author issues

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, 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading My Reviews Has Paralyzed Me

Although I’m always telling author friends of mine that they shouldn’t read reviews, the truth is that I do read reviews sometimes. I stay the hell away from Goodreads these days, but I didn’t always, and I do look at my Amazon reviews every once in awhile, mainly because there aren’t that many, and it’s easy to see when a new one has popped up, and let’s face it, as an author, it’s REALLY HARD NOT TO LOOK. And I still read them even though I know that 90% of what’s in them is what the reader brought to the table, not what’s actually in the book. Reviews are none of my business, but I peek anyway, and I think over the long run it has hurt me.

Why?

Because every time I sit down these days, I feel paralyzed. I have NINE titles out. Nine titles with reviews. Nine titles’ worth of reviews floating around in my head, taunting me. It’s a lot.

I write whiny characters. I write boring, slow-moving plots with robotic-like characters. My novellas are too short and not detailed enough. My female characters need to be more kick-ass. I need more sex in my stories. I need erotic sex in my stories. I need less sex in my stories. Those swear words need to go. There wasn’t enough real language. I need more world building. My characters are too timid. There is no emotional connection. On and on and on.

And yes, I know I can’t listen to reviews, but the bad thing is that I have in the past, and even though I’m a very forgetful person, those negative reviews stick like glue inside my head, especially when I see similar things said on multiple books. All the positive ones? Those seem to flit away on the breeze. Even if I read them now, their sparkle isn’t as bright anymore.

I really do listen to my editor and close beta readers and improve based on what they say, but that’s as far as it should go. I shouldn’t be changing my writing for other people. But it’s like I broke all of my fingers in the past and they’re just not healing. I’m allowing all the negativity I’ve read in the past affect what I’m doing today. It’s affecting my creativity. It’s affecting what I choose to write. It’s affecting me in ways I never thought possible, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Writing is painful these days, so painful that in the past few weeks, I’ve kind of stopped altogether. It’s not that I need constant praise and positivity to write, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m wanting to go in a different publishing direction with my writing, and I’m too afraid to do it because of that negativity hanging out in my head. If only I was ignorant to all of those reviews! I could write in that happy, blissful pre-publication state again. In other words, I’m a mess right now and I’ve got to figure out a way to write past all this. Anyone been here before?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

Going Over This One More Time — Nobody Has to Read Your Stuff

I’ve talked about this on my blog several times because it’s an issue for me. Others might relate, I don’t know, but I’ve gone through life with this attitude of entitlement that if I create something, PEOPLE SHOULD NOTICE IT. I’m not sure where this comes from. I often wonder if I’m pounding this into my child as she grows up — if by the fact that she’s a single child and gets so much attention for every little thing she does, if I’m somehow teaching her that her whole life (with anyone) will be that way. When obviously it won’t. Maybe everyone deals with this. I know I’m not the only author who has felt offense when close friends and family don’t read what she’s written, let alone recognize it.

The good thing is, after dwelling on this subject many times, I’m finally to a point where I’m over it. Mostly. Okay, it comes back full force sometimes. Once in awhile I’ll find myself getting all huffy and puffy with the entitlement attitude, and I have to stop and back up and give myself another talk and slap upside the head.

Since I just recently released another novel into the world, I’ve found myself slipping back into old habits and becoming bitter all over again. Life is tricky, at least for me. I find myself constantly trying to keep my pride and humility nice and healthy, but pride can easily slip into a sense of entitlement, and humility can easily slip into self-hating. When I’ve let both slip, I’m a mean, nasty human being. Just ask some of my friends who let me complain to them when I’m in this sort of foul mood. They are true friends if they still like me after that.

All I’m saying here today is that when it comes to your writing, unless you’re paying someone for a service, nobody owes you anything. I’ve learned it’s important not to make others feel obligated for anything. I humbly ask for help when I need it, like when I release a book and am unable to pay for marketing, so ask others to spread the word if they feel so inclined, but I try to make it clear these days that I don’t expect anyone to do anything for me out of obligation. My family should not feel obligated to read any of my books just because they’re related to me. My friends should not feel obligated to ready any of my books just because they’re my friends. Other published authors connected to me should not feel obligated to read my books just because they know me and we’re connected through “being published”.

I’ve found, most of all, that if someone reads something else out of obligation, they’re much more likely to harbor negative feelings toward it, no matter how good the writing is, simply because they felt obligated. Why would I want that? I don’t. I think I’d rather have a very, very small circle of readers who genuinely appreciate my writing rather than a gigantic circle of readers who feel obligated for some reason or another.

It’s nice to be admired, noticed, and appreciated. It really is, but to seek after those things is something I’m learning to back away from more and more. Those kinds of things come in time, and with hard work. They are byproducts of healthy (key word: healthy) relationships with friends and family, and let’s not forget, dedicated fans. Those healthy relationships take time and effort and a good dose of selflessness.

As JA Konrath recently said in a great post about how to Tend Your Garden: No one said it would be fair. Or easy. Or fun. No one owes you a living … and there are no guarantees.”

Harsh words, maybe? Or harshly true? All I know is that a sense of entitlement is a very bad thing when it comes to writing. Erase that, and a writer is much more likely to find lasting happiness in the tough world of writing and publishing.

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

The Day I Quit Writing

I remember the day I quit writing. It was the day I graduated college with my creative writing degree. A few weeks later I got married. My life completely changed, and in all honesty, I was so burned out from four years straight of school that I decided I was truly finished. I didn’t have any desire to write, any desire to read, any desire to do anything but move on with my life and figure other stuff out — like how to be married.

For the next five years, I wrote three mediocre poems and read one set of books (the Harry Potter series). FIVE YEARS. I really had given up. Completely. My lifelong dream of becoming a published novelist had been flushed down the toilet because the desire … it was gone. My muse? She’d packed up and left. But I did keep creating. I learned photography. I bought expensive camera equipment. I bought expensive software. I learned how to use it really well.

And get this. I was happy.

Yes, I was happy with not writing. I had a child. I had a husband. I was creating artistic things with my photography. I was fulfilled. I didn’t need writing to make me whole at that point in my life … and that was a valuable lesson, probably the most valuable lesson I will ever learn as a writer.

When my daughter was eight months old, we moved into a new place, and I realized that I had been in a bit of a rut the past few years. My photography didn’t seem “special” anymore. It wasn’t fulfilling me in the ways I needed. I started to look backwards at a time I had shoved far, far away — college, high school, days when the only thing that made me feel alive was writing. Since photography wasn’t fulfilling me anymore, I wondered if that old dream of mine might give me what I need …

I pulled up an old manuscript, one I’d shoved so far into the dark that I thought it could never possibly resurface. It was 30,000 words. It was the most horrible piece of fiction ever. A friend of mine read it and told me it had potential. It was like riding a bike all over again. It was painful and I fell over countless times, but eventually that desire to write came back full force. Like a freaking freight train barreling into my life. My poor husband. He’d never known me as a writer. He had no idea who this Crazy Obsessed Person was living in his house. She never slept. She kept talking about stories and girls being kidnapped. She made him read poorly written prose. My poor husband.

A friend of mine has been asking herself lately why she writes. She wonders why she tortures herself like this? My comment to her was to quit writing and find out, not that she should do that, of course, but it’s what I had to do. I quit. Completely. AND I WAS STILL HAPPY … (at that point in my life). But then I got to a point in my life where that happiness was waning. Right now I need to write, whether nobody reads my books when I put them out there or a lot of people read them when I put them out there. It doesn’t matter. I will share regardless of outcome. And I might get to a point in my life that I don’t need writing anymore. I have no idea. I can’t predict the future. But for now, writing fulfills me in ways no other creative endeavor can. The important thing to remember is that writing is not what makes me who I am. Who I am is what makes my writing.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, Writing Process