Too Many Cooks In Your Kitchen?

Too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s an age-old proverb, but it’s as true now as it has always been. The sad thing is that it has taken me all 37 years of my life to figure out how important it is to keep cooks out of my kitchen, so to speak. I can track a lot of my issues in writing, publishing, parenting, friendships, etc., back to too much input from others and not enough listening to myself. I’ve done a great job at learning to ignore my instincts and relying on other people telling me what they think I should do. 

So where does that leave me? This year I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to discovering me. What are my values? Not what everyone says I should value. No. What do value, and what choices will get me closest to those values? This is much more difficult to determine than I thought it would be, but once I truly made a commitment to figure it out, things have been falling into place. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s not that I don’t value other people’s experience and opinions. I do! And they are absolutely essential, but only to a certain extent. This is where the “too many cooks” idea comes into play. I’m learning how to cull my circle of influence, and it’s not easy. Social media makes it especially difficult. I’m sure you can see why. So many voices, ideas, opinions, ads all the time. I think this is why some people find themselves a lot happier when they decide to cut down on social media. Less cooks.

As far as writing goes, I’m in a much happier place lately as I’ve made some tough decisions on who sees my work before it’s published, who I want feedback from, and when I want and need it. I’ve already noticed a big difference in how quickly I’m writing and how many ideas I’m allowing myself to entertain because I don’t feel as much pressure to second-guess those ideas.

So here’s my question. How many cooks do you let in your kitchen? Have you had experiences that slowed you down or steered you in the wrong direction because you were trying to listen to, and please, everyone at the same time?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Working With Other Writers, Writing Process, 12 comments

Figuring It Out

Sometimes I think it’s easy to convince ourselves what others want is what we want too. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to see that what we truly, deeply want is something we’ve been fighting all along. For years, I’ve convinced myself publishing my own work was a secondary choice — something I was only doing because my publisher closed their doors and I had no other choice. It was so much easier to believe that “truth”, especially in a writing community where Indie-publishing isn’t exactly put up on a pedestal.

For so long, I’ve prefaced all my publishing conversations with, “Oh, I was traditionally published, but my publisher left the business. Not my fault.” That helped me keep my chin high. I was respectable if others understood that my work was previously validated by the traditional publishing industry. I was a Real Author at that point.

But here’s the problem: I ache for respect — from my family, from friends, from complete strangers. It’s a natural thing to crave, I suppose. But I’ve let that desire overtake so many things in my life. I’ve let it fester so deeply that I’ve mistaken it for what I thought would make me happy. But it’s not what will make me happy. Respect from others cannot replace the gaping hole I’ve dug for myself — a hole filled with shame and disrespect … for myself.

2016 was an eye-opening year for me. I went through some tough changes that have nothing to do with writing and publishing. But those things have helped me see one very important thing: nobody can escape themselves forever.

I can’t count on my fingers how many friends have told me my eyes light up every time I talk about publishing my own work, and how depressed and miserable I look when I talk about querying for an agent and finally getting a publishing deal like everyone else around me. I’ve constantly battled between the two worlds. Which one do I embrace? For a long time I thought I could embrace both. I would continue to query for agents, and if those books failed, I would publish them myself.

But the truth is that I’ve only wanted to do that so people would respect me for trying to jump into the traditionally published world — a world I’ve convinced myself will make me deliriously happy if I’m ever lucky enough to be admitted. The other truth is that I’ve completely ignored the fact that most people don’t respect you for your accomplishments and supposed success. They respect you for standing by what you believe in, for being YOU instead of trying to be something you’re not. True success is nothing but a side effect of that.

So, yes, it has been far too easy to convince myself what others want is what I want too, and it took some very difficult changes for me to realize that what I want right now is something I already have. I was just too stubborn to see it until now. And what I want might change in the future, but that’s okay. For now, I’ve got to embrace what I have. Here’s to hoping you can embrace what you have too, no matter what it is.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Self-Publishing, 6 comments

The Third Breakaway Book Is Here!

The final chapter in Naomi’s story is here! This novella is an absolute must-read addition to The Breakaway and Pieces. As many fans of the series might know, I have consistently struggled to put Naomi’s story to rest. I’m relieved and overjoyed to announce that with this novella, I have reached that final ending. I hope you love this last chapter of the series as much as I do. It has truly been a joy to write. I think it will be even more enjoyable to share it with the world.

UNBROKEN_FRONT_WEB

Fourteen years after her kidnapping, Naomi has moved on from her traumatic past. She has a new last name, a career she loves, and nobody to hold her down. When she lands her dream job managing a restaurant in Italy, she resolves not to think about what happened in that country with Jesse eleven years ago.

But Naomi’s past won’t let her go that easily.

One by one, her former kidnappers are being released from prison. When Naomi runs into Evelyn at a local market, her perfect life is turned upside down and curiosity leads her step by step back to Jesse. She’s looking for closure, but what she finds along the way changes everything, leaving her at one last crossroads with her former kidnappers.

Unbroken will be available in other eBook formats like Nook and iBooks soon!

OFFICIAL UNBROKEN PAGE

Also, don’t forget The Breakaway, The Complete Series! This is a new 3-part eBook package that includes all three books in the series: The BreakawayPieces, and Unbroken. The digital package includes bonus material such as deleted scenes and information from the author about the series’ history and inspiration.

BREAKAWAY SERIES_BOXSET

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, The Breakaway, Updates, News, and Events, 7 comments

Dropping Off The Face Of The Planet And Surviving

Since I haven’t blogged since, oh, December, I’ve strongly considered quitting blogging altogether. I’ve asked myself, is it productive and satisfying for me anymore? Is it a waste of time? Because it does take a significant amount of time. But then I realized it’s not only blogging I stopped doing — it was Facebook and Twitter and other social networks. I stopped marketing my books. I stopped talking about my books. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I stopped CARING, honestly.

So what brought me to this state, you ask? Did I burn myself out? I have nine titles published. Why would I stop now? But I think losing my publisher when they closed their doors back in 2013 is still something I’m working through emotionally. I had a plan and it fell through. I fell through. My books fell through, and I hate to admit that I pretty much failed after picking myself up after the fallout — meaning I bounced back, but then I fell over and I’m still lying in a heap on the floor. I feel broken and I’m not sure how to fix it.

So I’ve survived. I got a job to help pay bills because heaven knows my royalties don’t cover all of those. I’ve stayed healthy. I’ve moved to a new place. My family is happy and I’m doing fine. But I feel like a huge part of me has been on hold for a long time. Just recently, I attended the Teen Author Boot Camp writing conference. I was on panels with some agents and really great authors. I got to talk to a lot of aspiring authors. I may have even helped some of them. That conference has injected a little bit of excitement in me to get up off my butt and start moving forward again. I have the Storymakers conference coming up, where I’ll be teaching a cover design class. I have a novel that is 3/4 of the way finished (that I’ve been trying to finish for over a year now) and can probably be queried once it’s edited. I think I’d like an agent now. I have a few thin plans that I hope will set a little bit over time.

I suppose this blog post isn’t anything special. It’s not. But it feels like a huge step right now because I’m making decisions again. I’m starting to care a little bit more. And that’s something worth shouting about. So yay! One step at a time.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, Blogging, 18 comments

Why Don’t I Care About You More?

Guys, I don’t know what has happened, but it seems like there has been a huge shift in my life — and not only my life, but a lot of people around me, as well. In a nutshell, it seems like so many of us have become too busy to care anymore. Care about what, you might ask? I almost don’t know how to explain it. Each other, maybe? But that doesn’t sound quite right to me.

Here’s the thing. A few years ago, I used to consistently read over 150+ blogs. I’d read dozens of posts a day. I’d even COMMENT on 80 – 90% of them. I can’t fathom how much time I invested in that activity. And even crazier was that I felt like I knew so many of those bloggers — to the point I felt we could easily be friends if we ever met. Some of them I did meet, and we are still friends. Now, however, with my horrible memory as it is, I can’t even remember most of those people whose blogs I used to read so intently. And it makes me sad. I would start reading blogs again to try to fix this, but I can hardly find the time to read close friends’ blogs anymore, let alone comment anywhere. It seems like many of us aren’t actively blogging anymore, anyway. Aside from that, how did I have time back then and not now? I was not any busier. Truly, I wasn’t. I’ve shifted priorities, I guess. It’s the only answer. I devote more time to exercise, helping my daughter with her large amounts of homework, working a job outside of the house, keeping my marriage healthy and happy, etc.

But it’s not just me … I think. For instance, a friend — a close friend might announce his/her new book deal, and it seems like I don’t get as excited as I used to about such news. And others don’t seem to, either. I mean, I CARE. Of course I care! I think I even care more deeply than I used to. So maybe all of this is just a quiet approach now? But it seems like the excitement level all the way around has taken a huge dip, with everyone. Or am I seeing things that aren’t really there? And it’s not just book deals and happy news. I’ll hear about horrible things happening in the world and it’s like I just don’t have the energy to get worked up about it. I want to, but my energy is being funneled into so many personal things like family and simply surviving (financially, emotionally, physically) that by the time I hear news outside of those things, I have nothing left to give. I’ll meet someone amazing and think, “I need to make sure this person stays in my life — I should devote a lot of time to building and maintaining a friendship with them” only to end up not making much of an effort because I realize I’m hardly maintaining the friendships I already have.

I feel like I’ve simplified my life in the past few years, but at the same time I’m wondering if I have simplified too much? Am I not caring about the things and people I should be caring about, or is this what happens as you get older and everyone around you only has so much time to devote to people outside of their immediate families? I mean, I’m in that stage, you know? Where most everyone in my “circle” is married with multiple children who will be tweens and teens and/or graduating high school in under a decade. That’s an intense part of life that requires a lot of focus. So maybe that’s just how things are. Or maybe I’m turning into someone I don’t want to be — which is odd because, in general, I’m happier than I have been in a very long time. I honestly don’t know at this point. Sigh. Mid-thirties crisis over here.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, 21 comments

When Your Worst Fear Comes True

I’ve heard this a lot lately:

“What was your latest book again?”

If I Forget You.

“Oh, yeah! I remember now! That one sounded good!” Lowers eyes. “I haven’t read it yet.”

Not that I expect anyone in close proximity to read my books right away (or at all if they aren’t interested in them) because I seriously don’t, but I think I kind of cursed myself when I titled and based a book on forgetting stuff.

When I put out my novel IF I FORGET YOU, I had high hopes for it, but many great fears, as well … all of which have come true so far, and I’m pretty sure most of it is my own error. I made some pretty massively huge mistakes, the biggest one being that I didn’t market it one bit at all outside of announcing that it was published and out there. Why did I not market it? First of all, I was afraid for people to actually read it because the main character is a lot like me and I didn’t want to have to stumble upon reviews that tore it apart. Secondly, I think I released it too soon after OUT OF TUNE. Thirdly, I wanted to see if not marketing a book at all makes any sort of difference in sales. A big duh to that answer, right? It’s because I happen to know several authors who don’t market at all and their books sell just dandy. But they aren’t me, and they don’t write in a genre that doesn’t fit anywhere (i.e. clean new adult with no steamy erotic sex). At least I like to blame it on those two things, but who knows? Other people write clean new adult and do fine, but again, they aren’t me.

If I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s that there is no magical formula to selling books, and while there is a lot of luck involved in financial success, it’s also a matter of putting yourself in good situations to create that luck. It doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere (even thought it seems that way sometimes when you’re getting green with envy over another person’s success).

The thing is, folks, I’ve reached my worst fear: a novel I put out there completely 100% bombed on pretty much every level outside of the fact that I think it’s well-written, some people I highly respect who have read it say they loved it, and I’m proud of it. But a book failing the way this one has sales-wise, and after losing my publisher and feeling very alone this past year, I’ve felt at the bottom of the barrel emotionally, financially, etc. I’ve reached a point where I’ve spent way too much money on this publishing thing and dug myself too large a hole to climb out of with just selling books. So. Worst Fear Come True right there. I’ve had to attain a part-time job now that has nothing to do with writing, so now I have less time to write, and if I look at it with the bleak vision I usually look at everything (pessimist by nature here), I’d have a good mind to quit writing altogether.

Expectations are killer!

But I’m not going to quit. I’m still writing. I’ve shifted my goals, let go of some hefty dreams that have weighed me down over the past four years, and turned my eyes to different horizons. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the goals I’ve set. I’m halfway through a novel I believe in wholeheartedly, and I’m not stupid enough to believe I’m a bad writer or anything, but when I look back on the path I’ve traveled, I wonder if I’d set out on it again if I were to start all over. At this point in time, I’m not sure I would because this is just a tad bit soul sucking and it’s hard not to ask WHY AM I PUTTING MYSELF THROUGH THIS?

But like a friend of mine told me the other day after she read a blog post about what writing and publishing is like, sometimes you’re simply in the middle of a mountain meadow and you have no idea where you are, no idea if you even have a peak to climb after the ones you already reached and fell from, no idea which direction to turn. But you have to keep wandering, even if it feels aimless. Because eventually you’ll make your way out of the meadow if you don’t sit down and give up. And eventually you’ll find another peak to climb and you’ll think you’ve reached the top, but in reality there’s just another peak to climb. The trick is you usually have to go down first, and cross more meadows, then climb that peak just to find another one. There is no final destination.

So, it seems I’m in a meadow right now. A rather large one. With no flowers. But hey, I’m still writing and that has to account for something. I’m in the process of beginning to market my failed book and my other books, and I’m planning on being involved in many authorly things next year, like, gasp! conferences. All of that means I’m wandering, not sitting stagnant. One day I’ve got to make it to a spot I can at least see another peak, right?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, If I Forget You, 12 comments

Good Pride vs. Bad, Evil, Life-Ruining Pride

Recently, I decided to “stay off Facebook”. I haven’t deleted my account, and I’m not going to, but for me “staying off Facebook” means I’m not interacting much on there or going on there to look at other people’s news … basically because I’m jealous of everyone right now. I’m jealous of all my friends, and their friends who aren’t even my own friends. I’m jealous of people’s book deals, and book tours, and covers, and really great sales ranks, and vacations they take that I’ll never be able to afford, like, ever. I’m jealous of it all, and irrationally angry. I seem to be unhappy with my life, even though I have so many things and should be grateful. My logical brains KNOWS this. It knows to stop being jealous and be happy for others, but my irrational side keeps screaming at that other side to shut the heck up and mope around in misery. So I’ve moped around for quite a while now. I haven’t been writing. I’ve been eating healthy. I’ve been exercising, but I haven’t been entirely content. So I opened up an Instagram account and have decided to feed things through there, for the most part. Instagram seems a lot more doable for me these days, even though I’ve never really used it before.

I WANT to be connected to other people. I want to keep up. I want to be happy and interact, but I’m beginning to realize that as an author I’m not obligated to anyone for anything, which is a hard lesson for an author to learn, I think. When we put our work out there, it’s easy to feel obligated to please others with more work, better work, faster work. It’s easy to feel obligated to keep yourself out there, interacting, happy, happy, happy, happy. But as I’ve stepped away lately, I have seen and been reminded by a good friend that popularity and money simply do not matter in the grand scheme of things. The writing I produce and the quality and pride with which I put it out there? That matters. It’s all that matters.

So here’s to letting go of the bad pride — the kind that keeps me depressed and chained down by comparing myself to others — and grabbing hold of the good pride — the kind that keeps me motivated to do my best and be happy with what I’m doing. I wish the same for all of you.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Think Positive, 12 comments

Expectations

There is something to be said about the enthusiasm of others for things you are working on. For many years, I think I thrived on this enthusiasm. I think I lived and breathed it and let it fuel pretty much everything I was doing. For instance, if I started a new book, I simply couldn’t hold it inside. I had to tell someone about the idea because if I didn’t, there would be no fuel to keep that project going until the end. So, eventually, by the time I finished any novel, I had leaked the idea pretty much everywhere. People knew I was writing a book about a tone-deaf wannabe country music star, for instance. But I think all that enthusiasm can actually be a killer in the end. Because, while people may show excitement and interest and enthusiasm for a project, that only means their expectations and ideas of how it will turn out have time to grow and blossom and turn into something that will never, ever live up to what they imagined. So you lose in the end, I think, if you build something up too much.

To me, the perfect reading experience has always been one in which I pick up a book with little or no particular expectations beyond a general desire to read something engaging, and then find myself blown away by the story or the writing or both. I’m pretty sure that any book I have ever picked up (outside of classics, which have withstood the test of time) with high expectations has always proven a disappointment in one way or another. So, while I read a lot of books these days, I try not to talk too much about them with other people, especially ones on my to-read list. And, while I’m not writing at the moment, I have a feeling that when I do start writing again, it’s going to be a more private affair than it has ever been in the past. I’m not sure why this change has come about, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’ve published enough writing to finally realize — deep down into my bones — that my writing will never 100% please anyone but myself. And that really is okay.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Writing Process, 6 comments

How To Be A Perfect Author

In order to be the perfect author, you must sit your butt down in a chair every single day and write, even if it’s only a sentence or two. But not every single day because an author must also live a full and meaningful life, and chaining yourself to a rigid schedule like that might actually be hindering you. You must also visit social networks every single day and stay on top of the publishing scene. If you don’t know what’s going on out there, how do you expect to be successful? But don’t overdo it because if you spend too much time online, you will be distracting yourself from your true vocation of writing.

Once you are published, you must not read your reviews. You must stay off Goodreads and must never check Amazon rankings or BookScan numbers. But again, you really should be in touch with readers and know their true reactions and feelings for your writing. Interacting with only diehard fans who find no fault in your writing is not going to help your writing. After all, how are you supposed to improve if you are completely ignorant to how real readers are reacting to your work? And how do you expect to market your work better if you don’t know what’s working after you’ve tried it? You need to have an idea of sales numbers as they happen instead of two or twelve months later. But don’t read those reviews and check numbers because they. will. drive. you. crazy.

You must never, ever say negative things online about writing or publishing. You do not want to appear ungrateful toward the fact that you actually got published when so many authors would die to be in your shoes. You do not want to appear jealous of any other author because that would be sour grapes and may affect your sales or the good image of your publisher. But you must appear honest and approachable. If you flout yourself too much and never share anything negative, you’re going to look like a complete fake and others are going to start resenting you. But be careful. If you say anything remotely negative, you may incur that same resentment, as well. Just. Be. Careful. And don’t even think about retreating into a shell and never saying anything online anywhere. Because didn’t you read that first paragraph were you need to be online every single day? I once disappeared from online and never said a word about my books anywhere and my sales plummeted. So you cannot disappear. But your writing will be best if you stay offline as much as possible because then you will not have those distractions eating away at you. You might even create masterpieces that will blow away the world if you retreat into obscurity like the best authors do. But you really should be visible everywhere.

You must avoid adverbs in your writing because adverbs are horribly evil. Because the word horribly in that previous sentence wasn’t necessary, now was it? So avoid those adverbs. Chain yourself to rules others have made up for you and do not experiment to figure out what your own rules are. After all, it’s the books that feel like all the other books that sell the best, isn’t it? You want to be well known and well paid as an author. The perfect author is well known and well paid.

This is most likely not the first time you have heard all of this conflicting advice. It certainly isn’t the first time for me. The nice thing is that I am not writing at the moment. Taking a step back has helped me see how ridiculous and conflicting it can be to listen to everything. Taking a step back has helped me see myself a lot more. Taking a step back has helped me see that I was right in taking a step back. Intuition. It shouldn’t be ignored. I’m not a perfect author. Perfection, I believe, is right in front of us all the time. It is not a place, but the ability to choose what will work for us and kindly saying no to the things that won’t — even if those things work for others and they are successful and we are not.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Think Positive, 9 comments

CAUTION: DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVE. HANDLE CAREFULLY.

Fireworks-Desktop-Wallpaper1

I’ve had people come and go in my life. Some of these friendships were fierce and strong. They were relationships that I thought would never, ever fade. I thought I would always be close to these people. I would always feel I could spill my deepest thoughts with them. We would never grow apart. But as most friendships do in our lives, they softened and eventually drifted apart. To me, they are like fireworks in the tapestry of my time here. They light up my sky, hot and powerful and bright, wowing both of us before they finally start fading away. But they always leave a lasting impression, good or bad, and that’s something I can always count on. Even now, I’ve got some amazing fireworks lighting up my sky. I hope some of them last a very, very long time.

Like these fierce friendships, my writing is fierce and bright. It has lit up my sky at certain points in my life, and at some points, it has fizzled out completely. The last time I stopped writing, it lasted five consecutive years. So it’s interesting to me that just over five years later of pursuing writing once again, I’m burned out, like one of those fireworks.

The thing is, back when I quit for five years, I was happy. I was discovering other things about myself, just like I do when I make a new friend. Those five years were quick and fierce, and then gave way to a new round of fireworks. Writing came back into my life, but I feel like the current spark — that burst of energy and heat — has faded.

I’ve been cleaning for the past few weeks. I’ve systematically gone through every room in my small town home, pulling out boxes and bins, looking in drawers and cupboards, sifting through piles of what now seems like junk. I’m donating an entire carload of this “junk” to charity. The true junk I’m tossing into the trash. Other stuff I’ve been selling on my neighborhood FB page. It seems there is no end to this cleaning, but I know I’ll eventually reach a point where this particular firework burns out, as well. My house will finally be dejunked, clean, and organized the way I like it.

All of this cleaning seems to be allowing me an opening to clean out my writing life, as well. The fireworks of my writing may feel like they have faded for now, but I have a feeling they’ll light up once again when some time has passed and I’ve had a chance to reevaluate what I really want out of all of this.

But I have no idea how long it will be. Weeks. Months. Years. I don’t know. I will continue to market what I do have out there, but that is all I can do at the moment.

Like a fierce friendship in my past, I feel like my writing has faded for now, but has left an undying impression. Friendships can sometimes be revived, and I figure my writing can, as well. One day I’ll find it again, a tightly wrapped package labeled CAUTION: DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVE. HANDLE CAREFULLY.

Here’s to careful handling. The most important things in our lives deserve it.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, 15 comments
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