Saddle Stools and The Man From Snowy River

The human body is NOT meant to sit down at a desk all day.  Early man was all focused on survival, gathering food, hunting.  They weren’t sedentary, spending hours a day on an ever expanding derriere.  I’ve got it even worse than many.  Apart from my regular 40 hours on my butt, I spend quite a few more writing.  It’s a LOT of time sitting.  Quite apart from the side effect of said expanding backside, there are other, bigger problems caused by this modern trend of spending all day at a desk.  Back problems.

Two years ago, I was in such pain, I sought out chiropractic help.  Pretty sure my mom is still convinced I went to see a witch doctor.  I had an inverted S shaped neck curve, what my doc called a triple harmonic (meaning I had three major stress points in my spine).  Several months of traction corrected the curve and made the pain go away.  I’ll be on home traction for the rest of my life to maintain those gains.  Which is fine.  And hella preferable to invasive and expensive back surgery.

I’m always on the watch these days for ways to take care of my spine and prevent further injury.  That includes getting up several times a day to MOVE.  Getting a lap desk so that my laptop doesn’t have me dropping my head to look at it.  Yoga stretching.  And working on strengthening my core muscles.

One of the other things I’ve been planning on doing is getting myself a proper desk chair for working at home.  For the last several years, my preferred work location was either the living room sofa or (in the new house) my favorite chair.  This…hasn’t been awesome on my lower back.  So I started researching ergonomic chairs and what the best options were that would be better.

Now I have a swanky ergonomic chair at work.  This $650 puppy adjusts in about 75 different directions.  And it’s still not quite right for my body (made for someone taller).  Plus, I don’t have $650 to spend on a chair for home.  The results I found were…kind of surprising.  I was prowling wayfair.com looking at their stools and was amused to see a saddle stool.  I mean, this gives whole new meaning to back in the saddle.  Being always a horse crazy girl, the idea of this delighted me, except for that whole doesn’t have a back thing.   But the price was reasonable, so I did a little bit of research about the benefit of this kind of seating.  Came across this article.

Perhaps the greatest health benefit received from sitting in a saddle stool is back pain relief that can often occur from sitting in a regular office chair for extended periods of time. Not only are saddle chairs helpful in relieving back pain they can also alleviate neck and shoulder pain along with related headaches. The larger angle between the hips and the knees at a 135°  is a much more natural position to be in than the 90° angle, typically associated with sitting on a traditional chair. As a consequence posture is improved and tension in the upper back and neck is reduced. The backless feature on saddle stools also eliminates pressure that is typically felt on users back from leaning on a back rest, causing discomfort while sitting and especially when trying to focus while working.

Um, yeah.  Sign me up.  So I ordered it with my birthday money, as it was affordable and will work with the super tall table thing I’m using as a desk.

OMG, it’s so comfortable.  I mean, I’ll have to build up to being able to sit there for my full writing block (as this thing forces you into correct posture and improves muscle tone of your core, which has to be built up), but as soon as I slide on, I can feel the pressure in my lower back release.

Plus I get to feel like I did as a little girl when I used my softball mitt on a giant stuffed dog as a saddle while I watched A Man From Snowy River (which, yes, I can still quote every word).  I love the idea of feeling like I’m in a saddle while I’m writing.  Excuse me, I feel the need to watch some Tom Burlinson (while I pretend I didn’t find out he’s not really an Aussie)…

On The Utility Of The Annual Writer’s Market

When we moved and I FINALLY deigned to get RID of a bunch of books I no longer needed or wanted, one of the things I remember seeing was a copy of the Writer’s Market. This is an annual publication that lists all the available publishing houses, agents, and trade magazines out there, giving writers what is intended to be a comprehensive guide to markets for a writer’s work.  I think my copy was from back in 1996…  Back at THAT time, this thing was considered to be a goldmine of information, a must have for querying authors because it narrowed down which houses published what, what agents were looking for what, etc.

At this point, given I’m already represented, this is all pretty irrelevant to me, but Amazon sent me a recommendation email about them this morning (no idea why), and it got me wondering–exactly what is the utility of this book these days?  In a world of social media and websites, where you can follow you favorite agents on Twitter or Facebook and have relatively up to the minute information on whether their inbox is open or closed to submissions, what they’re looking for, etc., why does anybody want to go spend $20-30 bucks on this thing that’s only good for a year at best, and less, given the length of time it takes publishers to get things out on shelves?  I mean, I guarantee all this information is available online for free, and more up to date versions of said information to boot.  So…why?

I mean, I suppose having the compendium to narrow things down to what you’re wanting to query is a starting place for making your short list of dream agents or whatever is useful to some.  I prefer the far more interactive version of TALKING TO OTHERS and doing my own research (and I REALLY prefer my method, which involves tripping and falling into a fabulous agenting relationship, when not even looking, but I can’t say as there’s a guidebook for that kind of dumb luck).

The current edition even includes a self publishing checklist, which I found REALLY strange.  It gives credence to that notion that those of us who self publish only do so because we couldn’t hack it in the trads.  I guarantee there are better sources of information for THAT.  But whatever.

I don’t know, I suppose people must still find it useful, or they wouldn’t publish it.  It just struck me as odd.

The Fallacy of the “Never Finished” Writer

There is this “fact” about writers that has been bandied about since, I’m sure, the first cavemen began scrawling on walls:

We are never “finished” with a book, never satisfied, never happy, can always find things to tweak.

Somewhere or other I heard somebody say this the other day, and it got me thinking that…that’s really not true for me.

Certainly it used to be.  Back in my pantsing days I had one book that I wrote literally 9 partial drafts of before finishing.  I kept thinking of ways to change and tweak it.  And it’s still buried in a drawer somewhere.  But honestly, I think all of that was more a product of my being a pantser at that time and not having a clear grasp of story structure than because of any innate dissatisfaction with everything I write.

But these days…not so much.   The work I’ve finished in the last three years, I’ve been really happy with.  Each thing I’ve written has been the best I could make it at that time (I would never publish it if it wasn’t), and even looking back on it, I don’t see anything (other than the occasional typo) that I would change.  Even in Forsaken By Shadow, the thing I got blasted for in multiple reviews (how they got into the military base being very contrived–it totally was), I look back and can’t see any other way to make it work.

I’m not sure if this is a product of the fact that these stories have been published and put out there for public consumption.  I have this mental space where I don’t spend time on stories once they’re done and out there.  Because as I’ve made abundantly clear, I never have a shortage of new ideas, and I am always excited to move on to the next thing.  I don’t mull over past projects unless they somehow have bearing on a current one (like rereading my Mirus stuff in preparation for writing another Mirus something to check my world details–REALLY must get on that whole Series Bible thing).

Am I weird?  Or is this whole “writers are eternal perfectionists that can’t let things go” thing just a fallacy?

The Best Side of Bad Reviews

I am actually NOT speaking specifically about a bad review of my work.  I happened to see a tweet fly by in my stream this morning from Jane Litte (the other half of the powerhouse team that puts on DABWAHA every year) of Dear Author where someone had apparently accused her of killing authors’ dreams.

Because, y’all, it’s true.

Bad reviews happen.  They can be hurtful, insulting, and make us want to do bodily harm.  As a rule, I have mostly stopped reading reviews because the poor ones put me in a very dejected frame of mind.  But there are still some I read (usually book blogger reviews).  I’ve been fortunate that most have been quite positive.  But not all.  Jane reviewed Red after DABWAHA.  Sarah (of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) loved it.  Jane didn’t.

And I wasn’t upset by that.  Because Jane’s review was well thought out, clearly laid out what did not work for her, and gave me plenty of food for thought about areas where I can bring more to the game.  It was not insulting.  Am I proud of Red?  Hell yes.  It was the best book I could write at the time.

The next book will be better.  And part of that is because Jane gave some really excellent constructive criticism that made me want to deepen my work and make it stronger.

If that isn’t your ultimate response to bad reviews (and I mean legitimate ones, not the troll-tastic ones), then you are absolutely not cut out to be an author.

No More Apologies

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of apologizing to readers over the last year.  Maybe longer.

I’m sorry I haven’t written Revelation yet.

I’m sorry there’s no sequel to Red.

I’m sorry I can’t write faster because of my two jobs and family obligations.

I’m sorry life has happened and totally derailed my already slow production.

You know, what?  I’m done.

Not that I am not grateful to readers.  God knows I am.  I wouldn’t have even the remotest shot of making a living at this someday without them.  And certainly there is this feeling for authors that when readers buy (and love) our books, when they move from readers into fans, that we are obligated to them to give them more.  And to a point it’s true.  We give them something they love and they, in turn, now have the expectation that we will give them more of what they love (see, really, authors are closet drug dealers, except our drug of choice is story instead of coke or marijuana).

Add to that implied emotional contractual obligation the current publishing climate (particularly self publishing) wherein there is this massive pressure to PRODUCE PRODUCE PRODUCE, where 2 books a year is not enough and there’s always someone out there publishing more and faster, and it’s enough to put a writer in the nuthouse.

I am grateful beyond measure that there are people out there who have taken a chance on an unknown and tried my work.  Even more grateful to the people who liked it and bought more of it and even went so far as to share it with others.  And I will own my obligation to give you more stuff you’ll like.

But I’m not going to apologize for my production schedule anymore.  I’m not going to apologize for the fact that life freaking happens and I can’t control it (and y’all, this is a freaking HUGE statement because I am a grade A, 24 carat CONTROL FREAK with extreme internal attribution style).

I’m going to write the damn book.  I’m going to make it the best freaking book I can make it.  And that’s going to take as long as it takes.  If it means I only get one book finished this year and it doesn’t get released in 2012, then that’s what it means.  Because I think what I owe to readers is an awesome read, not necessarily to give it to them faster and at lower quality.

Note: I feel compelled to point out that I do not feel that most readers are out there ready to throw rotten tomatoes at me for being slow or having life crap happen or whatever.  This is just the mental state I think some of us get into.  So this is a rejection of said mental state, not a rejection of readers or their expectations.

10 Things Writers Shouldn’t Say In A DM

The Twitter direct message (DM) is something that’s an integral part of a social media platform.  It’s an opportunity to reach out and connect with someone else because they have FOLLOWED YOU.  I’ve mentioned before that I have an auto DM intended to start a conversation: Thanks for the follow!  So are you reader, writer, cook, or general humorist?  Note that this is NOT about ME.  I’ve begun quite a few conversations with folks this way, but just as often (perhaps more so), I see stuff fly by in my DM stream that just leaves me shaking my head.  So I thought I’d share a list of 10 things writers shouldn’t say in a DM (auto or otherwise).  Pulled from actual DMs I’ve received (with a few minor adjustments), in no particular order [sarcasm absolutely intended]:

  1. Hi, thanks for the follow!  You don’t know me from Adam’s housecat, but please go Like my Facebook page. [Right, because you’ve invested SO much time in developing a relationship with me before asking me to do something for YOU.]
  2. Thanks for the follow. Check out my blog.  I need someone to read it {insert link}. [Really?  The pity card?  Do you really want to go there?]
  3. Thanks for the follow.  My book is available {insert link}.  [Because I don’t even want to connect with you, I just want you to spend money on me.]
  4. Thanks for the follow.  Let’s connect on Facebook {insert link}. [Because even though this is Twitter, you’re trying to drag you kicking and screaming to another platform I hate.]
  5. Is your agent interested in new clients?  I write [fill in the blank] {insert link to sample}. [C’mon, really?  Because you can’t do your OWN agent research?  This will not win you friends.]
  6. Hi. You don’t know me, but will you read my [insert genre that isn’t even what I write or read] manuscript?  [Really?  Do you have any idea how busy I am?  Well, of course not, since you don’t actually KNOW me.]
  7. I’ve never talked to you before, and I haven’t read the requirements on your website, but can I guest post on your site?  I’ll write about any topic you want.  [Stabbity.]
  8. Will you format my ebook? [Because you can’t be bothered to read my extensive tutorials on how to do it yourself–you’re so lazy you want me to do it for you.]
  9. You’re really beautiful.  [While this is probably just a lovely compliment, coming from strange dudes on the internet, it has a creeper vibe.]
  10. Join my Mafia Family [or other annoying, time wasting game] on Facebook.  [This is more an auto-DM spam thing that comes from linking your FB and Twitter.  Don’t do it.].

Going In The Wrong Direction

On an unrelated note, I ran this morning for the first time in two weeks.  Oh.  My.  God.  I felt every step and nearly puked twice.  Did I mention that once summer hits (and it has), the air turns to water around here?  I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep this up come June and July when the early morning temps are over 70, but I’ll do what I can.

So this morning (after the nausea inducing run), I cut a thousand words from DOTH.  I always hate doing this, but the first half of the scene I was working on yesterday was really just a rehash.  It had turned into a Little Darling, you see.  A moving scene between hero and his mom (whom I love).  But…it really wasn’t advancing the plot.  So…snip snip.

And then on the drive to work I sorted out the best way to approach the scene and spewed out a couple hundred words when I got here, just to keep it fresh.   So, win win.  There is a strong possibility that women will come after me with pitchforks for doing what I’m planning to do to this hero…

Over the last several years, I’ve developed a healthy respect for my gut because it usually tells me when I’m headed in the wrong direction.  Well, it’s a combination of my gut and my brain’s refusal to give me anything useful.  If I spend more than a day or so staring at a scene trying to figure out what to do with it, I’m usually doing something wrong.  It means some pruning back to the last thing that DID work, and then stuff usually sorts itself out in short order.

How do you know when you’ve gone astray from where your plot needs to go?  Do you have a gut sense?  Do you listen?  Or are you more inclined to muscle through to the end and then go back and fix it in revisions?  I’m always curious about other writers’ processes.

 

The Etiquette of Talking To Writers

As writers, we are often viewed by “normal” (read: non-creative types) as strange and exotic creatures, something in a zoo to be studied, fascinated.  People ask us all kinds of questions.  I am always split on how I feel about these questions.  If I’m being asked about my work, the world I created, the characters, what I’m working on now, etc. by somebody who obviously is genuinely interested, I get excited, because, like anybody else, I really enjoy talking about all those things.  This is my passion, and I love to share it.   I mean, that’s why I write, after all.  I want to share these stories.  If I’m asked the same stuff by someone who’s asking because they feel like they ought to, but whose eyes immediately glaze over two sentences in to an explanation of how I just got to the first pinch point and hero and heroine are getting their butts kicked, I wind up feeling bad, like I’m boring them, and then I wished they hadn’t asked at all, but instead just said “that’s interesting” and moved on to safer conversation waters.

I tend to have more of the latter conversations in real life.  Which is why when those isolated truly interested folks pop up, it’s such a joy.  One of hubby’s BFF’s was in town with his wife and kids over Christmas and we went out to dinner with them.  First thing out of her mouth was to ask how the work was going and what I was working on.  I totally wanted to hug her neck and cry because she was honestly interested and not just paying it lip service.

But there is one area of the whole writing gig that I feel is completely off limits.  Something I feel falls into the same dicey bracket as politic, religion, and exes.

Sales.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem whatsoever discussing sales with people who are IN the industry.  People for whom ranking and number of copies sold and profits actually MEAN something because they have a frame of reference for interpretation or because they’re using them in their pitches of your awesome to other people (that would be my agent, yo).  I talk about sales with my CP all the time as we discuss marketing strategies and such.  I’ve even made periodic reports talking about sales in general here on the blog because I know I’m a hub for a lot of indie authors and it matters to us.  But these are effectively intimate business relationships.  That’s where it ends for me.

Sales are not something I think is an appropriate topic of conversation with writers.  There is a family member in my life who only EVER asks about sales.  Every time the subject of my writing comes up.  Down to wanting specific “How many have you sold this week?  How many today?  How much money have you made?”  This, to me, is tantamount to asking to see into my bank account, which is just flat no one’s business but my own.  It’s never asked in conjunction with how the work is going, what I’m working on, or any of the legitimate questions, which generally makes me feel like, to her, my writing has zero value outside the dollars and cents that it makes.  It makes me really, really angry.  I’d rather she ask nothing at all than ever bring up sales again and it makes me never ever want to talk about my writing.

I don’t write because of the money.  Obviously, I love doing it and I hope to be able to do it for a living someday.  But the money is absolutely the least important part of the equation.  The value of my work is not measured by profits.  Not by me and not by my legitimate fans.  It’s measured by good reviews and fan mail from people squeeing over how awesome they thought this or that story was and OMG when is the next one coming out.  It’s measured by the joy and pleasure I get writing and by the improvement I see in my craft from book to book.  To ask about nothing but sales, to me, devalues all of the important stuff.

So writers, weigh in on this.  Do you agree that sales are a taboo topic to be asked about by non-writers?  Or am I being overly sensitive?

Finding Writers In Real Life

I am THRILLED with the turnout of support for me and for Red in the DABWAHA Tourney.  Remember, if you want to sign up for the special DABWAHA newsletter, you can do that up in the menu bar or right here.  Y’all are friggin AWESOME.

And it is the very awesomeness of my online community and all the friends that I talk to on a daily basis that wholly enrich my life that is such an enormous contrast with the people I know IRL.  I’ve had a recent realization that I have almost no really good friends locally.  They are mostly convenience friends (in the way that in research a convenience sample is just kinda there and easy for the researcher to access) whom I know through work or through their spouse who’s friends with my spouse or whatever.  I have exactly nothing in common with…well, any of them.  They aren’t interested (or don’t know about) my writing.  They don’t read the same stuff I do.  And they’re not as obsessed with food as I am, so those discussions can’t really go very far.  And, trust me, nobody wants to hear about the specifics of my job or my bitching about it (and I can’t blame them–it’s no fun listening to somebody bitch all the time).  Which leaves me…yeah, not much to talk about.  So I wind up leaving functions with these folks feeling like a wobbly third wheel that nobody really wants there.  Which may or may not be true, but it always makes me thrilled to run back to all of YOU who actually GET ME.

It’s so much EASIER to make friends online.  It’s so much simpler to actually find folks with common interests.  Other writers.  People who like the same books as me.  And I’m big time hooked into the foodie community.  Just this morning I had a lovely bonding conversation with a YA fantasy writer over the awesome that is bacon.

I don’t actually think about all of this very often.  Let’s face it, I don’t have a lot of free time, which is one of the major reasons WHY I don’t have any good friends here.  I don’t have much of a life outside work, so I don’t have opportunities to just randomly meet new people.  But something happened recently to get me thinking about it, and I admit last night I had a bit of a pity party over it.  Then I finished with the pity party (I don’t have the patience to have one for more than about an hour) and started being proactive.

I’ve tried to find other writers in the area before.  I made a big post about it in 2009 to which I think I had almost no response.  So last night I went diving in the regional forums from last year’s NaNo.  I didn’t actually participate in NaNo, but I remembered seeing that there actually was, for once, some local activity going on.  So I sent NaNo messages to the 5 people I found in the area just to say hi.  Given that NaNo is over, I have no idea if I’ll hear back from any of them, but at least it was something ACTIVE.  I’m not just waiting around for somebody to fall in my lap.  I also followed up with a fan from the next town over who had found me on FB.  We both went to the same university for undergrad and like the same kind of books.  And now we have a coffee date after Spring Break.  So that was a big yay and really helped turn my blah mood around last night.

I write about all of this not because I’m looking for an outpouring of sympathy but because I’m betting this is a problem of a LOT of writers.  We are often really insular kinds of people.  And if we live in small towns where there’s NOT going to be a thriving writers’ community or writers’ groups or critique groups or WHATEVER that might exist in big cities, then we are often kind of stuck as to how to find somebody out there who GETS us.  So I guess I want to say a) you’re not alone and you should totally embrace and value your online community and b) you have to be proactive in trying to find folks in your real life community.

Next on deck–seeing if I can find people on Goodreads by LOCATION…

Stay tuned.

Are You A Writer? OWN IT!

In Twitterville the auto DM for following has a very bad name.  This is because most people who use it, do it wrong.  They make it all about ME ME ME.  This is my website, my facebook, my book, do something for ME.  Consequently, a lot of folks totally ignore their DMs.  Well I still use an auto DM, but mine is all about starting a conversation.  Thanks for the follow.  So are you reader, writer, cook, or general humorist?  Because pretty well everybody who follows me is one or more of those things.  I’m not as great as I should be about replying to these messages (because, did you notice, I have over 4800 followers? It’s a lot of people), but I try and very often I wind up having at least a brief conversation about books or food or writing–or unintentional humor, which is the kind I specialize in.

Anyway, I got a response to my auto DM last week that’s been kicking around in my head since then.

I would love to say I’m a writer, but haven’t had anything published.

It really struck me as a case of low-confidence.  There’s this whole school of thought out there that you have to meet certain criteria to claim yourself as a writer, that anything else is being a poser and might lead to some kind of ugly showdown at the OK Corral, Celebrity-deathmatch style if one of the Chosen who the world classifies as writers happens to catch you.  Consequently there’s a crapton of people out there who call themselves “aspiring-writer”.  And God forbid they have the guts to call themselves an author.

Here’s the thing.  There is only one requirement for calling yourself a writer.  This is big.  You paying attention?  Okay, here it is.

Writers write.

That’s it.  If you are putting your butt in chair, hands on keyboard (or around writing utensil with a notebook), producing words on some regular basis (and we all presume they are coherent words and not something that resembles the Loris Ipsulum thing they have on mock blog templates), then you are a writer.

Claim it.

Kristen Lamb wrote a fabulous post back in January about how aspiring is for pansies.  Following that was a really interesting discussion over at Jami Gold’s place about whether you call yourself author or writer.  I personally prefer writer.  Writer is an active thing.  Writers write.  To my mind, being an author is to have had something published (traditionally or self), which is a passive state.  I can see how someone who is unpublished would feel weird calling themselves an author.  But anybody who writes is a writer.  Period.

Don’t aspire. Don’t try.  Don’t be a pansy.

Do.  Write.  Be brave.  Own it.

The final computer-generated Yoda as seen in t...
Do or do not, there is no try. -Image via Wikipedia