Tag Archives: Bob Mayer

Stepping back to move forward

I’ve heard people say that when you have a big job to do, it helps to break it down into smaller parts or steps. This makes it feel less overwhelming and also gives you a more immediate sense of accomplishment as you complete each step. It’s good advice. I’ve utilized this reasoning myself, more than once.

But sometimes it backfires. Or maybe that’s just me. Probably just me.

I read a post the other day over on Bob Mayer’s blog that talked about wanting things. As I was reading along I thought, Yeah, I want to finish this damn book already. And then I read this part and it made me stop and really think:

“Studies have shown that wanting something produces one set of chemical reactions in the brain, while actually getting it, produces a different one. In fact, once you get it, you can’t want it any more. That takes a second for me to wrap my brain around. That means you actually feel differently between the wanting and the having. It’s chemical. I think we often forget that chemistry is science and it does rule, affecting how we literally feel and think.”

Took me more than a second. This was daunting when I applied it to myself. Once I get what I want — to finish writing this book — then what? I’ll have a finished book and no more desire? My motivation will just . . . disappear? There was a brief moment of something that felt like panic until I realized, no, silly, of course not. Because what I want is more than just that one thing.

Pretty sure this wasn’t the intention of the post, but credit where it’s due. It made me realize I was so focused on one part, one small frustrating step, I’d lost track of the big picture. Since I couldn’t see past the current roadblock, everything seemed impossible. It was as if I’d gotten stuck on Hayakawa’s Ladder of Abstraction, clinging myopically to a lower rung, right alongside good ol’ Bessie the cow.

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I still think that ladder is missing a step and should’ve included something smaller than a cow. Like maybe a meatball or veal chop or something.

Anyway.

A comparison that seems more apt for my situation is that of creating a mosaic. I’ve been so focused recently on one little tile, trying to make sure all the edges were beveled and the surface was polished, positioning it just so, worrying that the colour perhaps wasn’t quite the same exact hue as the others. No longer seeing it as just a small piece of the whole.

More important, I’d forgotten that not only are imperfections inevitable, they are what give character to a piece of art and make the whole more interesting.

And I had to ask myself– am I really going to let this one small piece stop me from achieving the whole? Seriously? This tiny little piece that isn’t even the hard part of what I want?

Hell no, I’m not.

So I took a step back. A big step back. Yes, I want to finish this damn book. After that I want to finish the third book in this series. And then I want to write more books, more series, under this pen name and another. Books I’ve already started and some I haven’t, books in different genres, with possibly different audiences. My head is full of stories, waiting to escape.

The whole of what I want is a career as a writer.

It’s the kind of “wanting” that will never quite be realized, as defined in the quote above. That motivating chemical reaction will always be there, never fully satisfied, because a writing career lasts as long as the writer is willing and able to write. And can avoid getting bogged down in minutiae.

Slowly, reluctantly, I’ve come to realize that in order to accomplish the whole, I need to accept that some of the individual pieces will be imperfect. I don’t like that feeling. It’s so . . . vulnerable. But it’s true. There will be flawed tiles, whether those are not-quite-right words, awkward sentences, clumsy scenes, or books that don’t quite fit a series. At first, up close, some of those pieces might look a little weird or scrawny or pitiful.

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But eventually they’ll all fit, in their own way, and be pieces of the whole. Some people won’t notice the flaws. Other people won’t be able to see anything but, and will be dismayed (sometimes — okay, a lot of the time — that will be me). With any luck, there will also be a few people who not only see the flaws but decide those are what make the whole interesting and unique and give it character.

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So I’ve expanded my focus, renewed my perspective and determination– for what seems like the millionth time. But I guess that’s my struggle, balancing self-doubt and confidence. Probably always will be. Oh, and that pesky little tile, er, scene that was giving me so much trouble? I deleted it. And wrote something else, something better. Sometimes I forget I can do that, can magically make things NOT happen. Another symptom of getting too close.

I’m back at work, quietly making my own mistakes, polishing my flaws as best I can and then letting go, setting pieces in place, moving on to the next. Envisioning a larger composite only I can see, that only I can create. Wanting what I want.

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Filed under deep thoughts, writing

The Power of Three

“I’m not dead yet!”

Sorry for the extended silence over here. I’ve actually written a small handful of posts in the past two months, but they were either too trivial or too whiny or involved too much navel-gazing. So I deleted them and decided to wait until I could fit all those qualities into one post.

Ahem.

I’ve been busy writing. And deleting and editing and writing and deleting some more and . . . I swear, I will never participate in NaNo ever again. I suspect I’ve deleted or completely re-written every single word spewed forth in November. Mind you, I think NaNo is a terrific thing for writers if it works for them. I’d absolutely recommend that any interested writer give it a try, because you never know what might work if you don’t try it. But it’s just not a good fit for my writing process. Geez. I’ve never had to do such a major overhaul.

There, that takes care of the trivial whining portion of the post.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about marketing. Trying to think like a reader. Luckily, I am one! In fact, I am a voracious and highly experienced reader. So I’m the perfect person for me to ask about what works in terms of marketing books [just nod and agree as if that made sense].

What works for me? When I discover a new-to-me writer and read a book of theirs that I really like, the first thing I do is check to see whether they’ve written anything else. If they have, I’ll buy another book. If I like that, I’ll buy a third. And a fourth. And probably the entire backlist, provided it’s priced such that my budget can handle it.

But what happens when I read a book I really like and there are no more books by that person? Well, of course, I make a mental note to remember that person’s name. Because that works so well. Not. Sure, I could make an actual list. But I know how hard it is to write a book. I hope that person will write another, but I’ve seen dozens of writers disappear in my decades of reading. So I’m not counting on it.

Seeing an author’s name once or twice is not going to make it stick in my brain, no matter how much I might have enjoyed their writing. There are just too many other books and authors out there. And I read A LOT. But three times . . . there’s something memorable about that. Seeing something three times, searching Amazon three times, buying an author’s books three times, and — this is KEY — really enjoying something three times. That would leave a lasting impression, even with me.

Now, the importance of having a backlist is not a new concept. I’ve heard it from several sources, but probably heard it first from Bob Mayer. He has an uncanny knack for being way ahead of his time. Our time? The times? Whatever. I’m sure his prescience is a direct result of all those alien abductions. Anyway, I remember him saying there’s not much point in marketing your books until you’ve published at least three of them (there’s that number again).

I’ve decided to take that advice a step further. I’m not going to publish any of these stories I’m currently writing until I have at least three of them ready to go. Because if someone really likes a book I’ve written, I want them to be able to buy another one immediately. And, if they enjoy that, yet another. I might never get a second chance to capture that person’s attention. There are just too many other books out there.

I want that person to remember my name when future books are published. I figure three books ought to do it. I might be wrong. I have no statistics or publishing experience to back this up. All I have is my intuition and experience as a reader. But I’m pretty average in terms of remembering things [just nod and agree, humour me] and it seems to work for me. It makes sense to me.

As a writer, putting books out there as soon as they’re ready to go is a seductive prospect. Everyone does it that way, even traditional publishers. It would certainly satisfy my towering impatience. I also think it’s a mistake.

Yeah, I know, most of you reading this post already know my name (as well as my new pen name) and will argue that you don’t want or need to wait until I have three books ready. I know that, and I’m sorry to make you wait. Really, I am.

But I’m sort of hoping to sell books to more than five people. Looking at this from the perspective of an unknown reader, it just doesn’t make sense to rush to publication and do this piecemeal. The importance of seeing things from that perspective, being aware of the discovery process of the unknown reader, is something writers can’t afford to ignore in this new realm of DIY publishing.

So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published anything yet, that’s why. Yes, I could have. But just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. And I believe there are compelling reasons why it would be foolish to do so.

Of course, none of this matters AT ALL if no one enjoys the books. So, back to working on that part of it.

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Filed under goals, marketing, self-publishing