Mastering Your Author Headshot with Photographer Ken Dapper

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does your headshot say about you?

If you don’t have one, I recommend it. Here’s why. Most of us know the value of showing more often than telling. A high-quality, professional headshot shows readers, agents, publishers and others that we take our careers seriously. Featured on our business cards or information sheets, they provide visual takeaways at writers conferences, making us and our work more memorable. Headshots also give viewers hints at who we are—if they’re taken appropriately. Consider the following examples. (You’ll see why I’m using myself in a minute.)

You can tell by the first image that I write something dark or mysterious (i.e., thrillers). You may also pick up on hint of mischievousness. 😉 The image on the right suits multiple genres. Goofy shots of us hanging with pals work for Facebook, but even there we should use caution. Agents, publishers and others will probably look at your social media sites—so those drunken party shots none of you have (ha) should probably go.

Before I hand the blog microphone over to my friend, Ken, here are a few tips on having a successful headshot session—from the “model”/author perspective:

  • Choose a shoot time that works well schedule, mood and energy-wise. (Don’t start at 6am, for example, unless you tend to be perky then.)
  • Get enough restful sleep the night before, and fuel up with a balanced meal or snack. If your session is more than two hours, bring water and snacks along.
  • If you feel nervous or blah beforehand, go for a brisk walk or sing really loud in the shower—anything to cheer you up and get your juices flowing.
  • If you choose to do your own makeup, go with your usual “daytime” look—nothing too dark or heavy. (Unless you’re a goth author, and that’s how you normally look.)
  • If you go with a makeup artist, make sure they have headshot or fashion experience. If you’ve never met the person, you might want to bring a photo of how you look on a looking great, but natural, day.
  • Guys, you will need some make up—nothing scary, promise. Some moisturizer, powder and concealer is often enough. For more tips, check out Bonnie Johnson’s Headshot Make-Up Tips for Guys.
  • Look like you. Over-PhotoShopping or presenting ourselves in a style totally foreign to us is inauthentic—and it shows. Erasing a stray hair or blemish or tweaking the overall color is fine. But in my opinion, it ends there.
  • Don’t try too hard. Use your imagination to drift away during the shoot. Think about your book, your characters, your significant other… Anything but “Oh my god, I hope I don’t look stupid right now!” or “What should I be doing? AGH!” It’s unlikely you’ll drift so far that you forget to face the camera. And the last thing you want is to look stiff, frightened or posed.
  • In particular, don’t think about the photos during the shoot. This may sound odd, but it helps minimize self-conciousness—a potential awesome-photo wrecker. You know how we love characters with secrets? Have one! Look into the lens with your secret in mind… (Yep, that one. ;))
  • With digital photography the norm, you’ll probably have hundreds of shots to choose from. So move around. Make subtle shifts between shots—in your expression and body. When the photographer says, “Yes! Hold that!”, do. Playing around a bit is generally fun and helpful.
  • If you feel uncomfortable mid-shoot, take a break. Drink some water. Walk around. Tell the photographer how you’re feeling. It’s easier to snap out of awkwardness than you may think.
  • Have a trusted friend look over your proofs before deciding on your top picks. It’s hard to judge our own photos. That said, it’s important to choose images you feel strongly about. So as with many “writerly” decisions, get feedback then go with your gut.

Now for a TREAT. Ken Dapper is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He took both of the headshots above, and remains one of my all-time favorite photographers to work with. Since I couldn’t clone and send him to your homes, he’s agreed to share his expert insight here. (Thanks, Ken!)

AM: How did you get started as a photographer?

KD: I picked up a camera when I was in 6th grade. Over the years I shot as a hobby and really enjoyed landscape photography. I was lucky to have lived in great places growing up from SoCal to Texas and Alaska, so shooting was always an adventure. When I started acting and modeling after college I got to work with some amazing photographers in LA and NYC. That is when my interest really turned to shooting people. It just seemed like a natural fit given everything I was learning. I started to shoot my own and other models’ pictures for our portfolios so we didn’t have to pay photographers. I finally had the confidence and pictures that led my closest friends and agents to encourage me to shoot full-time.

AM: What do you love most about it?

KD: I love the freedom of photography on all levels. Everyday you pick up the camera there is something new to learn or experience, not only with the technical aspects of shooting, but with the subject matter as well. I also love the fact that ten people can shoot the same thing and come away with something so different. The freedom really lies within and trusting your choices in each moment as they can really make the difference between a great and OK photograph.

AM: What makes your approach so different from other photographers? 

KD: I think my experience in front of the camera has really helped my approach and knowing how to make the people I shoot comfortable. There is nothing worse than shooting with a photographer who is boring, can’t laugh or is not engaging. Knowing how to shoot is just a small part of it. I try to make it really comfortable and relaxed for everyone. I am a big fan of music and I always have it on. I often tell people,”We are going to crank up and listen to some tunes and oh by the way we’ll shoot some pictures too.”  It’s not the only way, but it’s what works for me and everyone really responds well.  Some Classic and Southern Rock, blues, country and everything in between always get the shoot jumping. Of course if you’ve got some favorites, bring your iPod.

AM: What common mistakes do people make regarding professional head shots? How can we avoid them?

KD: Too many people waste money by trying to save money. They end up spending more and getting pictures that do fit their style because ultimately hey have to re-shoot with someone else. Never settle for a photographer just to save a buck. Do your homework and find a photographer that you really think has great work at a reasonable rate and would represent your style.

AM: I hear this one a lot: “What should I wear?!?”

KD: Bring clothes that you feel and look great in, but stay away from busy clothing with stripes, logos or patterns. Stay solid and clean, and always bring plenty of choices.  You can never bring too much.

AM: How can we make sure our personalities shine and prevent looking nervous or “prom posing”? 😉

KD: Trust the photographer and the choice you made to shoot with him/her. The rest should take care of itself. If you settle for a photographer you are not completely comfortable with you open yourself up for doubt—never a good thing, as it relates to confidence.

AM: Let’s say an author wants photos for his or her website and book cover. Do you recommend getting a variety of shots? Or will one look work?

KD: I always recommend shooting a few different looks. It gives the client a chance to grow into the shoot and get more comfortable with what we are trying to accomplish.  I always give more to the shoot, even if they only want one look because I want the client to leave feeling very satisfied that they have enough choices.

AM: How many years will head shots typically last? 

KD: That depends on age, look and how you age. Generally it’s good to update your look every 1 to 2 years. Kids 6 to 8 months. When you dramatically change your appearance, like hair or body, then its always recommended to update at that time.

AM: How much should head shots cost?

KD: It really depends on what you need and who your shooting with. I think spending $400 to $800 is reasonable. You can always find someone cheaper, but really examine what they are offering and how their work stacks up to those at a higher price.  A lot of photographers are flexible, as are many business. So it never hurts to call them up and talk about what you’re looking for.

AM:  If readers would like to work with you or inquire about your work, where can they get more information?

KD:  At www.dapperphotography.com  Facebook…. Ken Dapper Photography.com  …. kdapper@mac.com or 646.456.6381. If you can’t reach me I will always get back to you within a 24 hour period, unless of course I’m home fishing in Alaska or on a surfing trip.

Great stuff, right? Ken would love to hear your thoughts and questions, as would I. So…shoot! 😉

The Bodacious Blogger’s Essential Ingredients

I’ve never been great at following recipes, perhaps because my first works of fiction were faux cakes and pizzas baked in my magical kitchen. (Okay, the sandbox.) My recipe ineptness has its perks, though. First, it’s made coming up with my own concoctions practically necessary. (I’m happy to report that they no longer taste like air or sand.) Second, it prepared me for writing, on the page and in the blogosphere.

Like baking a cake, there is no one “right” way or “perfect” recipe to achieve blogging success. But there are useful guidelines…

Essential Ingredients for Blogging Bodacious-ness

1. Authenticity. We hear this word a lot in regards to blogging, for good reason. Writing about issues and topics we care about, in our own voice makes for captivating posts. Our blogs should be natural extensions—or reflections—of us and what our brands represent. In other words, bake your own “cake” from scratch, using your own ingredients (your thoughts, beliefs, knowledge…). Readers can tell if we use a mix or swap the bakery label for our own. 😉

2. Readability. Ever looked at a recipe and felt so daunted by the tiny print, long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or lack of photos? I personally believe that posts should be as long as they need to be. Breaking up longer paragraphs with spaces, bullet points or photos, and using clear fonts and non-distracting themes can help ensure a comfy reading experience.

3. Takeaways. Imagine going to a cooking demo and leaving with an empty, ravenous belly. Might be okay if the chef was highly entertaining, but if not, your low blood sugar and emotional upset would probably prevent you from visiting again. Blogging works similarly. Giving our readers some sort of takeaway, be it entertainment, inspiration or how-to tips, functions like welcome and thank you gifts, bundled into one.

4. Supportiveness. When I was a kid, I loved going door-to-door selling everything from candy and cookies to 1-child plays. But I was weird. And have grown up since then. Not only is pushiness counter-productive for writers, but ineffective. (Thank goodness!) Supporting others creates connectedness and community. Visit others’ blogs. Follow those you find intriguing. Post thoughtful comments when a post strikes you, and share links you enjoy. (Not convinced? Read social media guru Kristen Lamb’s post, 10 Ways to Increase Your Likability Quotient.)

5. Effective Titles. Would you have read this post if I titled it, Random Stuff? “With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader,” Marcy Kennedy, one of my favorite bloggers, wisely said. For more of her insight, read Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success.

Bloggers Who Take the Cake
The proof is in the pudding, right??? The following bloggers bodacious supreme, in my opinion. They have their ingredients and style down pat, never cease to inspire, entertain or teach, and continually bring joy to my cyber-villa. I’ve awarded each blogger one of my cake concoctions.

Natalie Hartford takes the Pink Rainbowlicious Cake for bedazzling the blogosphere with her unique enthusiasm, color and pizazz. She’s as sweet as her blog is PINK! She spilled some of her fab blogging secrets here: Keeping Your Blogging Mojo Alive and Burning.

Tameri Etherton takes the Berry Yummy Oatmeal cake. She’s wholesome, fun and nurturing, with no need for added sweetener. Because Tameri loves happy endings, her natural cake has sweet surprises inside.

Louise Behiel takes the Sassy Salmon Cakes. Louise never fails to educate and inspire. Her gluten-free cakes are fortifying, like her posts, and delicious, much like her friendship and support. She recently shared 8 Steps to an Emotionally Rich Family, and drew a brilliant comparison between old-fashioned radios and kids.

Kourtney Heinz takes the Flourless Chocolate Cake for her rich writing skills and ability to savor every bit. No room for extra fluff in this writing woman’s life! You’ll see what I mean when you read her captivating post, Looking at Who You Were. Loved loved loved it.

Amber West takes the Fortune Cookie Cupcake for her entertaining, inspirational and grin-inducing posts. Her Friday Inspiration series is loaded with insight, and she’s consistently one of the first to lend a helping hand.

Susie Lindau takes the Crazy Cake. Whether Susie is giving us glimpses of her “wild ride,” throwing blog bashes or sporting flash fiction, her blog is a crazy-cool treat. Oh, and she’s also a mass murderer

Roni Loren takes the Hot Fodue Cake. Her novel, Crash Into You, caused more perspiration than the stairclimber I read it on. If you know what I mean. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2012, and her writing/blogging posts are some of the best. As for the “cake” portion of this recipe, that’s up to YOU. 😉

Nigel Blackwell takes the Blappleberry Pie Cake for his ability to blend education, entertainment and wit. His post, A Non-Controversial Sockumentary, is one of the most entertaining post I’ve ever read.

Jennifer L. Oliver and M.G. Miller take the (Practically) Instant Chocolate Cake, for Jennifer’s fine author interviews—her latest of which featured M.G. and his spectacular book, Bayou Jesus. Read it. Once you start, you won’t want to waste time slaving over baked goods. This whole grain cake takes minutes in the microwave. And it’s delish.

Debra Kristi, Coleen Patrick, Fabio Bueno and Ellie Ann Soderstrom take Health-Nut Choco-Copia Cake for their versatile mix of upbeat, inspiring posts on everything from mythology and HILARIOUS mistaken song lyrics, to family pets and sustainable agriculture. You can’t go wrong with these sweet tweeps. Ya just can’t.

So there you have it. My baker’s dozen. (Told you we bloggers can break rules. ;)) What blogging ingredients do you find most important? What kind of cake might your blog be?

****If you’re interested in preparing one of the cakes above, hop over to my Facebook author page and place your vote!****

Intuition: Tuning in Like Moms

In the spring of 2005, Rachel Schoger, a 29-year-old mother in Caldwell, Idaho, received devastating news from her doctor. After several miscarriages, she learned that her pregnancy was ectopic, and her baby had no chance of survival. If the baby wasn’t aborted, Schoger risked life-threatening complications.

After her first round on injections to terminate the pregnancy, Schoger sensed that something was wrong—not with her baby, but the diagnosis. She dreamed that the infant was screaming in pain inside of her, and demanded more tests.

Despite the thorough testing she’d endured, the next ultrasound showed a seemingly healthy infant in her womb. In January 2006, baby Seraphine was born. Though she required surgeries to correct deformities Shoger attributes to the injections, Seraphine is now a healthy six-year-old—largely due to her mother’s ability to sense and respond to her instincts. And as we’ve addressed before, instincts (those gut feelings) and intuition (relying on them), aren’t hype, but science.

For years, it was believed that women, particularly mothers, have stronger intuition than men. Although studies have proven otherwise—we actually come out pretty even—mothers have significant intuitive strengths, including faith in their abilities. In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, I say we celebrate them and follow suit. Are you in??? 😉

When it comes to mothers’ intuition, I see three major strengths. Moms tend to trump others in regards to motivation, awareness and action. They are expected to have strong instincts, trust them fiercely and act on them with gusto. Whether the chicken or egg came first here, I couldn’t tell ya. (No pun intended. ;)) Regardless, we can all learn a lot from mamas’ intuitive skill-sets.

Consider these examples:

#1: Imagine you’re a young, single woman heading into an upscale restaurant, alone. A man approaches and offers you a drink. The man is charming, yet something inside you tells you to say ‘no.’ But you don’t have other plans…and don’t want to hurt his feelings… And besides, you’d promised to get out and let loose once in a while. One drink can’t hurt. Can it?

#2: Now imagine you’re the same woman, walking into the same restaurant, holding an infant. The same man approaches. He offers you a drink, says he “adores children,” even has one of his own. When you hesitate he gives you a winning grin and suggests non-alcoholic drinks. Heck, a glass of water? You hold your child closer and give an affirmative, “NO,” then walk away.

See the difference?

A girlfriend of mine told me she never knew how much she could worry until she had kids. That “worry” is the same fear (“Gift of Fear”, as renowned safety expert Gavin de Becker would say) we all experience. Having kids heightens parents’ motivation to do and say whatever it takes to protect them, and, by by extension, themselves.

In previous posts, we discussed how fear and instincts can enhance personal safety and even save our lives. Trusting and acting upon instincts can also help in countless other ways, from making the right romantic and financial decisions to building successful careers. In order to follow our instincts, we have to sense them. Whether your instinctive habits are super-mom savvy or far from it, the following steps can help.

5 Ways to Make Your “Inner Voice” Loud and Clear

1. Keep a journal. I first read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way about 10 years ago while living in Miami. I was amazed at what those daily “morning pages” —3 pages of free-writing—revealed. Letting our thoughts spill out on paper, or other creative mediums, helps de-clutter and clarify our needs, hunches and wants.

2. Pay attention. Simply deciding to stay more aware is often enough to make our instincts roar.

3. Take some quiet time. Whether you’re trying to make a decision, texting while watching TV and eating dinner probably won’t help. 😉 Whether you have five minutes or 60 to devote to daily solitude, do it. If you’re not a fan of sitting still, take a bath, go for a walk or think while doing something fairly mindless, like folding laundry.

4. Talk it out. Little beats supportive friends when it comes to exploring our instincts. If your friend or partner challenges your inclination and you feel defensive, you probablyl know exactly how you feel. 😉 If they agree, it can be affirming. Your loved ones might even recognize what your intuitive voice is saying before you do.

5. Sleep on it. Yeah, I’m not great at this either, you insomniacs. 😉 But seriously, our minds work through problems while we sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken in the morning, knowing exactly what to do about a particular plot point or character in my novel after feeling torn or clueless the night prior.

In what area of your life do you most rely on your instincts? Have you responded to them lately? Any “mother’s intuition” stories to share? 

Body Image Myths and Walking the Walk

At the gym the other day I overheard two women discussing the importance of inner-beauty. Minutes later, their topic shifted to a fad diet one was following in hopes of landing a “guy like this.” Perhaps she was referring to the guy’s wit and intelligence. But judging from the half-naked celebrities they were gazing at in a magazine, I had to wonder.

Many of us claim we value inner-beauty and health over appearance. But if our values mismatch our words and behaviors, which speaks louder?

There’s nothing wrong with admiring physical attractiveness, and for all I know, the women weren’t terribly serious. But their ellipti-chatter got me thinking. While there’s no shortage of “how to boost body image” information on the web, I’ve noticed some holes.

5 Myths About Low Body Image

1. It’s normal, and thus “no big deal.” Common, yes. But poor body image isn’t any more “normal’ than having a perpetual cold or flu. Also like illness, cases range from mild, short-lived and annoying to severe, chronic and life-threatening. Chalking body dissatisfaction up to “normal insecurity” makes us less likely to seek solutions and more likely to fuel the growing epidemic.

2. It’s a female (only) thing. Not anymore. Recent research shows that over 500,000 men in the United States undergo cosmetic surgery each year—many opting for more than one procedure. Magazine covers routinely feature men’s “rock hard abs,” and “miraculous” ways to get them. In any given week, the latest Hollywood “it” guys likely boasts a physique as unattainable for most men as super model physiques present for women. And the stats on male body image issues are low-ball, because men are far less likely than women to reveal these insecurities.

3. It’s less important than weight control. Imagine if rather than resolving to lose weight or bulk up next New Year’s eve, we resolved to embrace our bodies as is. Sound foolish? It isn’t. Self-acceptance makes way way for self-care. Healthy weight and muscle tone are common by-products. But many of us believe that if we just lost those 5, 10 or 100 pounds, or grunted our way to a six-pack, we’d feel better, look better, be better. On the contrary, countless studies link physique fixation and dieting with binge eating, increased stress, anxiety, sleep problems, weight gain, depression and obesity.

4. It’s the fashion/entertainment/advertising industry’s fault. It’s easy to point fingers, but it’s more complicated than that. If we didn’t support these industries’ ideals, they’d change. They can’t function without our support ($$$). Some argue that we’re brainwashed. In my opinion, that’s passing the buck rather than sharing it. Stronger contributors to poor body image include the diet and weight loss industry (another public-reliant machine) and our upbringing—such as the behaviors and attitudes modeled by our parents and other role models.

5. “If I accept my body as it, it won’t improve. I’d probably go off the overeating/weight gain deep-end. And besides, I can’t accept a body that looks like…this.” If this sounds like a quip from your mental diary, I empathize. But I also know what it’s like to prove these beliefs wrong. Little is as empowering as turning self-loathing into respect. And unless we flip that dark coin over, we’ll never know what we’re capable of. If this myth applies to you, imagine taking all of the energy, time, money and thoughts you invest into disliking, shrinking or sculpting your body into your wildest dreams.

12 Effective Ways to Boost Your Body Image Here’s the good news. With awareness, desire and effort, we can improve the way we feel about ourselves and bodies. Not sure where to start? Consider the following.

1. Make a list of wonderful things your body does for you. Keep it on your refrigerator, your dining table, in your car—where ever you tend to experience negative self-talk.

2. Look away from the mirror and into yourself. The more we fixate on our appearance, the more we judge ourselves and others. Spend as much time as you need before the mirror. Smile at yourself while you’re at it. 🙂 Poor body image often symptomizes a deeper problem—work stress, loneliness, perfectionism, fear… Addressing underlying issues makes way for improvement.

3. Trash your scale. Weighing ourselves can seem like a useful way to track physical health and weight loss progress. But weighing-in often is risky. We’re likely to mistake normal fluctuations for undesirable loss or gain. And health is far more complex than our weight in pounds.

4. Trade fashion and fitness mags for something better. Yes, there are exceptions. But by and large, the images, ideals and tactics presented in popular magazines aren’t helpful. Read empowering non-fiction and fantastic fiction instead. Get your news from magazines and health tips from qualified sources.

5. Just breathe… In effort to present a flat stomach, many of us have learned to “suck in.” This interferes with breathing, which can increase stress and other problems—including body image. Breathing exercises, on the other hand, promote emotional well-being. To learn more, check out Harvard Medical School’s Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response.

6. Give back. Volunteering can go a long way toward keeping our personal complaints and stressors in perspective. When we fixate on our bodies and appearance, we are highly self-involved. Becoming others-involved provides a positive means of distraction and emotional gratification.

7. Fight negative self-talk with gratitude. Counting blessings is more fulfilling than counting calories or body fat ounces. Every time a negative, judgmental thought enters your brain—about you or others—jot down something you’re thankful for. Gratitude is powerful medicine.

8. Swap porn for empowerment. There are many way to celebrate and nurture sexuality while enhancing body image. Generally speaking, hardcore, mainstream porn isn’t one of them. Read the Vagina Monologues. Practice self-pleasure. Try something new with your partner. If all of this is way out of your comfort zone, seek guidance from a qualified sex therapist. (If you do watch porn, consider feminist porn or consider these tips.)

9. Eat a healthy, happy diet. Eating well provides a broad range of benefits, including positive body image. Avoid dieting. Instead, aim for a healthy, balanced diet that contains a variety of foods. Pleasure, flexibility and “gentle nutrition” are important parts of a body image-boosting diet.

10. Exercise, but not too much. Physical activity helps the brain produce feel-good chemicals, improves overall physical health and guards against low body image—immediately, according to studies. And you don’t need to spend hours in the gym. Over-exercise can detract from body image as much as staying sedentary. Seek exercise you enjoy. Hike. Dance. Walk your dog. Play with kids. For most people 30 minutes or more most days is plenty.

11. Pursue your passions. A sadly common thread among people with severe low body image is a lack of passion. We can’t fix body image issues and recognize or our passions when we are enraptured by self hate and illness. Even mild body dissatisfaction can hold us back. The more we focus on our passions the less likely we are to view body shape, size or muscle mass as top priorities. And the happier we are, the more attractive we are to ourselves and others. 

12. Seek support. Body image issues are contagious within families, classrooms and communities. Surrounding ourselves with people who over-value physical appearance increases our likelihood of the same. Seek friendship and support from others with positive values you hold and desire. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Self-help books, support groups and therapy are valuable resources.

So what do you think? Does your body image walk match your thoughts and talk? Any trials or triumphs to share?

GOF Moments: Could You Save Your Life?

My grandmother was sweeter than honey, as cheerful as a rainbow and trusting—arguably to a fault. In her later years, she watched every episode of Divorce Court in great anticipation. “How sad…” she’d respond to the verdict. “I wanted them both to win!” She never gave up hope, particularly in others. But even Grandma had her limits…

One day during a cheery walk near her home, a car pulled up beside her. As the window rolled down, Grandma smiled, assuming it was a nice man from a nearby retirement community she recognized.

“Hop in,” the driver said. “I’ll give you a ride.”

Grandma entered the car, closed the door, fastened her seatbelt then looked at the driver—a total stranger. After a silent ride, during which she scarcely breathed, the car reached a stop sign. Grandma didn’t hesitate; she opened the door and fled.

That story, though gratefully anticlimactic, has popped into my head over the years, inspiring wonder. What was my sweet grandmother thinking? What was he thinking? Did more than lack of familiarity prompt her to flee? What if she hadn’t fled, or if the man stopped her? In my favorite imagined scenario my Swedish, Hindi-speaking grandmother lures the man to an Indian restaurant and kung fu-flings him into a samosa fryer. (Hi-YA!) In a way, that’s what she did. Grandma’s actions told the driver she wouldn’t succumb to his desires, whatever they were. She had no need to look back and probably never assumed someone’s identity again.

The one time I sought more details, Grandma chuckled and offered me snacks. 😉 Alas, I’ve come to my own conclusions.

Trust wasn’t my grandmother’s detriment, but her strength. So she was a bit lax on the awareness factor. But once inside that car, she trusted her instincts and reacted. Her quick decision at the stop sign could very well have saved her life.

If you read my Life-Saving Resolutions series, you know how much I value awareness and intuition in regards to personal safety, much due to Gavin de Becker’s revolutionary book, The Gift of Fear. When I use my fear as a tool—rather than talk myself out of it—and react responsibly, I tell friends I had a “GOF moment.” I’m amazed at how many we all experience. We may never how much listening and responding to our instincts helps us, and that’s perfectly okay by me. 

One of many things I love about The Gift of Fear is its emphasis on people who overcame the odds, escaping their attackers to survive. Because I find such stories ultra-inspiring, I’ve decided to launch a new series featuring GOF fear moments. We can learn a lot from others’ experiences. Take, for example, these posts:

Stacy Green: Thriller Thursday: Personal Tragedy While this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it reminds us how important gut instincts are. When we feel creeped out, it’s for a reason.

Kourtney Heinz: The Cost of Distracted Driving No phone call or text is worth taking our minds and eyes off the road. The woman featured survived, but barely. And she and her family can use our help.

Natalie Hartford: He Watched His Grandmother Die: Words from a Survivor This heart-wrenching post gives a face and name to an issue that continues to run rampant, though most of us know the risks. Knowing without reacting is like not knowing at all.

Moi: In case you missed it, my post Lifesaving Resolution #4: Trusting Your Instincts, details the time I was followed home from photo shoot in NYC. Numerous readers shared GOF moments in the comments—insightful stuff!

What sticky situations have you managed to get out of? What “stop sign” inspired a turn for the better? Any GOF moments to share? I’m all eyes/ears. 😉

Fact or Fiction: 10 Diet Myths Debunked

Sorting fact from fiction in the nutrition world isn’t often easy. On the same store shelf, we’re likely to see books and magazines touting the latest “lifestyle plans,” diet tricks, super foods and diet “dos and don’ts”—all with contradicting messages. And while some of these publications are well-intended and contain some valuable information, many present mostly fiction, disguised as fact. Fortunately, many qualified health professionals—me included—care more about public wellness than financial gain or fame.

The following myths are extremely common and worth debunking:

Myth #1: Carbs are criminal—captivating, but cruel.

Fact: Carbohydrates are the body’s and brain’s main nutrient source—the protagonist’s BFF. Severely restricting carbohydrates poses a slew of health risks, including constipation, depressive moods, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and more.

Tip: Rather than avoid carbs, choose mostly healthy sources, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. (Moderate amounts of sweets or other treats is fine, and often beneficial.)

Myth #2: High-protein diets are weight-control magic wands.

Fact: High-protein diets are far from magical. They’ve been shown to increase the risk for kidney stones, gout, metabolic problems, long-term weight gain and cardiovascular disease. And while increasing your protein intake to 15 to 20 percent of your overall diet is important for building muscle, more than that hasn’t shown any benefits, according to the American Dietetic Association. There is one exception. A low-carb, high-protein diet (also called a ketogenic diet) has been shown to reduce seizures in some epileptic children.

Tip: Aim for meals containing a reasonable balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat. Particularly nutritious protein sources include fish, beans, lentils, yogurt and quinoa.

Myth #3: Gluten is a sadistic psychopath, harmful to everyone.

Fact: Gluten-free diets are essential for people with wheat allergies or celiac disease, which account for about 1 percent of the population. Avoiding gluten needlessly, on the other hand, which an estimated 23 percent of Americans are currently doing, can make way for nutrient deficiencies and weight gain.

Tip: Unless you have celiac disease, Tricia Thompson, registered dietitian and author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide, recommends emphasizing whole grains and fortified cereals. If you have do have celiac disease, she suggests a gluten-free diet rich in folate sources, like leafy greens and fortified foods, replacing grain products with quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth and taking a daily multivitamin.

Myth # 4: Unless you’re a vampire, night-time noshing triggers fat gain.

Fact: Eating more calories than you burn routinely causes weight gain, regardless of when you eat them. Eating near bedtime, particularly large amounts, can disrupt restful sleep, however. This can indirectly lead to weight gain, because sleep deficits can slow our metabolism and increase our appetites. Eating spicy and fatty foods at night can cause heartburn, if you’re susceptible.

Tip: For restful sleep, leave at least 2 to 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime. For many people, a balanced snack, containing carbs and protein, enhance sleep. Useful examples include oatmeal made with low-fat milk, yogurt and fruit, a whole grain turkey sandwich, mixed nuts and a soymilk/fruit smoothie.

Myth #5: Certain foods have mystical fat-burning powers.

Fact: No foods burn fat. Activity does.

Tip: For improved weight control, amp up your fruit and vegetable intake and emphasize fiber-rich foods, such as beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, raspberries and whole grains. When you eat fatty or sugary foods, keep your portions modest. To burn more, move more.

Myth #6: Not skimping on calories works like kryptonite to Superman; less is best.

Fact: Our lives shouldn’t feel like The Hunger Games. We couldn’t eat, sleep, think, breath or move without calories. Overeating and under-eating can be equally damaging, contributing to a reduced metabolism, brittle bones, excessive body fat and cardiovascular problems over time. What matters is what we gain from our calories (energy and nutrients) and that we consume appropriate amounts.

Tip: Treat yourself like Superman/woman. In order to “fly,” we need enough quality fuel (in the form of calories) to feel energized and function well. If we overdo it excessively or often, we’ll get weighed down. With too little fuel, we’re paralyzed. (That is kryptonite-like.) Instead of loathing, fearing or avoiding calories, emphasize whole foods and aim for variety. Eating balanced meals and snacks and listening to our bodies’ “I’m hungry” and “I’m full”-cues promotes portion control and wellness.

Myth #7: Potatoes are practically poison.

Fact: Potatoes are nutritious. (And French fries aren’t potatoes.) They provide valuable amounts of B-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and fiber. They also provide tryptophan and complex carbs—promoters of feel-good brain chemicals and calmness. Skinless white potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they can cause blood sugar spikes. But even sugar-sensitive people, like people with diabetes, can enjoy spuds with ease by pairing them with other foods.

Tip: If you’re concerned about glycemic impact, eat potatoes—skin-on—as parts of balanced meals. Choose nutritious toppings and cooking methods most often and view fries as occasional treats (if you like ’em). Baked and sweet potatoes, seasoned with olive oil and herbs, are loads healthier than french fries or bacon, cheese and sour cream stuffed taters.

Myth #8: Fruits are so sugary, they belong in the Gingerbread House—not our stomaches.

Fact: The natural sugars in fruits vary big time from table sugar and other added sweeteners. Whole fruits promote blood sugar control—not the opposite. Fruit also provides valuable sources of water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. (Sheesh!)

Tip: Incorporating fruits and/or vegetables into most of your meals is one of the healthiest moves most people can make. To meet your basic antioxidant needs, aim for at least 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. But, the more the better. Research shows that eating 7-plus collective daily servings guards against heart disease, cancer and early death. So yes. Eat more produce. Please.

Myth #9: Swanky devils wear prada—and follow low-fat diets.

Fact: Our diets should contain moderate amounts of fat, or about 30 percent of our total calories. Our bodies rely on fat for tissue repair, energy and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K). Eating too little fat can cause brittle nails and hair, skin problems, mood swings, fatigue and nutrient deficiencies.

Tip: Incorporate moderate amounts of fat—mainly from healthy sources—into your meals and snacks. Since fat grams are denser than carbs and protein, small-ish portions suffice. Drizzle your veggies with olive oil, for example, or snack on 1/3 cup of mixed nuts or seeds. Other healthy sources include nut butters, fatty fish, canola oil and avocados.

Myth #10: Dietary supplements are so The Jetsons-esque.

Fact: As much fun as the futuristic cartoon made it look, no pill can fulfill a food, meal or day’s worth of nourishment in one fell swoop. Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace food. And taken improperly, they can cause a broad range of side effects and health risks. When we get our vitamins and minerals from foods, we get the whole healthy package, minus the risks associated with supplements.

Tip: Look to food first and supplement—with caution—when necessary.

So what do you think? Were any of your beliefs debunked? Any burning questions?

Saying ‘No’ — A Successful Writer’s Must

There’s no one way to build a successful writing career, but there are essential ingredients. One of the most important, I believe, boils down to two little words: saying no. Think about it. How can we produce our best quality work and continue growing, day after day, year after year, if we’re bogged down by needless obligations?

If I sound harsh, don’t worry; becoming selfish writing-only ghouls isn’t the goal. And supporting others and taking time away from writing are invaluable. But there’s a big difference between saying ‘yes’ to every request for a favor, lunch date and job offer, tending to others instead of our craft and careers, and obliging when it matters most. Each time we say ‘no’ to obligations that detract from our success, we strengthen our commitment to our work and step further into our dreams. While it’s not always easy, it’s worth it. And it does get easier along the way.

Seven Ways to Say ‘No’ With Greater Ease

1. Swap guilt for gusto. It’s not easy to tell your pal you can’t meet for lunch or walk her ferret. But if doing so takes away from your writing, is it worth it—even to your friend? If she asked you if you could “please walk Snoopy instead of progress as an author,” declining would be easier. So view it that way. Once you’ve made your decision, make the most of that preserved time. Productivity breeds gusto and kicks guilt in the keister.

2. Feel the twinge. When someone asks you to take time away from writing, listen to your gut. As some of you may recall, ‘saying no’ played a big role in divorcing my acting career. The more auditions and offers I turned down, the more apparent the right decisions became. Now every time a question sounds, I feel the twinge—a no-longer-subtle stir inside that tells me exactly how I feel. Awareness and practice strengthen our ‘saying no’ muscle. So even if you can’t yet abide by it yet, start honing in on the twinge.

3. When in doubt, take time out. When we’re put on the spot, we are much more likely to yelp, “Sure! Anything!”… on the outside. When your palms sweat in the face of a time-sucking request, tell the person you need to think about it. Or call them later. Or say “hang on!” and rush away to your private cave. Whatever it takes to give yourself that privacy, which often brings clarity, do it.

4. Weigh your options. How much time and energy would fulfilling the request take? What are the consequences of committing versus declining? Is there a way to fulfill the request and still get your work done? How much of your desire to commit stems from guilt or perceived obligation, and how much from genuine desire? How important is the task to the asker? Looking at a situation from all angles can help clarify our decisions.

5. Speak your passions. Talking about our creative goals, progress and priorities gives them breath and deeper meaning. When we say “I’m now prioritizing my writing,” “I am a writer,” or “I’m stoked about my loaded work day” (referring to writing), we’re more likely to believe ourselves and take our work seriously. Sharing our priorities with others also helps keep us accountable.

6. Sleep on it. Ever wake up with an epiphany about your WIP? I know I have. Our brains work through questions and conflicts during sleep. Sometimes the best way to recognize the best decision involves catching those zzzs. Try not to stress too much just before bed, however. Not sleeping enough or well can have the opposite effect. For useful information on sleeping better, check out MayoClinic.com’s Sleep Tips.

7. Hold yourself responsible. No one can make us take on endless favors, tasks and responsibilities. Blaming the friend who calls or the ferret who needed sunshine won’t do anything but increase our grumpiness. And probably other people’s. And maybe the ferret’s. We make our own choices, so choose your goals and dreams. Go after them like the protagonist in your novel, and never, ever back down. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own.

Do you overload your plate with non-writing commitments? Have you mastered your ‘saying no’ capabilities? Any tips to add or challenges to share? I’d love to hear your brilliant thoughts. 🙂

Healthy Snack Attack

Have you ever been so hungry you morphed into an evil witch? Rather than cautious, the driver ahead of you seems irritating-tortoise-like slow. No—criminal. And if she doesn’t get her act together soon, you might provide a subtle NUDGE. Or worse…

Don’t worry. If you answered ‘yes,’ you’re not alone. More likely, you’re normal. 😉 Healthy snack habits can not only prevent mood mayhem, but help keep our brains sharp and energy high between meals. Choosing mostly whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, also boosts our overall nutrient intake and physical health. (Sign me up, right???) Whether you’re a veteran healthy eater or taking initial baby steps, exploring a variety of nutritious snacks can go a long way toward fulfilling your physical and emotional appetites.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Yogurt and berry parfait
  • Fresh fruit and/or veggie smoothies
  • Air-popped popcorn, seasoned with natural herbs
  • Whole grain pita chips with hummus
  • Fresh fruit salad with yogurt or nuts
  • Mixed nuts—roasted or raw
  • Whole grain toast topped with almond butter and banana slices
  • Leftover whole grain/veggie pizza
  • Yogurt, topped with granola, ground flaxseeds or trail mix
  • Mini-portion of veggie chili or lentil soup
  • Snap-peas and carrot sticks with dip
  • Fresh fruit, veggie and cheese (or tofu) plate
  • Whole grain crackers topped with hummus and tomato slices
  • Apple and banana slices topped with almond or peanut butter
  • Natural PBJ on whole grain bread, English muffin or tortilla
  • Kale chips with salsa or hummus
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie served with low-fat milk (any variety)
  • Oatmeal made with un-sweetened cocoa, cinnamon, raisins and a touch of stevia or pure maple syrup

Baked sweet potato “fries”: Slice a sweet potato into rounds or wedges. Place on a pan, coated with olive oil spray. Top with spray and desired seasoning, then bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cucumber boats: Slice a cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Fill each “boat” with healthy tuna or chicken salad.

Kale smoothie: Combine 8 oz milk of choice, 1 banana, 1 cup chopped kale, 1 tbsp ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries and a tsp of pure maple syrup in a blender. Blend until smooth, then serve over ice.

Love cooking? Try these tasty, nutritious recipes:
MayoClinic.com: Muesli Breakfast Bars
EatBetterAmerica: Whole Grain Snack Mix
Mary Elizabeth Cohen: Tortilla Wrap Chicken Salad
EatingWell magazine: Quick and Healthy Smoothie Recipes and Tips
Sally’s Baking Addiction: Apricot Pecan Granola Bars (Vegan) 

And remember—your snack choices need not always be healthy. To prevent blood sugar imbalances associated with sugary and refined grain products, like candy, pretzels and enriched bagels, pair them with protein or fiber-rich foods. In either case, moderation and pleasure are important ingredients of all diets, IMHO. 😉

Do you consider yourself a healthy snacker? What’s your favorite? Any tips or challenges to share? I love hearing from you.

Cinderella Strong

Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation. Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views ier best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

  • Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.
  • The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.
  • The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.
  • The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.
  • Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.
  • And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? I know I have. I wrote this song while enduring a tough time. By the time I made this video, those “dirty floors” were behind me. I’d also started writing my first novel. (Its pages have a special cameo. ;)) I first posted this video last fall. Since only a handful of you saw it, I’ve decided to share it again:

When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

#Pinterest & Blogging: 7 Keys to Success

Like many, I was hesitant about joining Pinterest, particularly before the recent copyright changes. Though I dug the concept, it sounded like a time-sucker and more fun than vital. When I learned that it’s the fastest growing social media platform, a top referrer to retailers and appeals particularly to educated women, I figured it was time to research my brains out look into it. I’m so glad I did.

Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, according to a new Experian study, behind Facebook and Twitter. And retailers are not the only beneficiaries. Crystal Underwood’s tips-for-mommas blog leapt from 100 hits per day to up to 7000 after she embraced the virtual pin boards. Design blogger Jessica Colaluca, one of Mashable’s “21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users,” credits Pinterest for 35 percent of her estimated one million-plus monthly hits. And major publications, including Elle magazine, Martha Stewart Living and Cooking Light, are taking Pinterest by storm.

“We are seeing traffic increases and high engagement, and [Pinterest] is great branding for us to get our content out there.” — Keith Pollock, editorial director of Elle.com

Whether you’ve joined Pinterest or not, making your posts more “pinnable” can enhance your blogging experience on multiple levels. There are loads of ways to obtain blogging and Pinterest success. Read on for my favorites…

1. Fill your blog with high-quality content. Joining Pinterest will not automatically stimulate quality blog hits (i.e., readers who linger, comment, subscribe and interact), even if you post visually-stunning images. Why? Because successful blogging takes lots more than pretty pictures. Pinterest can help open the door to our sites. Posting captivating content will keep guests from fleeing to the neighbors.’

2. Be authentic. Many of us recognize that authenticity makes for better posts and more enjoyment for us and our readers. The same applies to Pinterest. If you’re not a foodie, featuring glamorous food photos simply because the images are popular is counter-productive. Withholding your passions and interests can have similar effects. People sense falsity, so steer clear of it. Pinterest’s updated etiquette tips say it best: “Pinterest is an expression of who you are.”

3. Give to give. Giving of ourselves also enhances enjoyment—ours and our readers. If you, and by extension your brand, is entertaining, provide entertainment. If your brand is inspiring, inspire. Have cooking, cleaning or photography skills? Share some pointers. Such giving attracts like-minded readers to our blogs, who will appreciate what you offer. In return, you’re likely to gain subscribers, comments and, when applicable, sales. This practice reminds me of exercise. Many of us start working out because we believe we should. The emotional benefits—better moods, sleep quality, energy…—keep us at it.

4. Get creative with titles, photos and topics. Using your authentic self to conjure up snappy titles, eye-catching graphics and topics you genuinely dig is a great way to lure people from Pinterest to your blog. It also encourages re-pins and comments. Just make sure that your post’s content is at least as entertaining, inspiring, though-provoking or delightful.

5. Use your own photographs or self-concocted graphics. If you feature stock photography in a blog post, the pin should technically link to the stock company—not your site. Creating your own photos and graphics allows you to convey precisely what you wish to, without infringing upon copyright laws. Adding your website address to images can help draw more eyes to your site, particularly if you pin a photograph without any text. (Check out my example above. If I can create graphics, trust me—you can, too. ;))

6. Keep your blog and pin boards in mind in the “real” world. I only recently signed up for Pinterest. Already, it’s opened my mind up to cool new ways to use it. I tote and use my camera more often and have been dabbling in graphic techniques. Just as life inspires blog topics, knowing our posts could appear on Pinterest can inspire us to seek out photographable moments that coincide. Best of all, the process feels more like fun than work—how life should feel, IMHO.

7. Support others. As with other social media platforms, rambling on about ourselves, our products or our work generally evokes one thing: annoyance. We all know how frustrating endless pitches from a particular salesperson can be. If you’d slam the door on your content if it appeared at your door, switch gears. Comment on, follow and share others’ fabulous posts and pins on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog.

Extra pointers:

  • Don’t only pin blog posts. Share and celebrate your interests. If your blog is serious, show your goofy side, and vice versa. You can also use Pinterest boards as tools to organize your favorite products, articles, books and so on.
  • Link your Pinterest account to Facebook and/or Twitter. Mine is linked to Facebook, which allows me to interact with people on both networks with one post. I then Tweet pins selectively. Experiment with both, then decide.
  • Invite your friends to Pinterest. Lisa Hall-Wilson and I both have group boards, which are a great way to join forces with like-minded folks. If you’re interested in joining my group, Writers United, drop me a note: august@augustmclaughlin.com.
  • To encourage readers to pin your posts, add a “Pin it” button to your share options, and a “Follow Me on Pinterest” widget to your theme.
  • Focus on quality and connections, not “the numbers.” Gargantuan numbers of hits can be fun to see on your blog dashboard, but it doesn’t mean much if people spend little time reading or enjoying your content. I’d rather have a handful of close-knit, supportive connections than boatloads of rapid clicks. Wouldn’t you?

I’d love to hear from you. Any of these tips strike a chord with you? Any to add? Thoughts on Pinterest in general?