Marvelous Journey

I have big plans to share my writing with you! Over the next five years, I will produce seven fiction releases. The works include literary short stories and a series of  dark sci-fi novels. I’m looking forward to taking you to new and magical places. My favorite authors – Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Hand, Iris Murdoch – shared adventure and joy with me, and I want to honor them by passing it on.

Marvelous Journey

Marvelous Journey (Attribution Kata Links at 123rf.com)

My publication schedule is aggressive. I don’t write full time, and I don’t have writing minions to do my authorial bidding. I have so much (everything!) to learn about the mechanics of producing books. I want to attend book festivals, meet readers, and build authentic relationships with them. I want to help other writers by sharing what I learn – including how they can avoid the embarrassing mistakes I know I’ll make. I want to do all of that, plus keep writing new stories. It’s a lot to attempt, but it’s also an invitation to take a marvelous journey. There will be moments of discomfort, and of exhausted incomprehension. Sometimes I may wonder where I am going, and then I will need to lean on my own definition of success to be my guide. Everything I do will have to pass one simple test: does it help me become the author-publisher I want to be, and will it add value to your life? If either half of that proposition is not true, then I need to rethink my approach.

My journey of a thousand publications begins with one short story. I chose a project small enough to not feel overwhelming, but one that requires many of the same skills needed for the more daunting story collections and novels. It will be my crash-course in ebook formatting and cover design. Later this year, I’m releasing Stolen Climates as paperback. Not only is that a great opportunity for me to tackle the process of print formatting, but it also meets the needs of readers who asked for a physical edition. I can’t wait to get started on this marvelous journey!

 

-aniko

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Jealousy Kills Writers

Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time there were two writer-bloggers I loved, Josie and Parker. Josie had a vulnerable, writer-next-door vibe; she was open about her rejections, the stumbling blocks to creativity, the difficulty of having to wake up early to cram in an hour of writing before the day job. Parker was an indie firebrand. Her edgy, outspoken allegiance to self-publishing was a rallying call. I loved them both because they were showing me how other women cope with the psychological brutality of writing in a void, struggling for readers, and striving for their dreams.

Josie and Parker aren’t their real names, and this isn’t a Disney-happy fairy tale. No, this is a Brothers Grimm cautionary tale because once upon a time, I stopped loving these writers because they got what they wanted. Their writing careers took off and left me feeling betrayed. Betrayal slouched towards jealousy, and I fell into self-pity disguised as certainty that I would never be where they are. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to them and feeling like a failure. After all, Josie and I used to be so alike, both loved coffee, wore odd writing sweaters, wrote before work. How dare she get a publishing deal, quit the 9-5, leave me behind? Parker also got a publishing deal, but hers came with a full reversal on her stance on indie publishing. My indie icon abandoned  me! Me, me, me! All I cared about was how these women’s choices reflected on how I saw myself. I knew I should be happy for them, to celebrate their well-earned place on the bookshelves of the world. I couldn’t, though, because I was full of spite and resentment. I stopped following them on Twitter, I got angry when Amazon recommended their new books, I used their successes as excuses for my failure. Does that make sense? Of course not! Jealousy isn’t reason’s bedfellow.

What did I do?

I withdrew from the community. I let my  jealousy become my permission to give up on ever ‘making it’ as a writer. That big screen TV that I just wrote about giving away? It was how I spent my time, drinking and eating delivery food and feeling wronged by … what? The fact that writers whose stories I loved made it? That women who struggled harder than I have got farther in their writing careers? I was the biggest pity party in town.

The road back to a place of  joy in writing and freedom from the burden of jealousy hasn’t been easy. It took months, and the tough admission that I was reacting to Josie and Parker’s success out of total selfishness. I don’t know if anyone else has this writer-jealousy problem; it’s not the topic of polite conversation. But, if even one writer is suffering that way, I want to share what I’ve learned about how to stomp out the killing seeds of writer’s envy. Here’s the first step:

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER WRITERS!

Decide what you want, define success in concrete terms that matter to you. YOU, not Josie and Parker. Then make a plan of how you will get there. Know what you need to do this week, this month, and this year. Prioritize your list, then start working. I started with cleaning up and unifying my author-publisher platform; it doesn’t take much to get all of your social media outlets using the same type of images, taglines and bios. That was one tiny step on the larger journey, but it felt good because it is in alignment with my plan. When you know what and how, it’s easier to find appropriate role models. Then Josie and Parker become an inspiration rather than some bizarre writer’s yardstick that you either measure up to, or beat yourself over the head with for not being them. Practice gratitude and thank the authors who guide you by commenting on their blog and buying their books. Put in extra hours towards your goal by cutting TV out of your life. Look at other writers as a source of teachings, rather than a catalog of ways in which you have been “outdone.” Take your lead from your role models, but do things in your own way, and in accordance with your plan. Stop giving yourself permission to fail because you aren’t Josie and you’re not Parker. You will never be either of them. You are something equally beautiful, though: YOU!

-aniko

 

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I Gave Away My TV & Made My Stories Free

Last night, I gave my only television to my sister. I am reclaiming the thought-space in my mind, rejecting the ease of stimulus and distraction. I am making time for tasks that are both harder and more meaningful.

Why?

Because I’ve defined what success looks like for me. I stopped buying the one-size-fits-all definition of what it means to succeed as a writer. I know what I want, and I can see how I’ll get there. My passion for writing and for sharing my stories is restored. The act of defining what I want freed me, because I’ve finally (FINALLY!) grasped that you and I can both be “real” writers, even if we want different things out of our writing.

the gift is in the giving.The big screen TV couldn’t show me the way to freedom and inspiration. That took introspection, spirituality, and a good kick in the motivation from Dan Holloway’s SELF PUBLISH WITH INTEGRITY. I did the exercises he suggests, not really expecting them to work, but willing to be teachable. One of the first things I realized is that I would write even if I could never distribute my work. I would write because writing is my joy. It’s the jazz and the bliss. My drive to write, abstracted from pressure of preconceived ideas of success,  has nothing to do with becoming “legitimate” or getting a publisher or a movie deal. I would write even if I could never share my stories. Writing is how I play, and I am a playful being. Of course, I can share my stories. That opens up entire planetary systems of introspection, mostly around the question of whether or not I should charge readers for the stories that are given to me as a gift. This topic is a field full of ancient landmines just waiting for one false step, I know. I read the blog posts about the tsunami of stink and the generalized, bizarre panic that there might be too many stories in the world now that anyone can publish. I’m doing cartwheels through that field. I’m standing in the middle of it and offering my stories for free, forever. I’m releasing balloons one at a time, each of them carrying a story on the internet’s breeze.

The reason I have the courage to do this comes from having done the work to determine what MY success looks like.

FOR ME, SUCCESS IS:

    • Respecting the nature of the story as gift.
    • Making everything I write available in at least one free format, in as many venues as I can find.
    • Producing stories and novels of the best quality I can, including the expense of a qualified editor.
    • Trusting that the readers who are meant to find my work, will find it.
    • Having a core group of enthusiastic, kind supporters, even if that group is small.
    • Having fun with getting the word out about my stories by making friends and being of service.
    • Producing paperback and e-formats for readers willing to pay for physical copies or convenience.
    • Stickers. There will be stickers involved in this, somehow. And possibly balloons.
    • A stranger sharing my stories with their friends.
    • Happiness, a lack of anxiety, deliberate bliss-seeking.

I hope my list inspires you to give the exercise a try. If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear about your definition of success.

-aniko

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You Never Know Who Your Words Will Save

I almost quit writing. I was frustrated with the lack of commercial success, stymied by the opaque process of submitting work to publishing houses, and all out of joy. I resented my novel in progress because it represented a burden of thankless effort.

I was tired.

My day job is downtown. Every morning, I ride the train from my chickens-in-the-neighbor’s-backyard suburb to the heart of a city known for launching artistic careers. I stand near the doors, in a small corner where I can lean without getting pummeled by the other people’s bikes and backpacks. I read. Most days, there is another reader making the commute, and for a month he carried the same book with him, intently opening it to read a bit, then looking out the window in thought. His copy was worn, its dog-eared pages scrawled with comments written in multiple colors. I wanted to read that book, I wanted to be absorbed and consumed enough that  the noise and human stimulus of a train would fall away.  Who wouldn’t? NewSeedsCover

Now I have my own scrawled, worn copy of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. That book was exactly what I needed to read, at exactly the right time. It was a jolt of clarity, and it made me excited about the possibility that I could save my writing spirit. Here is a passage that I’ve bracketed and underlined (pg 111 of the 2007 New Directions edition):

 

If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.

If you write for men – you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, but only for a little while.

If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.

Clearly, Merton understands what it is to write for the wrong reasons. I didn’t want to be dead, but I wanted my writer’s gift leave me alone, which may as well be the same as wishing it dead. Merton’s ‘epistle to writers’ made me aware that I was unhappy with my writing because I was measuring it against goals that weren’t authentic. I’d forgotten that I write and share for the joy of it, not because of what I can gain in popularity, money, or Amazon rankings. I didn’t yet see how to get back to the joy, but at least I understood that I had somewhere to get back to.

This was the first of three books that saved my writing life.

Loving_Imogen_Cover

The second book to save my life is a contemporary collection of fiction, Loving Imogen by Mari Biella.  Biella’s prose is beautiful and evocative, and the stories moving, but it wasn’t beauty alone that saved me. It was the fact that the book exists. Biella shared her gift with the world – with me. She could have written it and stuck it in a drawer. She could have sent it to publishers and maybe I’d still be despairing of finding my joy because Loving Imogen wouldn’t yet be available. Instead, she self-published. She gave her words to the world, not knowing who they would reach or if they would be misunderstood, ignored, or loved. The act of sharing her stories is the act of giving a gift to a largely anonymous recipient, who could be anyone almost anywhere at any time. Such a gift will outlast the author, and is an expression of what art should be: an act of timeless, selfless communication. Loving Imogen reminded me that publication matters because it allows the words to reach an audience who may not even know they need those words. How had I gotten so far away from the fresh-minded faith that stories are meant to be shared, not used as tools of self-aggrandizement?

The answer to that question came in the third book to save my writing life, and Mari Biella was the key to me finding it. She posted a review of a book with a unique premise: instead of examining the technical aspects of publishing, why not examine the spiritual aspect, the cri de coeur that propels the artist? This book is Self-Publish with Integrity: Define Success in your Own Terms and then Achieve It, by Dan Holloway. He had me at “integrity,” but the subtitle promised a way back to joy.

Holloway writes (from the Kindle edition, 2013)

The things you get praised for aren’t always the things you set out to do… The problem comes when we [writers] start to set our compass by them, when our direction finder becomes externalised, is no longer the burning desire to communicate those quirky stories whose audience we longed to find. If we’re lucky, we can reset our compass. It’s something I’ve had to do several times. But disentangling yourself from those wrong turns is a monumental task… leav[ing] behind a trail of damaged creative relationships and disappointments.

self_pub_integrity_coverThat was it! Somewhere I swapped out my personal reasons for writing and publishing with … something else. I’d lost my faith that the readers who are meant to find my works will find them, just as I found Merton, Biella, and Holloway exactly when I needed them. To quote Holloway, “It was as though I suddenly looked outside the blinkers I’d been wearing and saw just how far I’d come from where I wanted to be.Self-Publish with Integrity offers a way to reset the writing compass. All you have to do is give a one-sentence answer to this question:

So what do you want from your writing?

Like a Zen koan, this question appears deceptively simple, but upon examination opens into something deeper, richer, and more mystical. Doing the work to answer this question led me back to joy. I have my one true sentence, my cri de coeur. I have a definition of success that is mine, and only mine. I know what success will look like for me in concrete terms, and it isn’t constrained by how anyone else conceives of success. I feel good again, excited and invigorated about writing and sharing my stories. I know where I want to go, why I want to go there, and how I plan to make the journey.

None of the authors knew their words would help me. They shared freely what had come to them through muse, God, or experience. None of us can know who our words will reach and help, or in what ways they will be life-saving. In Merton’s words (page 269), “…do not think that you have to see how it overflows into the souls of others. In the economy of His grace, you may be sharing His gifts with someone you will never know until you get to heaven.” Even if you don’t believe in God or heaven, isn’t it something to realize that stories and art extend beyond us in ways we can’t calculate, predict, or ultimately know entirely? I think that is beautiful, because it means that even if one person reads my work, it might have an impact. If there is one person, just one, waiting to read the story I’ve been given to write, I must share it with them. Not because I want fame, not because I want money, but because I want to participate in the mystery and beauty of giving.

-aniko

 

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