Change, Perfection, Positivity

Change happens all the time. As someone who suffers from Asperger syndrome, I can tell you that change to routines and patterns, stepping outside of my comfort zone, has never been easy. Change, especially when it occurs outside of my control, sends my mind spiraling, and I feel trepidation.

But change can lead to benefits. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been making efforts to cut back on social media time, but I’m also seeking to change my online habits, too. During the COVID shutdown I spent more time online, especially Twitter. I did get the word out about my work more and made some new connections, but now the hashtags I followed haven’t helped with book sales. The same’s been happening with tweets asking for book recommendations. These habits and the time spent on them and other sites feel more like a hindrance. To counter them, I’ve tried walking more, and for that, I’m glad.

With most sites, I’ve gotten down to generally 1-2 logins per day. Nevertheless, that is also something that could change in the future. Sometimes, I’ve found myself going up again if I need to do something specific, like website maintenance. I’ve felt if I can limit myself with those moments, I’m fine.

Nevertheless, the temptation is still there, and it can eat time. Plus, I’m aware these efforts could turn into new patterns that could become just as constrictive and worrisome. I need to curb the scrolling, searching, and that addictive, time-eating cycle that can result, but simultaneously, I also shouldn’t try to control everything, because anxiety always comes from not being perfect. It’s been said that with reviews, quantity over quality. With online time and content, it’s the opposite. Now I need to put it into practice.

Likewise, I’ve tried getting back into the writing routine I’ve mentioned before. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and other times I do not get the word count I’d like, but I need to remind myself that progress is progress, no matter how small. I need to see the fun in writing again, as author Nour Zikra put it. This year, I hope to be more positive about my writing, my online/social media time, my habits, and, most of all, myself.

I realized through prayer that I need to think more positively. Then, at the beginning of Advent, when I was feeling low and anxious again, after an earnest prayer to God, I opened my copy of the Bible without any specific section in mind. It opened to Psalm 77, and as I read it, I knew my prayer had been answered. Even if you’re not Christian or religious, I hope you too will remember all the good that’s been in your life when distressed. If I need to make changes to meet new circumstances, I will have to do so.

P.S. Enjoy these videos of my readings from last year’s open mics!

Spotlight

When a writer’s work is published, it not only goes out into the spotlight, but so does the writer. People who read books are pretty much guaranteed to be interested in learning more about the people who wrote the words, to find out more about the mind behind the stories they become devoted fans of. But the spotlight can be a double-edged sword.

Writers need to use public appearances and speaking in order to help spread the word about their work and build a network with other writers. It’s part of the marketing process. The nice thing about these events and conferences is that a writer can plan ahead to prepare for these events.

On the other hand, sometimes the spotlight can bring about negative feelings. The simple fact is not all people crave or seek the spotlight, especially introverted people like me. It’s especially negative when one hasn’t had the time to prepare, and it feels that everyone’s converging on them. That’s why I haven’t liked it when people unexpectedly start singing on my birthday.

There have certainly been a number of famous writers who haven’t craved the spotlight, such as Harper Lee and Emily Brontë. With the latter, it was her sister Charlotte who got herself, Emily, and Anne on their publishing ventures; had Emily been left to herself, she may not have published anything in her lifetime. J. D. Salinger went so far as to become a recluse and gradually cease publishing (though in his case, it may have also been due to unresolved PTSD from his service in World War II as well as fans of his magnum opus).

And, of course, the spotlight can have negative effects in another way. If people start scrutinizing your life, it can lead to mental trauma and even scandal. Throughout the news there have been numerous headlines about rough patches and downward spirals that many celebrities have gotten into, with gossip about what they are doing, especially in their personal lives. I definitely don’t want that.

It’s good to get away from the spotlight and the Internet sometimes. That’s why I’m taking my efforts to balance scales further by cutting back more on the number of logins per social media site per day, with reassessments of my social media activity.

When publishing, especially these days, it’s no longer possible to avoid the spotlight, but privacy is still something worth guarding. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prepare for public events such as reading, and it may be possible to satisfy the public’s curiosity without giving away too much, regulating what can be shared and what isn’t. They don’t need to know everything. One’s privacy is one’s own and no others.

To my fellow Americans, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful for home, family, and privacy.

Marie Sinadjan Interview

Many thanks to singer, songwriter, and fellow fantasy author Marie Sinadjan for the opportunity to be interviewed on her blog:

Author Spotlight: Andrew McDowell

P.S. I’ll be giving my Importance of Names presentation once more, at the Cumberland Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association on the 20th at 7:00 PM EST via Zoom. If you haven’t seen it yet and still want to, register online! It’s on Facebook, too! It will also be a hybrid meeting for those who want to be at the chapter in person (my Events page has the address). Though I will be on Zoom, I hope to see you all there either way!

Readers’ Wants

Back when I did my first blog post, I talked about what I called the “Misery Complex” (in reference to Stephen King’s famous novel), and how writers’ and readers’ wants can clash. Granted, not all fans are crazy and obsessive about authors and fictional characters, like Annie Wilkes, but there is no denying that once a story is out there, it can touch so many people in individual ways in that they feel a special connection. And as they become attached to fictional characters, it’s still important to consider their feelings. Or isn’t it?

I’ve noticed this especially in drama and TV shows, like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, with fans theorizing and predicting where the story and subplots will go or could’ve gone, along with characters, and expressing their upset when things don’t happen in a certain way. The latter is especially true when characters die, don’t end up together, or character growth just vanishes. To be fair, with killing characters, writers cannot always be hated and blamed the way they have been, especially in drama, when actors decide they want to leave and pursue other projects. It’s not always easy to explain a character’s absence once the actor leaves. There may not be actors in books, but still, it’s easier to put unwarranted blame on writers.

It’s true not everyone has a happy ending, and sometimes one bad turn can in the end lead to a good one, but is there a line that ought not to be crossed? I certainly cannot argue how upsetting it is when a story seems to building something or someone up only to not lead there at the end. When there’s an anticlimax to anything from a story line to a character arc to a romance, it is usually disappointing. I sometimes find myself imagining (not always in great detail) where things could’ve gone in a story where I felt writing was lazy. That’s what’s lead to a number of fans writing fanfiction.

But at least there’s one point on which writers and readers can agree: stories and characters matter, as does what happens to them. Nevertheless, they originate with the writers. I said in my importance of names presentation characters are the children of an author’s imagination. Well, the same can be said of stories as a whole: an author sires them, and then they venture out into the world. That’s why I firmly feel the author should have the final say in what happens in his or her work, and I’d hope readers would respect that.

But I’m not unfeeling towards readers. After all, writers seek out the opinions of others in beta readers and critique groups while they are developing the story. So yes, readers can have input, and sometimes fans’ suggestions can ignite a spark in the writer’s imagination when they can’t figure out where to take the story next (even if it isn’t what readers specifically want), especially within a series. So, in conclusion, they both matter. Readers’ opinions should be considered, but the final decision belongs to the writer alone.

P.S. I want to apologize for the inconvenience for those who saw this post in advance a few days ago. I meant to schedule it at a different time and clicked the wrong button. This was not intentional, but given the post’s subject matter, I can’t help but feel the irony. Happy Holidays!

Dusting Off Stories From History

Many thanks to historical novelist Anne Clare for this opportunity to discuss my feelings on using historical fiction to shed light on lesser known events in history!

Guest Post By Andrew McDowell: Dusting Off Stories From History

These are feelings I hope to follow when I venture into historical fiction someday!

Brain to Bookshelf Conference 2021

The Maryland Writers’ Association hosts a writers’ conference every year, except, of course, last year’s conference was cancelled due to the COVID shutdown. Normally held in March, they were able to host this one this past weekend. The main takeaway for me was being able to see a number of friends I hadn’t seen in so long, including authors A. L. Kaplan, Meg Eden, and Michele Chynoweth, and be in a familiar setting in person again, not unlike how it was when my critique group started to meet in person again a few months ago in our familiar haunt (no pun intended).

There were a number of interesting presentations from authors, including Jane Friedman, Mary Tilghman, Andrea Johnson, Edward McSweegan, Susan Moger, and Harrison Demchick, and I learned more about Balticon. I met a number of new people, and I was able to sell a few books! But there were some hard lessons I had to re-learn. When it comes to attending events such as this, pre-planning is vital. This was something I didn’t fully take into account that morning. I didn’t manage my time and drive well, and I made it there just in time to hear the first talk. What’s more, even though I signed up for both days, I didn’t realize until too late (shortly before the conference) that I had doubled-booked Sunday and couldn’t attend the second day. Still, I had a good time for the day I was there.

We’ll see what happens next year. I know now to remember to plan better in a number of ways. I guess I just had to get back into the rhythm of things. Maybe next time, if I can think of a new writing-related presentation, I can give it then. It is time to think up some new topics for presentation.

Speaking of presentations, I’ll discussing the importance of names for the third time next month on the 13th at 2pm Eastern Time. I hope to see you there! See my events page for the registration link.

Writing vs. Marketing—Balancing the Scales

It seems that there are two sides to the coin of being a writer. The first side is writing process and everything related to the it, such as conducting research, sharing drafts with beta readers and critique groups, and editing. The second side is marketing. Writers need to build a network and an online presence so that potential readers will know of the writer and their creative output.

When I started writing as a kid, I didn’t give much thought to marketing. Perhaps I thought the publishers would do all of that, or it would magically take off. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had to learn that without marketing, people outside of my family and friends would never hear of my work. If the general public isn’t aware of a book’s existence and if they don’t leave reviews, there will be no sales. Fortunately, I was able to get started on building a network once I joined the Maryland Writers’ Association and attended their conferences. I also began to build my digital platform.

I started to do a lot more online marketing as a result of the pandemic, especially by following certain hashtags on Twitter, eager to create as much exposure for my blog and books as possible. I’ve referred to WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter as the Big Three, with LinkedIn and Tumblr coming in next. Now, I am glad for the learning experience as well as for the genuine connections that I have made within my network, with people who’ve been kind and supportive. But at the same time, I feel as if I hit a roadblock—I’m not writing as much as I used to. Some writers I know had a massive creative output during the shutdown. I didn’t. Lately I’ve come to realize a simple truth: I’ve been spending too much time online, and not necessarily in a good way.

It’s easy to be tempted to check various social media accounts to the point where it becomes a habit, just like how I was creating exposure on Twitter but often scarcely interacting with other people. There’s that famous quote of how being a good writer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet. That has never been clearer to me than now. In the past, long before I’d had all these social media accounts, I got distracted from writing by a number of things. I had schoolwork that took precedence, and once I entered the workforce, that too has taken up a lot of my time. Free time, it seems, has been taken up by the Internet and social media. In other words, the balance scales were tipped too far in one direction.

So how to find a balance? Well, I’ve started off by limiting how many times I login to each social media account to three or fewer a day, with each at different intervals (morning, afternoon, evening). It’s a start, to keep me from desiring to checking all the time but not checking enough. But I know I need to do more. I need to mind the time and online activity, and make it more meaningful. And I need to train my mind more to focus on writing when I do have time that isn’t devoted to work, social media, etc.

Now, I need to work on trying to have some output each day, whether in my journal (which I haven’t been diligent with) or editing or story work. I cannot just write when I’m in the mood, but at the same time I feel if I’m not enthusiastic, it won’t be good. Many successful writers became so from diligent, constant effort. I’m on a quest, you could say, to find that balance again and beat this writer’s block. Hopefully soon, the words will start flowing again.

Yes, Networking is Crucial

Years ago, I talked about using social media for promoting one’s work and oneself as a writer, which has become even more important because of COVID. But promotion and marketing are but a part of something more important for life as a writer: networking. The more connections you make, the better your chances are at improving your odds. And something else I’ve learned is that networking consists of so much more than social media. While technology has been playing an increasing role in life even before COVID, face-to-face interaction is still a vital part of networking, and one I think all writers crave and have missed during this pandemic.

I still have vague memories of the first time I went to a meeting of the Maryland Writers’ Association years ago. I was nervous at first, but I quickly realized I needed to return. And I have had no regrets since then. I’ve become friends with many writers, and I realized I am not alone. It was at a meeting of the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA where I learned of Mockingbird Lane Press from another author, and that’s how I came to submit Mystical Greenwood to them and was subsequently offered a contract.

Events like meetings and writers’ conferences are great ways to meet new people, pitch your work, and if your work is already published, to promote and even sell copies. There are also critique groups too. One can join one or start a group and have beta readers who can offer a fresh pair of eyes. I’ve always enjoyed those offered by the Maryland Writers’ Association, and I hope to go back to them when it’s safe to do so again. While it is certainly possible do all of these things online, it isn’t the same as actually meeting fellow writers and shaking their hands.

Returning to my point about technology vs. face-to-face, with the former, which has increased due to COVID, there is, I have learned in years past, the chance that words and messages can be misinterpreted, and one cannot be sure as to what a person’s tone is. As a result, through my own personal mistakes, connections, related to writing and not, have been broken. Promotion via social media has also at times backfired. But even then, face-to-face interactions can go wrong too. In all cases, one has to be careful, and take responsibility for one’s mistakes and actions.

But the thing I’ve had to learn the hard way, as stinging as it feels, is that if someone doesn’t want to connect with you, or wants to break it off, you have to let it go. No one can be forced to connect or to stay connected for that matter. That’s another lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. One can only invite/ask people. They cannot be forced to do what they don’t want to do.

Another lesson I learned the hard way is the importance of having business cards. I didn’t have any when I sold copies of Mystical Greenwood at the 2018 Maryland Writers’ Conference, and I knew afterwards I had to have them. I’ve been glad of it ever since.

So, if you aren’t already, I hope you’ll consider following me on this site, as well as on social media!

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr | Goodreads

You can also follow my Amazon page!

Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
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Amazon ES | Amazon IT | Amazon BR | Amazon MX

Perseverance and Faith

This is a guest sermon I gave at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church yesterday, discussing the importance of perseverance in writing and in other aspects of my life. Even if you’re not religious, I hope you’ll listen to this message and that it touches a base with and inspires you. Perseverance is vital to life, and for me, praying to God has helped me to keep persevering.

Five Years of Blogging

This month will mark this website’s 5th anniversary (twelve days from today, to be exact)! I’d already done a post looking back after two years, but five years is one of those major milestones that several people mark. So here’s a summary of what this website has seen and went through in five years.

I started out knowing nothing other than I had to set one up in advance, as many friends had advised me so. I looked at other indie authors’ sites to see what I should do, made some choices of my own, and took advice from others about what to include and how to improve it. Over these five years, the website has gone through a facelift as well as a change in domain name. I learned a lot as I went along.

This post is my 60th. I started out discussing personal insights and aspects in the craft of writing, and have since expanded to marketing and sharing books in my inscribed collection as a means to promote other authors. I’ve made guest appearances on many other authors’ blogs too, the majority of which were interviews about me and my work. All can be found on my site’s blog page.

When I started this site, I had two publications in poetry and creative nonfiction, respectively. The latter prompted me to create a Facebook Author page (two months prior to the website). Because of this website, I set up accounts on Twitter and Tumblr, and found new ways to be active on YouTube and Goodreads. And now I have an Amazon Author page!

This website has witnessed more publications in poetry, short stories, and the biggest of all, my novel Mystical Greenwood (which was also a finalist for an award). The Nightmare Whispers anthology series came out a week ago, and Fae Dreams, also from Fae Corps Inc, yesterday. More are in the works, and/or are awaiting publication. Here’s a teaser in an old open mic reading I did at the MWA in Annapolis of some short stories:

This website has been used to promote my work as well as many events that I’ve participated in, in-person as well as virtual. I have acquired followers and readers from all over the globe!

The top ten places from which I’ve had views as of now:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. India
  4. Canada
  5. Australia
  6. China
  7. Brazil
  8. South Africa
  9. Ireland
  10. Philippines

Last month, in fact, had more views than any other month before it, and the day with the most views (as of this moment) when my last post came out.

It has been quite a journey so far. Who can say where I’ll be in ten years? All I know is that I must keep pressing on, learning and experimenting.