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3. Other Things Authoring Writing Advice

Learning Lessons

Originally published on my Patreon in June 2022. Become a Patron!

My 2nd-favorite convention button* reads, “Oh, no, not another learning experience!”***

One lesson I still have not mastered is this one:  “When in doubt, say no. If you aren’t bedrock-solidly sure you should say yes, say no. In fact, default to saying no, and you’ll rarely go wrong.”

I say yes more than is good for me. Good intentions are listed among my many reasons, plus a high capacity for rationalizing my way into corners. I tell myself writing outside my own worlds will hone my writing skills and build self-discipline. (It does) Taking on creative work other than writing will recharge my energy for my own writing. (True)  Sharing and collaborating are personally affirming and help build community. Etcetera and so on.

Saying yes always makes sense when I agree to it, but roughly 50% of the times I’ve taken on extra projects since I became a professional writer, saying no would’ve been the wiser choice.

Great stats for a baseball player. Not so great for, say, bridge engineering. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for a writer.

Some projects turn out to be a bad fit emotionally, some became outrageous time-sinks of scope creep, and others bogged down in the mire of “great concept, not-so-great organization.” Some managed to be all three things at once. Even projects that were wholly enjoyable came with a high cost. Time and energy are my most limited resources.

Being a champion overthinker, I routinely revisit all the disastrous, exhausting, costly yes-es in my past and question my judgment. Was saying yes worth it when things worked out so badly, so often?

The answer, in a word, is Yes. (I bet you saw that coming.)

No matter how much wiser saying no would’ve been, I never regret having done things. I’ve benefitted in some way from even the most frustrating & joy-sucking “shoulda said no” experience. Each one taught me a new life trick or two, most taught me new writing or writing-adjacent skills–or refreshed & polished my existing ones.

I don’t make the same mistakes. Every time, I find new ones.

All that said, here’s the latest incarnation of my ever-evolving list of Important Things To Do If You Must Say Yes.

1. Decide your limits & engrave them like stone in your own mind.

2. Write down everything you’ll be expected to do. Go over this information up front with the person or people you’re saying yes to.

2.5. Make absolutely everyone understands this is the absolute limit of what you expect to be asked to do.

This is not quite the same as “get it in writing.” This isn’t about contractual obligations. It’s about the fallibility of memory & the inevitability of misaligned expectations. It’s about making sure you have a record of your own expectations for yourselfbefore you become entangled & invested in the project.

3. Pull out your written list & consult it whenever you’re asked to do more things, other things, or feel like you’re being pressured to renegotiate your role.

4. If you have to remind someone of the agreement more than twice, it’s 3-strikes-and-out, DTMFA, walk away time. Sunk-cost fallacy will be hard to fight (really, REALLY hard) but seriously? If someone creeps across the line twice, they’ll just keep asking until they wear you down or you bite their head off.

I’m good at the snap & bite part. Doesn’t make it fun.

My final words in this  Say No 101 refresher course: remember that small favors turn into big problems if you don’t protect your boundaries like a mama mockingbird defending her nest–and sometimes even if you do.

You can keep your shields on full, charge up your orbital lasers and your asteroid cannons,  have all your best spells locked & loaded & ready to cast–and still get ambushed by a bad situation.

It still won’t be a total loss as long as you find something worthwhile to learn from it.

That’s it until next time I feel like ranting, venting, or musing.

And here is a random image of carp in the Chicago Botanic Garden lagoon, photo taken on a recent visit.

***Oh-ho, you’ve found the footnote!

My favorite button reads, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.”  It appeals to me for complicated reasons and remains my fave despite the quote coming from Scott Adams, whose sociopolitical stance proves he’s  more like Pointy-haired Boss than nerdy Dilbert.  I would’ve included a photo of both buttons on this post but I can’t find my button collection at the moment.

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Writing Life

Time for an update post

It’s a gray achy kind of day, weather-wise, and a grey foggy day, brainwise, but I have taken a dose of my fancy ibuprofen+acetaminophen OTC pills (they are magic, btw, better even than prescription naproxen) and I am doing things I can get done instead of gnawing at myself over things I am not doing.

That’s the idea, anyhow.

I knew I would be wiped today after a yesterday that started 2 hours earlier than usual. It was worth losing sleep to accompany Spouseman to a car maintenance appointment & walk home w/him afterwards, but adding to an already-long ‘brar day had me dragging by the end. That’s on top of the way this week’s “Chill Drear to Sunny & Back Again” rollercoaster weather is kicking my ass.

So far so good. I got up earlier than I planned–7:30 according to my body, 8:30 according to the semi-annual clock fuckery–but it was a “I feel rested & awake & have Things to do” kind of wakeup, not the ass-dragging kind.

AND I have crossed off all but one thing I hoped to achieve. Granted, it was a short list. Laundry, Chili, Spread Clover Seed. And I don’t want to start the chili until closer to supper time. But it still feels good.

Getting in a blog post, too? EXTRA BONUS ACHIEVEMENT.

To-Do Lists are wonderful organizing tools, but days like today are why I rarely make “normal” ones with assigned priorities & firm timelines. That would be setting myself up to fail, given my inconsistent energy level & focus. Instead, I just list All The Things & then pick my way through them like it’s a smorgabord.

This week I evidently have an appetite for tactile, physical tasks. Writing has happened, as it often does when I stop putting pressure on myself, but I’m mainly indulging in Hand-intensive activities. Fingertip splits are making typing an annoyance, but otherwise my hands are staying in pretty good shape.

And wet weather sucks for me, but the garden loves it. Rainy days are good planting days, actually, and I’ve been plugging through seasonally-sensitive but generally time-forgiving tasks.

Here’s a tidy summation of Various Things I’ve done in the last week:

  • spread lettuce seed in improvised cold frames (planters covered w/recycled plastic greehouse roofing)
  • took down old, broken yard lights
  • stow the last of the holiday lights
  • reset bird feeders
  • removed squirrel-guard wire toppers off the bulb plantings
  • cleared all the herb beds are clear
  • overseeded front & back lawn w/a red clover and grass mix. (today!)

And now I can make new lists, all about starting seedlings, shopping for patio furniture & a pergola, researching low-decibel leaf blowers, and dreaming about MOAR PRAIRIE PERENNIALS.

Inside things I’m working on:

Restocking things I have to order online, like tea & replacement storage container lids.

Baking: I’ve already done biscotti & banana muffins this week. Apple crisp might get made tonight, depending on energy level. Otherwise tomorrow.

And adding things to grocery lists for curbside pickup to minimize in-person shopping. Because yes, I’m still minimizing in-person shopping & yes, I’m still masking in public spaces, including my workplace. (The one exception being a (VERY) few restaurants w/excellent ventilation & mitigations where I’ll unmask to enjoy a meal w/a trusted friends.)

Yeah, I’m vaxxed & boosted. But I also know how to calculate risk. If and/or when the local case count & positivity rates drop below the thresholds we hit last June, I’ll enjoy wandering around stores unmasked like I did last June. But we aren’t there.

Until then, I’ll just keep making that extra set of lists.

That’s enough blathering for one post. Have a photo of Pippin being angry I emptied the humidifier in my office.

Until later!

Categories
Authoring Writing Life

The illusion of progress

Writing a whole post of accomplishment lists has led to pondering WHY I like making “I did this” lists so much. Here’s my answer: it’s a frame adjustment.

I know, I know, “WTF frame what?” Stick with me here. Start with the idea of “progress.”

See, all our lives we’re taught–both formally and informally– to find worth in achieving goals and measuring progress, but that whole plan is fundamentally mismatched with the way life WORKS.

Progress is grounded in linear concepts of direction & endpoints. It’s all about the quantifiables.

When a task is done, it’s done. When a thing is filled, it’s full. When a goal is achieved, it’s over. There are jokes about the reward for a job well done being another job, but the system is accepted as valid.

Except it ISN’T. Reality doesn’t work that way.

Life is built on multiple, interlocking circular processes: sunrise to sunset to sunrise, winter to summer to winter again. Washed dishes get dirty, dinnertime comes around again, dust returns again, plants need tending, laundry piles up AGAIN.

No wonder people feel like we’re always failing. We’re judging ourselves by a metric that’s incompatible w/the medium.

Measuring success & satisfaction by progress is like measuring slices of bread in a loaf by weight. You can do it, but it takes some mental gymnastics.

Lists are my favorite way of somersaulting past frustration & feelings of failure. They line up my position in the endless cycle of Life Doings with the idea of “done,” and presto, I HAVE DONE THINGS.

It’s not only gymnastics, it’s kinda like a magic trick when it works.

Now I’m wondering what neat tricks other people use.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you want to celebrate by curling up with a cozy kissing book, may I suggest Weaving In The Ends? I wrote it, it’s all about love, but not only and not even mostly the romance hearts & flowers kind. It’s about the prickly kind of love, sibling love, family love, and formed-family love, the patient kind and the kind that makes mistakes and owns them and makes amends.

Also, there is knitting. And empaths. Available most places books & ebooks are sold. You can find it here https://bit.ly/kmhkindle along with the other books in the Restoration collection.

Sleepy cat for everyone who got this far. Until later!

all tuckered out after a long ponder
Categories
Authoring Writing Life

My Bouncy Brain In Action

I’ve had zero attention span the last couple of days. So, minimal writing. Not zero writing, but…discouraging nonetheless.

But! I have dug into a few interesting topics while in Guilt-wracked Avoidance Mode

Thing the 1st

The town where I spent several formative childhood years was in the news recently. My brain did its bouncy thing and sent me (SPROING) to Google Maps to see how close the incident was to my old house. (A couple of miles away.)

That led to checking out the old neighborhood on street view and retracing my route from house to elementary school. (C’mon, haven’t you done that? If not, you should. It’s a virtual trip down memory lane.) Sometimes placed I’ve lived have changed beyond all recognition, but my old school is still there, and still looks EXACTLY like I remember the buildings and grounds looking. So of course I looked it up. Nothing. Doesn’t exist. More digging ensued, starting with peering closely at the map images to make out the bulding names. (Which, no, did NOT match the listed name of the location, interestingly enough.)

Turns out the place has changed names twice and purpose once. It is now a Variable-Credit High School for students who aren’t thriving at the district’s regular grade 9-12 schools.

So, that was interesting.

Thing the 2nd

My cracked & gnarly fingers are doing better, but one cracked open yesterday, which was distracting In the Extreme. That made me wonder, how the heck do diabetics who have to do jab their fingertips for blood draws deal with the constant pain of injured fingertips? And who the hell decided fingertips were the best spot to jab, of all the places on the human body to choose from. And WHY?

Well. I’m here to tell you there are a ton of techniques for minimizing the ouchiness, plus modern glucose meters do allow for “alternative sites” although it isn’t recommended because “fingersticks still provide the most accurate readings.” All the sites discussing the matter seem to be round-robin quoting from each other with regards to that accuracy claim, though. When they all use exactly the same phrasing, and I do mean word for word, despite the sites ranging in visibility & intended readership. And the only journal article I found was focusing on test strip accuracy, not body location issues.

So I remain unconvinced that anyone really THINKS about “why fingers?” or they accept unquestioned the prevailing wisdom that it delivers the “best” result.

Sidebar: If you think my suspicions overblown, entertain yourself with a peek at the vast amount of scientific detective work that had to be done to debunk the medical research community’s entire foundation for deciding what size particle constituted aerosol contagion. The medical community had its standards & JUST KNEW THEY WERE RIGHT, but as it turns out, they were WRONG, because their fundamental size value was based on a single solitary set of experiments done DECADES before modern aerosol measuring tools were available, AND the results came from an outlier, hard-to-catch respiratory disease, too. Interested? Start with the Wired article titled “The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill”. There’s a lot more info, but this is all a digression, so ANYWAY…

I’d need to do a LOT more digging to find the primary lit behind “why fingers FFS?” and that’s more distraction than I need right now. If I ever write a story about a diabetic character who has to test, I’ll get out th research backhoe. Until then I’ll stick with my gut feeling that this is another of the many medical, “we’ve always done it this way” situations where “accurate means “all our systems & tools are designed for the reams of data we already have” as opposed to “what systems and tools should we design for the best comfort and convenience of our patients.” See also: cold metal speculums for vaginal exams, among other things.

Humans are not as eager to acept new things as we think we are, sometimes.

Thing the third.

There was a bug in my office today. A big roughly hexagonal beetlish kind of bug. I would describe it in more detail, but Pippin woke up when it buzzed past us (he was on the desk, quelle suprise) and he intercepted it and ate it before I got a decent look at it. He has impressive reflexes and spectacular aim. He scoped it right out of midair.

From his expression as he chewed, I got the impression it did not taste good, which made me think it was probably a stink bug. A couple of hours later, another bug went buzzing around the room. (This time of year, a lot of different bugs often hatch out of plants I bring in from the garden. Some combination of warmth & increasing light, I suspect.)

Anyway. Pips was snoozing downstairs by that time, so I had to gently capture and flush the bug myself. Carefully, because this one was indeed some kind of stink bug. But what kind? There’s an invasive species (known as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, how’s that for a name) that’s been seen in the Chicago area this year, but there are also at LEAST two lookalike native species similar in appearance.

Which one had mine been? I didn’t know! So of course off I bounced to investigate stink beetles.

Beetles are fucking amazing. I had a good time combing through the various agricultural university extension documents and nature websites, but I still don’t know which variety of bug I flushed. ID requires close examination of things like antennae stripes and protrusions on the shell, and…honestly? Invasive or native, it was in my house, and it had to go.

And now the day is done and so am I.

Still had no focus in the evening, but I’ve made supper (don’t get excited, it’s green salad & leftover takeout gyros meat mixed into boxed rice mix & baked in the oven because I’m too distracted to cook on the stovetop) and now I’m playing Wordles from the online archive and drinking wine while I watch Witcher Season 2.

I am a powerful creative force to be reckoned with, eh?

Anyway. That’s it for this installment of “writing something even if it isn’t BOOK writing. Until later, enjoy this pic of the Ferocious Critter Cruncher.

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Promotion Writing Life

Oh, no, it’s a year end post! Wait, not really.

But it’s a post on New Year’s Eve so it counts, I guess?

Spouseman & I are ringing out the old year with leftover steak dinner from yesterday, plus lots of popcorn and hot apple cider, while watching a 2021 movie–Black Widow. Which is nothing wild or partylike, but it’s basically the kind of thing we usually do on NYE. Cozy & quiet. That’s my brand, I guess?

Earlier in the day garage cleaning occurred (EXCITEMENT!) and some visiting with a friend, and there was also writing in front of the fireplace with the cat. More progress on Serena’s dog story was made. Snacks were enjoyed. And Pippin snored a lot.

photographic proof of fireside presence.

Every time I took a writing break and surfed through the news I saw people sharing their big accomplisments from 2021. AND I AM NOTHING IF NOT A FOLLOWER. SO.

The big thing I did in 2021 was send my new book out into the world.

The Sharp Edge Of Yesterday, in case you have somehow missed all my posts about it until now, is a fantastical novel set in a world much like this one except that 10% of the populations develop unexplainable powers when they hit middle age.

It’s a story about family, secrets, mistakes, and betrayal, it’s about the power of trust and cooperation, it’s about the evil of dehumanization, and it’s about redemption. There a characters ranging in age from radical teens to badass grannies, and it stars a wicked heroine who takes charge of her own life.

Or, as my wonderful author-friend Shannon Eichorn puts it, it’s about middle-aged moms with superpowers making the military very nervous. What’s that? You think that book sounds epic excellent and want a link to find it? Here ya go: bit.ly/sharpedgekmh

It looks like this. Isn’t it pretty?

Sharp Edge didn’t get a release party, because pandemic, and for the same reason I only got to show it off at two conventions, one big, one small, but somewhat to my surprise, it released really, really well. Best of my six books so far by a long shot.

People bought it–LOTS of people, people who’ve never heard of me & didn’t know anything about the book except its blurb–they reviewed it, they bought copies for other people, and they told friends to buy it. That’s as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned.

Would I like more reviews? Of course I would. I want 100 reviews for each of my books. Why? WHY NOT? It’s a nice round number. Also a ridiculously ambitious one. Some great novels take years to hit that. Some brilliant ones never do.

On a practical level a book needs 25+ reviews specifically on Amazon before I can begin to promote it through most of the best channels available to me. (I only have 1 title over that threshold, alas, and it isn’t Sharp Edge.) And would I like more sales? Hell yes, of course, what recovering bookseller doesn’t love seeing their book fly off shelves virtual or physical?

But honestly, I only care about that part because sales mean readers, and no story circle is complete without that happening. I love the idea of sharing this world I’ve dreamed up and squeezed into existence out of nothingness. I can talk about my characters and their conflicts all day long, and I have a hundred more stories to tell about them. Hundreds more. At least.

ANYway. That’s a good place to wrap this up. Black Widow is over, and now I need to watch some Marvel What If?

Good-bye, 2021, (aka 2020 the sequel) hello, 2022. May there be new stories completed, nw stories begun, new friends made, and many good times shared.

Until later!