Bye-Bye, Ramen: 5 Ways to Make More Money as an Artist

Have you heard the one about the doctor who ate so much Top Ramen, he turned into a noodle? Probably not because A) that’s not really funny, and B) why would a doc dine on 3-for-$1 noodles?

The notion that artists make extremely little, if any, money is a common and damaging myth. If you read my earlier post, Do You Have a Sexy Relationship with Money?, you know that I’ve been working on financial growth lately. Today, I thought I’d share some of the steps that have helped me support myself as an artist for the last 10 years, and continue to strengthen my efforts toward my newest goals.

wealth quote

While there’s no cookie cutter or linear plan for all artists to ensure financial success (however we define it), I personally believe these steps can help just about all of us.

5 Ways to Make More Money as an Artist

1. Believe you can thrive—and see it. I was fortunate to grow up with parents who never said “don’t” regarding my dreams, which is probably a big reason I’ve been able to largely support myself as a creative. What we believe we can achieve we will, given enough time and effort. Changing our beliefs isn’t easy, but striving to is a powerful first step—followed by visualizing it. What would your daily life be like if you’d already achieved the success you dream of? Use that primo imagination of your to see, feel and taste it.

2. Value abundance. I’ve been working on this. I’ve learned that it’s one thing to say, “I will make money,” another to say, “I’ll make enough to get by,” and yet another to say, “I will cultivate financial abundance” through artistry. Rather than deem financial wealth as somewhat negative—as many folks do on some level—or a perk reserved for other professionals, I’m now viewing it as a strengthening byproduct of an abundant life that allows me to reach more people.

3. Prioritize your dreams. A therapist once suggested that to make money and pursue a writing career, I should tend to all other obligations (which at the time involved auditions, acting classes and nutrition work) then use any remaining time to write. I hated and dismissed that plan. One of my most effective habits has long been tending to my dream-work first—whether that work is profitable yet or not. Doing so cements my beliefs about goals, leads to income more rapidly and prevents misery. (If you’re a night owl, you may want to reserve your dream-work for the wee hours; it’s all about prioritizing and using our mental golden hour well.)

4. Ditch the backup plan. I admire folks who can work a job they dislike and still thrive as artists. I’ve never been one of those people. Regardless, I think it’s vital that if we want our artistry to become our sole careers, a backup plan (such as another career) isn’t a safety net, but a saboteur. Alternate plans to “fall back on” if we don’t succeed take time and energy, and whatever we focus on grows. It can also reflect self-doubt, which is damaging. If you believed with all of your heart that you’d succeed as an artist, would you still have that plan in place? We need to see our success as essential, realistic and probable—not a side gig we only fully indulge in in dreamland.

5. Change your language. What we think and say about ourselves becomes our reality. It’s like dieting. When we continually think and talk about excess pounds we hate, we’re likely to eat poorly, stress more (which can trigger abdominal weight gain due to the stress hormone cortisol), appear less attractive and gain weight. When we embrace and nurture ourselves, focusing on feeling healthy and fabulous, improved weight control happens naturally. The “starving artist” mentality can hurt us similarly. Even if you don’t yet believe you can thrive financially as an artist, start saying that you do; eventually, your beliefs will catch up.

Once our beliefs and values are in place, the action comes easier. We’re creative artists, for goodness’ sake! If there’s one thing we can manage, it’s conjuring up ideas. We start seeing our work through a lens of abundance, which guides us to the best next steps. We also stand taller in our passions and create stronger work.

I’ll share more on the specifics of those action steps, including how I built my freelance writing career, soon. In the meantime, I hope you’re dancing around in happy, hopeful thoughts, believing (or aspiring to believe) that whatever you dream you can achieve. You and your work are worth it!

What are your financial goals? Which tip struck you most? Any suggestions to add? I love hearing from you! ♥

On Taking Chances — and a Sexual Health Writing Contest!

Do you remember the last time you took a chance? I’m not talking about trying a new hair color or cuisine. I mean a CHANCE—something out of your comfort zone or unconventional that makes your heart flutter.

I sure do.

A couple of years ago, I decided to listen to the scream nudge in my gut, telling me to “just do something!” with a topic I’d grown increasingly passionate about. I wrote a blog post and boom: Girl Boner was born. Little did I know where it would lead, but the road since has proved my gut right. While much work remains, the brand has helped my journalism career flourish in a desired direction, introduced me to remarkable people, kickstarted my radio show and invited a variety of additional opportunities I hadn’t even dreamed of at the start, including the latest.

Everywhere I roamed, I sensed something was missing...

On September 4th, I’ll be hosting World Sexual Health Day, North America’s annual event in New York City, sharing the stage with Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh, Reverend Jes Kast-Keat and other phenomenal voices in the sexual wellness industry. I couldn’t be more honored! If you’ll be in the New York area, I hope you’ll join us! Regardless, you can participate. All it requires is taking a chance.

World Sexual Health Day, North America is running a WRITING CONTEST, open to anyone 21 or older in North America who has “an active interest in sexuality and sexual health and further seeks to promote and support their efforts for greater global awareness and community outreach” — in other words, most of you! (Yes, you with butterflies flapping in your belly right now included. ;))

WSHD 2014

Some of the perks of entering:

♦ You’ll contribute to the World Association for Sexual Health’s mission of heightening social awareness of sexual health across the globe. (Every step counts!)

♦ Unlike many other writing contests, there’s no entry fee.

♦ You could win publishing and exposure on the WSHD website, a congratulatory certificate and a nifty notch for your resume.

♦ Sharing of ourselves through story is fulfilling, growth-inducing and fun.

Here’s what they’re looking for:

♦ Personal memoir-style essays and poetry related to sexual health, in document or blog post form.

♦ Writing with a strong, clear voice by authors who are daring, original and unafraid to take risks.

♦ There’s no minimum length requirement, but your entry shouldn’t surpass 10 double-spaced pages.

Deadline: August 20th (extended from July 4th)

Prize announcements: The three winners will be announced on World Sexual Health Day in NYC, perhaps by yours truly! In addition to receiving a certificate, winners’ submissions will appear on the WSHD website with a bio and photo.

**If you’re not ready to publicly share what sexual health means to you, I imagine pseudonyms are welcome. As for those of you with no shame whatsoever (*clears throat* Kitt!), keep being you! 🙂

**If you enter as a blogger, send me your link and I’ll share it in my follow-up post!

Maybe you’re all about going out on a limb, or the thought of openly reflecting on sexual wellness only excites you—if so, kudos! Considering how often folks tell me they wish they could be more expressive regarding sexuality, I figured a little encouragement was in store.

You never know where the experience will lead. Perhaps the contest will prompt you to write more, think more or share more. You may touch more hearts and minds than you’ll know. For whatever reason, I hope you’ll consider joining! Regardless, I hope you’re continually finding ways to spread your wings.

For full details and to access the application form, visit the WSHD Writing Contest.

What do you say, will you join? What writing experience has had a significant influence in your life? I love hearing from you! ♥

3 Ways Blogging Can Make Our Writing Lives and Sales Shine

elephant einstein

Next week I’ll head to Monterey for my first ever Left Coast Crime conference – I’m stoked! In addition to enjoying other festivities, I’ll serve on two panels, Chills and Thrills: Psychological and Medical Thrillers and Social Media: Getting the Word out in Today’s Digital Age. For the latter, I’ve been asked to focus on blogging. Three years ago, I never would have imagined that I’d not only be addicted to blogging blogging and loving it, but sharing insight on the platform for others. That’s one beautiful thing about artistic paths, don’t you think? We never know where our paths will lead.

Here are three huge perks I’ve gained from blogging (and you can, too!):

1.  Content and discoverability as an author. Before starting my blog, I had loads of articles online and I was pretty findable. Blogging gave me the ability to increase my discoverability as an author, rather than merely being known or recognized as a health (and now sexuality) writer. Agents, publishers, editors and potential writing clients dig that. 

2. Fun! I was happily surprised to learn that blogging can be so darn enjoyable when we don’t treat it like necessary homework. When we write about topics we’re compelled or jazzed to cover, it resonates with readers and makes our writerly lives sparklier. I truly believe that that positive energy attracts more of the same in our personal and professional lives.

3. Readership and sales. It’s impossible to quantify sales derived from blogging, but I’m sure that it’s helped mine. Numerous of my first reviews on Amazon derived from blog readers, and reviews seem to lend themselves to sales. My sales have consistently spiked during book promotions I’ve run or announced on my blog. And it only makes sense that enthusiasts of our blogs are likely to take interest in our other work.

Here’s a chart I shared at the OWFI conference last year that shows the correlation between promotional events and my Amazon rankings during my first few months post-release. As soon as my book announcement hit my blog, my ranking went to too-low-to-measure to pretty high. The same happened once I posted my 99-cent and freebie promos on my blog. In some cases, I use other techniques to gently promote as well, but my blog has inarguably helped.

Kindle rank self published book

I also shared these stats at OWFI, which I found relevant and intriguing:

  • Social networking sites reach 82 percent of the world’s online population, representing 1.2 billion users around the world. (Comscore, 2011)
  • 61% of U.S. online consumers make purchases based on blog content. (Shareaholic, 2013)
  • 77% of Internet users read blogs. (The West Program, 2011)
  • Companies with blogs generate 67% more leads (READERS) per month on average than non-blogging companies.
  • Once we publish 21 – 54 posts, blog traffic generation increases by up to 30%. (Traffic Generation Cafe, 2012)
  • Once a blog has 300 pages, traffic generation increases by 236%, on average. (Stigma Web Marketing, 2012)

I’m not suggesting that we blast “buy my book” promos on our blogs, by any stretch. On the contrary, I believe that authentically writing and supporting others are the most powerful ways to increase our professional success through blogging. When we’ve built a quality community of blog readers (which trumps quantity of readers big time), they appreciate the occasional, “By the way, my new book is available!”  I want to know when bloggers I adore have books available, don’t you?

Another practice I love: Because I value blog readers so much, I offer them  special extras during promos. When I first gave my book away for free for a few days on Amazon, I sent MP3s of one of my original tunes to anyone who downloaded it and sent me a copy of their download confirmation, for example. And I always aim to make any promotional-type-stuff fun and not advertisey (pardon the not-a-word!), and support other folks rather than just me. It’s tough to go wrong with fun. By having fun, supporting others and remaining authentic, we don’t have to worry about words like “promote” or “platform.” Success becomes a natural derivative of who we are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What’s your favorite perk of blogging? How do you feel blogging can (or can’t) enhance sales and overall professional success? Any examples to share? Or blogging questions or challenges you’d like help with?

Freedom’s Hand: Hell Revisited

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” — Philip Pullman

I’ve long believed that stories can, and do, change the world. The most important ones never leave our hearts or minds, no matter how many we read or how much time passes. Mike Sirota’s latest work, a social thriller entitled Freedom’s Hand, is one of those stories. Set in modern times, Freedom’s Hand is equal parts thrill, terror, heartache and inspiration, bringing necessary light to issues many people mistakenly believe ended with the Holocaust. I posted the following review on Amazon:

Important and compelling! 5.0 out of 5 stars

Mike Sirota has a way of pulling readers into his stories in deeply emotional ways. With FREEDOM’S HAND he goes beyond mere storytelling and
nearly forces the reader to contemplate real evils in the world and, more importantly, the necessity and possibility of escape. Dark, suspenseful and deliciously un-put-downable, FREEDOM’S HAND is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in some time.

I’m honored to have the author here today, sharing thoughts on the story, the hellishness therein and how he managed to step into the dark places writing it required. Thanks so much for joining us, Mike!

Freedom's Hand Ebook Cover

Just like the name of my blog (“Swords, Specters, & Stuff”)—and one of my websites—professes, most people know me as a writer in genres such as sword & sorcery, sword & planet, horror, paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction. That is why my newly released novel, Freedom’s Hand, may come as a surprise, for it is none of the above. But given where a great deal of the story takes place—inside a concentration camp on American soil—it may prove more disturbing than any previous gore-fest I’ve written. Why? Because it HAS happened in the past. For real.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” ― Elie Wiesel

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” ― Elie Wiesel

THE STORY

As with many things, the actual creation of Freedom’s Hand has a history—in this case a long one. But before I get into that, let me offer a plot abstract, at least for the early scenes. The story opens in 1943 Poland with a teenager named Nathan Adler inside a crowded cattle car, one of many pulled by a locomotive on its way to oblivion. Nathan’s mother and young sister are with him. Eventually the train pulls into Auschwitz. Nathan, a sturdy young man, is taken aside to join a work detail. His mother, a cripple, is put on a line to the gas chamber. The sister, four years old, staggers about helplessly before being torn apart by guard dogs as Nathan watches.

The majority of the story takes place in 1994. A now elderly Nathan Adler, a widower, is on a summer driving vacation with his family: his daughter, Susan Lowe; her husband, David; and Heather, their eight year old, Nathan’s beloved granddaughter. Nightmares of the past still torment him, but he manages to deal with them.

Then, the nightmares become real once again as the family is kidnapped in Nevada by a white supremacist group called Freedom’s Hand. Thrown into a cramped, stifling compartment in the back of a church bus with other prisoners—mostly blacks and Mexicans—they are transported to a strange compound deep in the searing desert. While the others are incredulous, Nathan seems to know what is happening; he’s been there before.

The compound, enclosed by towering fences topped by barbed wire, is called LAGER—the German word for “camp.” Manned by an army of brown-shirted thugs, Lager is the brainchild of an enigmatic man who, early on, is known only as the Commander. This monster is dedicated to the systematic extermination of all minorities. His “technical advisor” is Unterscharfuhrer Heinz Kell, an old man now but once part of Nazi Germany’s Protection Squad, the SS, and a prison guard at Auschwitz. Kell had been a personal nemesis to the young Nathan, and their meeting now—fifty years later and a world away—is monumental…

Just as I would hate to give away how this confrontation ends up, so am I loath to say much more about the story without revealing too many key plot points. David and Susan Lowe, as the main protagonists, must call upon courage that they would have thought unimaginable if they are to survive this Hell on Earth called Lager and save their family from this camp of swaggering monsters. The odds are seriously stacked against them.

WOMEN AS SEX OBJECTS—WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

To give just a little away: Susan, in order to save the life of her daughter, becomes part of the “entertainment squad.” Incredulous when she begins to suspect what they want of her, she is told by one of her captors, “You’ll do what God in His wisdom meant for all you bitches to do when He put you on this earth!” This degradation mirrors what the Nazis did to many of their female prisoners.

"History is herstory too." — unknown

“History is herstory too.” — unknown

MONSTERS REAL AND IMAGINED

I’ve written about human monsters before—think Bruno Leopold in Fire Dance—but the Commander presented a different kind of challenge and, in retrospect, became the most difficult character that I ever created. What makes a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Pol Pot, or a Joseph Kony tick? These are heads that the average person doesn’t particularly want to delve into, but as a writer you have no choice—not if you want readers to believe that your characters could be motivated to engage in actions so heinous. So how does one do this?

In Freedom’s Hand I use a series of flashback scenes, spread out over many chapters, to show how a monster evolves. Preceding each flashback the Commander is usually talking to his second in command, a friend who addresses him as “Martin.” Over time we learn that Martin’s mother was the most famous actress of her era, his father one of the world’s richest men. We experience Martin as a boy, a teen, a young man, and so on, not only with tons of emotional baggage but also with incidents occurring at each stage that could spur some racial or religious intolerance and motivate hatred.

But enough motivation to make someone go out and erect a concentration camp in the desert of the American Southwest and dedicate a life to destroying human beings?

STEPPING OUT OF MYSELF

To accomplish this I truly had to separate Myself from Myself—from who and what I am, from all I believe—and become the mind and the voice of a monster. In a chapter titled “Revelation” the flashback scene has Martin as a young man. He has just graduated from a military academy and is staying with a friend in Chicago. The friend takes him to a rally in a suburban park, where a neo-Nazi group has challenged—and won—their right to free speech in court. (This is based on a number of true incidents.) The park is in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, one where many Holocaust survivors live. They are out in force, as are many other Jewish and African American organizations, to protest the speech given by Robert Earle Wesley of the New Socialist Front. Martin is minimally interested, and because he hates crowds he really wishes that he were somewhere else—at first.

I modeled Wesley after George Lincoln Rockwell, an infamous American Nazi of the 1950s and ’60s. His rants against Jews and blacks were poisonous—and so was the one that I put in the mouth of Robert Earle Wesley. To this day I remain stunned that I could have ever written such words, or imagined such thoughts. But to make their stories work, writers sometimes have to step far out of their comfort zones. I mean, does Thomas Harris have his doctor for dinner with some fava beans and a nice Chianti? Does James Patterson enjoy some of the same simple pleasures as his greatest antagonist in the Alex Cross books? I think not; yet Hannibal Lecter and Kyle Craig are two of the most believable and chilling monsters in all of fiction.

I won’t share any of Wesley’s diatribe here; you can read it all and judge for yourself. But as the chapter ends with the police breaking up the demonstration it is evident that Martin has been affected by what he has witnessed:

They had stopped the words, but the young man still heard them and would continue to hear them. He saw them rush Wesley off, in a different direction. He would not reach the man; not today. But he would find him. He had to find him.

Because now, for the first time, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

As I said before, the history and evolution of Freedom’s Hand is a story by itself. You’ll find that story at this link: Freedom’s Hand: Behind the Story.

*****

To purchase Freedom’s Hand, visit this link via Amazon.com. You can also connect with Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

Any thoughts or questions to share with Mike? In addition to being a prolific writer, he’s a skilled editor and writing coach. In other words, he’s a WEALTH of information! And friendly, to boot. If you’ve read Freedom’s Hand, I hope you’ll share your thoughts!

On (Truly) Strong Females, Recycled Tropes and Hope for the Horror Genre

Happy Halloween! I’m a bit low on candy (okay, I don’t have any – *sniff*), but I do have a special treat for you all. Today I’m thrilled to share my blog living room with one of the most brilliant folks I know. Karina Wilson is a British writer and story consultant based in Los Angeles who knows the horror genre better than most. She took time out of her hectic week to chat with me about the genre, addressing some of the issues we addressed on Monday, and more. We are so fortunate to have her. (Thanks again, Karina!)

Horror scene of a scary woman

August: What sexist themes are most common in the horror genre as of late? Has the apparent popularity of the “strong female” archetype made a difference?

Karina: There are strong females and there are strong females… I find the emphasis on women only finding strength through their mothering instincts (e.g. INSIDIOUS, MAMA, BYZANTIUM and THE CONJURING) quite disturbing; only women who’ve conformed to social expectations and played the “good mom” role are perceived as having value and are therefore permitted to survive. This is especially worrying when it plays out to target audiences weaned on poor, benighted Bella Swan, who wanted nothing more from life than to get married and have a baby before her 19th birthday. However, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (one of my favorite films of the last few years) counterbalances this ‘cult of Motherhood’ quite nicely.

I’m also very wary of the current fashion for witch-bashing, which was particularly iniquitous in HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. It’s all a bit too glib and easy (the Crone with warts on her nose must die!), and doesn’t acknowledge that witch hunts led to the deaths of tens of thousands of women in Europe during the peak of the Inquisition, and that accusations of witchcraft are still used to justify lynch mobs and the murder of old women across Africa. It’s all part and parcel of the expressed desire to persecute women who don’t fit neatly into the marry-reproduce-nuture mold – there’s nothing wrong with doing that, per se, but women who don’t choose that path shouldn’t be routinely demonized.

August: What’s the dynamic like for female writers and filmmakers in the genre?

Karina: I actually think horror is a more welcoming place for women than many other segments of cinema – you’ll find more female-driven story lines than in action or biopics, for instance, or those ‘heavy-hitting’ dramas that clog theatres this time of year, and I personally know a number of female horror directors. However, I believe there is a fetishization of violence against women in low-budget horror that has to stop. A rape/torture storyline is one of the cheapest and easiest things to film, but that doesn’t mean filmmakers should keep doing it. Why keep putting it out there, especially when it keeps coming from the tired perspective of the male gaze? We’re not in 2005 any more. Screenplays where conflict arises only from the suffering of a young, attractive woman are often more reflective of the writer’s mental health than about telling a story. They read like a cry for psychiatric help rather than entertainment.

August: Do the sexist notions cut both ways, affecting both genders? 

Karina: Horror movies have to conform to a fairly solid set of conventions – otherwise they’re not horror films anymore. Unfortunately, filmmakers mix up stereotypes and tropes, and recycle the same old same old characters thinking that this is what the genre demands. It’s not. As long as your story is structured along the right lines, you can innovate with characters, especially in terms of race, age and gender. The more you defy expectations on that front, the more enjoyable even a familiar story can be. CHASTITY BITES is good example of a recent independent horror movie that made huge efforts to defy stereotypes, with a subsequent payoff in audience good times.

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August: Why do you feel sexism in the genre seems to carry on, after significant amounts of (if partial) progression?

Karina: The male gaze. We’ve been looking at women as objects rather than subjects for so long, that we’ve forgotten there are other ways of seeing ourselves. So many movies across the board, from family fare to R-Rated, are produced, directed, photographed, written, edited and scored entirely by men that there’s no room for female perspectives. The statistics from research like that done by the Geena Davis Institute on women’s roles within the media are heartbreaking. There are so many talented women out there who never get a voice, or, when they do, their voice is diluted.  It’s so rare to see a film like Sam Taylor-Johnson’s NOWHERE BOY that even partially embraces the way women look at men with desire rather than the other way around.  She’s up to direct FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which could be very interesting. So sexism is a huge issue across movies in general, not just horror.  I sincerely hope things will change throughout the entire industry so that the female gaze becomes a familiar way of seeing for audiences.

August: How can readers, film watchers and creative artists make a positive difference in these regards?

Karina: Tell stories not just about women but from a female point of view. Embrace those stories where you find them. Think about ways in which the female gaze is different from the male’s, and why there’s room for both in our filmed and printed fictions. Tell your friends. Begin a cultural revolution.

August: Brilliant. Any such horror writers, books or films you’d recommend?

Karina: Where to start? Anne Rice, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier are the grande dammes of horror fiction, and they’ve been telling stories from a female point of view for a long time. If you haven’t read them, you should. More recently, Michelle Paver, Sarah Pinborough, Sarah Waters, Lisa Tuttle, Muriel Gray, Sarah Gran, Sarah Langan and many more – go crazy with your “To Read” pile (but why are there so many Sarahs?). I’m always looking for suggestions for my column on horror and cult fiction, LURID, at LitReactor so hit me up via Twitter (@medkno). Female-directed horror movies you should see are AMERICAN MARY, TROUBLE EVERY DAY, NEAR DARK, IN MY SKIN, FUGUE, PET SEMATARY, THE COMMUNE and THE ATTIC, again, to name but a few. There’s so much material out there.

To learn more about Karina, visit www.horrorfilmhistory.com.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! What struck you most about Karina’s insight? What’s your take on “strong female” characters? Do you seek out or aim to write/create female-driven stories? What’s your favorite horror book or film? ♥

5 Benefits of Therapy for Creative Artists

therapy bunny

Aw….right? We all have low times, no matter how magical our lives might seem. And sometimes even carrots  chocolate and hugs aren’t strong enough medicine.

I first learned the value of therapy when I’d returned to Minnesota from Paris, where I’d been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I figured the doctor of behavior and emotions would supply the answers I lacked and I’d soon be off on my healthy, happy way. The moment I sat down in her office, I started babbling. (That question list was LONG.) When I finally paused to breathe and listen, the smart-looking woman with a silver-gray pixie and glasses that could only be described as spectacles smiled and asked, “What do you think?”

Agh! Where were my answers? Little did I know that my endless talking would comprise much of my battle, and that my fast-paced monologue was merely a brief, if important, beginning.

Those of you who’ve had therapy know that an answer grab bag, psychic readings and instant clarity aren’t it. From what I understand, psychotherapy works well when our counselor is skilled and a strong personal fit, and we are ready and willing to dig deep—no matter how challenged or vulnerable we might feel. He or she helps us understand what we’re feeling and why, and discover answers we likely hold within.

power along

If you read my recent post about the blues, you know I’ve experienced some emotional bumps lately. When they started to feel like more than the occasional blip on the life screen, I decided to see a therapist. Nothing earth shattering was happening, but having experienced major depression in the past, I’ve learned not to let such minor red flags enlarge into deafening sirens.  I’ve observed that some people view therapy as emotional chemotherapy, a sign of serious health problems. To me, it’s preventative medicine, and a place I can turn to in doubtful times. I’ve also come to believe that the occasional “check up from the neck up” (or the chest cavity, really) is beneficial for most everyone, particularly artists.

Therapy for Creatives: 5 Mega-Perks

1. Empowerment and support. We creative types tend to be highly sensitive, cerebral creatures. The ability to explore our thoughts and emotions with a caring professional who gets that can help us feel less alone. The less isolated and obscure we feel, the more likely we are to feel empowered.

2. Blockage prevention. I don’t much believe in writers’ block, but I strongly believe in life block. When we’re stuck, stilted or confused emotionally, I feel it shows in our writing—or lack thereof. Therapy can help us find or maintain freedom from issues that stand in the way of our expression, freeing us up for growth and success.

3. Hope springs! Even the cheeriest of us are susceptible to lulls and hardship. Whether you see the glass as half full, half empty, beautiful or smash-worthy, therapy can instill a sense of proactivity. Knowing we’re working through challenges and doing whatever internal work is necessary inspires a sense of hope—the seed of many creative dreams.

4. Problem recognition. You know when you’re reading a mystery and suddenly realize a crucial plot point you missed? One sentence or scene can reveal what’s been happening all along. Therapy can have similar effects, bringing light to hidden, attention-worthy issues. As with novels, such epiphanies often make way for happy endings (and new beginnings). And every writer knows that problems make for great plot additions. 😉 (Consider it research!)

5. Dream fuel. Some years ago when I was grappling with career decisions, a therapist suggested I close my eyes and imagine I was holding a magic wand. If I could use it to create my ideal work day, she asked, would it entail? My impromptu answer spilled out as though scripted, and within weeks that wish was coming into fruition. (I’m sure many of you can relate.) Sometimes we simply need someone to ask the right questions for the proper path to appear. Stating our dreams out loud gives them—and us—power.

Fabulous related links:

9 Steps to Finding a Therapist, by Louise Behiel

The Link Between Depression and Creativity, and How It Can Be Good For You, by Tanner Christenen

You Are Beautiful and Strong, Sweet Child of Abuse, by Kassandra Lamb (While not directly related, Kassandra’s points on healing and thriving seem suitable to most anyone. Beautiful stuff!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you a fan of therapy? What’s your favorite benefit? Has it helped your creative work? What would you do with that magic wand? Special thanks to everyone who offered support at my mention of feeling a bit low the other week. I’m on the up-and-up, and haven’t taken a word of your encouragement lightly.  Lots o’ love! ♥

5 Things Writers Can Learn From Models

“What’s past is prologue.” — William Shakespeare

I’m a big fan of living in the now and not dwelling on the past, but I also think that our pasts are excellent teachers. This is poignantly true for writers; virtually every experience we’ve ever had can become research. If nothing else, our past experiences led us to where we are. For most writers I know, this is an insanely fabulous thing.

passion quote

Modeling and writing may not seem very comparable—other than the fact that in both, one can arrive to work in PJs—but my years in fashion did prep me for writing in numerous ways. In addition to providing endless fodder for my blog posts and fiction, here are five of my favorite takeaways:

1. Self-doubt shows. (And it’s often best to ignore the audience.) The first time I tried walking on a runway before my agents and other models, it was as though my legs were foreign creatures I’d never before utilized. Every part of me wobbled awkwardly, more so the harder I tried to force grace. The same can happen in our writing. The more we think, “Please don’t let this suck,” or “I hope they like it!” we’re pulled from the page, and words we use routinely can seem difficult to maneuver. It’s normal to have some level of insecurity about our work, but fixating there, instead of on our craft and stories, can keep us from falling off the runway producing our best work.

2. “No” is part of the deal. I’ve joked that I could hold an honorary Master’s degree in rejection because I’ve dealt with it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. After my first casting, after which I waited longingly for the phone to ring (it never did), I learned that my job was to simply to show up and bring my best game. When I booked five to 10 percent of the jobs I was up for, I knew I was doing well. As writers, pleasing a small percent of readers is pretty darn awesome! We can’t make everyone happy, but we can satisfy the heck out of some. And each negative response from a publisher, agent, editor and reader is one “no” closer to a positive.

3. It’s not personal. When I was transitioning from modeling to acting, I auditioned for many roles that specifically called for models (who could “handle dialogue” LOL). I studied my BUTT off for a lead in an oh-so-Shakespearean piece entitled Zombie Strippers. I came close to booking it when a celebrity entered the equation and POOF! Gone were my half-naked zombie dreams… *sigh* Maybe the celeb had some serious acting chops, but regardless, I knew the decision wasn’t personal. She would draw in far more cash than a no-name actress. Many decisions affecting writers function similarly. Harsh feedback often has very little to do with us, and critical feedback can help us grow if we let it.

4. Fake (some of) it until you make it. When I was in the thick of the high-fashion world—New York, Paris, etc.—I knew extremely few confident models. The industry attracts women with insecurities. But we could all fake it. We had to, or we’d never book a job. Over time, most of us could “turn it on” when necessary. I believe that we’re writers the second we decide to be and start writing. (Forget “aspiring.” I’d rather perspire. And more importantly, WRITE.) I’m not suggesting dishonesty, but I do think that we occasionally have to believe that we’re stronger and more capable than we realize. Very likely, we are.

5. Writers are damn lucky! A fellow approached me at the gym the other day and asked what I was working on.  (As usual, my elliptical machine dashboard was a mess of pages and pens.) I explained that I was editing. “Oh, you’re a writer. You really missed the boat. You could’ve been a model or actress.” He probably meant it as a compliment, but honestly, writing is many steps up from modeling and always has been. Models are seldom praised for who they are and what they do. Dependent on others, they’re like canvases on which others’ art appears. That’s fun and all, but as writers, we’re artists! How incredibly cool is that? Artists change the world, man. I don’t care if I sound like a weed-smoking cheese ball; it’s true. (I’ve never smoked weed, Mom. Don’t worry!) When we cherish what we do, we’re better able to make the most of it.

What do you think? Do any of these lessons resonate with you? How has your past career prepared you for writing?

Mini Muses: What’s On Your Writing Desk?

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Albert Einstein

Great question, Al! I don’t know many writers without somewhat cluttered desks. Mine’s cluttered and I don’t even have one, technically. My “desk” more often looks like this:

IMG_2306

Or this:

**Potentially dangerous. Do not try this at home!**

**Potentially dangerous. Do not try this at home!**

Or…this:

August zoo

“Don’t bug me – I’m WRITING!”

I read a fun Writer’s Digest article recently on items various authors keep on their desks for inspiration. J.T. Ellison has a sign near hers that reads: There are no rules except those you create, page by page. The sage advice helped her complete her first novel. Gregory Frost keeps a coyote figurine nearby because he sees coyotes as analogous to wirters; both create but almost always at our own expense, he said, and almost always out of desire, without pondering the consequences. (Hmm… Interesting!)

It struck me as I read that while I don’t have a desk per say, I am inspired by keepsakes. I’m also prone to losing office essentials, like guitar picks and pens… So! I created a non-desktop on my piano. And I have to say, I am digging it! Here it is so far:

photo-105The quote is one of my favorites, and music is where I go when I’m lost for words or need clarity. My parents’ wedding photo reminds me of the familial love I’m continually grateful for. Like art, elephants remind me of all that’s beautiful in the world. Like writers, they’re precious, sensitive, intuitive creatures. The flower reminds me that beauty changes and crystalizes over time, but doesn’t die, and the pens—oh, the pens! I just love them.

I’d love to hear about your workspace. Do you have a writing desk? What objects inspire you? 

Blogging Alternatives for Authors: Choosing Your Stage and Microphone

As many of you know, I’m a diehard blogging fan. Approached well, it can broaden our readership, strengthen our writing, introduce us to fabulous friends, make us more appealing to industry pros and help us land freelance gigs. If you’re a blog-o-holic fellow fan, you’re probably nodding your head right now. Others of you, I suspect, are somewhat skeptical.

I led a blogging workshop at a conference recently and asked, “Who here has a blog?” Most every attendee raised a hand. When I prompted them to keep their hand up if they enjoy the process, all but one shot down.

I realize that not all aspects of writing are pleasurable, but I believe that many can be. I also believe that forcing ourselves to partake in optional activities we detest can work against us. Regardless, blogging isn’t for everyone.

Blog choices

We’re crazy-fortunate to be writers in a day rich with freedom and opportunity. The question isn’t if we’ll be published, but when and how. We also have a broad range of choices when it comes to book marketing, branding and the beloved author platform. (Note the sarcasm; I know few authors who jump up and down at the sound of the P-word.) I view “brand” simply as who we are—as people and writers, and “platform” as the stage and microphone we use to share ourselves and our work. The more we’re read, heard, seen and/or appreciated, the stronger our “stage,” “microphone” and audience become. And there’s no one or “right” way to enhance or utilize any of them.

When To Make Changes, Quit or Avoid Blogging

If you don’t enjoy blogging, you may want to consider tweaking your habits and approach. If you loathe it regardless, why do it? Hating blogging, but forcing ourselves to do it anyway, is a lot like following a tasteless diet and tedious exercise routine, in my opinion. It won’t stick, provide lasting results or prove worthwhile. We may even go bonkers in the process.

I’d also suggest not blogging, or seriously shifting your habits, if it’s taken priority over your primary writing—unless you’d prefer to build a blog in lieu of books. You may also be rockin’ your author platform without blogging, or detest the notion of even starting. While no one tool or medium works for everyone, it’s important that we present ourselves somewhere–preferably beyond our living rooms. If blogging isn’t your cup of novel-tea (ba-dump), I’d suggest the following:

5 Alternatives to Blogging for Author Platform Building

1. Rely on other social media platforms. I’ve heard Facebook and Twitter called micro-blogging, and for good reason. They, and other social media platforms, offer many of the same benefits blogging can—if we use them consistently, present ourselves authentically and avoid telemarketer “BUY MY STUFF!” techniques. (Thank goodness those don’t work. Blech.) If you’re unsure as to which platform to focus on, experimenting with a variety can help. For tips on using Google+ for building your platform, check out Marcy Kennedy’s post on Jane Friedman’s blog. For Twitter basics, InkyGirl’s free Writer’s Guide is groovy. To learn the benefits of Facebook pages versus personal profiles, check out Lisa Hall-Wilson’s post on Jami Gold’s blog.

2. Write guest posts for other blogs. Guest posts build content much the way personal blogs do, and introduce new readers to our voice and work. They can also make nice additions to our main author and social media sites. (If you’re on Pinterest, for example, create an interview/guest post board.) For best results, choose blogs you appear on wisely. There are loads of fantastic blogs out there—well-written, compelling sites with interactive readers and lofty readership. Countless others have lower-quality posts, very few followers and little interactivity. Before seeking or accepting a guest post opportunity, ask for demographics and stats, unless you have a good grasp of and respect for the blog’s content already. We can also learn a lot about a blog by skimming through posts, comments and social media shares.

3. Read, follow and interact with authors who do blog. Blogging isn’t the only way to engage in the blogging community, in which there is tremendous value for authors. (It’s one of the most supportive writing communities I feel we have access to.) Make sure you have a Gravatar profile, so that your photo and profile link accompany your comments when applicable, then seek out and read blogs that strike you. Sharing links to posts we find compelling on social media helps us, the post creator and readers who benefit from the links. When we share valuable content, we attract like-minded followers.

4. Contribute stories, articles and pitches to magazines, journals, contests and websites. Being findable on search engines and having plentiful online content are major blogging perks. We can get these same advantages by contributing stories and articles—paid or not—to print and online publications. (Exposure and experience are valuable “pay,” particularly in our early days.) Short stories can boost book sales, by serving as leverage during price-drop promotions and adding to our body of work. (A reader who loves your short story will be more likely to buy your books, and vice versa.) Entering writing contests can help instill deadlines—another perk of blogging. Winning brings us recognition, enhancing our reputation.

5. Write awesome book after awesome book, and team up with fantabulous reps and/or marketing gurus. I believe that high-quality work attracts and breeds success, regardless of what we do otherwise—and obviously, writing book after book is vital for all career-oriented writers. On occasion, a book does so well with readers or publishing pros, word-of-mouth (including others’ social media) and/or a powerful marketing force takes care of the whole shegang. If you can manage and enjoy that, kudos! Sadly, most of us aren’t so lucky. The harder we work, and the more high-quality work we produce, the better off we’ll be. Meanwhile, if we’re resistant to blogging and other social media, we best team up with qualified others who aren’t.

Speaking of blogging writers, a group of us are highlighting a special one today. Susie Lindau, a prolific blogger I’m honored to call friend, is facing breast cancer with courage, heart and humor. Please take a peek at her latest post, The Boob Report: Laughter is the Best Medicine, and you’ll see what I mean. ♥ She’ll inspire you, whether you’ve joined the blogosphere or not.

Susie gang 2

Lynn Kelley, Susie Lindau, Debra Eve, me and Debra Kristi

How do you feel about blogging? Any alternatives to add? What’s your preferred method of platform building, on or offline? Or would you rather hide away in a remote cabin, type-typing away? (We all have days like that!)

Smash the Tomatoes: Dealing with Bad Reviews

Not long after my book released, I ran into an acquaintance in Hollywood. “I saw your book on Amazon,” he said. “Sorry about the reviews. Man, that must suck!” (Geez. Nice seeing you, too!) At the time, I had two critical reviews, and over 20 positive. If there’s one thing we can be certain of about reviews, it’s that the doozies will stand out.

A friend and fellow writer recently asked me how I deal with bad reviews. I’m so glad she did, as I consider myself somewhat of an expert. 😉 I’ve likened my brain to a teflon pan when it comes to rejection and criticism, thanks to my acting and modeling days. I learned early on that my job was simply to do my best, and view gigs and pay as frosting that would eventually come if I kept at it. I still believe that.

I expected some harsh reviews and mixed feelings on my novel. I write about controversial topics in arguably unconventional ways. Writing the stories I’m compelled to write matters more to me than writing a “safe” book, or aiming to please the masses. I seem tough, right? Grrr… I can deal!

Tiger blog

Well, usually. I let a couple of reviews bother me early on. One, in particular, seemed snarky and cutting. Like obsessing over a tiny blemish on an otherwise blemish-free face, they seemed to grow and fester. “It’s all anyone will see!” No, but…

Let’s face it. There are some seriously sucky aspects of bad reviews. They affect us and others more than they should, stand out like snowmen on a balmy beach to anyone looking (geez, enough with the analogies!) and have the capacity to hurt longer and more deeply than positive reviews feel good. Blah humbug! So what can we do?

Plenty, in my opinion. I’ve found that a little perspective check can go a long way toward thriving amidst what can feel like a rotten tomato-throwing war.

Reassuring Facts About Bad Reviews

1. We all get them. The more reviews we gather and books we sell, the more likely bad reviews become. It’s generally part of the deal, and shouldn’t make us less like authors, but more.

2. Many of the most celebrated books gain a significant amount of bad reviews. Based on Amazon.com reader reviews:

When reviewers throw tomatoes, make ketchup!

When readers chuck tomatoes, make ketchup!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou 407 reviews, 66 critical (1 or 2-star)

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
590 reviews, 87 critical

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
961 reviews, 108 critical

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2,243 reviews, 256 critical

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larrson
4,107 reviews, 800 critical

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
19,468 reviews, 7,136 critical

The list could go on, and on…

3. Many bad reviews are badly written. Nothing against people with lower IQs or limited literature savvy, but I appreciate the fact that many of the best reviews I’ve read (of my own book and others) are well-written critiques, composed by sharp and prestigious reviewers. Snobby? Maybe. But it helps.

4. The “star” system is flawed. Do you know what the 5 star levels specifically represent on Amazon? No one does, because it’s different for everyone. The layperson  could simply be having a bad day, see the star system differently than we do (consider ‘5’ the best book they’ve ever read, for example), or misuse it entirely.

5. Some bad reviews are better than none, and bad ones may even help. People tend to review books they love or hate, which isn’t necessarily negative. Numerous studies have shown that bad publicity boosts book sales—familiarity and popularity being bigger contributors to consumer decisions.

6. Price-drop promos make bad reviews more likely. When we run a price special, some folks will nab it simply because it’s cheap or free. They may not read romance novels, for example, but download yours for free, dislike it solely because of the genre, then blast away in a review. Frustrating, yes, but it’s nothing personal or worth beating ourselves up over.

(**The promotions are still worth it—trust me. It’s easy to focus on the bad reviews that evolve afterward. Focus instead on the increased downloads and positive reviews that arise.)

7. At the end of the day, they don’t really matter. My agent hasn’t seemed to care about poor reader reviews, nor have publishers who’ve picked up indie authors for mega-contracts, production companies that choose novels to base films on, or loyal readers, lovers, friends, plants or pets. If anything, beloved fans will probably root for us even more—and possibly bake us cookies.

Turning Tomato Wars Into Ketchup

(That’s my Minnesotan/optimist way of saying, turn rotten reviews into something positive, and don’t let them matter more than condiments do within a healthy diet. Even Minnesotans don’t serve ketchup as a main dish. Ew.)

  • Read reviews in moderation. It’s natural to peek in on occasion, and to read all reviews early on. But I feel that our time and energy are best saved for worthier pursuits. (There’s a reason that many celebs bypass reviews—and their careers carryon, perhaps better so, for it.)
  • Refrain from lashing out at the reviewer, or pleading friends and family to make up for it with praise. These are great ways to attract more attention to our bad reviews, and get unfriended, unfollowed and dis-liked throughout social media. (Reviews will come. We don’t need to beg.)
  • Re-read positive reviews. Read them out loud if it helps. Print them out, or paste them on your desktop. Positive feedback should empower us, so let it. By letting bad reviews bother us, we’re empowering the wrong thing.
  • Remind yourself that YOU ROCK! We all have moments or days of “Oh man, I totally suck!” But you’ve written a book! That’s a huge, admirable, worthy accomplishment. And it’s probably touched more than a few readers. True artists carry on, with or without a few tears along the way.
  • Laugh at them. Given the proper mindset, bad reviews can be downright hilarious. (If you’d rather, giggle at Ketchup Man. He won’t mind.) Giggling at famous authors’ bad reviews can also be oddly therapeutic—if only because many are insanely off-base and grandiose.
  • Stay captivated with book-writing—not review-reading. The best medicine for hurtful criticism, I feel, is focusing on writing another book. Get lost in story; that’s what counts. And since your next book is going to be EVEN BETTER than your last, phooey on whoever made you feel bad. (Did I just say phooey?)
  • Seek support. If self-encouragement isn’t enough, reach out. Most of us want to help one another, and no one understands as well as fellow scribes.

Do you read all of your reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones? Any tips to add? I always dig your thoughts.