Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On hiatus

Friends, I was shocked to discover that I haven't done a blog post in a month. The time has been flying like an arrow. I've been busy with first drafts -- completed two this summer, and in the middle of a third. Typically I work on one project at a time, from start to finish. In this case I still worked on one at a time, but opted to get all three drafts on the page before I needed to put all my attention on packing and moving back to the northeast, which is taking place within the next month. Yep. A big life change. I have loved the six years I spent in North Carolina and am going to miss so many things, including my friends, the weather, the city of Raleigh, and much, much more. And yet, my heart is telling me I'm moving in the right direction. (My head, of course, tells me I'm nuts.)

And so, I apologize for doing this again, but I'm going to have to put the blog back on hiatus until December.

However, you'll still be able to find me on Twitter and my author page on Facebook, where I've been posting little teases from my fourth novel, Adulation, to be released in November and available for pre-order now. Additionally, the audiobook editions of all four of my novels are also available for pre-order and coming out very soon.

I also recommend you check out a website called New Wave Authors, which features books, events, and blogposts by my fellow Amazon Publishing authors and occasionally one from me.

Take good care, friends. Happy reading, happy writing, and safe travels. Don't forget to vote in November.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

the writer and self-control

"Enthusiasm is the vital quality that arouses you to action, while self-control is the balance wheel that directs your action so that it will build up and not tear down."
The next lesson in the Law of Success sequence is self-control, and it couldn't have come at a better time. A friend and fellow author recently wrote a blog post about her experience with a reader who unfriended her on Facebook because he believed that, as a published author (meaning, as someone with a public persona), it wasn't her place to be political. I disagreed with his stance for several reasons, but there is a caveat, a reminder that the internet is "written in ink," and leaves a fingerprint.

What we say and do, and how we conduct ourselves, makes a lasting impression. And that goes for anyone in any profession. We have to be professional. We have to be responsible with our words and our action. Self-control isn't about restraint, it's about integrity.

Participating in civil discourse is vital to being a writer. There's nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on a personal page, be it political, religious, or literary. As writers, we are witness to the world around us. We need to be observers as well as participants if we are to do our job well. If we want to write about things we care about, we have to find out what those things are. We have to expose ourselves to things we don't know, don't like, don't agree with, don't believe in in order to figure out what we do know, do like, do agree with, and do believe in. And these things change over time.

In other words, we need people to disagree with us in order to strengthen what we believe so we can make the best argument (something I tried to instill in my first-year students). The key words in the above quote, the ones Hill didn't italicize, were "build up and not tear down." ("Balance" is also an important word.) Discourse and debate in this country have become destructive--they tear down rather than builds up. We seek to do the former. We seek to build up. We seek to construct.

Napoleon Hill goes on to say this:
"A person with well-developed self-control does not indulge in hatred, envy, jealousy, fear, revenge, or any similar destructive emotions. A person with well-developed self-control does not go into ecstasies or become ungovernably enthusiastic over anything or anybody."
(I think that last bit means stalkers need not apply.)
Writers, of all people, know that words carry integrity. It's how we express our opinions that matter, and how we treat others in the discourse.

We don't spam discussion forums, don't bombard people's Twitter and Facebook feeds with "Buy My Book!" all day, every day.
We don't camp outside an agent's office in an attempt to be represented, or send bottles of champagne to reviewers in hopes they'll offer a favorable review.
We don't pick fights with readers who write bad reviews.
We don't publicly trash other authors or genres. (We can have opinions about the quality of writing that disagree with others', and we can express them, but we can do so in a way that keeps our author ethos intact.)
We don't use ad hominem, strawman, and other logical fallacies to attack rather than argue. 

I want to clarify that I'm not advocating for writers go out of their way to not offend anyone. If I believe an injustice is taking place, then I speak out against that injustice, even if it means I lose readers along the way. Because speaking out about the things I believe in is just as vital to my integrity as the manner in which I speak out. If I clam up for fear of losing book sales, then I've lost much more.

Overall, I cannot sacrifice good citizenship for good sales. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

going viral--with enthusiasm, that is

I've taken a couple of weeks out of the writers success series to pay homage to some of my favorite people (who also happen to be writers), but I'd like to resume with the next lesson in the Law of Success book: enthusiasm. Rather than use Napoleon Hill's definition, I'm going to refer to another in the consciousness movement, Eckhart Tolle.
"Enthusiasm means there is a deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward. When you add a goal to the enjoyment of what you do, the energy-field or vibrational frequency changes."
That last bit probably sounds like a bunch of hocus-pocus, happy-crappy new-agey stuff, right? But think about it. Ever been around someone who was enthusiastic about a certain task, such as cooking or organizing a closet? The task itself not only became less daunting, but enjoyable. The momentum to do it shifted, and the task probably got done quicker than if you/they had approached it with dread.

Perhaps my favorite student evaluation comes from those who say, "Professor Lorello's love for writing made me want to love it, too. Or at least like it." Enthusiasm is contagious. It spreads not only to others but to everything we do, not just the things we normally like.

This is where the advice "Write the book you want to read" comes in yet again, because it's directly tied to enthusiasm. If you try to write a book by predicting the marketing trends, statistics of what genre readers like, or by copying the style of other writers, you'll only get so far. I'm sure I could attempt a vampire romance novel, perhaps even a mashup. They seem to be selling very well these days. But it would probably suck (no pun intended). Why? Because I'm not really into vampires. Because I wouldn't even know where to begin, other than a vampire who is remarkably similar to Ferris Bueller. Because I wouldn't have much fun writing it. It would be laborious, tedious, quicksand. It would be mudpiles rather than sandcastles.

The enthusiasm you have for your book will spread to others. They'll enjoy reading it as much as you did writing it. Ever watch a musician who is just having the time of his life on stage? Makes you wanna pick up a guitar and join him, even if you don't know how to play. Years ago, when I went to see Brian Wilson perform the Pet Sounds album, he told the crowd, "Listen to the harmonies in this one--they're terrific." We laughed, but we listened. And we loved it. They were terrific.

I find that so many writers (myself included) talk about the work aspect of writing, how hard it is. And yes, sometimes it is. But more often than not I find myself approaching it willingly, happily--yes, enthusiastically. And when I do, the time passes in a flash, the words practically jump onto the page, and I don't care whether it's good or bad. In fact for me, the "goal or vision" I worked toward--making a living solely as a full-time writer--was propelled by my enjoyment, my enthusiasm. My friends and family have called me whimsical, idealistic (even lazy), but I have often believed that work and play should be synonymous. That doesn't have to mean easy, but it should be enjoyable. It should be fulfilling. It should be energy releasing, not energy consuming.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (founder of Ben&Jerry's ice cream), said, "If it's not fun, why do it?" I've tried to live by that motto, but all too often I get caught up in the complaining, the rationalizations, the practicality such a statement arguably lacks. Maybe it does, but I'm a much nicer, happier, productive person when I'm living it rather than trying to prove it wrong.

I love being a writer. That's the bottom line. I love putting words together, putting my imagination to play, making writing choices, solving problems, and telling truths. I love reading and re-reading those words, and re-seeing and re-writing them. I love creating characters and recording what they have to say. I love alliteration, love amplification, love repetition. I love when language becomes the sandbox. I love when someone else loves what I've written, laughs because of it, and is inspired to write something of their own. I love that I get paid for writing. And I love that I get to teach writing to others. I love talking about writing, and even writing about writing.

We should all be so blessed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nora Ephron: a writer for all women; a woman for all writers

Most people know I have a freakish memory when it comes to certain events, significant and seemingly insignificant alike. But for the life of me I cannot remember the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally.

I don't think it was in the theater; in fact, I think it was a few years after its release. How or why that happened, I'm not sure. But by the time the credits rolled, When Harry Met Sally shot up to the top of my all-time favorite movies list, and has been there ever since.

To say that Nora Ephron was an inspiration to my life as a writer would be an understatement. In truth, she was so much more -- she inspired me as a woman. Few people know, for instance, that she worked in the Kennedy administration. She also broke through the male dominated field of journalism (although in those days, just about every field was male dominated), eventually writing for Esquire. She was a part of and wrote about the women's movement as it unfolded, and left her mark on it not only in words, but deeds.

And she was funny.

In her films and essays and articles, Ephron so wonderfully captured not only the transformative powers of food, but its effect on love, and vice-versa. Despite having a rocky love life for the first part of her life, Ephron seemed to be the eternal optimist when it came to romance--or, at least, she imparted that in her characters while exposing all the wonderful, comical absurdities about relationships that I so love to capture in my own novels.

Some fellow authors and I have been sharing good and bad writing advice we've received over the years. We debated over one that says "Write what you know." Nora Ephron took that one to heart (namely, when she wrote Heartburn, a fictionalized tale of the end of her marriage to Carl Bernstein). Manhattan became just as much of a character in her films as Meg Ryan did. She loved being a writer. She loved books. She loved cooking. Her characters were often journalists or cookbook authors.

I followed suit when I wrote Faking It. As I've share many times here and in interviews, I didn't have much self-confidence when it came to fiction-writing. I was more comfortable with the personal essay. So I thought: What Would Nora Do? and proceeded to rely on the superficial details of my life for Andi's. Italian-American heritage. Long Islander. Writing professor (which worked out in more ways than one). What's more, there wouldn't have been a Faking It had it not been for When Harry Met Sally. Because what followed the "what if an inhibited woman meets an uninhibited guy" was "and what if they become friends?"

In Julie and Julia,  there's a moment when Julie talks about the imaginary conversations she has with Julia Child as she cooks. That was all Nora, who often did the same thing--not just with Child, but other famous chefs of her time, some of whom she got to meet and interview during her journalism career.

She's not the only one. Many times I've envisioned the same thing. Nora and I have lunch (always lunch, for some reason, even though it's my least favorite meal, menu-wise) at some Manhattan bistro. (Or in the Hamptons. I heard she had lived there for awhile.) The conversation goes something like this:
Nora: I read Faking It.
Me: What did you think?
Nora: You know I wanted to sleep with Devin the moment I met him.
Me: Yeah. Everyone does.
Nora: I also think you probably ruined it for male escorts everywhere.
Me: I wouldn't know. I made all that up.
Nora: Neither would I. But it's fun to imagine it.

I would then ask her to explain the virtues of baking your own bread just to see the look on her face when she did.

At the end of lunch, when we parted ways, I imagined her saying this: "Have Meryl Streep play you in a movie sometime. You won't regret it."

I've imagined my novels getting the Nora Ephron treatment on the screen. Ok, so I never saw Tom Hanks as Devin (or Billy Crystal, for that matter) or Meg Ryan as Andi, and I can't help but think she'd re-set Why I Love Singlehood in New York City than Wilmington, NC. But I believe they'd be good. There are few others I'd trust to adapt my work.

And yet, I don't have to re-read my novels to know that they already have the Nora Ephron treatment. She's on almost every page, either in homage to one of her films (slight tangent, but "I'll have what she's having" was a line that Billy Crystal came up with), or her writing style and ethic. Nora Ephron was a colossal re-writer. Perhaps our ways of doing so differed (I seem to recall her saying that she used to re-write as she went along, which undoubtedly cost her a lot of paper, typewriter ink, and white-out in the days before word processing), but I knew we both wanted to make sure we got the right words.

Most importantly, if it wasn't for women like Nora Ephron, I wouldn't have been able to be a respected college professor, single woman, or published author.

I am sad that I'll never get to have lunch with Nora Ephron for real, and I don't know if she read any of my books. I hope/wish she had.  But I take comfort in knowing that she has left something behind for all woman. A glass ceiling with holes in it, a legacy of good writing, a few good recipes, and the mother of all fake orgasms.

I'll miss you dearly, Nora.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And we’ll sway in the moon the way we did when we were younger… (Reflections on life, writing, and my relationship with Duran Duran, and a birthday message for John Taylor)

The following post contains passages from a birthday message I posted on my blog two years ago. 

When I stop to think about the long-term, committed relationships in my life outside of family, I never could have predicted that one of the longest, most committed of them has been with a pop icon. OK, so with the exception of a couple of replied tweets in the last two years, it’s mostly been one-sided. Some might argue that as a result, the word “relationship” doesn’t qualify. But I disagree. In fact, my twenty-nine year relationship with Duran Duran—and bassist John Taylor—has been one of the constants in my life. Writing and chocolate are among the others.

John Taylor was always the band member who got the most screams, sold the most posters and pin-ups, and won the coveted button real estate on our denim jackets and pocketbook straps. I had a lot of competition when it came to winning John’s heart, but I had always claimed to have an advantage: I got the music. After all, I was the youngest in a family of musicians. My first words very well may have been “yellow submarine.” I could hear and sing two-part harmony by myself. I knew what a drum fill was, and understood technical terms like “reverb.” I knew what a Linn drum was. I even knew that John played an Aria Pro II bass guitar, that he played a Rickenbacker bass in the “Planet Earth” video, and how those both differed from, say, a Fender bass. I knew the difference between a demo and a master. I knew how long it took to mix a single song (and that the meal of choice after an all-night mixing session was beer and eggs).

Surely, at 15, I was going to wow him with this knowledge. But I never got the chance.

At that time, the age gap seemed so wide, so impossible to close. My first foray into fiction were the secret stories I used to write in which my best friend and I magically aged seven years, magically materialized in the right place at the right time (a.k.a., meeting the band and being whisked away with them to some tropical island), our hair and faces and bodies magically transformed to sexy and irresistible rather than adolescently awkward (and, in my case, overweight). Of course, they would all fall in love with me, but John would be the lucky one. Because John would win my heart. Better still, I would win his.

I wrote a collection of these stories—enough for an anthology—and what strikes me about them now is how much of a lifeboat they were for me. The mid-eighties were the most tumultuous time in my life. I had been raised in the age of the pending nuclear holocaust, but I hadn’t been prepared for the bomb blast that had been the end of my parents’ marriage, and the way my siblings and I all wandered aimlessly, trying to survive the fallout like in those post-nuke propaganda movies.

But Duran Duran was the band that famously announced they would be playing when the bomb went off, and they lived up to that. They gave me purpose and direction. They comforted me when I was in despair, stimulated me when I was numb, provided the exclamation point when I was happy. And they continue to do so. When I’m feeling good, I listen to Duran Duran to enhance the high. When I’m feeling down, I listen to them to cheer me up. And when I’m just living daily life, Duran Duran is the soundtrack to that life. And they still makes me wanna dance.

(I haven’t even mentioned what being at a live Duran Duran concert is like. That’s a whole other blog post.)

I’ve never shown anyone those stories. They’re pretty awful, writing-wise. Totally cringe-worthy. But that’s not the only reason why I’ve kept them under lock and key. To show them to someone else is to let them see too much of who I was desperate to be. There’s too much painful reality in that fiction. I’ve not even dared to peak at them in over twenty-five years. Yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to destroy them, either. Moreover, I’ve recently learned that I’m not the only one who indulged in this kind of fan fiction; a Facebook friend revealed that she and her friends used to do the same thing. A blog post by another fan shared similar stories. I’d had no idea there was a community of us, and I wondered if they wrote for the same reasons I did. The writing teacher in me couldn’t help but envision a present-day Duran Duran fan fiction-writing workshop in which, some thirty years later, we take our purple pens to our spiral notebooks again and write new stories. Why would we write them now? Do we even need to? What would they be about today?

For one thing, the age gap has closed. I don’t have to be older, thinner, prettier. I turned out OK. The gap has finally closed, and we have more in common than ever before.

For another thing, being whisked off to a tropical island with the guys is no longer a priority (although let’s face it: I wouldn’t fight any of ‘em off if that’s what they wanted to do).

It’s come to this: the adult me doesn’t dream about marrying JT as much as she does of sitting back and having a conversation with him, talking about the things that matter: love, family, writing, and, of course—always—music. I could talk about the music all day. Better yet, with the impending release of John Taylor’s memoir, we get to share the experience of being published authors. We get to be colleagues now rather than fan and star.

My stories today wouldn’t be so much about escaping to a happier place as much as it would be about nurturing the place I’m in right now, and making the relationship more mutual. John and the other bandmates may not know my name or my face or have read any of my novels, but that doesn’t mean I had nothing to give them over the years, or that they didn’t receive it. I paid forward the gifts they gave to me. I healed from the painful parts of my past. I grew into the person I am today. I fell in love with other people and places and songs and words.

They’ve influenced me as a writer, too. Perhaps the most obvious hint is that band’s song “Ordinary World” was the inspiration for my novel of the same name. And my readers can always find a cameo appearance by the band whether it’s a quote from a character, a faded photo in an old wallet, or, less recognizably, the album playing in the background as I type the words on the page. But really, their influence on me as a writer began with those secret stories—they were the first lies I told so that I could better cope with the truth.

Most importantly, the story I would write today seems less like fantasy fiction and more like a possibility, something that actually happened rather than wishing it so.

Perhaps the real magic is that I now look back on the eighties with fondness, with a sense of nostalgia for the John Hughes movies and the CHOOSE LIFE t-shirts and all that mousse, and I go there rather than back to that dark, lonely place I lived inside myself.

John Taylor turns 52 on June 20, 2012. He’s a happily married, loving father, musician, writer, and artist. He’s recovered from the eighties, too. He’s a vinyl record enthusiast, still a clothes horse, a reader, and a writer. He’s an author. And he’s good at what he does. And so, I wish him a happy birthday.

Happy birthday to one of my significant others. To my fellow author. To my ever-present companion. From your friend Elisa, with love.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

imagine that!

Jim Henson was one of my heroes. His imagination was constantly in motion, and when I look back at my favorite Muppets skits and segments, I can't help but think he was playing more than working, as were all the Muppeteers.

Every innovator has this quality, this ability to play, tinker, tweak, and piece together words, shapes, objects, musical notes, colors, ideas, you name it. Speaking for myself, it's what makes being a fiction writer so much fun.

But if you take a moment to explore your favorite books, films, songs, inventions, etc., you'll find that they're all the result of "rearranging old ideas in new combinations." Jeff Bezos rearranged the idea of buying consumer goods. Steve Jobs rearranged the idea of the personal computer. Jim Henson rearranged the idea of puppetry. Vidal Sassoon rearranged the idea of haircutting. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band album rearranged the idea of recording music (as did Brian Wilson with Pet Sounds). Madonna rearranged the idea of musical performance. Georgia O'Keefe rearranged the idea of painting. Suzanne Collins rearranged the idea of "good vs. evil" in her Hunger Games trilogy

And so on. In other words, we're not creating something out of nothing. We're creating something using the cells of something else combined with new cells.

As writers, our imagination is perhaps our greatest strength, the instrument we rely on most to complete our task of writing. We are constantly searching for new ways to tell old stories -- boy meets girl, girl meets boy, rags to riches, riches to rags, the aforementioned good vs. evil -- and more. We explore new worlds, new people, new relationships by first examining old, familiar ones. We aim to put words together in ways we haven't before. We seek to surpass the cliche, ban the banal, transcend tradition. We go into the sandbox of our minds with a pail and shovel, and build sandcastles, mudpiles, and look for buried treasure.

We write the books we want to read.

The world around us is our lens. We observe, witness, filter, and interpret. Inspiration comes to us spontaneously, often when we're not looking for it, when we're staring out a window at nothing, or driving on the Long Island Expressway at night, or washing off the day in the shower. We read our favorite writers, listen to our favorite bands, watch our favorite shows and films, eat our favorite foods, look at our favorite paintings, wear our favorite clothes. And we open ourselves to new songs, new books, new shapes, new ways of doing things. Our imaginations feed us, but they demand to be fed as well. They also demand to be listened to.

Authors need imagination to be successful, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, poetry or plays, no matter the genre. But these days we can't limit our imagination solely to writing. We now need to imagine new and better ways of reaching readers, of promoting and selling our work. We need to imagine how to make a living as a full-time author, complete with benefits and retirement plans. We need to imagine new kinds of bookstores, libraries, reading and writing spaces.

And then we need a plan to make it so.

In The Law of Success, Napoleon Hill says that every business, industry, and profession needs the dreamer. "But, the dreamer must be, also, a doer; or else [s]he must form an alliance with someone who can and does translate dreams into reality." Moreover, "Your mind is capable of creating many new and useful combinations of old ideas, but the most important thing it can create is a definite chief aim [italics his] that will give you that which you most desire."

What do you most desire?

For more on imagination, I highly recommend Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine, which explores how imagination works in the brain. Oh, and watch the Muppets -- the originals, with Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Compounded of Dust

I know "I'll Have What She's Having" has just come back from a lengthy hiatus, but given that I'm going on vacation for a couple of weeks, the blog will be off during that time as well. We'll resume the Writers and Success series next month.

In the meantime, I wanted to leave you with this announcement: I am so excited, proud, and honored to announce that my twin brother, Paul Lorello, has published his first novel, Compounded of Dust. Fans of Christopher Moore, Carl Hiaasen, Richard Matheson, and Neil Gaiman will find themselves in familiar territory. I've read this novel (and am reading it again!), and it is FANTASTIC, with prose as silky as fine chocolate, and a villain so diabolical he'll give you the shivers. (Ok, so I may be biased. Prove me wrong, I say with a smile and a wink.)

Here's the synopsis:
When Richard Garnier, thirty-four year old, tarot-loving milquetoast, wanders into Mothfield & Leech's Hardware Emporium and Thrift Store Annex, he has no idea that he will soon encounter blackmail, extortion, magic, murder, monsters, myths, and Mothfield—that would be Charles Mothfield, the dentally-challenged owner and proprietor of the eponymous shop. After Mothfield adds Richard's name to a list of clients stacked ever-so-neatly in his supernatural Ponzi pyramid of death, Richard finds the diabolical old coot will stop at nothing in order to perpetuate the evil that lies within, of all places, an antique icebox hidden in plain sight on the floor of the shop. Meanwhile, Richard Garnier's friends, his family—all are in danger of losing their lives, or worse, as Richard is to discover, their souls. 

Compounded of Dust is available on Kindle and Nook for the faboo price of $2.99. (Paperback edition coming soon.) You can also follow Paul on Twitter as well as on his blog, Curare Sundae.

Buy it. Read it. Love it. Share it. Post a review. "And may I say, Richard, that you've made an excellent choice."

Thanks, friends. See you in June.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

initiative: doing more than you are asked, expected, or paid for

The first lesson in initiative I received came almost twenty years ago from my sister-in-law, who advised me to work as if I was making seventy dollars an hour rather than seven. This attitude resulted in being awarded with increased responsibility, promotions, bonuses, and raises.

The second happened when I was a graduate student and a teaching assistant. My objective was not to "get ahead," but to immerse myself in the culture of composition studies, to learn how writing programs worked, and to be the best teacher I could be. Thus, I offered to do work for which I was not paid, volunteered to present workshops at orientation meetings, facilitated and participated in faculty discussions, and more. The result was that I was invited to be part of committees (something not typical for TAs), given opportunities to attend conferences, and approached to take part in various pilot programs. In fact, my colleague and professor, Linus Travers, would introduce me to university administrators as "This is Elisa Lorello--she's on a faster tenure track than most of our already tenured professors."

Initiative is doing something without being told or paid to do it, and following through once it's done. Initiative can take you far in life.

Do not mistake initiative for being someone's doormat. It's good to gain the reputation of being someone who is reliable, perhaps being indispensable. It's good to be the go-to guy. But if you're being taken advantage of, then you'll gain a reputation of being someone who is a pushover, who can be bought for nothing. You also don't want to gain a reputation of someone who "will do anything just to get ahead." There's nothing wrong with ambition. But if you're taking all this initiative and not getting ahead, or getting ahead by stomping on others, then you need to re-evaluate your actions.

As an author, I exercised initiative when I made the decision to self-publish. I had just finished writing Ordinary World, the sequel to Faking It. I had also spent much of the year querying agents for Faking It, and ultimately it was rejected. How does one query for a sequel when the original was rejected? The more I learned about self-publishing and POD, the more I believed it to be a viable option for me. For one thing, agents said they didn't know how to market Faking It. I thought otherwise. They also weren't sure they could sell it. As a former employee of retail sales, I was very confident in my abilities to sell a product I believed in. And above all else, I believed in my novel. Although I didn't know who or where my readers were when I wrote the novel, I was confident that they existed and that I could find them. Ditto for Ordinary World.

And so, I took initiative.

Rather than send out another batch of queries and hope for an agent to say yes, I moved ahead with formatting my files, designing a cover, publishing, marketing, and selling my book. I learned as I went along, willing to ask others for help and unafraid to make mistakes along the way.

As you know, that worked out well.

As writers, taking initiative means we take charge of our careers--we make time to write rather than find time to write. We go about organizing our own writer's group if we can't find one that suits us. We set our publishing goals based on our definite chief aim, and then execute them with organized action without listening to others telling us we can't, we shouldn't, it's not a good time, do it this way, wait and see what happens, etc.

One of the best pieces of advice I received from another author was to "get aggressive." Essentially, that meant taking charge of my career as an author. Rather than wait to afford a publicist, I took charge of my publicity. Rather than wait for someone to invite me to do a reading, I approached others about doing readings. And so on. Getting aggressive doesn't mean being pushy or shoving my book in people's faces; rather, it means taking my success into my own hands.

So, what's the nemesis of initiative? Procrastination.

Have I overcome procrastination? Absolutely not. For example, every summer the goal "re-vamp website" goes on my To-Do list. And every summer it gets moved to the bottom of the list until summer is over and I complain that I have no time to look into it during the semester, or I'd rather be working on my books, etc.

Napoleon Hill has suggestions to eliminate procrastination as a bad habit and replace it with the habit of initiative:
a. Doing one definite thing each day, that ought to be done, without anyone telling you to do it.
b. Looking around until you find at least one thing that you can do each day, that you have not been in the habit of doing, and that will be of value to others, without expectation of pay.
c. Telling at least one other person, each day, of the value of practicing this habit of doing something that ought to be done without being told to do it.
I started to implement "c" in the classroom midway through the semester. And although I may not have mentioned it every single class, I certainly planted seeds. And incidentally, it made me more conscious of my own behavior as a teacher, made me take more initiative in and out of the classroom. Initiative can be a very motivating tool, for myself and for others. It's contagious. I love when authors told me they took the initiative to self-publish after learning about my success (and I followed Stacey Cochran's initiative, so it's like a chain). When I get on a roll of doing things without being told or expected or paid to do them, I feel a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. And I am almost always rewarded--if not in cash, then in knowledge, satisfaction, recognition, etc.

Keep in mind that all these principles I've been presenting and discussing these past few weeks -- the master mind, definite chief aim, self-confidence, and the habit of saving money -- all work in synergy. Above all else, when you know your definite chief aim, the rest begins to fall in line.

Try the above suggestions for one week, and see what happens. Start NOW. I'll do it too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

one penny at a time: the habit of saving money

It comes as a sweet (and by "sweet" I mean "cruel") coincidence that the third lesson of the Law of Success, the Habit of Saving Money, comes just as taxes have been filed. Let's just say that of all the lessons, this is the one I need to master. Hell, forget master. This is the one I need to pass. And I presume many of us are in the same boat.

The most fascinating part of reading this chapter (remember, this course was published in 1928), was seeing Hill's recommended savings:
"A family consisting of two persons, whose income is $100.00 a month, should manage to set aside at least $10 or $12 a month for the savings account. The cost of shelter, or rent, should not exceed $25 or $30 a month. Food costs should average about $25 to $30. Clothing should be kept within an expenditure or $15 to $20 a month. Recreation and incidentals should be kept down to about $8 to $10 a month."
Apparently there was no Whole Foods back in 1928. Or HMOs. Or gas that cost more than a latte. Or lattes that cost more than an ounce of crack (and delivering the same effect, presumably). Or smart phones, e-readers, cable tv, internet, or Apple. A college education wasn't the norm, nor was it the same cost as, say, a one-bedroom house.

I tried to re-do the math, taking 21st century expenditures into account. I tried to imagine what Hill would recommend. Not an easy task. Many of these things are vital to our existence. But somewhere along the way, the basic need of "clothing" turned into the basic need for "shoes-with-a-heel-that-could-impale-someone's-heart-if-used-as-a-weapon." The basic need for "food" turned into an option between healthier organic food that requires a personal loan every time you buy it, and cheap food so chemically concocted it will outlive the cockroaches during post-apocalypse. "Shelter" included HBO, Netflix, and a package deal with Cable Satan that went up by $50 bucks two weeks after signing.

Of course, there are the guys that tell you to "pay yourself first," to put your latte money into a piggybank and open an IRA at the end of the year, to get rid of all those extravagances and get back in touch with nature and public libraries and (gasp) talking to your loved ones in person, things that don't cost a dime but provide ample pleasure. And this is good advice. Even Hill's advice is both timely and simple: "First, quit the habit of buying on credit, and follow this by gradually paying off the debts you have already incurred." Put another way, "The main prerequisite is a willingness to subordinate the present to the future [italics mine], by eliminating unnecessary expenditures for luxuries."

But I wonder, is this really easier said than done? Is it a reality that what we earn simply can't cover what we need? Or have we become conditioned to believe that what we want and what we need are the same things?

Nevertheless, we've got to save one penny at a time. Not just from a personal perspective, but from a business perspective as well. As writers, we are self-employed. For those who self-publish, we are sole proprietors. We are in business. All business requires working capital. And, according to Hill, "the saving of even a small amount of money places one in a position where, oftentimes, this small sum may enable one to take advantage of business opportunities which lead directly and quite rapidly to financial independence." He's not wrong. An investment in a stock photo, an ISBN, and galley copies of books was the beginning of my self-publishing career. The mistake I made was that I dumped this on an already staggering credit card balance. Fortunately, the opportunity to self-publish became very profitable, but it was a long time before I was able to pay down that debt, and even then I made the mistake of not putting extra aside, both for my business and my savings. It's a tough lesson to learn, because with it comes a sense of embarrassment and shame, not to mention a fear of poverty, of losing everything you worked so hard to get.

But here's what we've got going for us. These lessons, these laws of success, are synergistic. They don't work apart from each other, but are finely woven together. The person who puts all these lessons into practice, makes them habits or principles to live by, will have the mindset to succeed in any financial condition. In other words, truly successful people can lose their fortunes and make them back again. Take Steve Jobs, for example. When Apple, the company he founded, ousted him, rather than curl up into a ball he founded a new company, Pixar. Ok, so Jobs wasn't exactly penniless when he did so. But I would be willing to bet my royalties that even if he was, he still would've made Pixar the company it is today. A definite chief aim, combined with self-confidence, a collaborative alliance with others, combined with the habit of savings and perseverance (and learning from one's mistakes, among other things), can ultimately succeed.

But we've got to start. We've got to make saving a habit, not an afterthought. We have to put it at the top of our list and not at the bottom. We've got to take it off the top of our paycheck, and not what's left over, if anything. We can start small. Pennies a day. 5% of our gross pay. 1% of our gross pay. We can give up one thing each month and put it towards our writing business.

Before we can apply organized effort to our definite chief aim (whatever that may be), we have to make the habit of saving our first definite chief aim, and put that into action. This is my greatest challenge. Whattya say we commit to it together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

self-confidence and the writer: a little affirmation goes a long way

It happens all the time: I see the finished masterpiece, beautifully bound and perfectly published, ready to be read by the masses. My idea, the vision in finished form, has appeared to me during a long walk, a hot shower, a stretch of highway driving. I jot the idea down quickly so as not to forget it. I pat my inner genius on the back. "Well done, Genius," I say. "Aw, shucks," she replies. "I'm just the messenger."

And then I sit down to write it.


The masterpiece? Turns out it was a mirage, and all I'm left with is a blank screen or page. And my genius takes off her mask to reveal a trickster who, in a voice not unlike The Simpsons bully Nelson, just points and says, "Ha ha!"

I'm faced with that moment that all writers face, the source of all writers block: the fear that I am not good enough. That I was never good enough. That what I am about to write is not, was not, never will be good enough.

This might be the greatest obstacle in any writer's success. Napoleon Hill's second lesson in his Law of Success course is Self-Confidence. He says this:
You will find that the one who advances believes in himself [italics Hill's] and herself [I add the feminine pronouns throughout]. You will find that s/he backs this belief with with such dynamic, aggressive action that s/he lets others know that s/he believes in (her)himself. You will also notice that this Self-confidence [capitalization Hill's] is contagious; it is impelling; it is persuasive; it attracts others.

You will also find that the one who does not advance shows clearly, by the look on her/his face, by the posture of her/his body, by the lack of briskness in her/his step, by the uncertainty with which s/he speaks, that s/he lacks Self-confidence. No one is going to pay much attention to the person who has no confidence in her/himself.

S/he does not attract others because her/his mind is a negative force that repels rather than attracts.

I remember years ago, during my very early days teaching composition, when I attended a workshop in which I felt so intimidated by the talent surrounding me, so stupid in their presence, that I kept my mouth shut throughout. Had a camera been on me, I'm sure I would've looked like a deer in the headlights. And I realized that my students probably picked up on this same energy, for this lack of confidence didn't start at the workshop. When I shared this with my mentor, he earnestly assured me that "you belong here" -- in the classroom, the workshop, and the academy. From that day forward, I changed my mindset. I belong here became my mantra. I know this stuff became my follow-up. And, coupled with my taking the initiative to learn as much as I could about teaching composition, the change was instantaneous. Within a year not only was I presenting at workshops (and soon after, conferences), but experienced instructors were astounded to learn that I'd only been teaching for just a few semesters. They would seek advice from me. They would implement my ideas.

A little affirmation goes a long way.

Yes, I had done my homework. I wasn't just faking my way through. But it was the mindset that fueled the initiative, and vice-versa.

This same mindset propelled me to publish Faking It one way or another. Why? Because I believed it was a good novel. I believed it was a well-told story, with good characters and good writing. And yet, when it came to querying agents, I lacked confidence in my ability to write a persuasive query letter, and I'm sure that had something to do with the rejections I received.

However, despite those rejections, I knew I could find an audience for my novel if an agent or traditional publisher couldn't. Or, even better, and audience would find it. Because when it came to networking, I was already confident.

As writers, then, we need to develop self confidence not only in our craft, but in our selling of our product and ourselves. Say it until you know it; loop it in your mind; record and listen to it while you sleep: I am good enough. My writing is good enough. I belong here. How do I know? Because I've written good stuff throughout my life. Because I've sold a lot of books. Because I understand the writing process, and I practice it daily. Because I find joy even amidst the struggle.

Because the trickster, not the genius, is the mirage.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Want writing to be your career? Then treat it as such!

Those who know me well know this: I suck at multi-tasking. Ditto for time management.

Needless to say, I don't get much writing done when the semester shifts into high gear and I'm engrossed in conferencing with students, grading papers, and other teaching-related tasks. As a friend once described it, teaching expends a lot of "psychic energy," and she wasn't talking about fortune tellers. Not just because of the time-consumption, but concentration. I have difficulty focusing on or handling more than one project at a time. Conversely, when I'm engrossed in a novel or under the gun of a writing deadline, my teaching suffers.

It was worse when I had three 4-credit sections, four days a week (50 minutes per session). How would I find time to write? I wondered. And then one day it hit me: I have to make time, not find it. Even if for 10 minutes per day.

But it wasn't just making time to write. I had to make an even greater commitment in that I had to treat writing as a job-- one that paid, came with responsibilities and consequences, a schedule, and accountability. More still, it was a business. If I really wanted to make a living solely as a writer (and it was becoming more evident that I did), then I was going to have to start owning that definite chief aim by giving it the respect it deserved.

And thus, I made the decision: for the time-being, I was going to have two full-time jobs--teaching, and writing.

I've occasionally used the metaphor of teaching as my spouse, and writing as my lover. And many times it did (does?) feel like I was cheating on my spouse, betraying my students, consuming me with guilt, because I couldn't deny that I wanted to spend more and more time with my lover. But teaching was still the main breadwinner. It paid my bills, gave me stability, health insurance and other benefits. How could I walk away from that security? I've lived without health insurance. It's not fun. I was afraid to go back to that. I was afraid to go back to a lot of spaghetti dinners and buying clothes at thrift stores. I was afraid to live like a grad student again.

But was I really happy in this marriage?

And thus, I made the plan: I would gradually tip the scales in the favor of writing. It took years to happen. First, I went to a 2-day schedule (100-minute sessions) per week. Then, following my ebook success, I took an even bigger risk and reduced my courseload (I was still able to retain my benefits). And then, finally, I decided to completely jump off the cliff: resign from my teaching position.

Scary? Hell, yeah. But it's time.

I realize I have an advantage to being single and childless. Given my suckage for multi-tasking and time management, I can't imagine how writers with children (especially moms) and jobs find the balance. How dare I tell them to make time for their writing! And yet, here I am, telling you. If you have a burning desire to make a career as a writer -- as an author -- then put it in motion. Make a plan. Tip the scales. Treat writing as the job that already pays the big bucks, and watch what happens.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

law of success #1: definite chief aim

Unlike other milestones in my life, the decision to self-publish wasn't a "eureka" moment for me. I'd waffled for months before finally deciding that I had enough networking skills to get Faking It into the hands of readers other than my friends and family (almost a year before ebooks were the hot new thing). Even greater than my faith in my networking skills was faith in Faking It. Despite having once believed that I wasn't a fiction writer and not knowing who would want to read this story other than my rhet-comp friends, I had come to believe that I had told a good story, and told it well. And I believed with all of my heart that there was indeed an audience waiting for it. If the publishers didn't want it, then I'd take it to the streets myself.

So I did some research and decided on Lulu.com. I learned how to format a Word document to make it look like a professional book, and edited the manuscript to the best of my ability. I learned how to find stock photos, and used the primitive cover design tools at the time to make a cover. I went through several incarnations and mistakes until I came up with the "official" book.

And, with no working capital, I put all this expense on an already well-worn credit card.

Next, I went to work on getting the word out. I had recently gotten a Facebook page as well as a Twitter account. I blogged about my new novel (although by then it was four years old). I followed the lead of others who were finding success with self-publishing, and learned what I could about book promotion. I approached bookstores and tried to set up readings. It wasn't an organized plan, per se, but every attempt served the same purpose: get Faking It into the hands of readers.

I did something else at this time as well. I kept a vision board. (For those who don't know, a vision board is a tool to help manifest an intention. Want to re-do your kitchen? Tack pictures of your dream kitchen onto a corkboard. Want a house on the beach someday? A new job? A relationship? You get the idea.) My vision board included, among other things, a collage of writers I admired (including a photo of Andre Dubus III and me at Quail Ridge Books), slogans like "Go for it," and two strategically juxtaposed cutouts of "New York Times Bestseller" and my book cover. At night, before going to sleep, I would visualize Faking It on displays in bookstores, customers bringing them up to the cashwrap, sitting in coffeeshops and in airports reading.

Little did I know that that vision was going to be actualized, only the "bookshelf" was virtual, and the bestseller list was Amazon rather than the New York Times. And "getting my book into the hands of readers" surpassed my intention and imagination by leaps and bounds.

When I heard about self-publishing on the Kindle and saw Stacey Cochran's success, I thought, "Why not?" It was one more way to get my novel into the hands of readers. You know the rest of the story. All the pieces fell into place after that.

Here's what I'm getting at: The road to success of any kind begins with what Napoleon Hill calls the Definite Chief Aim, a central purpose or intention. But accompanying that must be "organized effort," a plan to actualize this aim or manifest your intention.

The key word in definite chief aim is definite. There can be no second-guessing when it comes to a DCA, no waffling or hemming or hawing. And without organized effort, the aim becomes aimless. Says Hill:
The habit of working with a definite chief aim [italics his] will breed in you the habit of prompt decision, and this habit will come to your aid in all that you do. Moreover, the habit of working with a definite chief aim will help you to concentrate all your attention on any given task until you have mastered it.
It took approximately two years from the time I made the decision to self-publish to the actualization of that vision board. Around that same time I had also made the decision to make writing my primary source of income (a story I will save for a follow-up post). That took even longer. There's no law that says your goals must be actualized in a manner of days or weeks. In fact, persistence is key. And the picture of what you want might morph over time, as mine did. Circumstances or events might cause you to alter the game plan, and that's ok. But your definite chief aim must remain intact.

A nonfiction book proposal is a great example of definite chief aim and organized effort in motion. An author gets an idea for a book. She then systematically presents the idea, the need, the audience, the market, and the plan of completion to an agent or editor. In addition, she provides an outline and sample chapters. In essence, she has just completed a blueprint of her brainchild, and a plan to manifest it. She has set the universal wheels in motion. Some fiction writers work in a similar manner, extensively outlining their novel before beginning to write it.

When I am asked how an aspiring author decides whether to traditionally or self-publish, my first response is, "Know what you want."As an author, set your intention: Do you want to supplement your income? Do you want the prestige of a traditional publisher? (Although some will challenge that such a thing no longer exists, or that the playing field has leveled.) Do you want to be the next Stephen King, or Amanda Hocking? Do you want to simply write your books and not get caught up in all that online social networking and promotion? Are you willing to wear so many hats of a self-publisher? Do you want writing to be your only source of income? Et cetera.

There's nothing wrong with aspiring to have the success of Suzanne Collins or Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King. There's nothing wrong with saying "I want to make a ton of money from my books. I want to be a mega-bestselling author." There's nothing wrong with a definite chief aim of joining the Kindle Million Club (selling one million Kindle copies). All too often writers are discouraged from having such lofty goals. They're immediately shut down by being told that such successes are the exception, not the norm (not to say that that's not true, but that shouldn't be a reason not to pursue it for yourself), and that wanting that kind of success somehow defiles the art and craft of literature ("real writers aren't rich"). And while I absolutely encourage writers to write what they love rather than what they think is a bestseller, there's no reason that they can't aspire for their book to be one and the same. And although there's always an X-factor to why books become successful, persistence and a plan (as well as creative visualization) go a long way.

I can hear skeptics tell me that I'm selling false hope to my readers right now. But I have too many examples of these practices in my own life (a definite chief aim backed by organized effort) to know that success happens on any scale. The trick is not to attach yourself to the picture as much as to the process.

Other tips:
Make a decision. There's nothing worse than waffling. I know. I've done it. Waffling is the result of fear--fear of failing, fear of poverty, you name it. Sometimes you just have to take the risk and make the leap. And sometimes that's easier said than done. I know that, too. But the very act of deciding brings with it its own special kind of power and energy.

And while you're at it, know why you want what you want.

Make a plan. This is something I'm learning to do in a more specific way, instead of making it up as I go along. Lately I've been really into the idea of the proposal. Write your own proposal, be it for a house or a book or to meet someone you admire. Write it for you, and show no one else, but keep it somewhere you'll see it, and read it often. It's ok if you don't follow the plan precisely, and it doesn't need to be so uber-organized that every moment is accounted for, but it should have some focus.

Tell as few people as possible. I am very secretive when it comes to novel ideas and works in progress. I also keep my vision boards private, and don't share my affirmations or talk a lot about my DCAs of any kind. I find that when I inadvertently announce my plans for something, I'm met with some kind of negative response (also inadvertent sometimes), be it laughing or discouragement or skepticism. Nothing will sap your momentum quicker. No one needs to know. The definite chief aim is yours and yours alone.

Be persistent, yet flexible. Your DCA may take years to actualize. That's ok. Stephen King got countless rejections before he sold Carrie (and were it not for his wife fishing it out of the trash, it wouldn't have been published at all!) The Help got something like 200 rejections. A Pixar film is years in the making. Setbacks happen along the way. Make adjustments, but don't give up, and don't let anyone sway you. If you believe in your book, or your business idea, or your Beetle, you'll find a way to birth it.

Be responsible. Mortgaging your house or going further into credit card debt probably isn't a good plan, especially if you have a family (yes, this is the "do as I say, not as I did" part of the program; but in my defense, I was willing to take the risk -- and responsibility for my actions -- given that I only had myself to support). And competition is a good thing, but unethically sabotaging someone in the process (like stealing someone's great idea) will only bring you trouble.

Know what you want and why you want it, make a plan to get it, and rather than adopting the attitude of "I won't believe it until I see it," make it a practice to "see it when I believe it."

Happy writing.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

mind-ing the business of writers

Aaron Sorkin has put these words into the mouths of several of his characters: "If you're not smartest guy in the room, then surround yourself with smart people. If you are the smartest guy in the room, then surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."

Napoleon Hill calls this "creating the Master Mind." Look at any of the most successful leaders in the last century, and you'll see that they are only as great as the people they surround themselves with. Any time you have two or more people collaborating their talents for a common purpose, you have a master mind.

When I was a TA at UMass-Dartmouth, I invited my colleagues (consisting of other TAs, adjuncts, and tenured professors) to the then-Uncle Jon's (now Mirasol's) Cafe once a week (usually Fridays, when we most needed it), where we enjoyed each other's company (and chocolate chip muffins) and talked teaching. We would discuss what kinds of writing our students were doing, what texts we were using, what worked, didn't work, ask questions, and seek advice when faced with a troublesome student or a problematic paper. We would also steal ideas from each other constantly (with each other's permission, of course). I have no doubt that these weekly "coffee klatches" made me a better teacher. Additionally, being a teacher and student simultaneously came with its own kind of enrichment (that more than compensated for the stress). There's something stimulating about being immersed in the very theory you put to practice on a daily basis, something that makes you want to do better, be better.

The same is true for writers.

Writers groups aren't only places to give and receive feedback on drafts in progress. They can be discussion groups of books we've read, genres we'd like to explore, styles we want to try out. And they can be a support system when you're stuck in that writer's mud. I enjoy talking about writing with other writers as much as I enjoy talking about the teaching of writing with other writing teachers. I enjoy their company.

My point is this: the act of writing is often a solitary one, but when it comes to the business of being a writer--specifically, a published author--to be successful, you must surround yourself with a group of smart, talented individuals to make your writing intentions come to fruition. (Of course, you need to have a clear vision of those intentions, but that'll be next week's post.) The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is especially important for self-published authors, who typically wear the hats of writer, editor, cover designer, publicist, advertiser, web designer, agent, tech support, and more. I was one of those do-it-all self-publishers, mainly because I had no money to hire others to do these things for me. When I give advice to aspiring self-publishers today, I tell them that one thing I would do differently is to learn more up front. If I am going to take on the role of cover designer, for example, then I need to learn everything I can about cover design: Photoshop, graphics, typeface, etc. That means either reading books, taking a beginner's class, or asking someone who knows Photoshop really well to give me a few lessons. Or, I need to come up with working capital to pay someone to design the cover for me, someone who's way better at it than I am.

Were I to self-publish today, I'd hire a cover designer and an editor, for starters (and I'd make sure I had the money to invest in them first). Why? Because another thing I learned from my experience was that I'm pretty bad at graphic design (despite having almost pursued it as a career when I was fresh out of high school) and good at editing, but not enough for the level of excellence I have for my finished product. I'm also not the best organizer and planner. I am, however, good at networking, and I'm a good ideas-person. I can contribute to the development of these things and let someone more talented execute them. That is also the value of a master mind-- the "mind" works collectively, in synergy. We all put something into the soup, or we stir, or even bless it.

As an author with a publisher, I still find master minds invaluable. Consider all of the following:
  • My fellow Amazon Publishing authors and I brainstorm ideas about improving websites, taking advantage of social networking and technology to sell more books, and just plain ol' have a good time talking to each other. Each of us is good at something. Some of us are better at some things than others. We all bring something to the table. Best of all, we cheer for and support each other, plug each other's books, blogs, appearances, etc. We are not in competition with each other to sell books; rather, we are in solidarity to sell books.
  • My fellow writers and I help each other get past stumbling blocks, workshop a page or two, vent our frustrations and share our successes. I take all my screenwriting efforts to my fellow screenwriters, who make them good. Why I Love Singlehood co-author Sarah Girrell and I can spend hours talking plots, characters, what-ifs. She is the first person I go to for feedback. My twin brother is another.
  • My relationship with my publisher is such that I am part of their team. It's not "what are you doing for me," but rather, "What can I do for you?" and "Thank you." That sentiment runs both ways.

These groups don't have to be in the same room to be effective. In fact, in each of the above cases, my fellow master-minders are spread out across the country, even overseas. Would I like us to be in the same room? Yes, for the selfish reason of enjoying their company and needing a hug every now and then. But we are every bit as effective virtually as we would be physically. Every single one of them makes my books the best they can be.

Your master mind can also be comprised of those who you don't know personally, but are still in a position to inspire or advise you. In other words, READ. Read whatever you can get your hands on. I never get tired of reading Stephen King's On Writing. I dust off my favorite rhetoric and composition texts when I need to re-charge my battery (and really should start looking at what's new). I take advantage of blogposts, articles, and anything else that keeps me in the loop with the publishing industry and success stories of other authors. I read screenplays, novels in my genre, etc.

No matter where you work or what kind of career you're in, a master mind is a vital and enriching part of your success. If you want to be better at your present job (or you want to advance your career), start meeting with your colleagues or others in your field once a week, every other week, or once a month, be it virtually or physically. If you want to do something more fulfilling with your life, start surrounding yourself with those who can help you make that move. Most important, come to these groups ready to contribute what you can. You always have something to offer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

a new hope

"Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends..."

Is there anyone out there?

Most, if not all, of you know that my blog has been on hiatus for at least five months now, coming out once to rave about The Way. Many of you also know the identity crisis this blog has had from Day One, it seems, despite my stating clearly that it's about writing and my being a working writer. I had decided that I wasn't going to return unless I had something I really wanted to say or write about.

Well, I think I've found that something.

I recently read a book called The Law of Success, by Napoleon Hill. Published in 1928, it is a 600+page course about fifteen shared traits of successful people, the culmination of 20 years of close observation of some of the giants of the time, ranging from Ford to Edison to Carnegie to Woolworth and many, many more. (Given the time period, it's rather male-dominated. There are also some references that, by today's standards, are rather politically incorrect and actually made me wince, but I can't hold that against him.) Despite its being over 80 years old, it's surprising to see how relevant the book is (and, moreover, how needed it is in today's economy).

While reading this course, I was delighted to find how many of the principles I'd put into practice almost naturally, albeit not in an organized manner. Parts of the book were eye-opening--not because the content was new, but because I was seeing new ways to apply it.

One way was in the classroom. I'd been having a rather difficult time this semester, especially with motivation (both of students and myself). The more I read this course, the more I wanted to be teaching those principles. And so, I found a way to do so while still meeting the objectives of the course. I tossed out the syllabus, and the remaining assignments, and wrote new ones. The change in the class, and myself, was instant.

Another way is here, on this blog. Specifically, I want to present the Law of Success to writers.

All too often, when I attend writing workshops, panel discussions, and conferences, I hear writers and speakers say this: "Don't expect to make any money from it." At one time, I was one of those people who conformed to this mentality, until I started to wonder: Why? If writing is my passion, the one thing I want to spend my life doing, why shouldn't I expect to be paid for it? Moreover, why shouldn't I make it a priority to make a living from it? Why go into any career with such a defeated attitude, especially before taking one step?

I wanted to make money. I wanted to make a living from my writing. And so I decided I would. It's taken five years to do so, but I'm finally at the point where I'm ready to make the leap.

What I want to do here is present the principles of the Law of Success, one per week, and tailor them specifically for writers. However, any reader of my blog, in any career, can apply these principles to their jobs, families, hobbies, goals, aspirations, etc. My aim is not to sell you a get-rich-quick scheme, to promise that you'll become a best-selling author, or to give you a formula. I do not see this as a self-help book, or a self-help course. Rather, my aim is to show you the possibilities, to awaken your creative spirits, and to have a little fun along the way (after all, say Ben & Jerry, "if it's not fun, why do it?"). I have, by no means, mastered all of these traits. But I am delighted to see how many of them were at work when I reflect on my own success stories, be it as a teacher or a writer. I'll be sharing those as well. And I look forward to learning as I teach.

I hope you'll join me for the ride.