Here’s What Happens When You Just Stop Writing. #Passion2Profession

I’m dealing with this…horrible thing that I didn’t ask for. I used to love to write. It brought me incredible joy…I woke up every day, filled with excitement and an urge to rush to my computer so I could continue to tell whatever story I was currently writing. It was never easy, but it was always fun, and somewhere down the line, it stopped being fun…So I’m in free fall, because you’re right. I don’t know who I am, or what I’ll be if I just stop writing.” — Shay, SOME KIND OF HERO by Suzanne Brockman.

By sheer coincidence I was reading my first Suzanne Brockman book when she took the stage at RWA in Denver. There was a certain amount of irony that her speech touched on how a lot of people were feeling, while at the same moment her written words were touching on how I, specifically, was feeling.

So what happens after you realize you’re in free fall because you don’t know who you are or what you’ll do if you just stop writing?

Let me tell you all about it…in short, it’s a roller coaster ride.

In the last few weeks I’ve bounced from relief to disgust to acceptance. I’ve also found myself suddenly sobbing for no obvious reason, eating way more carbs than I should, and being unable to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes.

But, let me tell you something else: There is hope. And beyond that, there is learning, and pivoting, and there are dreams bigger than being a famous-wealthy-award-winning-bestselling-insert your personal goal here- author.

Here are some of the amazingly positive things that have happened since I wrote this post—>> eight weeks ago:

1. I admitted I was no longer earning a living through my writing, and picked a different means to make money. I’m still training to teach English as a second language, but the decision to pursue that employment has given me the freedom both to engage in interests outside of writing, and to explore options in writing I never would have if I were “trying to earn.” There is a tremendous relief that has come with removing money from the equation in terms of what I write, where I write, and how I publish, in considering partnerships and avenues I’d turned a blind eye to years ago. My entire career developed in the age of Facebook, Amazon, contemporary romance, and Indie. I saturated myself in those worlds, hyper focused on those platforms. But guess what? There are other ways and places, other genres, other options. If I hadn’t “given up” so to speak, I wouldn’t be seeing all the things I am now.

2. I left behind the things I’m not good at and don’t want to do. No more fretting over ads and algorithms, cross promos and giveaways. Will I do those things again someday? Maybe. Will I ever spend a bunch of time trying to “master” them? No. I’ve been focusing on story ideas, refilling my well, the process of creativity. And I’ve been working with other amazing women who are interested in exploring the same things (come join us here—>>

3. I decided I don’t want to be multiple people anymore. There isn’t a “Selena the author” and a “Selena the person.” I’m building an umbrella brand because I’m too complex not to. “Selena” loves language and books and humanity. And those things aren’t contradictory. One of the first things a “real life” acquaintance said when she read one of my books was, “it’s amazing how you wove human rights into a romance novel. I didn’t know that was possible.” Of course it is, and yes, I do it, but I do it in my own way. It’s not a marketing tool or a selling point, it’s just me. I’m going to keep on doing it, but I’m also going to discuss it outside the books. I’ll never make a speech like Suzanne Brockman’s, it’s not my style. But I’ll advocate and educate and use books and language and the skills I’ve gained over a lifetime to make the world a better place.

4. I’m deciding to go deep. When I woke up all those weeks ago and realized I couldn’t keep doing what I had been, I was faced with some choices about how I view myself. The easy thing was to say, “I don’t have what it takes to succeed.” But deep down that didn’t feel right. The harder thing was to say, “I haven’t gone to the right place to succeed.” There are places I haven’t taken my writing and my career because I was scared. Places I’ve told myself are “too good” for me. No more. It’s time to test the waters, take the plunge, and go deep.

A few weeks ago I felt like Suzanne Brockman’s heroine. And some days I do still. But more often I am feeling that this is not an end, but a pivot, a shift into something that while more complicated and intimidating may end up being much more fulfilling. All this is to say: your dreams aren’t an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to view this career as a zero-sum game. There are as many ways to be a writer as there are books to write. Open your mind, release your creative energy, and build your own road.

#Passion2Profession How to Bar-Con With Purpose

Another RWA national conference is in the bag and it’s time for the “lessons learned” portion. There are lots of notes being traded, stories being told, and ideas being exchanged. Some experiences were good, some unfortunately were bad, but all are useful and help newer writers decide whether they might want to brave the world’s biggest confab of romance writers the next time around.

I’ve attended three of the last four RWA conferences (because I refuse to add Disney World to the existing madness of a 2000+ attendee conference), but I’ve done it a little differently each time. And this year I finally felt like I was hitting my stride. Here’s how I did it:

  1. I am known for my inability to sit still and be talked at for long periods. I’m also known (at least to myself) as having a four-hour cap on my ability to people. Most of you reading this understand what I’m saying. It’s a lot of talking, and smiling, and trying not to overanalyze what you just said and how everyone around you reacted to it. Because of all this, I decided not to register for RWA this year (since it was down the road from my house) and “Bar-Con” instead.
  2. However, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn some new things, so when the Kiss of Death romantic suspense chapter announced their annual pre-con day-long workshop, I jumped on it. This year the Denver ATF presented for six hours on what they do and how they do it, and it was fantastic! If you’re going to Bar-Con, look for opportunities like the Kiss of Death pre-con workshop. There are almost always a variety of mini-workshops directly before the conference that use a separate registration. They’re a great way to get the “learning” without committing to several days worth of workshops.
  3. I attended an awards reception. Granted, I was up for the award (and won it, thank you very much! 😉 ) but even if you aren’t, go to a reception for a friend who’s a finalist, or for one that your local RWA chapter hosts. It’s a good way to be involved with one of the industry’s other functions–applauding excellence–and whether it’s your’s or someone else’s, it’s important to contribute to it.
  4.  I scheduled one professional meeting and several social meetings. The social meetups were with a variety of people, and while they didn’t always turn out exactly as planned (twice I didn’t actually get a chance to talk to the person I’d come to meet with 😦 ) they were well worth the time and ended up refilling my well in ways nothing else could. I talked to old friends, met new friends, signed things for readers who were local, met up with newer writers who were also readers, handed out audiobooks just for fun, and talked about business, people’s families, future projects, etc. I came away with gratitude for the friends I’ve made in five years, awe at the level of talent of my fellow writers (I had FIVE friends who were RITA finalists, y’all), joy for the successes they’ve experienced both professionally and personally, and amazement that there were enough people who actually specifically wanted to see me that I filled four whole days with meetups.
  5. When you Bar-Con you don’t get to attend the  RITAs. I live streamed instead and really enjoyed it. However, if you’re super into getting dressed up and love to be live at things like that, you’ll need to consider what you’d miss if you go the Bar-Con route.
  6. I am in no way advocating that everyone stop paying registration fees and hang out in the lobby at RWA conferences. The organization needs the registrations, and depending on where you are in your career, there are dozens of useful and unique workshops that you won’t find anywhere other than the national conference. However, I learned something valuable about myself by taking a step back this year and sticking to the Bar-Con. For an introvert (like me), the combination of attending workshops all day and then trying to socialize on top of it is overwhelming. I did more “networking” and positive socializing this year than I ever have at past conferences, I also enjoyed this conference more than any previous RWA. I know that was because without the workshops I had the energy left to people.
  7. I now feel liberated to register for next year’s conference, and skip the majority of workshops. I’ve realized that what we sign up for at RWA is much bigger and more significant than workshops alone. It’s about the experience in its entirety and you aren’t wasting your money if you go and spend the vast majority of your time doing things other than sitting in panel sessions. So if you’re unsure about whether to attend a future RWA, or if you simply can’t afford the travel plus the registration, consider the Bar-Con, but do it with purpose, plan a variety of experiences, make those connections a priority, and release yourself from the idea that RWA is mainly about the workshops. Then commit to registering for the subsequent conferences because it’s how we give back to the organization that brings so much and so many together in such a unique way.

Living my values: January/Spending

Instead of a traditional New Year’s resolution, this year I decided to put my words into actions. As a writer, it’s easy for me to create words—words that blast my views on social media, words that convince, words that criticize, so many words.

However, even writers have to acknowledge that words, while powerful, must eventually lead to action. So I decided this year I’m going to focus on making sure my actions fit my words.

Each month I’m going to focus on one aspect of implementing my values. Looking at things like how I spend my time and my money, what resources I consume, how I relate to my community, and to my own well-being. I’ll share what I learn, and maybe it will inspire someone else to do the same: Think about what your values are. Are you living them or merely talking about them? Make 2018 the year your words lead to something more.

Here we go:

January is the month I’ve designated for spending. I’ve never focused a lot on how my money aligns with my values. So, I decided to take a look at some things and find ways to improve. I’ll start by saying that the intrusion of mass corporations into our daily lives is so complete at this point I can’t be “pure.” As much as I’d like to say “to hell with corporations I’m going local,” that’s simply not realistic. I decided instead, to improve on the corporations I do use wherever possible. Here’s what I did:

1. Verizon wireless has the best service, we all know this. However, it also charges disgustingly high rates and is a serious threat to Net Neutrality. I wanted to get rid of Verizon, but I didn’t want to simply switch to another massive corporation where the only real difference was worse coverage. So I went to CREDO. CREDO is a carrier that’s been around since the late 1990s. They utilize the Verizon network, but give a percentage of profits to the types of causes I care about. They let users vote each month from a selection of three non-profits to donate to, and since their inception, they’ve given over $83million to non-profits that work toward things like gender equity and environmental protection. Huge bonus for me, they’re costing me HALF of what Verizon was each month, so while I haven’t completely escaped Verizon, I’m saving money and doing some good at the same time.

2. I’m a writer, and Amazon has the biggest bookstore on the planet. It’s pretty much impossible for me not to shop there. I won’t lie: their corporate culture can really suck. BUT, there are also opportunities to use the options they have to make a positive impact. The first choice I made was to stop buying my books on Kindle and use iBooks instead. Apple’s not perfect either, but God knows Amazon needs competition, and I can’t complain about their monopoly on the ebook market if I don’t make the change myself. Then I started utilizing the Amazon Smile program. If you sign in via Amazon Smile, Amazon will give .05% of the money you spend to a non-profit of your choice. You can change the non-profit anytime you’d like, and it shows you in a toolbar how much you’ve donated over time. Like the switch to CREDO, this doesn’t make me free and clear of the evil corporation, but at least I’m doing some good at the same time. A third option I found when I was looking for a better way to handle Amazon Prime shipping boxes. I hate the idea of all that cardboard that’s virtually unused being put into recycling when it has a lot of life left. But Amazon has an answer. Through an arrangement with a program called “The Give Back Box,” I can now fill my leftover Prime shipping boxes with things for Goodwill, print out a free shipping label, and send the box and the donations to a designated Goodwill at no extra cost. This also serves the fantastic function of forcing me to declutter every month.

3. My electric provider is a local co-op, and when I moved into the house nearly seven years ago I don’t remember seeing options for alternative energy. However, whether I just wasn’t paying attention, or things have changed, I was really excited to find that not only can I now buy green energy credits, but I can pay for solar panels as part of a regional solar energy cooperative my company has joined. So, instead of having solar panels installed on my house, they’ll add them to the regional array that then provides my electricity. It’s not cheap, so I’m starting small to see how it all works, but my goal is to add on over time and use the maximum amount of solar energy I can afford.

4. Using smaller or mid-sized companies where I can is also something I’m working on this year. Getting my fast food from Colorado-based restaurants Larkburger or Good Times instead of a national chain, buying organic meat from a small provider instead of buying mass-farm produced meat at the chain grocery, etc. These things help support places that think like I do, and put money in my local economy rather than a corporation’s pockets.

5. Like a lot of people I have things like 401Ks and IRAs. While I’ve done minor things with them over the years like sell oil and gas stocks to purchase Whole Foods (yes, long before Amazon bought them), I haven’t put a lot of effort into who manages the mutual funds I’m invested in. A few days ago, however, I read a really interesting letter from the CEO of the world’s largest asset management company, BlackRock [ ]. I’m really impressed with his take on corporate responsibility, including the call for corporations to insist on a diverse makeup in their boards, so I’m going to instruct my investment advisor to switch whatever we can to BlackRock products, in addition to continuing to switch individual stocks to companies that are most in line with my values.

There’s no way I can make my spending and investing philosophically pure. But I can leverage my money to do the most good wherever possible. I’m going to continue to look for ways to do this on an ongoing basis. Next month I’m going to start volunteering regularly, and I have some really great places to do it, so keep watching for more!

#Passion2Profession: How much is too much?

As much as we’d all like to carry the “New Year New Market” enthusiasm past January 1, the fact is the publishing market was the same on January 2nd as it was on December 31st. And we all know that means it’s anything but inspiring.

Because of that, there is a lot of talk about “how to earn,” and a lot of authors offering courses and coaching and mentoring. While I encourage you to keep learning, expanding your knowledge base and all that, keep in mind that there is no one “system” that will make you successful. While successful authors can tell you what they’ve done, that’s no guarantee it will have the same results for you. There are simply too many variables in this business.

Before you spend that chunk of change on someone’s system, make sure you’re realistic about what you’re getting for it. I’ve signed up for a year-long coaching program in a new genre, and I’m not expecting to become a bestseller or get rich. What I am hoping to do is get help building an audience from someone who’s already tied into that genre. That’s how you need to think. What can I really expect to get out of it and how much is that worth?

All of which brings me to today’s topic: How much is too much? How much are you willing to sacrifice to turn your passion into a profession? Because now more than ever it will be a sacrifice, and over and over again I’ve watched writers push their sacrifice too far. The call to follow your dreams is loud in this business, and there are people telling you they can help you do it (for a nice fee) everywhere you turn. There are a million techniques and strategies and approaches that you “should” be following, and then of course, there’s the actual writing of the books.

It’s overwhelming, and in our desperate rush to somehow make our dreams come true, we can push ourselves too far. So where is that line? Of course is will be different for every writer, but here are some basics you need to keep in mind:

1. If it’s damaging your physical and emotional health. Guess what? No dream is worth that. As much as I want you to succeed as a writer, I want you to be healthy more. If sitting at the laptop sixteen hours a day is giving you high blood pressure and you’ve gained forty pounds, or social media makes you anxious and writers’ forums put you into a depression every time you go online then it’s not worth it. Doesn’t mean you have to quit, just means you need to scale back until you can regain control of your personal well-being.

2. If it’s keeping you from being a good parent, son, daughter, partner, friend, spouse, etc. It’s easy to think you can take care of the people in your life later, but the fact is, no dream is worth destroying your relationships over. We all joke about leaving our spouses and children to live on carry-out while we’re on deadlines, and of course a week here or there isn’t going to kill anyone, but is it a few days? Or is it all night every night, both days on the weekend, all year long without pause? As the mother of four kids who are in their teens and twenties, and the daughter of parents who are nearly eighty, I can tell you no dream, no passion, no career is worth losing that time.

3. If it’s putting you into debt. Especially now, with the abundance of “I can teach you how to make money” opportunities that are saturating the industry, it’s far too easy to spend far too much on a career that will very likely never earn you much (and that’s not me being pessimistic, it’s just the statistics of author earnings). There is something to be said for spending smart money and taking well-calculated risks. It’s worked for more than one aspiring author, but if you’ve put your family into debt, or your business has never turned a profit, you need to stop and think about the choices you’re making. Illnesses happen, kids need things, spouses lose jobs. If you’ve taken away your family’s ability to weather those challenges because of spending on your dream, you’ve probably gone too far.

Finding balance is something every writer struggles with, and that tipping point is different for each of us. We all have different home environments, different finances, different personal proclivities and interests. But over and over again I’ve watched authors damage themselves and those around them with the drive to follow a dream. You won’t make it in this industry if you aren’t driven, but you also won’t make it if you’re sick, in debt, and lonely. Just like we tell parents they need to be healthy and happy to raise healthy happy kids, you need to be at your best if you’re going to make a go of publishing as a career.

Farewell to 2017

I like to view life as one big learning experience. And for all its pitfalls, 2017 taught me a lot. Some of this is personal, some of it less so, but in the end it all informs my writing and my career, so here we go:

  1. Our new toys are broken. Amazon and Facebook made indie authors, but 2017 was the year I had to admit they’re broken. The corporate greed that drove both platforms during 2015 and 2016 came to a crashing head in 2017. Facebook oversold ad space to the extent that the ads quit working. Amazon pushed their KU subscription model to the point that it became filled with fraud and abuse. We can’t live without Facebook and Amazon (yet), but this was the year I accepted I will need to look elsewhere, find new avenues to pursue, and accept the new limitations of the platforms that once provided me with the bulk of my income.
  2. I am in this for the long haul. When I first started in indie publishing it was hard, but it was nothing like it’s been in 2017. My Amazon earnings were the lowest they’ve been since the first year I published. And that meant I had to go to my husband and say, “Do you want me to get a different job?” He said, “No. This is what you do. You earn what you earn.” We’ll blog another time about what an awesome supportive hubby Mr. L is, but the bottom line was I then had to ask myself, “Will I do this no matter what? No matter how bad it gets and how low the pay?” And the answer was yes.
  3. Being an American isn’t what it used to be. I’m fifty years old, and I grew up during a time of relative peace and prosperity. It gave me the luxury not to think much about what being an American meant. And I never questioned whether my country’s values were aligned with my own. 2017 was the year I realized my country isn’t the place I thought it was. This year I’ve had to decide who I am in relation to a lot of things I always took for granted. I’ve had to decide what being an American means to me. And I’ve had to accept that there are a lot of people–on both ends of the political spectrum–who I simply can’t see eye to eye with, and honestly don’t even like all that much. I’ve ended a year of extremes realizing how much I value diplomacy, moderation, and thoughtful, astute analysis. And how much I don’t and won’t support the current mantras on both ends, people who are so hell bent on getting their own way they won’t compromise, and a political system that’s more broken than Amazon and Facebook.
  4. I only have so much power. 2017 forced me to get very real about what I can control and what I can’t. I can’t control Facebook. I can’t control Amazon. I can control what I write, where I publish it and how I promote it. I can’t control the institutions around me–the government, the corporations, the internet. But I can the choices I make day-to-day, and the things I value. Because of that I’m going to spend a lot of time during 2018 making small changes that will hopefully add up to big growth. I’ll be looking at the places I put my money, the activities I spend my time on, the decisions I make about my lifestyle, my business, and the people I engage with. I’m tired of rhetoric and debates and the people who spend their days on both. When you’re a writer it’s hard to make the shift from words to actions, but I’m determined to do it, and my track record of doing the things I’m determined to is pretty damn good.
  5. Nothing is forever. Not books, not governments, not people. Not Facebook or Amazon or Walmart. Things change, and if we want to survive we have to change with them. That goes for publishing and life, relationships and love. As much as we wish nothing would ever change, it’s simply not the way the world works. My world changed a ton this year, and my guess is that’s not done. The best thing I can do is accept it, assess it, and learn from it. I have hope for 2018, not because I expect the world around me to do what I want it to, but because I’m always learning and growing, and that’s really all any of us can do.

Now, what did you learn in 2017?