Learning, Training, Practicing–Say What?

I talk about writing a LOT. I talk to anyone who will listen. However, I usually don’t talk about my work, my stories, what I am working on unless I am asked. Most people don’t want to hear about it, so no need to bore them with the things I find exciting in my work. Unless you are my wife, my editor or my publisher, you won’t hear me start a conversation about my writing.

Writing has brought me a lot of joy over the years. It’s been therapeutic. I’ve been able to express my sadness, anger, jealousy and resentment in stories. I’ve also been able to express my happiness, love and humor. I’ve been able to creep people out, make them cry, make them smile, make them feel. Having someone feel something after reading one of my stories is one of those things that drives me to get better, to learn how to write better with each story I tell.

Learning. That’s the ticket, as my old friend, Chris, would say. 

The entire sentence is important, but that one word … that one word makes the sentence and, for lack of a better term, the story. 

Learning is one of the most important aspects of life, and not just as a child, but as an adult as well. 

As a child, you learn how to roll over and get onto your stomach. Then you learn how to crawl. Eventually, you learn how to pull yourself up to a standing position. This is followed by many attempts to walk the way you see your parents or older siblings or anybody else in the world who, well, walks. You learn the most important word of your childhood by hearing your mother repeat, “Say Mommy.” Interestingly enough, saying Mommy or Da-da is like a competition for the parents, with each one hoping their child will say their moniker for parent first.

You learn by watching what others do, by listening to what they say. I find it interesting that as children under the age of two, we are/were at our most attentive, listening, seeing and learning selves. Little ones soak up everything you say, everything you do. Then they try these things, like walking and talking. It’s amazing. Don’t believe me? Cuss one time in front of your child and see what happens. At such a young age, we train ourselves to do things we see others do. Yes, I said train. I’ll come back to this in a second, so stick with me for the next couple to few paragraphs.

At some point, most children want to learn how to ride a bike. Most first bikes come with training wheels. They’re called training wheels for a reason: they help you stay upright on a bike as you learn to peddle and steer, as you train. You get on the bike and Mom or Dad gives you a gentle push, maybe even walking right alongside you as you first put foot to peddle and make the bike go. By doing this, you, the bike rider, are both learning and training yourself on how to do something. The learning is mental. The training is physical. Your brain tells you, push down on the peddle with this foot, then push down on the peddle with the other foot. With conscious effort, you put your foot on the peddle and push down. The peddle turns the gears with the bike chain wrapped around them. The bike goes forward. 

The effort is the training. When you actually physically do what your brain tells you to do, you are training your body how to do it and your brain how to remember it. In this case, your brain tells you how to peddle and you physically attempt it. You’ve seen someone do it, so you are already learning what you are supposed to do. The first few times are usually awkward and difficult, but eventually, the muscles in your legs and feet and hips all work together and you begin to ride the bike with less difficulty.

Then the training wheels come off and you get that push or that parent running alongside you and the front wheel wobbles as you try to steer while looking down at your feet, at the peddles that don’t want to do what you want them to do. You probably crashed a few times as you trained your legs to peddle and your body to balance and your hands to steer the handlebar straight so you don’t tip over or crash into something. 

Eventually, though … eventually, what you learned in your mind, you trained your body to do and you rode that bike. You got excited and probably screamed at the top of your lungs in happiness and exhilaration because, by God, you rode the bike. And you probably crashed. But for a moment, you rode that bike and you were the king of the world as Jack said in Titanic. 

You learned, mentally, what to do. You trained, physically, to be able to do what you learned. 

So far: learning is mental and intellectual, and training is the continued attempts to do what you learned. 

Life isn’t only about learning things and training is not just physical. It’s also about training your mind and your body to do things. 

Early in life, I was not all that great at math. Two plus two equaled four like it is supposed to, but multiplication and division and algebra were struggles to learn. Being told four multiplied by four is sixteen is great but being shown was better. Being shown was great but given problems to solve was better. I also hated it. The higher the numbers got, the more difficult it was for me to learn their totals. You want me to multiply eight by nine? Are you serious? Are you some sort of math psycho who relishes the struggles of us non-mathites? 


I also found math boring. 

Then I started watching sports. Sports is all about math. The scores are done in numbers. The statistics are all numbers. The records are numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. 

In order to understand statistics, I sat down in my room with a pencil and paper and wrote out the multiplication table, starting with one and going to twelve. I struggled with it until I realized that each number was simply added by the number of its multiplier (something the teacher could have explained and I probably would have understood a lot quicker). For example: six multiplied by seven is six added up seven times. 6+6+6+6+6+6+6= 42. I then wrote out every problem as I did in that example in the last sentence. I added them as if they were simple addition problems. 

By doing it that way, I trained my brain to add quickly. So, if someone said, ‘Hey, add this up for me,’ then tossed out a few numbers, I was/am able to tell them the answer fairly quickly. 

Learning the multiplication table wasn’t difficult, but it took training my brain to process those numbers for me to learn math. Now, math is second nature to me, and I can usually spout the answers off without much thought. 

Training is mental as well as physical. 

As we get older, learning and training become more difficult, not because it is, but because we make it difficult. I’m too old to learn new things. We make excuses as to why we can’t do something. For most of us the truth is we don’t want to learn something new, we don’t want to train our brains or our bodies to do something new. And that’s where we fail, not just in learning, but in becoming better at something … anything. It’s arrogance. It’s ignorance. It’s laziness. 

Are you still with me? I hope so.

I have a friend. Yes, just one. His name is Dameion. We both write and we both have our own viewpoints about writing and storytelling. (For the record, Dameion is one of those writers I am envious of. His words just spill off the paper.) He’s like a brother to me, one I never see, but talk to when we are both available. We were talking recently about writing. You learn how to write in school—or at least you used to. You learn basic sentence structure and punctuation but that’s pretty much it. Most of this stuff you forget. Why? Because you are told about it, not shown how to do it. When you are shown, you’re only given a handful of assignments or opportunities to actually practice it. You take a test, pass or fail, then move on to something else, so it doesn’t stick. 

What sticks is when you physically do something. By physically doing something repeatedly, you train your brain and your body to remember how to do those things. It becomes muscle memory and you do it without thinking once you’ve practiced it. For example: they say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. You might get rusty, but if you learned how to ride a bike at six and you stopped riding a bike at sixteen, at fifty-three you will be able to get on a bike and ride it. Muscle memory.

Telling a story, orally, is easy. If you’ve ever told a good joke, then you have told a story. Why did the chicken cross the road doesn’t count. Okay, fine, we’ll let it count, but only if you told it to someone who had never heard the joke. Good luck with that.

When you verbally tell a story, you get into it. You add little things to show the person (or people) listening something about where you were or what was going on. You can become animated with hand gestures and tone of voice and facial expressions. By doing all of this, you show your listener(s) the story. If you are really good at it, you can be a comedian. 

You learned how to tell a story by listening to others tell stories. If they were good at it (as my grandfather was), then you will pick up some good pointers by watching them. If they were bad at it, then the lessons you pick up will not be the ones that help you tell a good story. When you’ve seen someone who can speak, either in public or private, it doesn’t mean you can become a great speaker. It just means you have seen someone else do it right. It is up to you to gleam what you can from it and practice what you learned. The practice aspect is part of the training. It’s where you train your mind to think, your voice to have tone, your facial expressions and hand gestures to be coordinated with your words.

Writing is the same. A lot of your learning comes from reading. You learn neat turns of phrases, styles, descriptors, pacing, dialogue, and plenty more from reading. The trick is to not just learn these things, but to practice them. 

When I wanted to become a better writer, I picked the brains of other writers. I asked questions and read stories that were suggested to me. If I wanted to know about dialogue, I asked questions about it, then I wrote stories that were dialogue heavy to see if I could move the story along using conversations. If I wanted to learn descriptions, I asked questions about it, then wrote stories heavy on descriptions, then flipped the script and wrote stories light on descriptions in order to try and find the sweet spot for descriptions. The talking to writers and gathering information was the learning part. The putting words to paper and writing was the training part. 

Then came the practicing.

Are you still with me? Hang on a little longer. We’re nearing an end to this (probably) confusing topic.

Practice is honing what you have learned and trained yourself to do. 

I was a good basketball player. When I was a kid I loved Len Bias, who played for the University of Maryland. He was smooth and fascinating to watch. He was, in my opinion, the greatest basketball player to never play in the NBA (he died of a drug overdose the day after being drafted by the Boston Celtics—I cried). Though I wasn’t a fan of the University of Maryland, I watched their games when they came on television just so I could see Bias play. I paid close attention to the way he shot the ball, the way he played defense, the way he moved up and down the court. Then I would go outside and try to teach myself what I saw him do. After a while, I moved on to other players who did things that interested me. Jeff Lebo played for the University of North Carolina and was a great outside shooter. Michael Jordan (come on, do I need to say who he played for?) was a phenomenal defender and a better passer than most people give him credit for. 

I watched them to learn what they did. I trained myself by trying different ways of doing what they did. I practiced daily.

Practicing something you have learned and trained on will only make you better. 

All of this points to one thing in particular: training your brain. When you train your brain, it becomes muscle memory after your body is trained to do it. All of us have something we are good at, but we didn’t get good at just by saying we were going to be good at it. We became good at it after we learned, trained,  and practiced. All of that starts with your brain, with a thought your brain has, with you putting forth the effort to learn, then applying what you learned. 

The bottom line to the previous 2300 words is this: if you ever want to be good at something (you know, like writing), you need to learn it, train yourself to do it, then practice at it. Hmm … I probably could have just said that to start with …

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


A.J.

How About A Birthday Contest or Two?

July is my birthday month. Normally, I’m not big on birthdays. To me, they are just another number. This one is different. I turn 50 on July 8th. That is a big deal birthday. I want to celebrate this one. And I will. All. Month. Long.

I want you, my readers, to come celebrate as well. To do that, we are having two contests during the month of July. They are big contests.

The first one is called 50 Years & 50 Books. Here is how it works:

If we sell 50 print books in the month of July, then we will give away a complete set of my print books to one person. That is 15 books, including a bonus book that has not been released yet, that is slated to come out in August. That is a $157.00 value. The books will be signed, but not personalized. The reason for this is if you purchase a print book, even if you only have that one, you will get another one in the complete set. If you want to give that book away, then I want you to be able to do so without having your name inscribed in it.

Now, here is the important stuff: 1) The books have to be purchased directly through myself or Cate, either on our social media pages or through my website. AMAZON PURCHASES DO NOT COUNT. Please understand that last sentence. If you purchase a print book through Amazon, thank you, but it will not count toward this contest. 2) I hate doing this, but I can’t ship a big box of books internationally. It sucks. I wish I could afford to. That means I can only ship within the United States. I apologize to my international friends and fans. I just can’t afford to do that. 3) 49 books is not 50. 28 books is not 50. The goal is 50, in honor of the age I will turn this month. If we don’t reach 50 or higher, then there is no drawing for the complete set of print books. That sounds pretty crappy, but it really isn’t. The contest is 50 Years and 50 Books. 4) All book orders will be sent out in mid-August, AFTER the contest is over. This will allow us time to package and mail out the books.

I hope this sounds good to y’all and I hope we sell enough books to be able to send out a full set to one person.

The second contest doesn’t cost any money (unless you want to spend some, then by all means, spend away). It is called. 50 Years & 50 Reviews.

If we receive 50 book reviews in the month of July, then we will give away one complete set of my digital books. That’s 15 books, including one yet to be released. 

Now, here is the important information: 1) Book reviews need to be sent to me or Cate, either on our social media pages or through PM’s or through my website, Type AJ Negative. We would also like you to post the review on your social media page (or blog if you have one). AMAZON REVIEWS DO NOT COUNT. If you place a review on Amazon, thank you, but it doesn’t go toward the contest. 2) Book reviews must be new. They cannot be reviews already left somewhere else. 3) Book reviews can be of any of my books. 4) Like with the 50 Years & 50 Books contest, the goal is 50 reviews here. Not 49. If we don’t reach the goal of 50 reviews, there is no drawing. 

You can leave reviews at the following places (as well as your personal social media pages, websites and blogs):

My author page:

https://www.facebook.com/typeajnegative/

The 50 Years Contests Page:

https://typeajnegative.com/50-years-contests/

Or by sending me or Cate a PM through our various social media pages.

I realize I did not post Cate’s information here. Those who know my wife also know her social media pages and they are set to private, so I will not be adding it here. Those who know Cate, please feel free to contact her directly.

There you have it: two great contests in honor of my birthday. I don’t do these things too often, so I hope you will participate. 

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

The Obligation of Words (and the Symbolism of Typewriters)

So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

An Excerpt From Susie Bantum’s Death

Good afternoon Faithful Readers,

Today I want to give you a taste of my newest story. This is the beginning of Susie Bantum’s Death.

I hope you enjoy.

***

She smoked the cigarette like it was the last thing she would ever do. Within three minutes of lighting it and a dozen or so steady puffs, she had dwindled it down to the filter. She flipped the butt away. It landed just by the shoreline of the flowing river. What remained of the red cherry was nothing more than a smoldering black pit with gray smoke pluming up from it.

It wasn’t the last thing she did. No, that thing was the run and jump into the raging river head first. That was odd for a couple of reasons. One, the river had swollen and had risen up the banks over the last three days, thanks to the week of rain the state had received. It was just a reprieve, a lull in the constant downpour that allowed her to take the walk to the river from her little home just up the hill from it in the village. Two, she was fully clothed and what most people would call sound of mind. The papers would say that was not a sound of mind thing to do, jumping in the water, fully clothed during what would be a flood just the next day.

They would be right. It was not what sound of mind folks did. But then again, Susie Bantum was a nobody and nobodies don’t matter to the somebodies of the world.

There were two witnesses who saw Susie take the leap to her death. The first of these was an old man, Marcel Declerque. He had been walking his dog when Susie went by him, her head up, eyes focused forward.

“She looked intense,” he would tell the police, but that wasn’t quite true. Sure, she was focused, but what was taken as intense was nothing more than Susie’s determination to get to the river, to … end it all.

“I only noticed her because Jerry barked at her,” Declerque told the police. Jerry was his fourteen year old German Schnauzer with bad hearing and bad eyesight. For Jerry to even notice her told his owner the woman was ‘just bad news.’

“She kept talking to herself, as if there was someone with her, but there wasn’t. I thought she was a couple laughs away from the funny farm until she jumped into the water.”

The other witness was a kid, aged ten, who had gone down to the river to skip rocks, but he couldn’t find any stones because the water had risen so high.

“I’ve been stuck inside for six days,” Bartholomew Winslow said. “You can’t watch but so many episodes of Spongebob before you get bored. It’s the same thing over and over. Spongebob is annoying, Patrick is dumb, Squidward is, well, he’s Squidward. It gets annoying after a while, you know? And that woman made them all look sane. She walked by me, carrying on a conversation as if she were with someone.”

The police weren’t interested in Winslow’s cartoon stories or Declerque’s dog tales. They only wanted facts and those were Susie smoked a cigarette and then jumped into the river, “where she was swept away like a trailer home during a tornado,” as Declerque put it.  And if it was true that Susie was talking to herself, having a conversation, as the kid put it, then maybe she really had been a few laughs away from the funny farm.

It was Henry Killmander who investigated the case. Not that he was a cop or a detective, or really anyone other than someone who had read about the case in the paper and seen the reports on the nightly news. Henry Killmander lived three houses down from Susie Bantum, and “she wouldn’t just up and kill herself like that,” he told the police. As with events of this nature, “it’s an open and shut case,” the detective said to Killmander before he folded his little black notebook up and tucked it in his pocket. He left with a wave and a “good day, Mr. Killmander.”

And that was that. Case closed. End of story. Move along little doggie, nothing to see here. But that was not good enough for Henry. No, Henry knew Susie and he knew she wouldn’t have just jumped into the river and taken her own life.

***

If you enjoyed the first two pages of Susie Bantum’s Death, please let me know in the comments section below.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

How I See It: Greatness

Sometimes the world pulls you down. It does. The hustle and bustle of it all can be exhausting. Trying to live up to everyone’s standards (not to mention your own) is daunting and often times a complete exercise in failing. You work, work, work and feel like you are getting nowhere. You often feel you don’t matter or you don’t make a difference anywhere or you whisper to yourself, ‘there has to be more than this.’

It’s frustrating. Cumbersome, even.

We are so wrapped up in our place in the world we often forget to just stop, and literally, smell the roses. Or, in this instance, see the clouds.

This morning, on the way to work, my wife commented about how beautiful the clouds were. I looked off to my right as we crossed the Jarvis Klapman Bridge. The Gervais Street Bridge was just across the way, cars zooming by, the drivers on their way to their destinations, the Congaree River passing beneath it (and the bridge we were on as well). Off in the distance the clouds hung low in the sky. They were bathed in colors of light purple, pink, orange and gray with the underbelly of them (further off in the distance where the sun was trying to peek through) lined in silver and white. It looked as if those clouds had been painted up there. I felt I could roll down the window and touch them and paint would come away on my fingertips.

It was more than beautiful. It was amazing. It was awesome. It was splendorous. It reminded me of how great God truly is.

As the morning has gone on, I keep thinking about the image of those clouds, of how it looked like a painting—a great, truly majestic painting. It also reminded me that there is greatness in every person. Yes, I said every person, and by every, I mean EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. You can be an athlete and be capable of great things. You can be a musician and be capable of great things. You can be a teacher and be capable of great things. You can be a child and be capable of great things. You can be homeless and be capable of great things.

You can be a writer and be capable of great things.

The thing with greatness is so often it comes from within yourself. It is accompanied by hard work and dedication and a burning desire, but it is in every single one of us, and yes, that includes the homeless person, or those who most would consider lesser people. You can be religious or not and still do great things. You can be rich or poor and do great things. Skin color, sexual orientation and gender does not matter. Neither does political beliefs.

Greatness has nothing to do with who you are but it has everything to do with WHO you are.

Confusing? Yeah, it can be.

Here is how I see it: Greatness has nothing to do with what people think of you, but who you are on the inside and what you think of yourself.

To steal a quote:

A winner is not someone who wins. It’s someone who tries and isn’t afraid to lose.                                     –Nusrat Sultana

Greatness will never be about winning and losing, no matter what society says, but about effort and belief in yourself. It took me a long time to figure that out. Sometimes, I still struggle with the concept.

I’ve worked for years to become a publishable writer. Then I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m publishable—most people can get published or even publish their own work, so it is a subjective term, in my opinion. What matters is that I continue to work on my talents of telling good stories, and for me to take them from good to great. I am going to be honest, I will never be where I want to be as a writer. I feel the greatness I want to achieve is a goal that may never be reached, but I will continue to strive for it. Why? Because I believe in myself and my abilities.

I also believe that you, Faithful Readers, want greatness. This is partially why I strive hard to make each story better than the last. I want you, the readers, to want to read my work and not feel you wasted your time with me and my words. If you feel you have wasted your time, then I have failed both you and me.

We, as a society, associate greatness with money. The more money you have the greater you are. We put our self value in money, money, money. I don’t want my greatness or how I value myself to be associated with the dollar. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to make a lot more money doing this than I do right now. I would love to be able to support my family doing the thing I love to do most: tell stories. But the great writers aren’t just great because they are rich. The great writers—the truly great ones—touch people with their words. This, Faithful Readers, is what I want to do. I want to touch you with my words. I want when you put one of my stories down, for it to linger with you as you walk away.

As I think about those clouds again, I go back to something I say at the beginning of some of my stories or blogs: Picture this, if you will. I like to paint pictures with my words. Whether they are dark and disturbing or soft and encouraging, I always strive to paint the most beautiful of images for you to read through. This, I believe, lends to the effort of trying to become great at the craft I so love.

I hope you enjoy the pictures I paint with the palette of words I use. If I do (or even if I don’t) would you mind leaving a comment below, letting me know. If I can improve on something, please let me know this is well.

Thank you for allowing me to touch you with my words. Thank you also for your time. I hope you have a wonderful day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

You can find me at these wonderful places:

A.J. Brown Facebook Fan Club

A.J. Brown Facebook Author Page

A.J. Brown Amazon Author Page

A.J. Brown Storyteller Website

@ajbrown36 on Twitter

Wattpad

Email: ajbrown36@bellsouth.net

 

 

Going Forward

Dear Faithful Readers,

This is going to be a short post.

2016 was crazy. I think we all know there were a lot of meh things to come out of the year. There were a lot of negatives, as well.

Though there were quite a bit of negative things going on in the world, there were a few things that were positive for me. I put out two books this year (a far cry from the five I wanted to put out, but still they were published). The two books were a three story collection titled, A Stitch of Madness. The other was my novel, Dredging Up Memories. Both of these books were put out by Stitched Smile Publications. I also became part of the SSP staff during the year and made some friends, a couple probably for life. So, there are some positives.

In 2016 I bit off a little more than I could chew. Part of this was due to being overzealous and wanting to try and get my name out there more than it was at the time. I added a lot to my plate that wasn’t there the previous two years and also added quite a bit to a marketing campaign I started in 2014. Early on a lot of the things I did looked as if they would pay off. Then June and July came and life happened. My focus shifted for a few months. When that happened, my blog, newsletter and writing suffered in silence.

Year two of The Brown Bag Stories also came to an end. For those who know what The Brown Bag Stories are, I will have an announcement about that soon. For those who don’t, feel free to ask about it and I will gladly let you in on the hubbub.

In October I started gearing up for 2017 in hopes of rekindling the push I started two years ago at the end of 2014. One of the things I would like to do is make this blog more interactive. I would love to hear your voices, Faithful Readers. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’d love to hear what you want to know about me or maybe even about my characters and stories.

So, let’s talk, what would you like to see in 2017 (and beyond)?

See, I told you it would be short. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Because…

Because…

I have something to say. This could be long, so if you’re not up to reading for a few minutes, I’m going to encourage you to go ahead and click the X in the upper right hand corner. I hate saying that, but I’m just going to be honest and some folks don’t care much for it. So, either click the X or read on. The choice is yours.

Because…

Honesty matters.

I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m better than some, worse than others. I know this and I am fine with it. Why? Because I know where I’ve been and how far I have come. I don’t want someone to tell me they think my work is great if they don’t believe the words coming out of his or her mouth.

We all want to hear we are marvelous, that we did a good job at something. We, in general, want folks to like us, and by extension, what we do. We don’t want to be criticized, and too many of us don’t know how to take that criticism when it comes (and it will come). We’re a society used to getting trophies for participation.

We don’t handle failure all that well. But failure isn’t always a bad thing. It teaches us what we did wrong and maybe what we shouldn’t do again. It hurts, but it also makes us tougher and wiser than before we failed.

For the record, you only fail when you quit trying.

When someone criticizes us we feel as if we have failed. This is not true. Criticism comes in two forms: constructive and destructive. Let’s address the destructive first. Destructive criticism is when someone tells you something that is insulting and not helpful to you. It is the type of criticism that is meant to hurt you instead of build you up. It is the type of criticism that is not enlightening at all. It is what we hear the most. It’s not what is said the most, but what we hear.

Constructive criticism is meant to help or provide direction. Though it is often negative, if listened to, it can lead to improvement in an area of weakness.

Destructive criticism implies failure. Constructive criticism can give you the tools toward success.

Are you with me so far? Good. Because I think I am about to take this in a different direction.

There is also such things as constructive praise and destructive praise.

Constructive praise is honest. It’s the cheerleader of praises. You just scored a touchdown. Ra ra ra. You did a great job. It generally focuses on the obvious good points. Constructive praise is good praise because it is based on the facts. It can also pump you up and inspire you to try harder at something, even if you are good at it.

Then there is destructive praise. Destructive praise is when someone says something that is not true, but they don’t have the heart to tell you the actual truth. It’s the type of praise that doesn’t inspire you to try harder to improve. It is the comfort food of praises. It is ice cream and beer, folks. You may have heard some destructive praise before and not realized it. It looks kind of like this: ‘Hey, you’re a phenomenal writer,’ or ‘That was the most amazing story I have ever heard.’

But…but…that’s not destructive. How is that destructive? Those are compliments. Not if they aren’t true. You have to understand that. It is destructive when the compliments are not true.

Destructive praise’s purpose is to stroke the ego. And other than that ego stroking, there is no value in it. It is not meant to help you. It’s also a lie. It is. Remember, it is when someone says something that isn’t true that is meant to not hurt someone else’s feelings.

I have never been one for destructive praise. I don’t particularly like it when I receive it and I don’t give it out. I have been told every once in a while it is a good idea to tell someone a lie to keep from hurting their feelings. I disagree. I would rather tell you the truth now and get it over with, than for you to find out a month from now that I lied to you. Because what is worse than finding out someone lied to you, even if they thought they were protecting your feelings? How can someone believe you if you tell them a lie? If you’ll tell one, then you’ll tell another, right?

Because…

Once upon a time there was this villager, and he wanted to find the land of Publish. It was a daunting task. He had no clue where to begin and he made a lot of bad decisions along the way. He wasn’t that great of a writer, but some of the villagers had read his (horrible) stories and had told him, ‘Dude, you’re pretty awesome.’

Lies. They were all lies. Well intended, but lies. So, this dude—and yeah, we will call him Dude from here out—started believing he was awesome. His head was somewhat swollen from the heaping amounts of praise that had been lavished on him. To the great land of Publish he traveled. He sought out all the kingdoms that published the written word, you know all the ones ending in ‘zine.’ At each stop along the way to Publish, all the kings and queens of the kingdoms of ‘zine’ laughed at him, swearing he must be in jest. They kicked him out of their kingdoms and told them to go home, son, you can’t possibly be good enough to be aloud in our kingdoms.

‘But I’m Dude, the Great.’

To this they laughed heartier at him.

So, Dude, the Great made his way back to his village, discouraged and not understanding why the kings and queens wanted nothing to do with him. Still, the villagers told him, ‘Dude, you ARE great.’

Lies. All lies.

So he set off again, in his quest to find the land of Publish. Finally, the queen of the kingdom known as House-of-Pain Ezine said, ‘Welcome, Dude, we will allow your words here.’

Finally, Dude, the Great had made it to Publish.

The villagers…they had to be right. But were they? Of course not. Of all the stories Dude, the Great had written, only one of them made it to Publish. But one had made it. That was a start.

Then Dude, the Great learned a valuable lesson. You see, he approached one of the villagers and said, “Hey, can you read this? It made it to Publish!”

“Sure,” the villager said.

Days passed and finally Dude, the Great contacted the villager with a, “Did you read it?”

“I did.”

“What did you think?”

“It was great?”

“Really?”

“Yes. I loved it.”

Loved it? This made Dude, the Great happy. “Well, what did you love about it?”

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. All of it.”

“What stood out about it?”

“Everything.”

Hmmm…Dude, the Great had an inkling that maybe the villager wasn’t necessarily telling the truth.

“What was the story about?” he asked.

The villager couldn’t tell him.

He asked again.

“I can’t remember, but it was great.”

“Did you read it?” he finally asked.

“Yeah, I read it. It was great.”

Dude, the Great walked away, his head down. The villager had lied to him, and he was saddened by this. Why? Because it became clear to him that the other villagers had heaped praise upon him, but they didn’t believe what they had said. He went home and sat in his room, the lantern on low, staring at his pen and paper.

All that time people said he was great, that he wrote terrific stories, and none of it was true.

Because…

Destructive criticism gives writers a false sense of how good they are told they are as opposed to how good they actually are. Constructive criticism allows them to become as good as they want to be, assuming they actually take the criticism for what it is.

Because…

Writers are real people.

We are. I know some of you who do not write say, ‘It’s easy to write a book. Just plant your butt in the seat and start typing.’

If only it were that easy.

Writers have families. Most of us have jobs to support those families, and we often write when an opportunity to do so presents itself. On many days, that opportunity is not there. So, what do we do? Many of us who really want to make it in this business will either stay up late or get up early in the morning to get some writing done. If you are like me, you do both.

Writers have feelings. We hurt. We get pissed. We love and dislike, and in some cases, hate–just like the average human being. We eat, we breathe, we poop. Well, we do. Most of us like sex. We are as real as you are. If you touch us, you will feel the imperfections in our skin. If you cut us, we bleed red, just like you. We’re real.

We put ourselves out there for you to love, hate or be indifferent to. We always hope you will like the words we put out and will tell someone else about this great book that ‘you have just got to read.’ It is a dream of ours, you know. Martin Luther King had a dream. We do, too, except all stories aren’t created equally. Some are slapped together, while the details in others are agonized over, sometimes to the point of being painful.

That’s just the way it is.

We want folks to be honest with us. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we would just rather look through those rose colored glasses and never know we need to improve. Maybe the truth hurts and we just can’t handle it.

Oh, I’ll just quit since people don’t like my stories.’ Then you’ve failed yourself.

Do you see how this works? Do you see how we, as writers, can be counterproductive, because so much of what we say and mean are two different things. Sounds like the average person.

Writers are real people. We work hard at telling stories. Most of us work hard at finding homes for those stories. Some of us work hard at marketing them and networking with other authors. A few of us actually get somewhere. Yup, just like the average person.

Because…

Passion is important.

Readers can tell when you actually believe in what you write and believe in yourself. Readers can tell when you get into a story, elbows deep, and try to make it come alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!

Because…

I’m disappointed.

It’s hard to disappoint me, but lately, this seems to have happened more than usual. And it has happened because of being helpful. It has happened because I don’t believe in destructive criticism or destructive praise, but rather just the opposite. And it happened because so few people are willing to listen these days. So few people have open minds about concepts and philosophies and how things are done, and no I am not talking politics here. I’m talking writing.

Because…

I think differently than you.

Most writers are all about the rules, the rules, you must follow the rules. Meh. I followed the rules, and I hated it. I even got a t-shirt. I believe rules not only are meant to be broken, but should be broken.

I don’t believe in plots, but life situations. I don’t believe you have to have perfect grammar–it’s boring. I believe not all passive voice is bad.

I believe in characters and scenes and the feels. I believe you can be the best writer in the world, but tell horrid stories that will never sell. I believe you need to do more than just write words, but you need to connect with the readers, hook them and pull them in and hold them so close they don’t want you to let go.

I believe all action, all the time, sucks.

I believe we should look at writing as the art form it truly is and maybe color outside the lines a bit.

Because…

There are too many writers competing against one another and being mean to each other and flat out cheating and stealing from each other. There are far too many good old boy clubs where you get in because you are friends, even if your stuff sucks.

There are too many writers who would rather bash another writer because he or she does things differently than them.

Because…

The reading population has dwindled over the years. It’s not just that there is an abundance of other things to keep people occupied. There is also an abundance of really bad books out there, and readers have gotten tired of purchasing stuff that sucks. We’re losing them every single day.

And it is our own fault.

Because…

Honesty matters.

Yeah, full circle and all that jazz.

If we, as writers, were honest with ourselves and the readers, we know when we are actually trying to tell a great story or trying to make a dollar or four. We know when we are doing something wrong. We know when we are hiding something that could help others. We know when our words suck, and when we just throw them together.

But wait. Sometimes our friends know we suck. They opt for destructive praise instead of constructive criticism. A bloated ego based on false statements doesn’t help someone get better when they need to.

Because…

Too many people don’t care.

Because…

It’s your life. Own it.

This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s your life. Not someone else’s. Don’t blame someone for your shortcomings and failures. Don’t blame someone else for you not succeeding. If you can take credit for the things you do right, you can take credit for the things you do wrong.

Own. Your. Life.

You only get one shot at this game, why not be the best you can be?

Own your writing. Make it yours and then show the world what you’ve created. Be proud of what you accomplished.

Because…

I told you I had something to say and it might be long.

So, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Don’t be a Word Whore, Just Don’t Do It

[[I am going to preface this post with this: The snark has been strong all day today. If you take offense to anything in here, well…I’m not going to apologize for it.]]

What’s a word whore you ask?

I need to give you a little back story. Not too long ago, three writers were discussing the written word, because sometimes that’s what writers do. In this case one of the writers, we will call her M, mentions how one of her stories was compared to another writer’s work.

I originally wrote the entire back story to this, but that would just bore you to drinking. What you need to know is this: M did not get upset that she was compared to another writer. Sometimes when that happens, the comparison is to a great writer and that can be a confidence booster. It can also swell the head like a balloon that needs popping. Get your needles out, folks. What she was upset about is who she was compared to. His name is not important, but I will call him Swane MacDrivelwriter.

Swane MacDrivelwriter is a word whore, and no one who wants to tell a good story wants to be a word whore.

That brings me back to your question, what is a word whore? It is someone who slaps words together with the sole intent of making a buck. They dress the words up to look pretty, but they mean nothing, and when you are done reading them, they will light up a cigarette and take your money. They don’t care about the reader (though they will wax poetic about how much they do). They care about the dollar they can make off of them. Word whores put out a ton of work, but very rarely do they edit or actually tell a story. They don’t look at themselves as story tellers, but authors who put out books that all readers should love (according to them). There is an inherent cockiness and entitlement to these people. They are the very bane of existence to anyone who actually tries to tell a good story. Word whores also brag, brag, brag about how many words they’ve pimped out, while swearing they need no help with anything. When they do get help from someone else, they don’t give credit to that person. Shame on you, Swane…

Before continuing on, let me state I have no problems with folks talking about their word counts. I talk about my word counts from time to time. It is a measurement of progress, and so often the very thing that keeps writers going. When I reach the ten thousand mark on any story, it just kind of takes off. What I don’t care much for are those folks who do the one up thing:

“I did three thousand words today?”

“Oh yeah? I did six thousand words just this morning.” Oh, Swane…

And good old Swane MacDrivelwriter is a master at selling his words for whatever buck he can make. That’s what makes it worse. He’s a word whore and a used word salesman. He is the reason why so many small presses and independent (or self published) writers have no chance in this business. Some readers are forgiving of his type, and even whisper that sympathetic southern term, ‘Bless his heart,’ after reading the slop he put out. Others are not so forgiving. They just spent money on his work. They just spent time reading it, and they feel like both were wasted. You know what happens then? They say, ‘I’m done with the small presses and the indie writers—they all suck.’

 

Oh the black eye you give us.

Don’t be a word whore. Don’t be a Swane MacDrivelwriter. The best thing you can do for you, your work and the readers is to actually stop and think about the words you use. Does this word work here or is it just here to complete the sentence? Does this sentence convey the point I want to make or am I just padding my word count with tissues in bras or socks in pants? Am I actually telling a story or am I just putting words one after the other in a relentless assault on the readers to try and make a dollar? Am I doing the very best that I can or am I putting out the same thing time and time again, kind of like how certain pop singers’ songs all sound the same, but have different titles to fool you into believing it is a new tune.

Are you doing what everyone else is doing because the formula sells books (even if they are bad books)? Are you just writing so you can say you wrote something?

Stop. Be original. Write words that matter. Write words that mean something. Write words that not only the reader can feel, but that you can feel. Write words with emotions and don’t just write to write.

Don’t be in a hurry to get that next book out. Try your hardest to make it your best. Don’t be a Swane MacDrivelwriter. Don’t be a word whore and just write for money. Sure, you might make a buck, but there’s no integrity in that. Yes, I used the word integrity. As a writer, if you are not striving to put out your best work each and every time, but just putting out for the dollar, well, there isn’t much integrity in what you’re doing. Take pride in the stories you tell. Take the time to tell them and to use the right words; words that have meaning and heart and impact. And keep your words off the street corners. Nothing good comes out of that.

Until we meet again, my friends…just don’t be a word whore…

C Is For Competition

Today’s blog is brought to you by the letter C as in C is for Competition.

I’m all for competition. I am very competitive, to say the least. I hate losing at anything. You won’t see me let anyone win at something—if I lose, then my opponent beat me. It wasn’t given to him or her. They won. That is important for people to understand. I am not going to let you win.

Having said that, I want you to understand something: if you are a writer, you are not my competition. Let me repeat it just in case you missed it: If you are a writer, you are NOT my competition. If you think I am your competition, then just know your opponent isn’t playing.

Let me explain as briefly as I can: The reader pool is dwindling every day. I actually had someone come to the library where a convention was taking place and say, “I don’t read much.” Seriously? At an author meet and greet. Okay, that is the first problem writers face. The second one is that if a reader doesn’t read in your genre, then that pool shrinks even more. A lot of times this makes writers a little antsy. Why? It’s hard to get readers in a world where there are fewer and fewer of them.

Now, for the third problem: I have noticed over the last few years that some writers view other writers as their competition. It’s as if they say, “If that guy or gal has a nice following, what can I do to get that same following, and if I can’t get that following, how can I take some of it?” They see the dwindling reader pool and think I need to get every one of the readers and no one else can have any. And if they can’t get the reader? Well, they start playing mean.

I’ve seen writers become friends with other writers and then stab them in the back to get ahead, or use a well placed and intentionally misleading sentence on social media and then leave it for everyone else to get outraged over. Then come the flame wars where arguments escalate to personal attacks and downright childish behavior. I’ve seen writers get in good with groups, get what they need or want from them and then disappear from the group. I’ve seen people outright steal from others; their ideas, their titles, their actual words (and those folks, above all else, should be ashamed of themselves). I’ve seen memes directly attacking authors by name (and a good many of those memes are vile in their content).

The mindset is if I can make it look like I am the victim, then the readers will like me and not them. Or worse, if I can make it look like I am the victim, then the other writers will side with me and we can shame him or her out of the business. The less writers there are the better chance I have of getting more readers. That is a bad way to look at things.

It’s also called playing dirty. For a lack of a better term, it’s cheating. But sometimes you just need to cheat, right? Wrong. I’ve always found more satisfaction in doing things the right way, than by cheating your way into something. I have quit teams in sports over their willingness to cheat. I’m a firm believer in if you have to cheat to win, then you were never good enough to compete to start with.

Listen to me. I am not competing for anything in this business. I’m not competing with or against other writers. Period. I’m not competing for readers or for publishers. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus or try to screw anyone over. To me, it is not worth it. Like I said, I am competitive, but if I have to do something wrong to someone to get ahead, I would rather not get ahead. I’m also not going to glad hand people to get ahead. I want publishers to want my work because my work stands on its own, not because they are friends with me. With that said, I’m not in a competition with you. I will let my writing speak for itself.

I want readers. You do, as well. Why compete against each other? Instead, why not help each other? Why not share each other’s work on social media and with friends? Why not get to know the writers you are trying to compete against? You might be surprised; you might actually like your ‘competition.’

The bottom line is we all want the same thing: readers. Here’s something else you need to understand: readers can enjoy more than one person’s work. It’s true. A reader can like your work and mine. And guess what? If your work is better than mine, then the reader may like your work more, and that’s not about competition. That is about writing a good story. So why not let your work and your ethics speak for themselves instead of trying to one up or cheat someone who probably doesn’t know they are competing with you?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A is for Accessible

After doing the post, L is for Lazy, I realized that there are so many more topics I could do with this particular format. I had already figured out at least four others I wanted to tackle. Sitting back and thinking on it, I came to the conclusion that I should have started at the beginning of the alphabet and worked my way down. I didn’t. Oh well. Live and learn, right?

Today I would like the letter A to bring you today’s topic. In other words: A is for Accessible. Let’s look at this for a couple of minutes.

Accessible is defined as easily reached, easily understood, easily, approachable, susceptible, easy for the physically challenged to use and observable from another world. I don’t know where that last one came from, but it’s in there. What we are going to focus on is the approachable aspect of accessible. Sticking with the definitions here, approachable is defined as not aloof and not difficult to talk to or meet with.

One of the easier parts of writing is talking about your work to folks who want to know about it. If you are too shy or too afraid to talk about your work, then this may not be the business for you, because if you start to get somewhere with your writing, folks are going to want to talk about, not just your work, but you as well. They are going to want to get to know you, the person, as well as you, the writer.

It’s inevitable and it can be a good thing…or a bad one.

I love when someone ask me a question about one of my stories or about the writing process or even about me as it pertains to my work. I enjoy telling them about myself and where a story came from. Years ago I couldn’t do that. I thought it was bragging, and that was something I was raised not to do. I have since come to realize it isn’t bragging if you can back it up. Most folks who brag about themselves can’t back it up. When it comes to writing, I am finally at that point where I feel I can finally put my money where my mouth is.

Though I have come to be able to talk about myself, my work and where I am at with it, it wasn’t until last year at the Cayce Festival of the Arts that I became acutely aware that what I say and what I do greatly affects me, the writer, the person, the brand. And yes, you are a brand, like it or not.

What I realized is if I don’t learn how to talk about myself, and do so with confidence, then very few people are going to buy my work. But it’s not just talking about me. It’s cultivating a relationship with the readers. It’s being on social media and interacting with them. It’s shaking hands and smiling for pictures at events. It’s signing books or pamphlets or bookmarks or even a shirt someone is wearing. It is caring about them, and no, that doesn’t mean caring to gain something. It is genuinely caring about your readers. Because here is the thing: if you don’t care, they will know. And if you are fake, they will know that, too. You have to be real, not real fake.

I want people to read my work. I want people to know who I am and to say, ‘hey, that guy is a great writer, and he is so cool, too.’ I want my readers to understand that I am just like them. The only difference is I write some pretty cool words and form them into stories.

If you’re a writer and you don’t talk about yourself or your work, then you aren’t going to go very far. You have to put in the work to get anything out of it. That means making yourself accessible to readers–also known as fans–and giving them a reason to want your work. What sets you apart? Why should I care? Why should I buy something from you? Give me a reason to support you with my money and my time and my word of mouth. The only way to do that is to be accessible.

Are you on social media? Get to know the people on your friends list or the folks that you follow. Do you have a blog? Give the readers something to look forward to. Give them a free short story or a teaser to an upcoming book. Do you have a website? Change the content of it as frequently as you can, no less than once a week. Do things for the readers. It’s hard, but with a bit of work and dedication and honesty, you will find that more readers will seek you out and more folks will want to know you, and hopefully that turns into sales.

On the same token, if you are a jerk or if you respond negatively to a bad review or comment made about you or your work, then that news will spread like wildfire and those same readers you wanted will vanish in a hurry. It is a difficult line to toe because we are human and we have feelings and when someone says something negative about us or our work, then we get defensive. We get mad. We get rude. And then we say or do something that kills our brand. Think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it happen over and over. And it’s not pretty.

Being accessible doesn’t mean letting folks take over all of your time or tell you how to do what you do best. Being accessible is about being able to relate to readers and connecting with them. It’s letting them see a small part of you, the part that helps them make up their mind if they like you or not, and in return will take a chance on your work.

If you are a writer, being accessible is part of the business—a necessary part. With social media being the engine that drives the car, it is easier to be accessible now than ever before. What are you waiting for?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.