Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Stop Shoulding Yourself


This familiar word wraps me up in its arms and holds me close, filling me with guilt and comforting me with an apology to the world. Its unrelenting judgment soothes me with its familiarity. The addictive powers of “Should” pull me into their welcome grasp and leave me humiliated by my lack of willpower, sneaking out of their apartment after the lust has disappeared and all that’s left is the cold grey light of disappointment. 

Should” Pressures Us

When we say “I should,” we state what we insist we must do. We hear the blog post or a parent’s stern admonition or the guru we follow. Actions we believe someone else or our community or the world demands of us. Each time you say “I should,” an unfulfilled assumption unfurls from your tongue, and guilt breaks through the dam surrounding your soul, flooding it with disgust.

Guilt around these “I shoulds” helps no one. Guilt fills your brain up with static, refusing to allow anything else entry. Where is the room for your writing? Gone because you’re feeling guilty about not writing!

It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one inflicted on us by ourselves.

Luckily, one radical practice frees you from this cycle.

Stop using the word “should.”

That’s it. Excise “should” from your vocabulary. Does it sound easy? Because it is not. That “should” is trained into us by our family, our schools, our community, our society. Shaking it loose takes time and effort. This is why it’s a practice—not a quick fix!

The first step? Stopping your mouth from forming the word.

And the real trick to stop the cycle and avoid the guilt trip from yourself?

Define the expectation. When you stop that “should,” replace the word with another one. What’s the first word that comes to mind to replace it? Why that word? What does that word tell you about this expectation you hold?

Inquire why you must do this thing that you “should” do. What goal is achieved by doing it? Can the goal be met by taking a different action?

The rote “I should ” now becomes an “I can.” Or maybe, the “I should” becomes an “I don’t need to” or an “I want to.”

And that’s ok.

This transformation of the “should” redirects your energy from wallowing guilt into practical action. It encourages you to work on goals infused with your meaning rather than the goals that you imagine everyone expects.

And that is what I am asking you to do by releasing “should” from your vocabulary. Let’s give it a try.

One of my not-so-favorites is “I should work on my writing.”

First, I eliminate the word and substitute it with another. My first thought is to use “will” in its place. Immediately, “will” sends up a flare of alarm. That word sets up a new way to add pressure. Bye-bye, “will”!

However, “I can work on my writing” tells me that working on my writing is possible.

Now I ask why.

Why can I work on my writing?

Because I can physically work on my writing. I can sit down at the computer and type words into the document and write. It’s a possibility.

Why am I not working on my writing?

Because I work hard all day and I’m tired at night. And on the weekend, I have to do my chores and recover from the week. And I’m at a place in my writing where I feel weak.

Now I have some good information! Now, instead of just feeling guilty, I can delve into the reasons behind my excuses. And solutions to very real problems can reveal themselves.

  • Maybe I can ask my wife to help with the chores and free up a little time for me to write on the weekend.

  • Maybe I can rise early in the morning to write before work since I’m tired at night.

  • Maybe I can let myself off the writing hook for a couple of weeks until this super-stressful deadline at work has passed.

  • Maybe I can strengthen my work by committing to improve just one sentence a day. Or every day-ish.

Options exist. A potential solution reveals itself.

And the “should” no longer controls my thoughts.

The practice of stopping your “should” cycle is one that you will find needs constant attention, especially for the first few weeks. Once you start noticing your “shoulds,” they will surprise you with their frequency. Over time, their presence will slow to a trickle, but never quite disappear. Perfection in this practice may not be possible (I certainly haven’t found it yet!), but committing to the practice of inquiring into your “shoulds” can empower you to make progress toward your dreams.

One final thing—sometimes what the “should” reveals is that you don’t really want to pursue that goal. It’s just a goal that other people expect of you but doesn’t align with your heart. Or it’s a thing or action that someone has told you that you need to get to your goal but the action or thing doesn’t ring true for your journey. If the answer you discover in your inquiry is “That feels wrong to me,” respect your inner voice and find another way.

“Should” happens. Inquiring into each “should” reveals the reasoning behind the expectation. Facing the actualities of each “should” reveals a list of barriers that you can overcome to achieve your real goals. Delving into the options each “should” reveals empowers you to take action.

Begin where you are. Define the expectation. Ask “why.” Try not to judge yourself for falling into the “should” trap of expectations.

We all do it.

And the lessons we learn from those “shoulds” empower us to achieve our heart's goals.

*This post is informed by and uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching Tools™.

LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching tools™ to break down resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm while gently encouraging you with humor and heart. Are you ready to embrace joy as you pursue your creative goals? Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz

Monday, March 21, 2022

Active Listening as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher Made Me a Better Writer


                                                      Photo by Hack Capital on Unsplash

Active listening as a 911 Dispatcher taught me to listen with attention, so I know the right questions to ask when listening on the phone, listening to clients, or listening to my characters.

The role of a 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatcher and Call Taker is as a first responder. They are the first line of assistance to anyone calling on the phone for help. They are the only link to help and information available to the caller in the middle of a crisis and the emergency units responding.

In that position, you only know what you are told or can hear. Obtaining priority information is important to the safety of all, and to a quick response. People in crisis often do not know what to do, or what to tell you so you can help them. It is all dependent on the call taker asking the right questions to obtain vital information.

I worked in 9-1-1 public safety telecommunications for twenty-three years. One of the skills you acquire is active listening. Active listening is more than just hearing what is said; it is understanding the undertones of what is spoken and reaching the right conclusions.

In emergency situations, interpreting the background sounds provides a lot of information that can’t be spoken, but you can hear it. That information might tell where the person is who has no idea where they are such as a child, or injured person or a lost visitor in your city.

Background sounds can reveal misinformation and lies by the sounds you hear when talking to people, which is a trick you can use when telling your stories. Those background sounds might reveal where an active shooter is within a large building when the caller can’t tell you.

Getting creative with this technique is a terrific way to reveal character, setting, and situation.

One of my roles as a writer is listening to my clients talk about their stories in one-on-one coaching.

Sometimes it is not what they are saying that reveals the right question to move the story forward but how they say it, or the emotion or emphasis in their words as they talk about a situation.

Paying attention to those little nuances cue me in to the underlying problem, and the reasons they are stuck or have lost their way in the story they are trying to tell.

Just because you hear someone does not mean you are actively listening. A definition I like for the word listen is “give one's attention to a sound.” This is called active listening.

Listening with attention means not trying to second-guess what is being said to you, interpreting what you think you hear, or drawing conclusions before you have heard all the necessary information. Don’t assign the obvious by second-guessing the speaker.

Always listen to the tone and emphasis on words being said or the word choices that are made or not made when speaking. It is as much about what is not said as it is about what is said. Pay attention to phrases and repeated words.

Using the technique of having your character misunderstand or second-guess others can help you create conflict and misunderstanding in your story. Sometimes it is what is not said that is the heart of the problem.

As writers, we get overwhelmed with all our story knowledge, or world-building or character profiling, and can’t see the tree for the forest.

Yes, that is cliche, but appropriate.

Body language is a big part of active listening.

As a dispatcher and call taker, I spent a large majority of time on the phone, but we often had walk-up traffic to the dispatch window.

When talking to people in person, active listening involves watching their actions and behaviors. Pay attention to unspoken communication and even use your sense of smell in rare situations.

Learn to use unspoken communication in your writing as well. Sometimes it is the little things or the appearance of unimportant things that can tell worlds of information about a situation or a person.

For example, the smell of their breath could indicate drunkenness or sickness. Are they staggering because they are drunk or is it a medical emergency you need to have an ambulance respond to?

Are they yelling, saying inappropriate things, or cussing at you because they are in a rage or might they have Tourette's Syndrome or some other extenuating circumstance causing the behavior?

Staying calm and listening is the fastest way to help them resolve the situation taking place. Attentiveness helps you determine the best action to take in a seemingly hostile situation. It may be as simple as getting out of that person's line of vision and allowing someone else to talk to them — and yes, that happened to me.

Applying active listening to your writing.

Active listening can help you learn several things in your writing, including how to convey a lot in a single scene without excess words or info-dumping. It also can make the scenes active rather than passive, and convey character action, setting, and conflict in a more natural way.

When I am writing, sometimes my characters are talking to me, but I’m not actively listening to them. When I listen to what is not working in someone else’s story it helps me to recognize what is not working in my own stories.

Here are a couple of exercises you can try:

Think about the last time someone told you something while smiling but you knew that person was irritated with you. What did they look like? Use your words and senses to convey that.

Think about the last time someone told you they were fine, or they were not mad, but you knew they were. What body language did you observe that gave it away?

The next time you sit down to write, try actively listening to your characters and see what happens. The techniques you learn through listening can save you words in the writing, helping with show don’t tell.

More reading: 93% of all communication is nonverbal.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Where to Begin Your Book Marketing Research

Marketing – most authors dread it. And not just doing it. Researching it, too. Where to begin?

This site offers a list of marketing options, both on the Marketing and the Self-publishing pages. And below, we’ll break down some specific areas and feature some very large databases.

Looking to make some bookstore appearances? Start here:
Biblio - world-wide database
Indiebound - primarily USA but pulls up some stores across the border
American Bookseller Association Member Directory

The key is to find a database specifically for your country. Here are a couple countries to get you started:
Irish Books - stores in Ireland
Indie Bookshop Week - UK stores
Australia Bookshop Directory

Let’s not forget library appearances! Perfect for children’s books, non-fiction, and anything historical, although with the right angle, any book is a good fit. Start here:
Library Technology
Public Libraries

Here are some more specific:
SC Libraries
Georgia Libraries
Louisiana libraries
Libraries Ireland

Don’t forget the media! You need to get the word out about your book and any appearances. Start here:
Online Newspapers - world-wide database
On the Radio - USA database of radio stations
Nexstar - their USA stations
En-Academic - list of television stations in most of North America

Will you be going to book festivals, trade shows, or comic cons? Start here:
Library of Congress - list of book events in USA
Book Reporter - book events in USA
Trade Show News Network - trade shows world-wide
Upcoming Cons - USA comic cons
Convention Scene - list of many different types of USA cons

Finally, don’t forget getting reviewers for your book. Reviews are the MOST important marketing opportunity for your book. Start here:
Book Sirens - one of the largest databases of book reviewers
Book Blogger List
Book Review Directory
The Indie View
Online College
Kate Tilton - large list of reviewers

And some more genre specific:
Published to Death - fantasy & science fiction
Feedspot - children’s books

There you have it! Now you know where to begin.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Considering and Using Character Wound

There has been a lot of debate about whether a character needs a wound, and what role the wound plays in characterization. Is a wound necessary? Do characters need some kind of deep trauma in order to give context to their present action behavior and plot? (Check out a very interesting article on the topic here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/01/03/the-case-against-the-trauma-plot, free if you haven’t reached your monthly limit of New Yorker articles.)

Image credit Mataparda on Wunderstock (license)

As a writing teacher, I do believe that imagining a backstory for your character can add the type of depth that a lot of stories require. After all, your character doesn’t just exist in the present context of their story. Their actions, reactions, worldview, struggles, etc. have come from somewhere. And while it’s true that the word “trauma” is bandied about, some would argue, too much, it’s an important tool to be aware of in your writing arsenal. (Another interesting consideration here: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/opinion/caleb-love-bombing-gaslighting-trauma.html, free if you haven’t reached your monthly limit of New York Times articles.) Especially after these last two years, it seems that everything is getting the pop psychology “trauma” treatment.

Often, we teach that a character has a wound or trauma in their backstory, and that this creates their current need. For example, if they have been abandoned by a dismissive parent in their family of origin, they might be unconsciously searching for acceptance from their current situations, relationships, etc. The “need” differs from the “want” or “character objective” because it is generally not something they are willing or able to acknowledge until they realize it. The want or objective is something they are pursuing, ideally, from the beginning. The two can be very different, converging or switching places (in terms of prominence) only when the character realizes the forces that have been driving them all along.

Whether or not your character has a wound or a particular trauma in their backstory is, of course, up to you. There’s also something potentially interesting about having your character’s backstory be positive, rather than negative, in order to combat the trope of the tragic past. If you do choose to use the wound, here are some considerations:

  • Reveal the Wound Early: A major (to my thinking) mistake that a lot of writers make is the withholding of the wound. Then it’s revealed at the climax, or shortly before or after, during the “all is lost” (depending on whether you’re using these structures). Suddenly, everything snaps into focus and the character makes sense. I disagree completely with this approach. If we don’t know at least something about the wound and resulting need right away, we’re missing a big piece of the character’s deep identity. We may not see or understand what drives them, why they do what they do, etc. The withholding of crucial character information can work in some mystery/thriller/suspense plots, but otherwise, consider airing all or part of the wound early—so that readers can contextualize your character and understand them right away.
  • It Doesn’t Have to Be Huge: What’s significant to your character doesn’t have to be melodramatic or even a big deal to some others. All that matters is that it matters to them, and that readers know why. A missed connection, a cutting remark, the fracture of an early relationship, guilt over something that did or didn’t happen—these can be fertile ground for creating an unrequited need in a character.
  • Do Your Research: As referenced above, many people have a working knowledge of how trauma works on the human body, heart, soul, and mind. But tropes and clich├ęs about here, as you can see from my abandonment/acceptance example. Sometimes, significant experiences can manifest in interesting ways. Read up on the wound you plan to use, and don’t be afraid to supplement your creative thinking with more academic explorations, like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. 
  • Deploy Self-Awareness: Something that trips many writers up is the idea that the need/wound are largely unconscious. They can make the character do things against their own self-interest, and otherwise lead to some murky emotions. But I, for one, am also always telling writers to make their characters (more or less) self-aware. How do we square this seemingly contradictory advice? I’d say that the character needs to be aware of their wound (see above, about revealing it), though maybe not all of the ramifications of having it. As the story progresses, they should be open to doing more inquiry about themselves, and exhibit a growing self-awareness of the difference between their want (which drives the first act or more) and their need (which kicks in during act two and really comes full force into act three). A largely suppressed or unconscious character in denial can be tough to relate to for readers. Besides, being aware of something and then acting on that awareness are two very different things—it can take a while for the latter to kick in!
  • Consider Your Ending: As you wrap up a character’s story (at least for the current manuscript), consider how to resolve the need. Maybe it’s resolved completely—they get the acceptance they desire! Or maybe there’s more nuance to it—they get a temporary reprieve from the feelings originated by the wound, or they get an unexpected solution that’s different from what they originally wanted (or thought they did). Remember that characters aren’t straightforward, and neither are their endings. It’s rare (and rarely believable) that the perfect solution for one’s wound comes along—and that the effects of psychic satisfaction lasts forever. Maybe all your character gets is temporary support, understanding, visibility, peace, etc. Maybe that’s what they need, though, to be complete … for now.

A character’s backstory doesn’t have to be long, melodramatic, or complex. But I think it’s important to consider what shaped them in the past on their way to their present. Otherwise, you might end up with a character who exists without much anchoring—readers may not have a sense that they are fully fleshed out, simultaneously existing in the present, remembering their past, and thinking about their future. Add these considerations of the wound to your character portraits, and see what develops.

For more advanced story and business insights about writing and publishing, please check out Good Story Learning membership: https://www.goodstorycompany.com/membership Join Mary Kole and the Good Story Company (https://goodstorycompany.com) team for nuanced exploration of all the writing and publishing topics that matter to today’s writer. You can also find Mary’s personal editorial services directly at Mary Kole Editorial (https://marykole.com).

Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and memoir. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of providing valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast, Story Mastermind, and Good Story Learning—to writers of all categories and ability levels. In 2020, she partnered with literary agent John Cusick to create Upswell Media, an intellectual property company which develops compelling modern middle grade and young adult properties for today’s diverse and dynamic publishing marketplace. She also provides select ghostwriting and done-for-you revision services at Manuscript Studio.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at Kidlit.com since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books/Penguin Random House.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

#IWSG DAY - March 2022

Insecure Writer’s Support Group—A database resource site and support group for writers and authors. Featuring weekly guests and tips, a monthly blogfest gathering, a Facebook group, a book club, and thousands of links–all to benefit writers! #IWSG

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer help and guidance. It’s a safe-haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer—aim for a dozen new people each time—and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog!  
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.  

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

The awesome co-hosts for the March 2 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, Pat Garcia, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon Lawrence!

Remember, the question is optional!

March 2 question - Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?

Why would a writer feel conflicted about adding a scene to a story? There are many reasons.
One of the reasons is linked to “artistic wiring” and visualization.
Perhaps the scene in question is particularly challenging. Maybe you’re not sure how to paint a vivid picture in words, in order to draw the reader into your scene.

The flexibility of the mind's eye is amazing. It can take many forms, and differs from writer to writer.
You may be one of those creatives who find it a challenge to fully visualize your scenes. Then we get artists who have that special brand of creativity: they can see mentally in three dimensions, in full color and can even rotate objects; for example, sculptors who are writers.
But we are all wired differently.
Each writer just has to find that unique pathway in your mind; one that belongs to you.

Here's an exercise to enhance visualization in your scene:
Copy a chapter of one of your drafts into a new document.
Erase all the dialogue.
Read the remaining prose.
That's what you're 'seeing.'
Concentrate on just that and ask yourself:
What image have I drawn with those words?
How are my characters moving through the scene?
Does that imagery paint a clear picture of what I wish to convey?
Hopefully you will move forward with more confidence, to tackle that challenging scene.