Beware the Writing Contest

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Some might think I’m writing this because I’m an envious, disillusioned writer who has entered countless contests and never won.

Nah, though I have entered book contests, several creative writing contests, and numerous club site contests. I’m happy to say I’ve won a couple contests here or there. Sadly, it didn’t give me any more confidence as a writer.

So first warning, if you are basing the measure of your work by the contest you are entering,  it isn’t going to help, especially if you never win. If you do win, it is fleeting at best and the doubts just grow bigger. So just write because you like writing.

Second warning, if you must enter a writing contest just because you are a competitive person, I would suggest only entering contests where you don’t have to pay to enter. There seems to be just a few around these days, but they do exist.

“Why?” you might ask.  Well, let me share something I discovered. I was doing my taxes and as a writer, I was told I could add in my expenses for the money I paid into contests. You know, the ones where they say “send us your book – you must pay the postage – we won’t be returning it unless you pay for return postage – we won’t tell you anything about what the judges think about your book – and we want you to pay us to enter.” Yeah, those contests.

In one year I had spent five hundred on this venture, with no return. No wonder the government wanted to give me a break on taxes, they felt sorry for me. Either way, I started doing a little math. Yeah, this is going to be a word problem in math and I know these confuse you, but hang in there with me, okay?

Let’s say the contest is asking for a book. You discover you meet all the criteria. You have written a massive novel well over 80,000 words. You have paid a fortune for “kick-rear-end” cover art.  You even did your due diligence and got not only a copy editor but a proofreader.  You paid a few beta readers and paid to print or get ARC copies.  You have rave reviews. And lo and behold, you are a first-time author with no large group of dedicated readers clamoring for your new book.

Of course, you may have thrown all you have into social media, launch parties, cover reveal and still your book seems to languish. It is only logical that maybe a little bragging right on the contests you win might make it more appealing to the reader. Maybe you feel it gives you a little more notoriety in the world of books.

Whatever your drive, you have to also spend the entry fee. You and about five hundred other hungry piranha’s.

I don’t know, it’s just my opinion here, but I can’t figure it into my budget.  I can see it in the advertising book contest’s budget though.  They do none of the work.  They don’t pay postage return, no critique, or any solid feedback for your hundred bucks. You get nothing in return except a slim hope. And if you don’t win, you don’t even get that. In fact, (I hope I’m way off base here) I worry about exactly who gets to have all those cast -off copies of those books. So if there are 500 entries at hundred bucks a pop, well do the math. Who is getting what?

So, what is an aspiring writer to do?

I would recommend a blog. One I have mined gazillions of free advice from and that is:  https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com

This blog is always sharing the latest news in the publishing world.  I love the input from so many willing to share their success/failure stories. Take for instance the solid advice on how blogging helps build your skill as a writer and helps build a reader base for any books you put out. Or how Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Smashwords, Amazon, etc., help build your social platform. There are articles about Kindle stats, programming and changes. Or editing advice, writing advice, and story development. You name it; it’s all there for absorption on how to become a better writer.

As an author who dabbles in writing books, I have gained from doing all of the above. Still not selling a ton of books, but I’m happy with my progress and I see a growing readership.  I feel like I have succeeded in doing what I wanted and had fun doing it. I have gained confidence in the writing groups I have joined who have given me consistent feedback that has helped me grow as a writer. It has been finding the best editor in the world who doesn’t hesitate to be dirt honest with me and work with me.

So in short, the moral of this blog is, winning contests mean nothing. Hard work, persistence, a good support system and an exciting new story are the only way you are going to feel confident and sell books.

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Are You an Author or a Business?

 

1497472_575485172534149_120350454_nIf you are an independent author and have published a book with hopes of selling copies, you are both an Author and a Business Entity.

Welcome to the world of Indies. It will seem overwhelming at times. Social media platforms, business plans, budgets, advertising, even book signings.

I have collected the following words of wisdom to encourage myself on those down days. I share them with you in the hopes it will help your journey.  Enjoy! Take heart! If they succeeded, you can too!

 

 

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself.  I see life almost like one long University education that I never had.  Every day I’m learning something new. ”

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand

“Information flow is the lifeblood of your company because it enables you to get the most out of your people and learn from your customers.” 

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation

“People I work with are open to leadership that has a vision, but this vision has to be communicated clearly and persuasively, and always, always with passion.”

Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop

“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man or opportunity to make a living.”

John Rockefeller, American philanthropist

“Every decision you make is an important one, whether there are twenty thousand people working for you or just one.”

Donald Trump, Real Estate developer

“My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

Oprah Winfrey, host of the Oprah Show

“When we consider a project, we really study it – not just the surface idea, but everything about it.  And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way.  We have confidence in our ability to do it right.”

Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney Company

“Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful men keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

Conrad Hilton, founder of Hilton hotels

“You have to be open-minded when those early opportunities present themselves. Take advantage of them whether they’re going to make you a lot of money or not.”

Rachael Ray, celebrity Chef and Author

“You can do so much in ten minutes’ time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good.  Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA company

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make Me Feel important.”  Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics

“Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.  They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”

Sam Welton, found of Wal-Mart chain

“What I wanted was to be allowed to do the thing in the world that I did best – which I believed then and believe now is the greatest privilege there is.  When I did that success found me.”

Debbi Fields, found of Mrs. Fields Cookies

“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.”

Ray Kroc, found of McDonald’s

 

Chapter – Moving On

 

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It is no wonder we write books with chapters.  Life is like a book, broken down into moments of happenings, each leading into the next, until the final end. There are chapters better than others. Sometimes you are reading along and you think, I wouldn’t have written it that way. That’s terrible. Couldn’t it have turned out better?

My individual life story turned very dramatic and sad a few years ago. There was the chapter about happily-ever-after being interrupted by the third bout of cancer for my handsome prince. The chapter about the final courageous battle he fought and didn’t win. And the chapter of aimless wandering in my search of healing. Then the next few chapters were action packed with changes.

The chapter I’m in now, I would like to have written differently, but I’m not the author of this story. I know that I have a direct line to the author, and sometimes I have the choice how the scene may go. But most the time I feel like the unsuspecting character being affected by things outside of my control.

For instance, I just signed on the sale of my house. The house I lived in the longest period in my gypsy style life.  It’s funny how we try to settle down in life. Find that one little spot and put up a white picket fence, expecting to live out our days in wise contemplation. Instead, we forget life is never at rest. It is a journey with changing chapters, some good and some bad.

And the only baggage we get to take with us into the next phase of life after the book has ended, are the memories we have amassed.  I know this deep inside of me, yet I keep trying to slow down and find that one place to call home, to put up my feet and rest awhile and write off that chapter as the end.

Not to be. For the last year, in getting ready for the sale and moving, I have learned this lesson with each treasure I have decided to keep, give to someone or throw away. I had no idea one could collect that much stuff in a mere eighteen years! But as I cleaned out one room after another in the house, memories flooded back with each object wrapped and tucked away or put into a trash bin.

I realize now, that a house is just walls that will eventually turn to dust. Just like our bodies will one day. In staying there I am only hoarding memories, not writing new chapters. That is why I collected so many objects that triggered those memories. But when I signed, I walked away from the house I loved with all the memories of living there and interacting with all the family and friends that crossed the threshold. And of course, I was reminded, like any good chapter that you can go back and read over, the most precious thing is going with me. My family and friends

We will gather again somewhere else, and make new memories, and share the old. Like all the trips I have made to other countries and states, there are ups and downs. But I know now this is not my final home. The last chapter will never be written. There is always a new destination and a new existence. We are not meant to be planted and have white picket fences. We are not meant to be stationary but to grow and learn, explore and discover new things about ourselves and the world around us, in this life and the next.

So I say goodbye to the place I thought to live out the rest of my life. It is a bittersweet feeling. But obviously, the book is going on. Life is truly the never-ending story.

Good Morning!

It has been over a year since I have posted a blog. You might be wondering what happened? How or why does one disappear?

I could wax poetic and say I have emerged from the long, dark night that grieving can bring about. Or, I could point out that it has been a crazy three years. But if I was pressured to come up with a simple reason or bring it down to a single word, I would have to simply say, OVERWHELMED.

After my husband passed, I spent a year lost. Then a year re-engaging in life. Then there was the year of getting married again, cleaning out the house, putting it up for sale and rearranging my entire life schedule.

Now things seem to have settled a little, I have found the characters from the last book I wrote demanding to be released into the world by publishing their story. Being so rusty and out of touch with all that it takes to do that, I hired a Life Coach to get me back into shape. So I’m working into the area of marketing, production, social media and just plain organizing.

Interestingly enough, the desire to write has come back as well. I feel like a hermit coming back out into the light of day! Gosh, it’s bright out here!

I hope you will join me as I continue to journey again in the world of the written word.

A Widow’s Conundrum

A month had passed since the funeral.  I had stayed strong on the outside for all to see and succeeded in getting through it. Now, each morning when I arose, the reality seeped in a little more each day and the shock receded, leaving me raw and vulnerable.

I went from wanting someone to mention him or console me, to wanting to hurt in silence and avoid everyone. In this stormy sea, the squalls frequently came with drenching tears or became the doldrums of not feeling anything.

There was no direction. No goals. No plans for the future. I was adrift with no forward movement.  The only constant was the ache and the knowledge it would never be the same. I was bitter that life marched on, dragging me with it.

This stage, or whatever you want to call it, differs for everyone. I know this after spending hours talking with others who, like me, have gone through it. I wanted to hurry up this stage, get it over quickly, thinking the sooner I did; I could capture some normalcy again.  Now all I can do is record my journey and know that no two are alike.

Before Darrell passed, I had ample warning he would go before I would.  We talked.  I thought we covered it all. Finances, kids, what I would do after he passed. But no amount of planning or talking helps you prepare for the actual journey and the tidal wave of confusing emotions.

I thought it would go this way. I would grieve, hurt and then rebound.  I would become a missionary in Africa or serve the homeless at a local soup kitchen.  I would devote my life to my Lord. I would be a pillar of strength and guidance to my family.  I would go on living because I thought I could handle being alone. I would be a good widow in everyone’s eyes, holding my love for him like a beacon. I would be the example of true love that never dies.

Then one night in the ER when I was deathly ill, it all came crashing down around me. I finally admitted to myself there is a difference between alone and being lonely.

I was depressed. I had isolated myself in our winter home in Yuma.  I had lost weight due to not eating and sleeping. I couldn’t see a way forward because I was so wrapped up in my grief. Ending up in the same emergency room Darrell had on the same day a year later was a wake-up call.  A stern ER doctor lectured me on what I needed to do to get myself healthy.  I listened.

I reconnected with friends. Joined chat sites. Came home to the kids and started working on the house. I picked up writing again. Went out into the community and found volunteer work at the local cancer clinic. And ran into someone I wasn’t looking for.

At first, we just chatted. Then I tried to pushing him away in a panic because I didn’t want anything more than a friend. He firmly explained it was just an offer of friendship. Since he was four years out from his loss, I wanted to know about his journey in hopes I could glean from it some kernel of wisdom, a vision of hope.

So began a wonderful friendship and the year passed. On the anniversary of my husband’s death, family and friends helped light Chinese lanterns to remember the man who loved us all. The one I released hovered over the house as if he was saying he missed me.  I was gaining more peace every day, moving forward sluggishly, but still not wanting to release the life I had shared with him entirely.

His clothes still hung in the closet. I felt I lost more of him with each change, with each item of his that slipped away. But I also knew it was healthy and to heal I needed to move on with life.

My husband and I had blended a family. Three of his kids and two of mine from previous marriages had bonded well. In fact, the kids had done far better than I had. Still, I worried about them going forward. So I tried to be a good example.

Except then, my new friend proposed. We had slowly begun to date, even though we didn’t think of it that way. We met for coffee, had lunch, even a few dinners. All the while talking about our former spouses and growing closer.

What should I do? Darrell and I had never talked about having someone else in our lives if one of us passed on. I loved him so much I never entertained the idea there would be anyone else.  What would happen now? How could I replace the love I felt for one man with another? Where was my narrative of carrying my love for my husband until the day I died?  What would the kids think? What would my friends think?  What did I think?

It seemed a widow’s conundrum. It is not that I will ever love Darrell less, nor can I. And I could never, ever replace him. In fact, I struggled with the idea I could even love another man. But I had this same panic before my second child was born.  I remember watching my daughter sleep one night while her sister stirred in my belly.  I was worried.  How could I ever love another baby as much as I had loved my first? Yet, when the second daughter was born, I fell in love immediately. Not with the same love, but a love that was hers and hers alone.

I had forgotten the heart is inflatable. It can stretch to love many. The thing is – each love is different – because each person is different.

How could I explain to those who were still grieving the loss of their father or friend, that I could still love Darrell? That the love I felt for him was there and it would never go away. It left a permanent scar that would ache every time there was a family gathering, and he wasn’t there. Or I visited a place that we had shared, and I remembered our past life together. Every holiday, every memory that crossed my mind would have a bittersweet twinge of melancholy.

Yet, I needed to move on. Continue to experience life. New loves would come in. Not to replace, but to reside alongside all the other loves that were already there.

It is lonely to live without your soul mate, the love of your life. But there are still people I love left in my life. The love that grew and was shared by two souls, who became one, now overflows, fills and touches all who are still in it. I realize I can choose to honor that love until we meet again, by living alone and always in its shadow. Or I can go out and experience continued growth to my heart and spread the love I have received.

I decided to honor my love for my husband by giving more love to another lonely heart. There are those who may think less of me or feel I didn’t love my husband enough to stay a grieving widow.  I can say I totally understand.

I understand because I once thought that way. I have learned that until you travel the road, you don’t know how the trip is going play out. I remember what I thought it would be like to go to Africa and when I did, it was nothing like the journey itself.

So it is with grief. It is the most singularly, loneliest path we will travel in life.  No one can walk it with us, and you never know where the path might lead, or what emotions you will experience.

Love those in your life who are grieving. Understand their choices may not always make sense to you. And remember one day you too will experience this path. There is no way to prepare for it except watching how others travel it.

Know that love continues to expand. It grows and flourishes when it is fed and understood. It is not meant to be locked away to die, never to be gifted again.

 

 

Process of Grief

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August 4th, 2016

Last night, my friend stopped over and asked me to look something up for her on my computer. As my screen saver popped up, one of my favorite pictures of Darrell appeared. His eyes were crinkled in one of my favorite grins.

She looked sadly at me and asked, “Do you really think that helps?”

I didn’t have to ask what she was referring to; I knew it was about my grief over his passing. They say anger is part of the process of grieving. I had been fortunate that there hasn’t been really anything to be angry about. Yes, I missed him, yes, it had been hard to lose him, but really his final days had been peaceful and our relationship up to the last minute, had been so good.

Yet, a comment like this, even eleven months out, had a way of worming under my skin and setting off a bigger spark of anger each time I was questioned on how I was handling my grief.

Aren’t we all different? Isn’t it refreshing we aren’t all the same? Each of us sees through different eyes and perceives the world in so many wonderful ways around us. This is why I have always respected how differently each person handles things in their lives.  Sometimes I worry their coping methods are destructive to their health or way of life, but still they have the freedom of choice to do this.

I had so many people who were wonderfully supportive. My favorites were the ones who just listen. Or ask me how I’m coping and really wanted to hear how I was doing it.  My least favorites were those who had a preconceived idea of how I should be doing it.

I’ve been questioned about such silly things. Why are his clothes still in our closet?  Why haven’t I spread his ashes and why do I wear my wedding ring?  To them, there is a rule somewhere about this. I respect that through the years there have been some common customs developed to help people move on, but they aren’t set in stone.

I still have need of feeling some normalcy in my life, so the clothes remain until that need passes.  We had wanted our ashes spread together, so I must wait to add mine to his. The wedding ring was my version of wearing black. I needed that support, that closeness to my husband, to the way of life I had. It also helped keep away others and not have the dreaded question asked, “So are you married?”

Whatever my reasons, they should be respected. Pictures of my loved one should be a normal thing. As my granddaughter pointed out, I could have asked if she had pictures of her grandchildren on her phone. They live in another state, so why wouldn’t she want to have pictures of them when she couldn’t be with them. She still loves them even though she doesn’t see them every day and wants a reminder of them. Why wouldn’t I continue to have pictures of Darrell decorate my living space?  Just because he has passed, doesn’t mean he never existed. I can’t wipe my memory clean.  Starting over is hard enough, but I need the foundation my married relationship created for me to continue on.

Grieving people are just touchy, each in a different way. No wonder people avoid friends who have lost loved ones. It is hard to determine what will and won’t offend or hurt them. I was on that side once. I had never lost a loved one and felt a deep agony over what to say to someone who had.

But don’t worry, no matter what you say or do, we understand you are trying to help and just overlook the unintentional mistakes. Just don’t be surprised at tears, a growl or a blank look. Just keep being there for us.  We will heal; it is just going to take a little time.

 

An Occasional Rant

The hardest thing about writing a book isn’t writing it. Some would say it’s just trying to actually sit down and write it. Some would say it’s the organization, or having the perfect plot, or of showing not telling, or even the construction of the grammar-perfect sentences. I would disagree. It is the editing process. In fact, it is so hard, that many are tempted to skip it or give up on it all together.

I would have to admit, first and foremost, I’m a reader. All my life, reading has been my entertainment, crutch, mentor, and escape. With the event of Amazon I discovered I could comment on books that I bought, so I became a reviewer.  Eventually, for some strange reason I still do not comprehend, I felt the desire to even write a book and try my hand at self-publishing. So, as you can see, I’ve experienced all sides of how a book is created.

But I want to thank all those authors who go through the editing process and don’t give up. It is, of all the aspects of the book business, the process I hate the most. I know that I must go through an edit. My editor can verify this and has earned her halo going through it with me.

This doesn’t give me the right to sit in judgment of anyone’s book creating process, but it definitely gives me an understanding of the reasons why it could be easy for someone to not want to do it.

I do admire those writers who persevere. How they give of their time, trudge onward into the wee hours of the night, cussing and cursing, pounding their heads against walls and still come through the other side with a full head of hair.

I grow weary of those who evade the process or think it’s not necessary. I see it in books that have glaring grammar issues, poor formatting, poor plot structure or no plot at all. Something an editor worth their salt would help a struggling author to correct. I tire of those books I review that could be so good and yet when I contact the author to gently suggest an edit, am told that it is great just the way it is.

Or those who profusely produce and could be great, yet can’t see that we all have to go through an edit. I’ve heard many an excuse, but in my opinion, it boils down to one thing, an edit hurts, it is hard work and it takes dedication.

I remember one morning waking up after a long night editing, complaining to my husband, “Why the heck am I arguing with my editor over imaginary people and imaginary plot scenes? It is all just make believe!”

My pride has been stung again and again when I think I’ve written that perfect scene. When I’m sure the sentence is perfect in grammar. When I add so many neat things in a story, only to be told it has nothing to do with the plot, get rid of it. And it goes on and on. I want to believe in the dream of being such a great author that I write it perfectly the first time.

But Reality is, writing a book is not about writing it right the first time. It is about writing and writing and writing until you get it right.