It’s Most Difficult at the Beginning

I am back to square one, maybe even square negative five, regarding my fitness level. Similarly, but much less drastically, I’m at a low point in client numbers. Fitness and business have always swung along the same pendulum in my life, likely because they both depend solely on my own motivation and willingness to do the work. At this particular moment in time, I’m working on the basics for good health and for a prosperous business. You know, paying attention to what and how much I eat, making a point of doing some form of exercise everyday, making marketing calls, sending out queries, referring back to my business plan.

And it’s freaking hard.

Easing myself into things, as I do, I started counting calories two weeks ago, and have kept it up. Now it’s time to add in exercise, and that is tougher. I’m trying to follow a fun, slightly silly workout plan, that uses the language of RPG (roll playing games). It’s called The Hero’s Journey, and it looks pretty simple. Except, on the first day, I am supposed to do 100 reps of four bodyweight exercises. I’m going to try, but don’t have much faith that I’ll be able to do it. The first set of 25 almost killed me.

Similarly, I started sending out marketing emails a week or two ago, but I know that to see real results, I’m going to have to do much more. Like make 10 calls a day, every day, for a month or two, and continue to send out several emails per day. That’s just how it works. For someone like me, who feels weird and awkward on the phone, and who struggles with any kind of social interaction, this stuff is hard. Probably not as hard as getting back in shape, but still not exactly as easy as writing a blog post.

The important thing to remember at times like this is that it’s only hard for a little while. It won’t take long before I’m looking forward to working out, or before the marketing has done what it always does and I only need to send out 2-3 queries each week to stay busy. Everything in life is that way. When I first built my flower garden, it took a lot of work to break up the grass and fluff up the dirt. But the next spring was easier, and every one after has been too. Any BIG THING is that way. You have to approach it a bit at a time and know that it will get easier.

A friend learned to play guitar as a teenager. Then she got a job, raised some children, and didn’t play. Recently she picked it back up and says the same thing about her practice sessions. They are tough, but she knows they will get easier.

Have you ever started over with something? How did it go for you?

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An Embarrassing Lesson About Leaving Negative Reviews

When I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt, we talked about how it’s possible for authors and readers to develop

Sometimes a direct connection can be painful. (image from Creative Commons on flickr.com)

Sometimes a direct connection can be painful. (image from Creative Commons on flickr.com)

relationships and the immediacy of contact. Before the internet, most people “reviewed” books with friends or in book clubs. Your thoughts about a particular story probably never reached the person who wrote that story.

Now, of course,there is a direct connection between writers and readers. And, despite the fact that there are some nasty trolls out there, I think that, overall, that connection is a good thing. It is certainly changing the way I think about stories, especially stories I don’t really like. Well, okay, itshould change the way I think about stories I don’t like.

An admission: I can be terribly harsh. It’s one of those things I don’t like about myself and have been working on changing for most of my adult life. Just as there are some lessons we must learn over and over, there are some personality flaws we must constantly fight against. Sometimes this harshness comes across in my book reviews. Harsh doesn’t equate with cruel though. I’m not one of those raving lunatics who leaves death threats or goes on one star review rampages. But, I could state why I don’t like certain books more clearly and succinctly and leave out words like “annoyed” or “grrrrr.”

The important part of this post is I left a bad review for a book. It was a two star review, and maybe I was in a bad mood that day, or maybe the story really bugged me, but either way, the review stated that I didn’t like the book, listed three specific, negative points, then groused because I paid for the book.

Clearly, I was not thinking about the human who had spent hours writing, editing, and publishing this story. If he had been a friend of mine, asking for my opinion about the book he’d worked so hard on, my thoughts would have been phrased far differently.  The  basic  criticisms would have been the same, but the delivery would have been considerably  toned down. Why shouldn’t I offer the same consideration to a stranger?

The answer is, of course, that I should.

The author contacted me. If he hadn’t, my review would have sat there in cyberspace forever, and I wouldn’t have learned this important lesson. But he did contact me. With an APOLOGY.

Here is part of the email he sent me:

I’m sorry you didn’t like the book….If you are interested, I can send you something you might like better. I just finished publishing Theme-Thology: Invasion, which contains stories by fifteen authors in a wide array of genres and styles. While you probably won’t love all of it, I suspect you’ll like a lot of it. Just let me know format (Kindle/Nook/Kobo) and which address to gift it to …I do want to thank you, by the way. Positive or negative, I appreciate any review by someone who took the time to read the entire book.

In the spaces where the ellipses are, he referenced my review. I had to go back and read my review because though I remembered not liking the story, I couldn’t remember why or what I’d said about it. It was not nice, and I felt bad about it upon reading his VERY nice email to me.

Part of being a writer today involves dealing with negative reviews, even if “dealing with” means “completely ignoring.” Since Smiling Tree Writing is running the series on independent writing, and I admired this author’s courage in contacting someone who left a negative review (he had no way of knowing I’m generally a nice person) I invited him to write a guest post for the series.

I am happy to tell you that Mr. Charles Barouch, author of Adjacent Fields, and more recently contributor and editor of Theme-Thology: Invasion, has written a guest post for the independent writing series. It will be published this Wednesday.

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The Bucket List Post

As a goal-oriented person, lists are part of my day-to-day life. There are lists on my desk of chores to do, groceries to buy, bills to pay, tasks to accomplish, long-term goals to strive toward, and more. But, one list I’ve never made is my bucket list, for a few reasons. One is that the idea of “before I die” is weird to me. Philosophically, I lean more toward “I could die at any time, so better do things I love everyday.” Another is that bucket list goals are BIG goals, and I find it much, much easier to focus on smaller, easier-to-attain goals. However the challenge has been issued, and I shall rise to it!

My bucket list is going to be divided into categories, because…well, that’s just how I think.

Business/Professional Goals

Earn $_____ in a year. I’m not telling you how much, but there is a number in my head!

See significant income from (non-fiction) book sales. So far, I’ve only published one book, but another is on the way soon. Several more are in the plans. Hopefully, the sales of these books will supplement my retirement income.

Begin publishing fiction on a regular basis. Maybe two books a year. I don’t expect to write “the great American novel” but I would like to be a solid mid-list writer and entertain some people.

Earn an award, or other public recognition, for my professional expertise. Yes, it’s shallow, but I love a gold star.

Travel Related

Take a 6 week or two month vacation and drive across the country. I haven’t been many places, and would like to see the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the Pacific Northwest. We have friends all over the country. It would be awesome to take a couple of months and go visiting.

Visit Mexico. This one has been on my mind since college. I have a minor in Spanish, and taught Spanish for several years. Studying the history and culture and language of a country gives you the desire to see it.

Personal 

Run a half marathon. This one is in the works. I’m training for a race in March, on my birthday.

Write fiction. Yeah, this one is on here twice. It qualifies as both professional and personal, and it’s an important one.

Make my home beautiful. I’ve always dreamed of a beautiful house and yard that can serve as my oasis. Right now it’s more of a moldy shack, but I have big dreams.

Raise a substantial portion of the food I eat. I’ve always wanted an amazing garden, and now I’d also like to raise some animals, too.

Learn to knit, and beekeeping, and much more about herbs, and soap making, and quilting…this list could go on for a long time, so I’ll just stop.

 

And finally:

Be surprised by and delighted with and appreciative of  whatever comes my way. Some of the best events in my life have been completely unexpected. I would hate to miss out on something amazing and wonderful because it wasn’t in a plan or on a list.

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An Introvert Learns to Love Collaboration

One of the things I had to do all the time in teacher school was work in a group. Words cannot adequately describe how much I detested group projects. I tried to always rig things so I had one friend in the group to make sure we could get all of the work done. It was almost a certainty that the other people in the group were going to be slackers. That may sound condescending, but I assure you, there were far too many late nights where I scrambled around trying to get things done that were supposed to have been done by other people.

The reason there were so many group projects assigned in teacher school is that we were learning how important and useful group projects would be for our students. I didn’t think (and still don’t) that putting kids who worried about getting everything just right in groups with kids who absolutely did not care was fair. The logic is that in the workplace, most work is group work and that students need to learn how to cope with the slackers. They are going to need that skill when they have jobs.

I don’t know about all that. My own experience in the workplace was almost as bad as my experience doing those much-hated group projects in teacher school.

After all of that, it is probably no surprise to learn that on the scale from introvert to extrovert, I land way over in introverted territory. That’s one of the reasons working at home is so appealing. Simply being around lots of people (as in an open office) drains my energy. And so I decided long ago that being a hermit could be the perfect lifestyle.

Then, I discovered the joys of collaboration.

It was accidental, this discovery. First, I found myself working as a collaborator with many of my clients. They would share their ideas, I would ask about their goals, then I would produce some copy, talk with them about changes they’d like to see, and finally come up with something they loved. We worked together – they gave me ideas, I gave them copy.

Then, I read about how Sean Platt and David Wright collaborate as writers. (I have just finished Season Two of Yesterday’s Gone, and highly recommend it!) While I have collaborated on lots of client work, it never occurred to me that it could work on a creative level as well. Their work is proof that it can, with the right combination of talent and personality.

Now, I am working with a partner on a new project, and it is going so well we have started a second project together. As it turns out, collaboration can be lots of fun and very productive, even for introverts – if you find someone you trust.

 

ps

If you are enjoying the Independent Writing Series, make sure to check back on Thursday, because there will be an interview with writer Joanna Penn! 

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How To Banish Blogger Angst Forever

I haven’t posted here since April 12. That’s almost a full month. If I were my own client I would advise posting “at least every other week, minimum, and once a week would be much better.” But, if you suffer from blogger angst, you know that it’s a vicious cycle – the longer between posts, the more you worry about NOT posting and the harder it becomes to sit down and write something. Well, it’s easy to write something, but it’s hard to write something you think is worth publishing.

Then, you check your calendar and it’s been a month! Yikes! The pressure is on! You must publish a post!

I’m a believer in the benefits of procrastination. Sometimes we really do just need to slow down and give our mental processes time to do their thing. However, it can go too far. Like when you wait a month between posting on your blog.

Since I am pretty much an expert at identifying when I have crossed the line between “taking a mental break” and “becoming a total slacker” I feel comfortable offering some tips:

Take advantage of the times your mind is fertile. There are days when I think of about 15 blog post topics. If I can capture a few notes about each one, I have a start on some posts. Better yet, if I can sit still and write them out fully, I’ll have stockpile. Days like that can’t be scheduled in, but there are some things you can do to increase the likelihood of them occurring.

Boost your creativity. The easiest way to do this is to give yourself little challenges. No matter what you are doing, try to think of some way that it could connect to the theme of your blog. How is a road trip like what you write about? Are your kids’ activities in any way like what you write about? Is there a current trend in your city that you can relate to what you write about? The more you stretch to make these connections, the easier finding them will become. Of course, you won’t always end up with a post you can use doing these kinds of mental challenges, but sometimes you will.

Write at least a little, even when you don’t want to.This is just another way to say “keep showing up.” You don’t have to publish what you write, but you really should write on the days you think you are supposed to be writing. You can’t write just whatever for this one to work. Writing just a sentence or two of a post or editing an old post or making some notes for a future post is fine, but journaling about something totally unrelated to your blog will not help you overcome blogger angst.

Publish it anyway. Don’t let excuses stop you. It doesn’t matter if you can’t find a suitable photo to illustrate what you’ve written, or if you aren’t quite satisfied with it. Sometimes, you have to just let it go and publish it anyway to avoid being stuck forever. If most of your posts have all of the elements that are important to you, that’s what’s important. You may even find that a not-quite-finished thought resonates with your readers, or that a good photo is extraneous to what you are doing.

How do you overcome blogger angst? What makes it worse? Please share, because, to be honest, I’m still feeling a little angst-ey.

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5 Ways To Develop a More Positive Perspective

A couple of days ago, I came across a list of companies owned by Monsanto on Facebook. The person who put it together wanted it to be a sort of easy-reference sheet for people to print off and take shopping with them so that they can boycott Monsanto. I did something I rarely do – I shared the list without looking at it very closely. Within minutes, one of my Facebook friends commented about how at least one of the companies listed (Coca-Cola) is not owned by Monsanto. Then he posted several status updates advising activists on what not to do – and I have to say that each of his points was well-justified.

The whole thing made me think, though, about where I stand when it comes to “activism” and whether or not it makes any difference where I spend my dollars. (It really, really doesn’t. I don’t have that many dollars to spend.) I realized that my approach is probably a little different than most people’s. Rather than boycott Monsanto, I try to support smaller companies. When I think of Monsanto, I think of seeds because they control and unbelievable number of seeds. Since I plant seeds every spring, and don’t like Monsanto’s tactics, I try to be aware of where my seeds come from. I search the internet for retailers that explain how they obtain their stock. I look for very small growers who harvest their seeds themselves.

In other words, instead of thinking about withholding money from Monsanto, which wouldn’t make a bit of difference anyway, I try to spend money with independent retailers.

But. This is not a post about Monsanto. (Fooled you, didn’t I?) This is a post about how thinking about things just a little differently can become happier, more successful, and more beautiful. Well, that last one might be a stretch, but you can definitely approach the world in a more relaxed way, thereby causing fewer stress-related wrinkles, which would make you more beautiful, right?

Just a slight change of perspective can make a big difference when it comes to lots of issues or problems. I am not an over-the-top, perky, optimistic kind of person, but looking for the most positive perspective in some situations really helps me avoid the deep, dark abyss of depression:

1. Deciding how you want to spend time, instead of bemoaning having to spend time doing some things you don’t want to do.

Instead of thinking about how much I don’t want to clean the fridge, or send invoices, I think about the run I will enjoy after those things are done. This can be a really important, life-changing shift in perspective. It’s pretty much how I ended up running Smiling Tree. I resented spending the majority of my day in an office in my last job, and could only think about marketing to potential freelance customers when I got home. Eventually I realized the only sane thing to do would be to build a plan that would allow me to spend most of my time freelancing. I got laid off before that plan was fully realized, but it was in place and I was working towards quitting my job by then.

2. Create a “done” list instead of a “to do” list.

About once a week or so, I will not go through my morning ritual of list-making while oatmeal-eating. On those days, I will jot down tasks throughout the day as I complete them. Sometimes this doesn’t work because it’s easy lose my way without a list to refer to. More often, though, I end up with a nice, long list of completed chores and a sense of satisfaction – by 2pm or so. There is definitely something appealing about crossing things off a list, but taking the time to notice just how much you get done in the space of a few hours is nice, too. Plus, my “to do” lists grow as quickly as I cross things off and seeing a “to do” list grow doesn’t feel nearly as good as seeing a “done” list grow.

3. During a negotiation, or an argument, take note of what you both agree on, rather than focusing solely on what you disagree on.

If you are arguing with a spouse, your kid, or some other immediate family member, it might be impossible for you to admit there is a single thing in the world that you agree on. Other than in those situations, though, you can almost always find common ground to use as a starting point. When you examine areas of agreement, sometimes you find paths around sticking points. Changing your perspective often activates your creativity, helping you come up with unexpected solutions.

4. Purposefully change your physical environment.

Turn your desk around. Stand up and work. Go outside for awhile. Open (or close) your blinds or curtains for a day. Wear your pajamas all day, or if you are more like me, force yourself to get dressed every morning for a week. You might not notice it right away, but changes in your environment can make a huge difference in your perspective and attitude. I have a heating pad in my desk chair, that warms up my lower back. I turn it on just about every morning while I have coffee and oatmeal. It really changes my morning outlook. Instead of thinking about how ridiculous it is that my back hurts when I get up, I think about how nice and warm that heating pad is. Since I’ve been using it, I tend to get started on working quicker in the morning. Maybe there’s no correlation, but maybe there is.

5. Choose one small thing you can do, and quit thinking about all the things you cannot do.

I cannot fit driving for 20 minutes one way, three times a week, to take a one hour kickboxing class into my schedule. I have to work. I’d really love to take a kickboxing class because it looks like so much fun. I could use the fact that I can’t fit my preferred activity in my schedule as an excuse to do no activity. Instead I look for functional strength work out videos (which generally last 15-30 minutes) on the internet. Burpees and pushups are not as much fun as I imagine kickboxing would be, but they aren’t awful, and they get me out of my chair. There are all sorts of things we cannot do, but if you find something that you can do, and do it, your perspective will move a little more toward the positive end of the scale.

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