Dear Husband, I’m Watching This Week’s Outlander Without You

Dear Husband,

It’s Friday and you’ve left for deer hunting. The children and I shall live like college students by staying in our pjs all day–eat pizza, tacos, pancakes, sometimes all three at once—We might even drag a couch out to the lawn and listen to Frozen music. The sound dial will be turned to eleven.

But really the biggest travesty that will occur is our Saturday ritual of Outlander. I know it’s our “thing”—we read all the books and we nerd out on long discussions over character motivations and how tempted we were to skim the parts where Claire is testing her mold samples.

I had no idea that the wedding episode would fall on the one weekend a year you have dedicated to being manly. But I am weak and I cannot wait for you.

I’m going to watch this episode without you.

Seriously? I know you will also miss Dr. Who and I can wait for that. We started getting into Downton Abbey and I can wait for that. Except my strength of will is tested with Outlander.

So consider this your notice (even though you’re on the mountainside right now with no internet connection, so you won’t know until you get back…but I can pretend I didn’t see it while I watch it for what will likely be the fifth time). I promise to have more strength in the future (as long as it doesn’t include things I cannot resist: Chocolate, index cards, retractable highlighters, and Outlander…this is not an exhaustive list, just a sample).

Yours truly,

Wife

Redefining Victory

My son is taking Karate classes. I really wanted him to finish all his levels in swimming first and he had one more level to go, but:

  1. He’s an excellent swimmer now and,
  2. He’s wanted Karate for a very long time.

The deal was for him to learn how to swim with confidence and then he would get to pick the next activity. He’s a good sport and learned to swim. He enjoyed it, and even though he started out unsure, even though he had a challenge at every step, he kept practicing. He never gave up (or at this young age, it’s more like we wouldn’t let him. Of course, we never gave it as an option.) Oh, he was sure at times he’d never make it to the next level, but he’d always hit a breakthrough eventually.

Back to Karate. I really love watching the lessons. There are little nuggets of wisdom each week. Aside from me taking notes on the types of kicks and defense moves (I can use them in stories), I also take some of the principles to heart. This week the instructor asked the kids: “When we talk about the tenets of black belt, the last one is victory. It’s important. Focus is important, integrity is important, but victory is also equally important and misunderstood. Do you know what victory is?”

To be honest I was a little annoyed. Victory is not that important. Winning is not a wonderful thing to focus on all the time at this stage of development. I was surprised that the instructor chose to focus on this lesson at this age level.

There was a long pause.

The teacher prompted them to answer.

One kid raised his hand. He was fairly brawny, obviously an athletic build for his age. “Winning.”

“I’m glad you said that. That is why we’re talking about it.”

I got a little more flustered. My daughter had even stopped her coloring to watch, she’d picked up on the tension in the room. I was not the only parent waiting to see where this discussion was going. A lot of us had signed our kids up to avoid the baseball parent mentality of competition. Not all parents are this way, but too often we’d take the kids to sports events and see parents screaming at kids to “get it right”, or coaches screaming—taking the sport too seriously. Below the age of ten that’s really counter-productive. There’s room in life for competition, but at this age the foundation has to be built first, so kids understand what they’re working for, at what cost, how to handle winning/losing, and why.

“Winning is a really cool thing,” the teacher started. “It makes us feel good to know we’re good at something. That usually rewards us, and we want to keep going, and keep trying.”

These were all true. I could tell now by the inflection in his voice that he had an important point to make. I just hoped we were on the same page.

“But victory is not winning.” He waited a beat, because he could see the confused looks on their faces. If he’d looked at the parents, he’d see we were all confused, too.”

“Victory is setting a goal and achieving it.

It was an important distinction and he went on to explain more. It was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. I’d done this before, we all have. Setting a goal and meeting it, but to have it described as victory in the context he’d proposed it really made a difference in mindset.

Winning is not a goal. It really can’t be when set this way. In writing I’ve learned that publishing contracts, story sales, having people like my writing, or even getting reviews are not goals.

I’d learned this lesson in my profession as a psychologist, too. When working on changing behavior (setting a goal), it had to meet several criteria.

A goal is:

  1. Something you can measure,
  2. Not dependent on anyone but the person working to attain it, and,
  3. Achievable within the current skillset.

So with those criteria in mind, I learned to set more realistic goals.

Sometimes if a goal does not meet the criteria it becomes difficult to achieve. So I’ve always set a goal and then analyzed it to be sure I could meet it. I don’t like to make them too easy either. I want it to be a victory. I want that euphoria of winning at something, even though the competition is against myself. I’ve always been self-motivated. I like working on a team, but I’ve never worked well in a competitive environment.

Usually when I get the feeling someone is comparing themselves against me or trying to win against me, I’ll go into hiding until they feel they’ve won and go away. I just don’t like the feeling of being responsible for someone else’s achievement. That part about your happiness (or achieving a goal) being dependent on someone else? I take it really seriously. If I need someone to achieve a goal then I know it’s not a goal. It’s not the same as finding help, or finding a team to get to a goal. What I mean is that “I have to find readers” is not a goal. I’m depending on a someone else to reach happiness at that victory.

“I want Captain Picard to like me.” Also not a goal.

I could dress it up and make steps to get there, like “I know he likes Earl Grey tea. I shall drink Earl Grey tea three times a week until I like it, too.” Or, “To become more likable I will take charm school classes. And join the military, because Picard likes disciplined people.” I can trick myself into thinking I’m achieving goals that will eventually lead to my dream of having Capt. Picard like me, but in the end my dream is dependent on someone else reacting a certain way.

Just like selling a novel is a really cool thing that might happen someday, it’s not a goal. Writing the best novel I can is a goal. And having victory at that goal, could lead to eventually winning at selling a novel. Just like practicing swimming can give us victory at a better backstroke, which might lead to winning a race.

Sometimes I think by having dyslexia I cheated at being a successful writer. For one thing, publishing in a professional market was so far beyond possibility in the beginning, I didn’t have a chance to make it a “goal.” I worked on gaining a skillset. My dream had always been to be good enough to publish eventually, but I was more focused on the skillset I knew was not there. I went slowly and had a few things to work on at a time. I started with proper sentence structure. I narrowed in on basic things. When I got confidence and feedback that I’d mastered them enough to move on I did. That part was somewhat dependent on other people to help me, but my goal did not depend on it because the skillset I was working on was always measurable. Like creating a descriptive sentence without using an adjective or adverb.

Maybe I understood the idea early on and didn’t realize it. I hadn’t redefined it yet, but deep down I knew the path to winning was through victory.

I see a lot of people in professions get discouraged quickly, especially if they’ve had some success early on. I sometimes wonder if it’s because they’ve confused victory and winning like all of us sitting watching our kids at that karate lesson.

I love comments! Every time you comment someone will achieve victory.

The Roadmap

 

maps

In 2005, I decided I wanted to see the ocean. After years of bad relationships and bad jobs and bad decisions, visiting the coast became a mecca for me, an escape, a quest for a holy grail that would reboot my life.  Changing my attitude by changing my latitude, as the old saying goes.

Problem was, I had no idea how to get there, and I am absolutely horrible with directions. I find reading maps challenging (I can refold them like nobody’s business though).  To put this in perspective, I’ve gotten lost driving to places I’ve been before, in straight lines, even in parking lots.  So, when I embarked on this trip on a spur of the moment, with no planning, in the days before GPS, I had a great deal of trepidation.

I ventured out on the dark turnpike, looking for signs that read south and east, occasionally

Ignore my hair!!

Ignore my hair!!

stopping for advice at gas stations and asking friendly looking pedestrians for directions. One elderly, sagelike, African-American gentleman, named Elvis, told me I was on the right track, “to just keep a’goin’ straight on through” (not as turn-by-turn as I would have hoped) but the saying became my trip mantra.  I ventured into a couple of sidetracked paths( Welcome to Maryland!)  until I reached my destination of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

I felt lost 98% of the time.  Caffeine, my Sheryl Crow CD, and my two headlights, were the only things keeping me awake and on the road as I drove all night.  A strange combination of excitement, determination, panic, fear and hope drove me to continue until I eventually found my ocean.  And it was worth all the stress when I walked barefoot on the empty beach with dolphins playing in the surf. I had grabbed my grail.  I had found my zen.

Lately, I have been plagued with a similar feeling of panic.  So many sources of information from friends, to internet gurus, to teachers, to social media proclaim different methods to reach the holy grail of publication, and not just publication, but publishing with an audience.

Traditionalist still hold firm that the old school Big 5 is the only way to get noticed, and if the writer hasn’t been picked up by them then the author obviously needs to work on their craft until they are good enough for an agent and a big deal with a publisher.

Indies advocates show me a golden road of freedom, more money, more immediate results. Many say that the big publishers are scrambling to just stay alive and are only contracting sure bets.  But independence comes with a price. They face a rocky road to finding an audience, of paying for editing, covers, and proofreaders, then have to spend a huge portion of writing time marketing. All these factors makes the golden road shine a bit less bright and makes me feel like I am driving in circles.

Small press publishers have a few onramps that they give free to writers, marketing, editing, proofs, and cover art.  Still discoverability is an issue, the lack of advance, and royalties are smaller than if the writer had self-published.

There are many potholes and dead end streets on the road to being published, but I’m here, panicked, afraid, but also hopeful and determined.  I still have my caffeine, my music (now it’s Alt J playing on YouTube), and the twin headlights of my research and hard work guiding me.  I have a feeling I will hit the coast any minute now, if I could ever get out of this parking lot.

Every comment provides another lamppost to guide my journey.  Post away.

 

 

Confessions of a Slow Reader

A few weeks ago Pam did a blog post on being a slow reader and her love for long epic fantasies. I was really inspired to write a similar post, but as I wrote I started thinking of all the books I’d read that really made me fall in love with reading.

And I realized I never really did. Fall in love with reading that is—not at first.

For me it was a genuine desire to escape into a new world. The best genre for that (for me) was science fiction. At ten I became a huge fan of Star Trek and in fifth and sixth grade I became addicted to the tie-in books in that universe. In eight grade I read Dune. I also liked sad animal books. You know the ones: Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows. I raised guide dogs for the blind (a volunteer project that followed me into adulthood) and so I knew what it was like to lose a furry friend. With very few other kids my age with the same experience to talk to, I used the made-up worlds as my counselors.

Except for one problem. I didn’t read very well. I had pretty poor comprehension (as tests showed throughout my school career). When I’d read out loud, it was choppy and disconnected. If I read something out loud, I couldn’t really understand what I’d read. It was as if my brain turned off. I always read slowly. I’d read the same paragraphs over and over, and never really retain all the details in a story…but I kept at it. My love for wonder outweighed my struggle.

I wrote slowly, too. I misspelled simple words over and over. I had difficulty learning another language. To this day I have a list of words (some of them pretty common) that are hard for me to pronounce correctly. Grammar baffled me. I knew all the major rules, but when it came to applying them I found it very difficult. As it got harder and as teachers become more frustrated, I gave up reading for pleasure. Most of my time in high school and beyond was dedicated to reading the texts I was assigned. I’d have to read a book or a history chapter several times to comprehend the basic information. I got headaches from staring at writing for too long.

My vision was checked several times.

I didn’t need glasses.

Notes taken while people were talking would mostly come out as sloppy gibberish.

I had a few charms going for me. I took theatre, so reading the same thing over and over and performing it taught me some classics that I’ll know inside and out (probably forever)—most of it Shakespeare. I could draw really well. I was good at math. And I really loved learning. Learning everything.

I took remedial English in college. I went to the writing center for help writing papers. Often my in-class work and homework were vastly different in quality. I’ve been accused of cheating several times. My boyfriend (now husband) had been accused of writing papers for me. His response? “I barely have time to do my own work.”

I loved his response. He proof-read my papers for me and offered corrections only some times, but after a while I stopped asking, because people assumed my high grades were in some way connected to his effort in helping me and it simply wasn’t true.

English teachers were confused by me and also frustrated with me. “You obviously struggle with this,” they would say. They’d see my immense effort on a project and it must have looked like I’d maxed out on my IQ ability in that particular area. A lot would refuse to give up insisting that writing is a skill we use the rest of our lives, but many, towards the end would try to pat me on the back and assure me that it was not important. I wasn’t going to be a writer. It didn’t matter.

I was never encouraged to write my ideas down. I had never been told some day I’d be good at this. I was never compared to well known or loved authors. I was nobody’s pick at a future profession in storytelling.

I know I’m not the typical “how I became a writer” fairytale.

When I was young I’d read a good book and instantly think of my own story to tell. I had piles of piles of stapled together books where I’d draw pictures for the scenes. The place where the words would go would be blank. I’d buy notebooks and sketch story ideas. For my eighth grade project I wrote the first chapter to a middle grade novel. My high school project I wrote and illustrated a children’s book. For my graduate thesis I studied subjective grading methods in writing and using a rubric to help students improve. I was very obviously interested in writing, but putting words to paper terrified me. Reduced me to tears. Every paper was an opportunity to explain to a teacher that I was not the bright student they expected based on my interactions in class. That I preferred audiobooks (when I could find them) and cliff notes as my go-to study aids. I had professors write me nasty notes on my assignments alluding to my lack intellectual ability. At the same time I graduated in the top five percent of my college, with honors in my major (undergrad), distinction (graduate school), and probably more scholarships than most students are blessed with. I was surely a confusing puzzle.

In college I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I have a strong family history of dyslexia. Several members in my family have been diagnosed. I have a very specific kind and I’m lucky that I have coping strategies and workarounds that enabled me to get as far as I had. At the point of my diagnosis I felt that I’d used every tool at my disposal and I’d nearly accepted I had hit the peak of what I was capable of.

What saved me? First, finding out I was dyslexic felt like newfound freedom. Like I had been drowning under a frozen lake and broke through the ice. A lot of people hate diagnosis, hate labels. It’s a fifty-fifty shot. Sometimes it holds people back and other times it gives them the room to grow. For me it was the latter. Dyslexia is different for different people. There are different types, different shades on the spectrum. I also have some sensory integration issues (mostly with sound). Every person has different body chemistry and different history. So what worked for me, or my story might not to translate others with the same diagnosis.

Second, it was working with dyslexic students. I was working on my graduates degree in school psychology and I diagnosed and treated children with learning, behavioral, and emotional disabilities. Which was pretty damn convenient for my professors after they diagnosed me. I suddenly had a full caseload of kids with reading problems to come up with treatment plans for. The catch? I had to do the tasks and assignments right along with them. I read Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz and other really great books on the subject to help come up with unique treatment plans. One little girl had a great spirit; she reminded me of myself at that age. This kid never gave up and always stayed after school to ask her teacher for ways to make up work she did poorly on. She wasn’t afraid to work hard, so why would I be?

Third, I picked up reading again. At first it was with audiobooks, then I went to the store and browsed the fiction section. Weary of titles and back covers that all sounded the same, I saw one that was perfect. It had fantasy, Scottish history (I’m a sucker for men in kilts; one of my never-written stories as a child featured a Scottish girl traveling across country by herself searching for her parents), romance, and it was long and epic! It sat on my self for a year before I read it. I think I read a hundred romance books before I finally got up the guts to read Outlander (that epic, fantasy, Scottish history, romance, and all around amazing book that is now a show).

This is the hardest experience for me to write about, or even talk about. Especially among other writers—because they know me now. They know I’m “not that bad” and I’m “too hard on myself” or “I use dyslexia as an excuse to continue to be lazy with grammar.” I’m sure it really does look that way. Fifteen years ago my writing looked very different. There is a handful of people who know my real journey and only because they knew me then (and corrected my notes of grammar/spelling errors when we’d pass them between class—you know who you are). And so when my parents, siblings, family, long time close friends, or my husband says they see my improvement, or that they’re proud of me—it’s the only time I get choked up about it. Because they know.

I love comments! Every time you comment a slow reader gets a rocket power boost to the next paragraph.

Indie?

The reasons why I am considering indie publishing.

buku1

I hate risk.  I hate uncertainty.  I really hate exposing my work to an unforgiving world. But a compelling list of reasons conspire to push me to take the leap into the risky, uncertain indie publishing landscape.

Reason number one:  A writer needs the feedback only an audience can give. While learning, authors get feedback from other writers, which is good for structural and detailed edits, but most of the time, these well-intentioned critiquers find something wrong, and a lot of somethings. They view the work from backstage. They see the strings, the stage makeup, the fog machine.  So the overall effect is lost.

Friends and family read but, not wanting to offend or discourage,  give adulation and encouragement.

An audience sees the effect of the elements and reacts emotionally to the actual story—either positively or negatively.

Creatives need an stage to hone their craft The Beatles didn’t sit around playing for other musicians hoping that they were improving. They got out, They hustled. They exposed what they were doing to public scrutiny and received immediate reaction. Artist, actors, musicians all preform to get feedback, to earn their chops, to pay their dues. Why should writing be any different?

And indie publishing provides a method to gather information.  Is an idea marketable? Do people connect with the writing style? Are the characters and plots compelling?

Second: My stories fall into the urban fantasy/sci-fi genre and that is a hard sell to agents and publishers in this market.  Even the most polished of stories with the most unique of plots struggle to time finding a home in the shrinking environment of traditional publishing.  If an agent isn’t convinced that a book is a home run, Stephen King-style bestseller, it never get out of the dugout.  Heck, it never even get into the stadium in the nosebleed section.  Indie publishing gives the writer the power to buy the team.

Third:  I have been hanging on to a well-paying part time job for some time.  It’s never going to give me a comfortable life or be mentally satisfying, and I’m approaching the point where walking into my cubicle feels like slowly being closed inside an Iron Maiden.   I need to start laying the bricks for path out.  But that means I can’t wait any longer. I need to take a breath, jump off the abyss, and hope that my years of learning have created a parachute that will let me land not with a splat, but maybe with a thud.

Here’s to not splatting.

To the writer’s out there, have you considered indie publishing, if so why or why not?  To the readers, does the fact a book is indie published affect your buying decisions or attitude while reading a book?  Let me know in the comments below, or just drop a hi to let me know you visited.