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.

Young People Reading

Once when I was at the gym, a gym buddy told me how he felt young children these days aren’t as engrossed with reading as they used to be, that nowadays they are in essence glued to technological escapes rather than literary ones. In many respects I think he isn’t wrong. Technology is constantly changing, and certainly isn’t what it once was. In many ways it has improved our lives, but in others it seems to have taken over our lives as well.

Reading is a great way to escape all that, just as walking or exercising is, because it’s good to unplug and recharge, if you take my meaning. For young children, studies have said it’s important for them to not get glued to technology, because what they really need is that connection and interaction with their parents.

Certainly one of the best ways, if not the best, to get a child to love reading is for parents to read to them from an early age, and it establishes that necessary connection. I remember my own parents reading to me many books when I was little, especially before bed. It’s a great way not only to get children to love reading and spark their imagination, but to forge a bond between parent and child.

Once I was a volunteer for a library that had a special annex. The books there—all children’s books—couldn’t be checked out, just read, and I had to watch over the annex for a few hours. Once in a while, I would offer to read to a child, and even though it didn’t happen often, I loved it.

Some of the best children’s stories began with people telling stories and/or playing with children. A. A. Milne was inspired to create Winnie-the-Pooh by watching his son Christopher play with his stuffed toys. When Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s son (coincidentally also named Christopher) was sick, he told him a story about a sad little steam engine named Edward, which was the beginning of his Railway Series (yes, Edward came before Thomas, as did Gordon and Henry). Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie also interacted with children, through which they were inspired to write their respective masterpieces, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

I have no children of my own (yet), but I do hope to be a father someday. I definitely would read to them my favorite books and series from when I was a child, but I would also encourage them to find their own favorites. Parents have tried to keep children from reading certain titles, even going so far as to ask for books to be banned. While parents seek to protect, I feel they need to let their children make their own decisions too, and teach them to approach reading with an open mind.

The important thing is whether a book entices a child to keep reading. I remember how on an Amazon Prime documentary about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a single father raising a daughter said that he knew little about R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, which his daughter read, but knew if they were banned, his daughter might lose the drive to keep reading because those books specifically were what motivated her to keep reading.

Further Reading
  1. Cheadle, Robbie. Teaching your child to read.
  2. French, Charles F. Benefits of Reading Revisited.

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!

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.

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.

‘Through the Eyes’ of a Fantasy Writer

Here is my latest guest appearance, with the talented poet and blogger Vatsarah Stavyah, in which I discuss being a writer as well as my novel Mystical Greenwood:

‘Through the Eyes’ of a Fantasy Writer

Many thanks to Vatsarah for this opportunity!

And for those of you haven’t seen or heard yet, I am going to have some short works appearing in two anthologies from Fae Corps Inc, Fae Dreams and Nightmare Whispers, Volume II, scheduled to be released on Halloween! Another poem will be appearing in another upcoming anthology from Indie Blu(e) Publishing titled As the World Burns. Be sure to keep an eye on my poetry and new short story page for future links!

Also, as today is 9/11, I ask for a moment of remembrance for those who died on this day 19 years ago, and for those who were affected by it.

An Author’s Experience of Marketing during COVID

During the COVID-19 crisis, a number of marketing opportunities opened up for me. I’ve already shared a few of them in previous posts, but here are others.

Here is a guest post that I did for author C. A. Campbell, in which I discuss how online marketing took on a greater role during the stay-at-home order, especially with Twitter and certain hashtags:

An Author’s Experience of Marketing during COVID

Many thanks to C. A. Campbell for the opportunity to speak about it!

As I mentioned in my guest post for Campbell, I appeared Live on Twitter as part of a virtual book tour sponsored by Our Own Write, which had been set up in response to the fact that several writers’ conferences had to be cancelled due to the crisis, including, in my case, the Maryland Writers’ Conference.

In the tour, I read an excerpt from Mystical Greenwood and answered questions. My broadcast got cut off in the middle due to technical issues, and I had another issue with the camera, which is why a good part of it is “black,” but at least I didn’t get cut off during the reading part.

Part I:

Part II:

Still, I enjoyed the experience very much.

Go check them out if you have a book that you want to promote at their future events! I highly recommend them.

Finally, though this was in the works beforehand, I did a short interview with the British-based Chat and Spin Radio. I appear 25 minutes in:

Chat & Spin April 11 Part 3B

Overall, yes, marketing changed quite a bit because of COVID19 and staying home. But, as I said in my guest post for Campbell, it’s all about pressing on.

Double Feature: Two Recent Guest Appearances

Many thanks to author C. L. Schneider for including my book among her newsletter’s guest indie authors!

The Latest News, Events, and Updates from clschneider.com

The link to the second appearance in this post’s title, sadly, is no longer active. But this was basically its content:

Mystical Greenwood, Book I of One with Nature

Publisher: Mockingbird Lane Press

Dermot is a fifteen-year-old boy living in the land of Denú who has always longed for something more in life. His life changes when he encounters a gryphon and a mysterious healer. Drawn into a conflict against one determined to subjugate the kingdom, Dermot and his brother Brian are forced to leave their home.

A legendary coven must now reunite, for they are Denú’s greatest hope. In the course of meeting unicorns and fighting dragons and men in dark armor, Dermot discovers a deep, sacred magic that exists within every greenwood he crosses through, but his own role in this conflict is greater than he suspects. Can he protect those he loves, or will all that’s good be consumed by darkness?

Available in Paperback, Kindle, and Nook:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Deviant Art

Goodreads

Andrew McDowell has been writing since he was a child. He has written and published fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. He studied at St. Mary’s College and the University of Maryland. Andrew is a member of the Maryland Writers’ Association and an associate nonfiction editor for the literary magazine JMWW. His novel Mystical Greenwood was a Finalist in the 2019 American Fiction Awards for Fantasy: Epic/High Fantasy, and he won second place in the creative nonfiction category of the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Association’s Literary Contest for his essay on his experiences with Asperger syndrome.

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