so on and so forth.

But then partly thanks to a very close relative and some supposed “friends,” my life started to unravel in 2014.

And it kept on unraveling.

And kept on unraveling.

To the point where in March, I stopped being able to even hope that one day it would be okay. It didn’t help that I was already earning my living from writing and it just wasn’t enough to stabilize the shit storm that my life has become.

That was the worst. Because if I wasn’t happy now, what was the point of building toward the future anyway?

It started as a single thought that multiplied and multiplied until it became a belief that simply wouldn’t go away.

But here’s the thing.

 

It’s a lie. Or worse, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

 

Because if I believe that my future is dead in the water, I’m going to stop trying to fight for it. And if I stop trying to fight for it, all hope is lost, and my future as I want it really will die.

And today I had the blessing of being given a chance to step back and evaluate. And to remember that although I have a grand future planned, I also have a closer, smaller, more short-term future. One where I have a new book (or two) published. One where that book acts as a stepping stone to what I consider to be my empire. Also, one where after two years of putting it off, I have an actual proper author website and stuff.

That smaller future is something I want. Badly. And it doesn’t matter whether my life wants to fall to pieces. I have the skills and tools at my disposal to make that smaller future happen.

But to do that, I have to stop lying to myself. I have to stop thinking that I’m going to be trapped in limbo forever.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. In which case, I want to remind you to stop lying to yourself as well. There is a future you want, and there is a way for you to get there. Once you remember that, it becomes easier to to figure out what you need to do and how to do it, regardless of what’s going on in the present.

Thanks for reading!

Update Day: February

Well that was somewhat annoying. I missed my own bloghop, thanks to internet gremlins getting into my internet connection just as I wanted to write this post.

Anyhow. The Got Goals? Bloghop is a group of us who have set some crazy or some seriously important goals. Once a month, on the last Friday, we post updates on our progress. For more information or to join in, click here for more information.

Last month, I set some goals for February that are aimed at bringing me closer to my goals for the year. So let me take a look at each goal and how I did.

1) I want to finish this revision round of Book 3 by month end, if I can. 

I don’t think I’m going to get there before the end of the month, but I am through 70% of my chapters.

2) I want to make a final decision with regards to whether I’m going to use my old system of CPs for each round of edits after this point, or hire an editor. 

Because of me not finishing, I think I’m moving this decision out to next month.

3) I want to post regular updates to my blog and vlog, and also update the content that goes to my other networks. (The two are related.) 

I’m not quite happy with my progress here. Although I did much better than I did last year, I still missed days thanks to my unexpectedly hectic schedule. We’ll have to see how I do next month.

4) Maintain and further improve the healthy habits I’ve started to establish in January.

I actually took this a step further. So now I’m drinking large amounts of water every day. I’m also exercising more and finally, I’ve cut all refined carbs from my diet. This decision has been a while in coming. See, I love love love bread and other baked goods, but I just don’t like how they make me feel. But it’s really hard, basically impossible for me to just lower my carb intake, so in the end, I decided to cut out basically everything but healthy carbs like those in fruit and veg.

5) Read for an average of 15 minutes per day. 

This month was a bit hard for me. I was really busy, and because of my prioritizing my editing, I’m currently closer to 10 minutes per day. I might still get to 15 minutes if I get a few hours’ reading in over the weekend.

So because I still have to do all these things, I’m just going to set the same goals for March.

How did February treat you? Have you been making progress in February? What would you like to achieve next month? 

Ellen G. Goldman on Health Tips for Writers

Hi guys, today, I would like to welcome Ellen G. Goldman to my blog. I met Ellen when I did the editing, cover design and formatting for her book Mastering the Inner Game of Weight Loss: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet, and since I think she’s got some awesome advice, I thought I’d ask her to share some health pointers for us writerly types. Take it away, Ellen!

Have you ever muttered to yourself, “This job is killing me!”? I know I have.

It is usually at times when I am feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and time-pressured. They are fleeting moments and pass quickly.

But a few years ago, they took on new meaning.

I was in the fitness industry for years, running my small, private personal training business. Most hours I was on my feet, working side by side with my clients. Coupled with my own workouts, very little time was spent sitting at my computer, or seated at all.

Once I shifted from training to coaching, my daily habits changed as well. Coaching by phone, writing blogs, newsletters, social media content, plus managing the marketing and other tasks related to running my business had me sitting at a desk for more hours than ever before.

It was a problem. Not used to sitting still for so long, I had to adjust. I was also reading the new research that said extended periods of sitting are bad for our bodies and our minds.

According to the studies on this, sitting on our duffs for most of the day takes a serious toll on our health and well-being, despite daily exercise.

Most working individuals average at least eight hours of sitting each day. For writers, it may be even more. It’s hard to walk away, especially when on a creative roll. However, inherent problems that come with hours of sitting without breaks aren’t easy to ignore.

Individuals with sedentary lifestyles, coupled with frequent prolonged sitting, have shown an increased risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Although the reasons are unclear, studies have linked excessive sitting with colon, breast, and endometrial cancer.

Being slumped over your computer in your chair all day leads to tight hamstring and hip muscles, weak abdominal muscles, and flaccid glutes. Together, that’s a recipe for postural problems, neck and back pain, and increased risk of lumbar disc degeneration.

If the distraction of being in pain and taking time off to attend to disease and illness isn’t enough to make you rethink the way you work all day, don’t discount that extended sitting also impacts your brain.

If you can relate to staring at a blank page while trying to come up with creative prose, feeling as if you can’t think straight, it is probably because foggy brain is setting in. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.

It’s hard to write inspiring words when your brain isn’t getting the proper fuel it needs. After 60 or so minutes of sustained focus, the mind begins to fatigue. Just like our bodies tire when working our muscles for extended periods, we feel sluggish and have difficulty thinking when we are fuel deprived. The brain needs a constant source of oxygen to perform optimally. Once it is used up, it needs a break.

Moving muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and triggers the release of all sorts of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. Pretty essential if you want to do creative, meaningful work.

Here are some easy to implement ideas you can incorporate starting today to improve your health, decrease your risk of injury and illness, and increase your creativity and productivity.

  • Set a timer to go off every 55 minutes, reminding you to take a five-minute break. Stand, stretch, walk around, and grab some sips of water.
  • Consider investing in a fitness tracker. Not only will it record your total daily steps—to optimize health the recommendation is 10K—but many have a built-in reminder to go off when you’ve been stationary for too long.
  • Set a rule—no eating in front of the computer. Mindless eating leads to over-consumption and weight gain. If you desire a sugar treat to “wake you up,” it is a sure sign that it’s time for a break.
  • Commit to a daily lunch break, and enjoy the time off. You’ll come back to work rejuvenated. If hunger strikes mid-morning or afternoon, stop working and take a few minutes to enjoy a healthy snack.
  • Eat a combination of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. This mix keeps you satiated and gives the body and the brain the energy it needs to stay focused and be productive.
  • If you feel sluggish, take a movement break rather than depending on caffeine or sugar.
  • Keep a water bottle on your desk. Sip often.
  • Schedule exercise breaks. Remember the most creative ideas come when the brain and body are being flooded with oxygen. Keep a pad by your side or record thoughts on your phone to capture those that come to you while working out.
  • Although adherence to exercise seems to be better for those who work out first thing in the morning, that might not be the best time for us writers. If your most creative time is in the morning, leave exercise for the afternoon when you need the pick me up. However, if you are a slow starter, and later in the day is when words flow for you, a.m. exercise would be a better time.
  • Create a 10-minute stretch-and-strengthen routine for the end of the day. Stretch your back, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles. Strengthen your spinal and abdominal muscles.
  • Consider purchasing a standing desk or, if your budget allows, a walking treadmill desk.
  • Use wireless headphones when on the phone, and walk while you talk.

Try out a few, or all, of the above tips and see how quickly you positively impact your energy levels, mood, health, and happiness as well as turning on your creative brain. Who knows, you just might write your next masterpiece.

Ellen Goldman created EllenG Coaching to help overextended business professionals and entrepreneurs who are worried about their health and happiness, and are either exhausted, burnt out, out of shape, overweight, or all of the above! Through her coaching programs, motivational talks and online courses, she shows clients how to integrate health into their busy lifestyles with simple, small steps that lead to massive change, resulting in greater energy, focus, productivity, and happiness every day. With 30 plus years’ experience in the health and fitness industries, working as a personal trainer and certified wellness coach while raising her family, Ellen knows firsthand that you do not need to sacrifice your health and happiness to have a successful career. Her mission is to help others thrive both personally and professionally. Ellen is the author of Mastering the Inner Game of Weight Loss: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet. To learn more about Ellen and her wellness programs, visit www.EllenGcoaching.com.

Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I recently read a book that had some… let’s call them issues. I’m not going to name names, but you guys will probably be able to track it down if you follow my social networks, or if you’re patient enough. But if you do track the title down, keep in mind my comments can be seen as spoilers once you have the context, so choose wisely if you want to find out what book I’m talking about.

At any rate, I mostly did enjoy this book. It had an interesting voice and rapid pacing that did serve to keep me immersed in the reading.

But will I be reading this book’s sequel, which is coming out soon?

No.

I could blame some of the plot issues this book had, but if those were the only ones, the book had entertained me enough to encourage me to (eventually, maybe) pick up the sequel. But no. The issue was a bit more serious.

The issue is that the writer broke her social contract with me.

Some writers seem to be completely unaware of the fact, but all works of fiction come with a reciprocal, unwritten social contract.

The reader agrees to suspend disbelief until the end of the book, trusting the writer’s ability to tell a good story until the very end.

On the writer’s side, there’s the promise of a good story being told, and that any leap of faith taken by the reader will be either explained or rewarded in some way by the end.

I always talk about the plot and characterization in a book being its foundation. Well, taking this analogy further, this social contract of trust and reward basically stands as the reason why the foundation had been laid in the first place. The writer wants to entertain, and the reader wants to be entertained. The social contract makes it possible for both sides to both get and deliver what is needed for this transaction to occur.

My problem with this book is that I spent 90% of the book trusting the writer despite some logic issues in the story, only to be rewarded at the end with “Oh well, the conflicts, the stakes, the choices, and even the supposedly devastating sacrifices as the result of those choices never actually mattered and were all undone by the end.”

While it had been foreshadowed from the start that this was the case, but nothing had prepared me for how little it all mattered in the end.

And so, at the end of it, I, being a reader, felt betrayed. So much so that I’m simply not willing to get back onto that roller-coaster again for the sequel.

So How Do Writers Deliver Their End of the Contract?

The main step, of course, is to tell a good story, which revolves around all the techniques you guys already know.

But if you were to want to write a book that is designed to completely screw with your reader’s minds, it basically comes down to one thing:

Don’t put the mind-f*ck ahead of the story. 

In other words, if you’re putting so much effort into blowing the mind of the reader at every turn, you’re actually harming the story, either by making it predictable, or by unraveling all the meaning you’d put into it.

Or in still other words, put the mind-blowing events into your plot, but don’t make your plot about the mind-blowing events.

This is such a difficult thing to explain without naming examples, so I will name two examples in movies. And to make the point I’m making clearer, I’ll even make the main characters have the same vocation.

I present to you:
Image result for the prestige
and
Image result for now you see me
Before we continue: SPOILER WARNING!!!

Of the two, I think the book I’d read was trying to be The Prestige. And why wouldn’t it?

In The Prestige, the pacing was tight. The conflict was no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners. The stakes kept climbing. But here’s the thing. The conflict centered around what two stage magicians were capable of doing to each other in the name of revenge. The mind-f*cks started coming when the understanding the viewer had of the events in the story took on a new meaning, once they realized what the magicians were willing to do to themselves in order to win in this revenge game. (Let me just say that those things are more horrific the more you think about them.)

Everything in The Prestige is established, shown, and explained, peeling back layer after layer until the viewer is given clear sight of what they had been seeing all along. In other words, nothing was hidden, save for the meaning of what they had seen, and even that is revealed by the end as the huge twist. If viewers rewatch the movie, they will have a different experience, just because they understand all that’s going on in context. But even knowing the context and twist, The Prestige is still a movie worth watching, simply because the characterization was excellent and the plot in itself is amazing. (Brilliant conflict. Huge and ever-increasing stakes driven by character motivation.)

What the book ended up being was Now You See Me. This movie sets up a conflict, only to reveal it’s a diversion, then sets up another thing, only to show it’s fake. And another, and another, none of which is real. By the third time there’s a plot twist (and I use the term loosely), the viewer’s mind isn’t blown, because the viewer knows that literally nothing that’s happening is actually happening. So stakes? Nada. Conflict? Meh what conflict? We don’t even know what the goal is yet. (If we don’t know what the goal is, we don’t know what is standing against the goal.)

Plot twists are thrown in with little to no real ground work, all to “generate interest.” And in the end, it is revealed that the one thing the viewer thought was real—in other words, the heist and the conflict with the detective—was all fake and that the whole time, there had been an entire other plot that the viewer had not been allowed to see on purpose, and that gets jumped on the viewer from left field with little more than a “ta-da!” in the third act.

This in a nutshell was exactly what had happened in the book. Literally in the third act, we’re not only introduced to this whole other unseen plot, but said plot literally undoes everything in the book, including the relationship between the two leads that had been developed as the story progressed.

So what happens is that once this other plot becomes known, the plot we readers had read—the one we had known and spent time on—doesn’t gain a new meaning. It gains non-meaning. As in, if I reread this book again, I’ll never be able to commit to the story again, because this story literally means nothing now. Nothing I had been shown in the story actually meant anything. The story is defined by what I hadn’t been shown, and in short, by how much the writer had taken my trust without giving me anything of substance in return.

And instead of being mind-blown, I’m just really upset and let down.

So if you are working on a book that hinges on some major plot twists, please do ask yourself:

If my readers reread this book knowing the plot twists in it, will they still be presented with a compelling plot?
Or will everything I set up fall apart because of the way I resolved the story? 

If you answer yes to the latter, you failed to hold up your part of the social contract. It really is that simple. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go rewatch The Prestige. 

Anyone else love The Prestige as much as I do? Anyone else feel as betrayed as I do when plot twists basically undo entire stories? 

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Reviewer’s Dilemma

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post.

This month isn’t about a writing insecurity per se, but more… an insecurity surrounding being a writer online.

Recently, I changed my posting strategy both for my blog and for my YouTube Channel. I realized that my blog content was more suitable for seasoned writers, while I could use my YouTube Channel to draw in new readers by posting tips for new writers (most are readers, no?) and by talking about books I’ve enjoyed reading.

The latter does have the extra benefit of encouraging me to read more, but it’s coming with a huge potential landmine:

 
What if I don’t like the book? 

In all the years I’ve been blogging (eight this year, btw), I’ve consistently refused to post reviews, simply because I never know what to do in the event of having a meh reaction to a book, or worse. I can’t lie and call it okay, because meh is not okay to me. Especially if I paid for said book.

Also, if people requested me to review the book, especially if we’ve built a relationship over the years, I could foresee that me just not being subjectively into their book would do damage to said relationship.

All in all, the issue of a writer reviewing other writers’ books felt like swimming in shark infested waters, and I had always refused to wade in.

Until now.

So why did I change my mind?

Short answer is I want to attract readers and grow my following, and my lurking for two years on YouTube and Tumblr has revealed that talking about books to readers is the way into their hearts. Also… really… I just really want to talk about the books I’ve read. Especially when I liked them. And since this year I have a goal of reading every day, knowing I need to whip up some content around my reading is doing a lot to act as an incentive so I don’t move my reading down my priority list the way I’ve done lately.

And I guess I thought that it’ll be okay. I read so many books that I love that I didn’t really think I would bump into one I didn’t enjoy.

And of course, I did just that in this first week after deciding to post my opinion on books I read.

Which means I’m firmly in chum-filled waters now. Do pretend I didn’t read it? Do I acknowledge reading it with a meh, moving on attitude?

I’m kinda thinking of going with the latter. Especially for this book. It wasn’t bad. It just had flaws. Explaining those flaws would make readers cry with boredom, though, so that’s not an option. Writing a post about those flaws for this blog without naming names, however, is.

Thing is, I still don’t know if acknowledging a book as being mediocre is a good idea. So maybe if I did a quick “what I liked, what I didn’t like” segment on it…

Sigh. 

I need to stew on it. Three more weeks before I have to make a call.

Any suggestions? Do you review the books you read? What do you do with the ones you don’t enjoy?

Eef Lenaerts on Writing a Book About Traveling through Africa

One of my first freelance jobs was to do the editing, formatting, and cover design for a book about traveling through Africa from Egypt to South Africa. It was a great book for me to read, because the idea of traveling over Africa has always intrigued me. (Although I’d do it in reverse from how the writers Eef and Dries did it, seeing as I am in South Africa already.)

But because I enjoyed working on the book so much, I thought I’d invite Eef to do a guest post about what it was like for her to write it.

Hi all,

Like many of you here, we wrote a book! But we’re no writers, we’re travelers and we had absolutely had no idea how the hell to write a book, so we got some help from Misha.

The book is finally finished (thanks to Misha) and she asked us to write a guest post about the process of writing a book while traveling, so here we go!

Four years ago, we left Belgium with our car. Two years later, we reached South Africa. It was an adventure, with many ups and downs. We loved it, but at times we hated it. It was hot, it was cold, it was amazing, it was dreadful…but it was the adventure of a lifetime that no-one can take away from us.

We left as total dummies with our Toyota Landcruiser. We drove from Belgium to Turkey and took a ferry to Egypt to start our way down along the East Coast of Africa, with South Africa as our end goal.

We were total dummies. Young and eager to go, we couldn’t wait. We packed up our house, sold our belongings, and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime!

We didn’t take enough preparations, so of course we ran in problems along the way, getting stuck in the dessert with a hi-lift jack, but no points to use the jack, having a spare battery for the fridge, but having a warm fridge, applying for a visa, but no USD to pay for it…

These were all small things that we could sort out, and they make some great stories now, but we could easily have avoided these issues. So after the umpteenth time of thinking “Oh really? Wish we knew this before!’ I decided to write a book for the other dummies in the world!

With a good mood, I started writing down things that were important to prepare before you leave home, ways to act in certain countries, hidden treasures along the road, etc. Gathering this information was easy, but making it into a book was way more difficult than I thought.

It took me two years to finish the book. One reason was because we were still traveling, so we had a lot going on. The other reason was simply that things change constantly in Africa! So the information about a border crossing from two years ago was absolutely out of date. This meant that apart from the actual writing, the book required A LOT of research. In the end, I had read the content so many times, I just couldn’t cope anymore.

So for me, it was a horrible experience. 😛

I don’t think I’ll do it again in the near future, but the book is finished and I’m very proud of it!

So if you’re interested to have a look at what I made of it, or just need the final push to start an adventure (the big aim of this book is to give the people that push they need to get out the house and go and see the world), feel free to look it up! Part of this book’s profits will also go to the Rhino Fund Uganda, so the rhinos will thank you.

All the best,

Eef

Two years ago, Dries and Eef decided to throw caution to the wind. They packed up their house, sold their belongings and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling over the African continent. It was a life-changing experience, filled with amazing sights and wonderful people, but it was also challenging because when they started, they had no idea about what they were letting themselves in for.

So to help others who want to share in this amazing adventure, Eef and Dries decided to share their experiences and advice learned the hard way, just to make things a little easier for new adventurers.

The tips range from what you should wear to what you should bring along, how to get through the borders to where you should camp and what you should do while you’re there.

Which means that Into Africa is a fun read for armchair travelers, but especially useful as a guide for adventurers out to experience Africa for themselves.

A portion of proceeds from the sales of this book will go toward The Rhino Fund Uganda, an organization focused on saving rhinos from extinction.

Available on Amazon

Anyone else ever dream of traveling through Africa?