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!

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!

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You can also follow my Amazon page!

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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.

Merry Writer Podcast

Many thanks to my fellow authors and bloggers Rachel Poli and Ari Meghlen for featuring me on the Merry Writer Podcast! If you haven’t yet, listen as I discuss with Rachel how I came to be a writer:

The episode is on Podbean too.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to listen to their other episodes!

And be sure to keep an eye out on my poetry and short story pages for upcoming links to the anthologies Fae Dreams and Nightmare Whispers: Madness Echoes from Fae Corps Inc! They’re due to come out at the end of the month! Some links are already available for preorder!

Interesting to note that some of my work that will appear in those anthologies are tied with earlier days of writing. “Crossing the Estuary” was originally a high school creative writing assignment I’d thought lost but rediscovered. “Candlelight” was an assignment in college where we had to write a poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” following specific guidelines (yesterday was the anniversary of Poe’s death). I recall I actually started writing it on Halloween!

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.

Verse: Rhyme or Free?

Anyone who has watched Dead Poets Society remembers the viewpoint Robin Williams’s character John Keating gave regarding poetry, and how it cannot be measured. It was a very touching scene, and so I thought I’d talk about my own experiences with poetry, this being National Poetry Month.

I first began writing poetry when I was a teenager. Back then, one could say I was rather rigid. I didn’t experiment a whole lot, typically using a simple rhyme scheme, unless of course if I was writing a sonnet. I would write sonnets because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shakespeare. I had even recited Sonnet XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) at a Poetry Out Loud contest in high school, in which I won third place. But then again, I was rigid there too, because I’d only written sonnets in the Shakespearean format. In a way, looking back, perhaps I was afraid of breaking into new ground.

My rigidness continued for a while at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I was introduced at a poetry club reading by the club leader as a more traditional poet compared to other members. The professor of an advanced poetry workshop class later made the observation that I liked to express a theme or idea at the end of each of my poems. However, it was through both that class and another poetry class at St. Mary’s that I began to break free and experiment with poetry.

I discovered new different forms that I had to write in as part of my assignments in those classes. More importantly, over the years I’ve broken free of form alone and began to not worry about syllables and rhymes. I’ve realized how poetry provides a way to really experiment with words and phrases, more so perhaps than fiction. I continued to express themes in my poetry, but also turned to showing and portraying emotions and feelings.

Among the blogs I follow are poets who use their sites to share their work, which is amazingly diverse and wonderfully done. I myself read three poems during an open mic at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA:

Here’s another reading I did online for The And I Thought Ladies:

And another at the Annapolis MWA:

Poetry expresses what’s in the heart and mind. For any poet, and every writer, their work evolves over time, and through experimentation, gets better.

Resources
  1. Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Directory.
  2. Brewer, Robert Lee. List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets.
  3. Guildford, Chuck. Stanza Breaks.
  4. Hess, Gary R. 55 Types of Poetry Forms.

Resolutions

It’s a new year! I’ve always found it remarkable how time flies, especially when we’re not really paying attention to it. It’s only when we’re constantly noting it that everything is going extremely slow. But more importantly, reflecting on times past helps one see just how far one’s come, and to prepare for the future, which I think everyone can agree is on people’s minds right now, with the notion of New Year’s Resolutions. Ever since I took my writing seriously, there have been resolutions related to writing every year.

I started my website over four years ago. There’s been a lot of trial and error in building and designing my website, and those of you who’ve been loyal followers, thank you for your support. Thanks also to those who have read and reviewed Mystical Greenwood. Over this time, I’ve been fixing a number of grammatical errors, but as frustrating as it has been, I’ve learned from them—not only new things about language that have helped make me a better writer, but that no one and nothing will ever be truly perfect—not even writers and their work. I’ve come to accept that, and people have for the most part been understanding and kind. The majority of reviewers so far have enjoyed it and written favorably about it. Plus, the book was a finalist in a contest!

This past year I didn’t plan that many public appearances and book signings. I made a few, but not throughout the entire year, and the year before some didn’t draw large crowds due to a lack of planning. But others did. Perhaps my most successful was my discussion on the importance of names. This year I know I’m going to have to do more of them in order to spread the word and get more readers and reviews. To start off, in a few weeks I’ll be signing copies of Mystical Greenwood at an indoor yard sale at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church. I’ll giving my aforementioned discussion on names once again at the end of February, this time for the Baltimore chapter of the MWA. I also hope that I will be able to sign and sell copies of my book at the 2020 Maryland Writers’ Conference at the end of March!

And of course, there are online appearances—I have in the past couple of years made several guest appearances on other blogs and a podcast, and I’m always looking for more opportunities. Anyone who would like for me to be a guest speaker or blogger can always reach me via this site’s Contact page. Perhaps most importantly, I need to place some serious focus on future works, especially the sequel to Mystical Greenwood. A number of reviewers have expressed their interest in finding out what happens in the next book, so I have to get on that so they will not be waiting forever! Here’s hoping for a good year with good memories and prolific writing!