Jack-of-Many-Trades

jack of all trades2

There’s an old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s been on my mind frequently as of late. I use the word ‘many’ in the title since I am not a Jack-of-ALL-trades but rather a person of many talents who has not bothered to master any of my talents. I’m a dabbler; I like to dip my toes in here and there, testing different waters and enjoying different experiences to enrich myself and my life. Or so I’ve told myself over the years. Perhaps I’m just unwilling to go the distance in one area – no, that would be boring. Maybe it’s why writing (still) appeals to me. I can test different waters again and again without it feeling repetitious. There’s so much to explore in both fiction and nonfiction realms. Unlike Hollywood, which seems to be running out of (good and original) ideas, the people who live the stories will continue to have stories to tell. And write.

Even when feeling lost (as I am this week, for some reason), we are still living our stories, they are around us and in us. We must draw from our well of jack-of-many-trades when our stories need help. I’m having a crisis of confidence this week so I’m having difficulty drawing from other areas of my life to get busy writing beyond this blog (which I avoided for over a week). I’m also avoiding a crucial re-write of segments of one of my fiction novels; to be honest, I feel like I’ve failed the story by getting those segments wrong. As a dabbler, it’s sometimes difficult for me to fully invest the time and energy and focus because I’m convinced I need to be elsewhere in my life. Truth is, I’m avoiding the one thing I want most – to finish the novel and publish it. Not sure why.

The down side of being a jack-of-all-trades is that boredom sets in quickly; we are fast learners who get what we need from a situation/job/story/etc., then move on. We tend to have multiple things on our plate (job/s, hobbies, etc.) so our attention is often drawn away from where we need to be in our stories. At the moment, I do have some more important tasks at hand but I add more tasks rather than go back to finish what remains incomplete. Aspects of the novel ramble about in my mind yet I avoid updating the manuscript.

The upside of a jack-of-all-trades is we can draw from many corners of our lives because we have experienced life spherically – in all directions. We can use our ‘dabbling’ as a force that pulls pieces of a story together like the many colors of yarn that weave a beautiful tapestry or rug.

I’m trying to find a way to use what I have learned as a jack-of-all-trades in my stories and in my life. Are you?

jack of all trades

Stories with a Purpose

storytelling3

I keep a collection of books – it’s not a large library collection, rather a smattering of interesting topics, in addition to all my medical texts, herbology books, and notebooks. I also own two trilogy sets (one fiction, one nonfiction) that I read at least once a year. They are Native-themed books that provide much-needed life lessons when times are trying and they remind me of what’s really important. For some reason, I rarely read self-help books; to me, they seem preachy in some way (even if they’re not) and I don’t feel they’re speaking to me. I believe each of us has a path in this life so self-help books, for me, only serve to muddle my truth, which is different from the self-help authors’ truths. I don’t know, I was never much of a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kinda gal. But hey, if it works for you, read ’em if you got ’em.

That said, I do own a book by authors Richard Leider and David Shapiro titled “Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose.” I’ve read other books they’ve written and found them to be enlightening because they present the information in a way that forces me to think more deeply. This particular book deals with the dilemma of becoming an elder (usually around age 55, which I have surpassed) in this modern, white-dominant materialistic, youth-obsessed culture and what your role is, if you have or make one, in your community. Traditional cultures (Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples around the world) continue to revere elders, as they understand the importance and sacredness of having lived a longer life. So they ask, what role are you playing in your community? I ask, are you sharing your stories so others can learn and grow?

Youth is more valued here in the U.S. but we have much to learn from our elders. As many know, experience truly is the best teacher. Wisdom can only come with age, from having lived one’s life. Turn on your TV and count the mindless shows that dominate the air waves: post-apocalyptic zombies, reality (not really) shows, cheesy soap operas, and remakes of movies (sometimes remakes of remakes) since Hollywood seems to be running out of original ideas. They teach little that is worthwhile and only serve to numb our minds and disassociate us from our realities. Which is why, in this current culture, it’s vital for us, the writers, the storytellers, to share stories with purpose. Our stories will serve to teach, guide, and open the hearts and minds of our readers and ground them in the history of us as a species and from many cultures.

Ask yourself: Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my story? What is my life’s purpose? These are not necessarily self-centered questions; instead, they invite introspection as to our historical circumstances and to the lives we are born into, in a particular period or place or time. By recalling our stories we become connected to both past and future. Even if you write fiction, as I do, sprinkle in social issues, cultural issues, moral issues; let your characters represent forgiveness, healing, and light in the face of violence, aggression, and darkness.

As Leider and Shapiro write in their book:

“The form of purpose matters little; the desire to benefit future generations is crucial.”

Write on!

 

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Book Promotion Tips

 

I didn’t make a notation at the bottom of this list, so I don’t remember where I got the information. Sorry. I’ve also added advice (Note) and links based on personal experience.

So you have written a book and had it published. Congratulations. Now you face the challenge of what to do next. Many authors think that marketing is a job for the publisher so they sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. You might have a very long wait. The market for books is extremely crowded and most books do not sell well. However, there are a number of actions the author can take to move from writing to marketing:

  1. Send review copies to all the journals and magazines that review books in your genre. This is something that most publishers do for you but if you’re self-published (like me), this is all on you. Don’t forget the many online sites that review books. (Note: might want to ask them first, see if they accept review copies, as there might be a fee involved or a very long wait list.)
  2. Get friends, colleagues, clients or anyone who likes your book to place reviews on Amazon and other online book stores. Amazon is highly influential and the reviews matter, so encourage anyone who says they enjoyed your book to place a review. 
  3. Offer yourself for interviews on radio stations. Most radio stations/podcasts are looking for interesting interviews and the author of a newly published book has a good chance of getting on air. (Note: I’ve done some good interviews via Radio Guest List. They have a HUGE database of  a variety  of podcast shows – in other words, something for everyone, and are always looking for guests. The audience size varies, so check the websites of the podcasts where you want to be a guest for guest criteria.)
  4. Create a web page for the book. Ideally you should have a separate website with an address that features the book title. Now you can exchange links and drive traffic to the site with comments, blogs, quotes and extracts. Be sure to show people how they can buy the book. Encourage user feedback, comments and reviews.
  5. Offer sample chapters as free downloads. Take a couple of your best chapters and turn them into pdf files. Let people download them for free. Think of this as the equivalent of letting people browse through your book at a bookstore. (Note: With self-publishing sites like Lulu, this is offered with each published item.)
  6. Use material from the book in your blog. Start a blog and quote from the book. Lift sections and acknowledge the book as the source. Build a community of interest around the topics in the book.
  7. Review other books in this field. Become a reviewer on Amazon. Use your own name accompanied by ‘author of the book……’. Review other books and when people read your reviews some will click through to your book. 
  8. Start an email newsletter. Encourage people to subscribe on the website and then send out an occasional newsletter with interesting new material in this book’s field. But you cannot just plug your book – you have to add value with new information and comment.
  9. Give away copies to the right people. Use the book as your calling card. Give copies to potential and existing clients. Encourage them to read it and pass it on. 
  10. Offer books as prizes. Local radio shows, magazines or societies will often be interested in running competitions and will give you valuable publicity if you give them a few books to give away as prizes. (Note: I did this on Goodreads – they offer the opportunity to do ‘giveaways’ and it’s good publicity.)

Some authors do book signings in local bookstores but unless you are well-known (or have a good relationship with the store owner), this activity is unlikely to produce worthwhile results. Finally, you could consider using the book as a platform for launching your speaking career. You will need a different set of skills to succeed here but the book can make an excellent starting point and every talk will help sell more books. (Note: I teach my nutrition book as a seminar/workshop in local community colleges and adult learning programs.)

 

Bad Choices = Good Stories

This week’s blog was inspired by a t-shirt worn by a man who strolled by me the other day. It read: Bad Choices Make Good Stories. I laughed to myself as I fondly remembered some instances where that was most certainly true in my life. Like the time I “hijacked” a limo with a friend…that one always gets a good laugh and a “I can’t believe you weren’t arrested!” response. We were young (and very drunk) and, many of you would agree, almost obligated to make bad decisions at that age (the ripe ol’ age of 23). Or the time the police paddy wagon showed up at our overly-raucous beach house party, headlights beaming on the idiot standing in the driveway with a bottle of Stoli’s in her hand (yep, that was me; and no, I wasn’t arrested that time, either, cuz I ran like a jackrabbit).

Artists paint/draw from painful experiences, as do poets and writers in general. We draw upon those bad choices and negative experiences that life throws our way. In other words, as writers/artists, when we’re given lemons, we make lemonade. The badder the choice, it seems, the saucier the story (probably why I made so many; keeps the stories interesting). Those bad choices add color to our lives, not to mention bragging rights with the grandkids and anyone else who’ll listen.

My point is this: don’t be afraid to make bad choices. They make life more interesting, create the tall tales of adventure and hi-jinks, and carry us into old age with a certain wisdom and appreciation – which can only be gained by making those bad choices – preferably in our youth. (Although I admit I still like a little naughty in my life. At my age, it keeps the blood circulating!)

Learn From Your Book Reviews

Hi all, I’ve been out of touch the past couple weeks – no excuse, really, just no desire to sit and write another blog on writing. I mean, how many topics can there actually be? Yet here I am, with another blog…

So I’m going to cheat a little and let Sandra Beckwith, owner of Build Book Buzz, share some neat tidbits on how we can all learn from negative or not-all-that-nice reviews of our work. I’ve been lucky so far; all my reviews are 5-star – then again, I only have THREE of them for my fiction novel. I’ve asked people to say something nice when they finish reading the book, but they do seem to forget or get distracted elsewhere. 

I’ve never written a negative review; if I can’t say something constructive, why bother? Then again, perhaps some positive critiquing is necessary from time to time, as we often can’t see the weak spots in our work as easily as the reader. So don’t take it personally. Use it to your advantage, as an opportunity learn where you may have missed something – with characters, dialog, or scenes/chapters – and go back to the original work with fresh eyes.

Why Authors Shouldn’t Obsess Over One-Star Reviews

Authors, prepare yourself for the inevitable one-star review. In the publishing industry, one-star reviews are practically a rite of passage.

And no one is immune. Whether you’ve got 10 best-sellers to your credit or it’s your first book, you can expect at least a single one-star review.

There are the one-star Amazon reviews that make you roll your eyes.

“If possible, I’d give this pile of garbage zero stars.”

“Not really of much use for me. Seems like just a lot of useless information to fill up a book.”

“The best part of this book is the cover photo.”

https://buildbookbuzz.com/one-star-reviews/

Feng Shui Your Writing

I don’t how many of you are familiar with the principles of Feng Shui (fung-shway), but I have found it to be an eye-opening experience in how positive energy flow can affect every aspect of your life – including your writing. One of my favorite feng shui sites is www.fengshuiforreallife.com, by Carol Olmstead. I have followed her newsletter for years and have gained much insight into the practical everyday use of energy flow. As a writer, it’s important to set the tone of one’s working space; how well you organize and arrange your home office (or wherever you write) is vital to the writing process and outcome. By making a few adjustments (some more so than others, depending on your needs), you may get to experience the shifts in energy flow that can occur relatively quickly (I’m talking within a week).

Here are some suggestions from one of Carol’s articles on how to arrange your desk/office for greater success:

If you work from home, the first Feng Shui consideration is which room or area of your home to use. If at all possible, avoid locating your office in the kitchen, where it could symbolically interfere your health, or in the bedroom, which could interfere with your love and relationships. 

Here are five quick fixes you can make in your workspace to give your office a Feng Shui makeover. 
Problem #1: Your desk is in the wrong location.
Quick Fix: The most auspicious location for a desk is positioned diagonally across from the door. The worst place is with your back to the door. When you sit with your back to the entrance of a room you can’t see what’s going on behind you, making you vulnerable to being “caught off guard” by your competitors, clients, or colleagues.

Things literally and figuratively go on “behind your back.” If you can’t relocate your desk, hang a mirror in front of you or place a reflective object on your desk so you can see behind you.

Problem #2: Your desk is the wrong size.
Quick Fix: A desk that is too small for the work to be done makes you feel that your ambitions and aspirations are restricted. On the other hand, a desk that is too large makes you feel that you are not up to the challenge of the work. Choose the appropriate size work surface for the job you have to do. And make sure you have enough room to spread out, create, and expand in your career.

Problem #3: There are sharp corners pointed at you.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, the edges of walls pointing at you are called “poison arrows.” These sharp edges send harsh energy toward you, making you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or insecure. The best way to cure or fix this problem is to place something between you and the sharp edge to block its negative energy. Good things to use include furniture, a healthy plant, soft fabric draped over the edge of the wall, or molding. 

Problem #4: You are surrounded by overhead fluorescent lights.
Quick Fix: Fluorescent lights represent the Metal Element that can be too hard and cutting when it comes at you from overhead. Plus this kind of lighting can cause headaches, eyestrain, and a whole lot of stress. Whenever you can, turn off overhead fluorescent lights and take advantage of natural daylight, or use desk and floor lamps. If you can’t turn off overhead fluorescents, try to have them replaced with full spectrum light bulbs. These simulate daylight and make you feel more comfortable.

Problem #5: Your office is cluttered.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, clutter represents postponed decisions and the inability to move forward. When you have so many files and piles of papers that can’t even see your desktop, it’s hard to concentrate on your work. Clear as much as you can off your desk, then use colorful folders and wicker baskets to contain the rest of your paperwork. Here is one way to jump start your office clutter clearing — Set a timer for 10 minutes, take a large plastic bag, and thrown 27 thing into the bag – things you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t need in your office. You’ll be amazed as how much more space you have opened up in your office to allow new opportunities for success to reach you.

Resource: http://fengshuiforreallife.com/Detailed/222.html

 

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar

 

 

A Sense of Place

I’m reading an interesting book titled “This is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick. The title of the book struck me one day as I walked past a New Selections stand at my local library. She writes about loving where you live (and how to learn to, if you don’t). It’s as if she wrote the first chapter just for me. I know I’ve blogged about all the moving around this country I’ve done, in search of a connection, of a place to call home. She presents an enormous amount of research in a readable (and often humorous) way and includes checklists at the end of every chapter so you too can go out and learn to love where you live. (Many of which are quite doable and actually sound like fun.)

While still new to the area (13 months ago), I went to a reputable psychic reader for some guidance. One of the first things she said to me was, “you know California’s not your home, right?” I felt like someone had punched me in the chest and knocked the air out of my lungs. Did I seriously just spend 11 days on yet another (my fourth and hopefully final) cross country road trip, to end up in a place where I don’t belong? Story of my life, it seems. Perhaps she was wrong (since our futures are not written in stone and we change directions on a whim), and I can learn to fit in here instead of always trying to find the “right” place for me. Perhaps I’ve had it wrong all this time and I need to fit in before a place can fit me.

Moving offered absolution for whatever failures I’d amassed in my present town: the disappointing friendships, the inescapable, guilt-inducing commitments, the taunting list of unfinished home renovation projects. Each time the moving truck pulled away from the curb, these petty vexations and regrets vanished. Thus freed and forgiven, I’d relish the prospect of beginning again in the next city. Things would definitely be better this time. I would be better in Blacksburg. I believed so thoroughly in the healing power of geography that I didn’t bother to make plans for how these changes would occur. By stirring up the better angels of my nature, the right place would simply complete me.

A new city presses the reset button, forcing you to at least temporarily abandon old patterns of thought and environmental triggers. The Melody I was in Virginia would not, fingers crossed, turn out to be the Melody I was in Texas.

Ouch. Sound familiar to you? Certainly does to me. The right place would simply complete me has been my reigning affirmation – up until now. I have to participate in loving where I live? Who’d a thunk it!

Does where you live affect or inspire your writing? Think about it: the conversations overhead at the local cafe, in line at your bank (if you ever bother to go there in person), or when passing people on the street. I find myself listening to the conversations and watching the behaviors of people around me here, perhaps in an attempt to connect to the (my) community. And sometimes what I witness makes it into one of my stories, whether it be a conversation or a particular way someone dressed. But by reading this book I have realized that no one place can complete me. No, I must learn to love where I live, let it in and allow that love to filter through my fingers and into my stories. Because my stories are an expression of me and my life experiences – and they are what complete me, giving me a sense of place within myself and in my community.

Research: The Monster Over My Shoulder

I finally got some writing “juice” this past week and worked on a fiction novel that’s been sitting untouched on my computer for some time. While adding pages to the second chapter, I realized that certain pieces of information were beyond my grasp until I did some research on the subject at hand. Then I stopped writing.

Research – it’s a lurking monster for me, since I tend to procrastinate until the end of the book to begin the necessary research, filling in the many [bracketed words/phrases/ideas] peppered throughout the story. It’s where pertinent pieces of information need to be inserted – like details on the type of plane used in an aerial shooting, embezzling schemes and how they work (or fall apart), or researching the appropriate lingo used to describe a fire scene. The brackets are notes to myself to go back and finish that thought, get more information on that process, or add a character description. I complete an idea or part of the story best I can, add some brackets where more information/detail is needed, and move on. Most of the time.

Granted, the Internet makes research much easier and more accessible, on most topics. There are, however, still some areas of expertise best shared by experts in that field (for example, the type of plane used in an aerial shooting scene, how it flies, the gears, size of the engine, etc.). This is where I get lazy and it’s probably why some parts of my fiction works could use a little “lift” from more detailed descriptions.

How do you approach research? Do you research as you write? Do you begin your research before you start the story? Do you hire an intern? (Nice to be able to afford that option!) Let us know!

Part of it is I have a bad habit of convincing myself that the experts won’t talk to me, because my work hasn’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller List. I have to get out of my own way and learn to approach the research with as much gusto as I do the rest of the story.

After all, the devil is in the details, eh?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Inspiration in the New Year: Simplicity

Now that the holidays are (finally) over, we writers can get back to work (or at least I can, since I seem to have taken too long a holiday from it). As a result of busily working two jobs for the last several months, my writing outside of this blog has all but disappeared and I madly desire to get back on track. My imagination craves an outlet for the myriad scenarios running amok in my mind. But first I need to whittle it all down to a doable list of projects.

That new nutrition book, for example; you know, the one with the first few chapters already completed? Probably going to make its way to the Recycle Bin on my laptop; it was one of the works I referenced in Lay Your Past to Rest. I’ve decided there are already some excellent books out on that very topic, so why try to compete with them? They’re written by successful colleagues with more than twenty-five years of practice under each of their belts (I have less than twelve). What could I possibly say that they haven’t? What would you do?

I’m even re-vamping my workshop. I decided a fresh approach is needed to draw more people in for the all-day class. What’s my inspiration? Boredom, mostly, with the “same-old, same-old”. Time to breathe new life into a stagnant one. Throw out the old, bring in the new, right?

Has your writing become a bit stale as of late? With a whole new year upon us, perhaps it’s time to take a writing inventory to decide what’s still working and what’s not. I like writing nonfiction, but I realized I prefer fiction – more freedom of expression, which to me, is far better (and more fun).

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” ~ Confucius

Where to find inspiration for our writing this new year? With a new presidency almost upon us, I feel we will not be lacking for parody material…it’s as if the situation demands it. There’s a lot going on out there in our big world. How can we be heard? How can we stand out? As always, we must create in a way that is best for each of us, not in a way that someone else thinks is right. Which is why I’m cutting back on following various groups on LinkedIn (and other sites) – it’s information overload. In this new year I wish to simplify my life a bit more. Avoiding frivolous junk news will surely increase the amount (and quality) of work I produce, simply because there will be less interference from trivial events that have no bearing on my life.

Perhaps in this new year we writers can decide to live more simply to create more fully. With less interruptions, we can better focus on what’s important: telling our stories.

“Writing is an escape from a world that crowds me. I like being alone in a room. It’s almost a form of meditation- an investigation of my own life. It has nothing to do with – I’ve got to get another play.” ~ Neil Simon