by Tasha Seegmiller
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s first TED talk. I know it has been at least once a year for the past dozen or so, but there were some years that I needed to watch is more often. It is easily my favorite.
Despite all this, I have still struggled with my identity as a writer, with my belief that I’m competent in this craft I have chosen to pursue. The failure of a manuscript to find a publishing home has all too often equated to a failure of me, of identifying myself and my work as one in the same. If a critique group didn’t go well, I suck. If my agent doesn’t want to represent a particular idea, my ideas are stupid.
I am at the point in my mental health journey where I can start to recognize when the voices are amplified by my depression and anxiety. I’m getting better at calling them out as liars and doing the work to ground myself in reality.
But I’m an English professor, teaching composition to college students and I see it creeping into their writing process as well. Even though I have them read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” even though they read how it is hard for Stephen King to write, the process of getting words on paper, of seeing what they made versus what they meant to make, of recognizing what they are able to write and what they are reading are not the same. Very competent, smart students who are thriving in different subject areas stare at a blinking cursor, paralyzed by the fear of unattainable writing perfection.
Separating yourself from your craft
Recently, I learned about the importance of separating ourselves, of taking the time to find out who we are, as people, and then who we are, as writers.
So, take a few minutes and ask yourself who you are? Without roles or responsibilities or expectations or titles, who are you? Are you naturally funny? Are you laid back? Are you driven? Are you serious?
Now, who are you as a writer? I know several people who are naturally kind and funny who write very dark stories or poems. There are several people who are lazy in real life but prolific writers. There are people who feel like a character from their book.
But here’s what I want to help you understand (what I’m trying to help myself understand):
The work you are creating is honed by practice, awareness, and the tools you have. The work you are creating is not a manifestation of you. The work you are creating does not have a single bearing on who you are.
You are not your work and your work is not you.
You are a person, full of characteristics that allow you to love and live and celebrate and notice and share and laugh and eat and sleep. And when it is time to create, we need to create space for ourselves to mentally, physically, psychologically, emotionally, subconsciously cross the boundary and allow the writer self to enter into a maker state.
The work done during the maker state is not a reflection of you.
If we are going to work through this, we have to understand that while there are many writers who have practiced and studied and read and written and received feedback and even won awards, every single one of them will acknowledge they reached that point because of intentional persistence and also because of a bit of luck.
Luck that the market was looking for what they were writing at that exact time.
Luck that an agent/editor saw the vision they had for their work and helped them hone it.
Luck that some influencer/award panel/etc. loved that particular book that at that particular time.
They are not worth more than you. You are not worth less than them. You are a creator, honing your skills and practicing with tools that will allow you to make better work.
To repeat: your work is not you and you are not your work.
Do you agree, or disagree? Do you struggle with separating your work from your self? Do you have any suggestions to offer for how people can achieve this?
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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Pacific University and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a soda shack and cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.
It’s Valentine’s Day! You may adore this holiday because it speaks of hope and romance, or you may hate this holiday because it’s too dedicated to couples or to Hallmark, florists, and candymakers.
Regardless, let's use this as an opportunity to look at how we’re loving ourselves. Do we embrace and care for our relationship to writing?
Here are a few ideas for how to love your writer self this Valentine’s Day—or any time of year.
Give Yourself a Gift
One year for my birthday, I asked for a gift card to Staples. My family thought that was odd, but all my writer friends were like, “Ooooh, yessss.” Because writers know how delightful shopping for office supplies can be!
You don’t have to wait for someone else to give you a writing-themed present. Valentine’s Day involves giving gifts of greeting cards, flowers, candy, and more. How about treating yourself to something that makes your work easier or sweeter! For lots of great ideas, check out Jami Gold’s Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers.
You get bonus points for wrapping the gift and opening it with the fresh excitement of a child or for snapping pics and sharing your beautiful new purchase on social media for others to ooh and aah.
A core feature of Valentine’s Day is saying kind, romantic, or sexy things to your beloved. How tender a lover’s words can be to our eager ears!
Now think about all the things you’ve said to yourself about your own writing:
- “It’s crap!”
- “No one will want to read this.”
- “I should just quit!”
- “I suck.”
Whoa, you are a terrible valentine to yourself.
Hey, we all are at times. What if we rephrased our words in ways a lover would say?
- “This is actually really good, but if you want to edit, I support you.”
- “I would totally read this!”
- “Don’t quit yet. I believe in you.”
- “You don’t suck…at least not in that way.” ~wink, wink~
It’s okay to share frustration from time to time, but remember to also speak tenderly to yourself. Writing a wonderful book is far more difficult than many realize, and you’re pretty remarkable to do what you do.
Valentine’s Day also means hand-holding, snuggling up, smooching, etc. By no means do I expect you to kiss yourself for your fabulous writing. (But if you’re feeling it, go ahead.) So what kind of affection can you show yourself?
Look at your workspace. Is there any way to make it cozier? Consider ergonomics, creature comforts, inspiring quotes and art. Do you need to slip away to the couch sometimes? Or the recliner on your back patio? As much as you can, care for your body’s comfort as you write.
Get a massage. Sitting for long periods of time and/or slumping your shoulders over a keyboard can wreak havoc on your back. A massage can work out the kinks and relax those sore muscles. Schedule a professional massage, or if money is tight, get a back and neck massager you can keep nearby.
Prioritize self-care. Eat and sleep well! We writers can be so bad at that. Not to mention exercise and meditation. But self-care practices pay huge dividends both in our overall mood and our productivity.
Show yourself affection. And if you still want that self-kiss, pucker up and go for it!
Plan a Date or Getaway
Couples who celebrate Valentine’s Day expect to have a date. Dinner at least, but maybe more. Why not take yourself out to write?
Day Trip. Consider what setting helps your creative juices flow. Do you get great work done at the library? A local coffee shop? A seaside restaurant? Pack up your supplies and head out for the day to your favorite writing spot.
Getaway. Maybe you can swing a weekend getaway to a quiet place that sparks your imagination. Bring along another writer or two to keep yourself inspired and accountable. My critique partner and I have had many productive weekends at lake houses (some of which we found through Airbnb).
Retreat/Conference. Sign up to attend a longer retreat or conference. I’m a big fan of Cruising Writers, where I’ve both learned a lot from presenters and crafted some of my best scenes! (Also, I happen to be hosting this year’s event in the owner/manager’s stead.) But ask around and/or check out the lists from Romance Refined or Kotobee.
Make this Valentine’s Day—or any day—the time to love your writer self!
What area do you need to work on to show your writer self more love?
Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now on sale! When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
About Cruising Writers
Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world. Cruise this November with Angela Ackerman, fabulous writing coach and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus, NYT bestselling author Darynda Jones, and a high-quality literary agent (TBA).
For the week of Hearts and Flowers, WITS would like you to share a line of writing you love, your own or another's. Just one. We want to share our own favorite lines and hear about yours down in the comments.
Many writers struggle with self-doubt, with imposter syndrome, with anxiety. The conundrum is that before we ask others to believe in us and our writing, we must believe in ourselves and know that our words deserve to be heard.
Go ahead, be brave.
Kris (K. Maze)
From a YA short story I'm working on. The female protagonist discovers wrestling as a way to fight back after life has given her a beating.
She jogged to the third mat when her name was called over the loudspeaker. Her arms still ached, though the bruises were fading. Tonight she'd definitely fight back.
Two from Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī on writing that I like very much:
Do you think I know what I'm doing? That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself? As much as a pen knows what it's writing, or the ball can know where it's going next.
Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.
From my own work in progress, Awaken. For context, the characters are climbing a mountain.
“I’m coming up.” My voice is steadier than my nerves. They flutter in my stomach like birds trapped in a too-small cage. There’s no other sound but the thick rush of wind ripping at our hair and our clothing and our confidence.
And a bonus line from a wonderful novel that I recently copy edited and can now be purchased, His Lady to Protect by Justine Covington:
Bright cheeks and sparkling eyes reminded Susannah of the conspiratorial laughs her mother had shared with this woman, and a lump the size of her mother’s gravestone formed in her throat.
From my high-risk pregnancy memoir.
Fear stalked through my childhood, a rabid dog that refused to be put down. As the child of a retired military officer, who cuddled his glittery narcissism beneath a shadowy cape of PTSD, I grew used to navigating a world filled with fear.
Your turn! Share a line you've written that you love, either from your current work in progress or a previously published book. Then the rest of us will show our love too!
Top photo: Image by silviarita from Pixabay
by Melinda VanLone
Are you an indie author about to create or commission a cover? If so, most likely you'll be using images to design your latest best seller. Did you know that those images have copyrights? Even if you found them on the interwebs like litter on a street corner, they still have rights. It's that fact that gets a lot of authors in trouble.
It's never a good idea to pull an image directly off of a Google search because you can't be sure where it's coming from, who has the rights, whether they've released them, or whether they are still very much the property of the creator.
To keep yourself protected from potential legal action, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Discover images at reputable websites
If you're designing the cover yourself, use reputable stock photography sites and purchase the right to use the image. In a future blog post I'll go over the rights each site gives, and the pros and cons of each, but in the meantime here's a few reputable sites I recommend:
Pay attention to what rights you actually purchased
Some sites sell you the right to use an image for personal reasons at one price, but charge a different price for commercial use. (Hint...you need commercial rights.)
Also take note of whether you're allowed to manipulate the image in any way. Most stock sites do grant you the right to tinker to your heart's desire, but a few don't. Be sure you adhere to whatever rules they set out for you. Some sites give you unlimited eBook reproduction but limit the number of print copies you can produce before requiring an "extended license."
When you purchase the image, I highly recommend saving a PDF of the license and storing it for future reference with the image/cover.
Pass on by any image marked "for editorial use only." That means the image can't be used for personal or commercial purposes, which means you can't use it on a book cover. Those images are only used for magazine or news articles, and should never be manipulated (Photoshopped together with other images or retouched).
The buck stops with you
If you're hiring a designer to craft your cover for you, it's still ultimately your responsibility to make sure they've obtained the rights to the images they use to craft your cover, in the same way that if you hire an assassin you're still responsible for the murder they commit on your behalf.
Most professional designers are well aware of the basic rights/rules, but some aren't. Don't be afraid to ask them where they purchased the image, and ask for a copy of the image license.
If they produced the image themselves (if, for instance, they are also a photographer and they used their own photography), then ask them to convey the rights to you in writing. There are boilerplate contracts you can use to convey the basic terms, just so there are no misunderstandings in the future.
Sometimes it seems silly to go through the motions of paperwork but trust me, should a lawsuit arise, you'll be glad you did it.
"Free" isn't worth it.
I avoid "free" sites because:
1. The images are not great quality and they are overused. It's fine for a blog post or newsletter, not so fine for a book cover; and 2. The license is flawed.
Most free sites use a type of "Creative Commons" license which means yes you can use it for commercial use, but it does not guarantee that whoever posted the image to the site actually had the right to distribute the image, nor that they didn't violate privacy laws or property laws to obtain the image.
In other words, they may have infringed on someone else's rights...which makes you an accomplice if you use it. They also don't police the content at all, leaving you vulnerable.
The stock sites I've mentioned above do a certain amount of vetting of the photographers who post their images for use. There are statements and contracts which establish that they've obtained the model's permission, that they own the photo, etc. Which in turn gives you a certain level of protection you just don't get for free.
In my next post, I'll go more in depth regarding the stock photography websites I've recommended and their painful-to-read rights. If you've been using a site that didn't make my list, please leave a note in the comments and I'll investigate it for you.
Please note...I'm not a lawyer. I'm a graphic designer and an author. I have, however, spent years in the publishing industry handling images and dealing with the legal issues associated with using them, so I do have tips and advice that I hope helps you in your book covering quest. That said, when in doubt, please consult an actual lawyer or simply don't use the image.
Do you struggle with finding images? Have you ever had legal issues with photos? Melinda is ready for your questions down in the comments!
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Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.
When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.
by John Peragine
Alternately titled: Talk Me Off the Edge- My 1st Fiction Book is Being Published!
Bridging from Non-fiction to Fiction has been like a flight from Earth to Mars. New landscapes. New people. Different atmosphere. Different laws of physics. And it is a little daunting.
My love of writing began when I was a latchkey kid. I would spend hours, even days, in the local library. I started in the kid’s section, but after I'd read all my favorite books, I ventured into the adult section.
“Whoa there, little guy, this is for the adults. I’m not sure you are in the right section,” said the librarian. I was 10 years old and I desperately wanted to read books from the pulp fiction section. I was especially interested in fantasy and science fiction titles with their creased covers and yellowed pages.
Eventually I wandered into the business center, which had a long table with typewriters. I wanted to write my own stories.
I dreamed of being a writer and seeing my pulp fiction title stuffed in the tall rotating carousel.
My mother procured (read: pilfered) my typing paper from her company's supply closet and I sat down to create.
Fast forward thirty years, when I retired from the day job to write full time. I have been writing non-fiction books and articles for thirteen years, but I never forgot my roots in that little town library.
The Unexpected Book
In 2012, my life changed. After raising two girls, I had my baby boy, Max. He came into this world a wonder: a mix of superhuman powers, and superhuman weaknesses. Cold air is his kryptonite. The medical term is Cold Urticaria with Angioedema, which is a fancy way to say that he was allergic to cold and to viruses. Allergic in the "stop breathing" kind of way, which was terrifying.
We spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, and I began writing chapters of a story as bedtime stories for him. In it, his illness was a sign of a powerful magic locked inside him.
My inspiration came from a couple of my favorite writers. Ian Fleming, of the James Bond series fame, decided to write a book for his son, and read him the chapters as a bed story. It eventually became the book, Chitty Chitty Bang, Bang, which became a movie with the screenplay written by Roald Dahl. (As a child, this movie scared me, as children were captured and put into a cage.)
My second inspiration was Stephen King. He had written thirteen books, and his daughter Naomi had not read any of them because horror was not her thing. So, he wrote The Eyes of the Dragon, a fantasy story, for his daughter. It is one of my favorite Stephen King books.
Both of these authors shifted genres to create something for their children. I was inspired too, and it became a special story and our special time while my little boy was so sick.
The Proposition and the Promise
Two years ago, my son asked me where his book was. (Which meant I had to move the project into being.) It is the novel I never intended to write.
In September it will be released to the world, and I am an emotional wreck. I will finally fulfill the dream of the little boy I used to be. The boy who dared to grab a book from the adult stacks and run back to the children’s section to read Frank Herbert's Dune.
Instead of being the expert sitting across the table, helping nonfiction authors write and publish their books, I am the one chewing my nails and questioning my sanity.
Is this a stupid idea? Will people hate it? Do I have the right genre? What am I going to do for marketing? Distribution?
I’m like a student in their first year of med school: I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be correct in my assumptions.
I am currently shifting my POV with a deadline to get it to the editor. I have given them my thoughts for the cover and am checking my inbox hourly to get the first glimpse. I am questioning everything.
Basically, I've become the client I sometimes dread: full of insecurity, and prone to dramatic predictions that "it is terrible and that is why no one who has read it has given me accolades." What if it's not the best thing they have ever read??
Can someone pleaseput me out of my misery?
There is a shiny light illuminating my desperate self-flagellating musings. I have a great support network.
I have surrounded myself with people both in and out of the industry who have my back, and who set me straight when I veer too far into Crazyville.
I believe I can get through this and, for any of you who are reading this right now and nodding your head (because you recognize my agony and overly dramatic responses), I have some advice from that network to share.
The Best Advice
1. Rely on your tribe.
Listen to what they are saying to you. Stop responding with things like “yes, but…” They care about you and want you to succeed. Let them know what you need. A hug? A high five? A shot of whiskey?
Think of book publishing as running a triple marathon where they are on the sideline with signs, water, and snacks.
2. Believe in yourself.
Even if you are the only one who reads and loves your book, it was worth the effort. It’s likely that if you love the work, others will too. You don’t need everyone to love it, your opinion is what matters in the end. Were you happy with your work? Were you satisfied with what you created?
When I was ten and wrote an epic star opera on my pilfered paper, I was so happy at what I had created, and so proud to present it to my parents. It was not a top seller in any category, but it was the greatest thing I had ever created.
I have to remind myself of that moment. It is the reason I continued to want to be a writer. I wanted to see MY book on the shelf so that I could read it.
3. Brace yourself.
I have given my clients this advice, and now I am on the other side of it. The writing is just the beginning. The real work begins after you write “the end” on your first draft.
Now I must dig in and take the time to rewrite, think about marketing and covers, distribution and returns and everything else that goes into publishing a book. All of it with this ticking clock that rings on launch day.
4. Take care of yourself.
Step away from the manuscript. Walk around. Spend time with the family. Occasionally sleep. Run a few miles on the treadmill.
A work of fiction is much different than nonfiction or any other kind of writing I have done. This is so much more personal, and therefore I feel overprotective, anxious, and vulnerable. I must take care of my mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual parts of myself. I must take it one task at a time and push forward every day.
If I've got this, then you, my fellow writer, also have this.
I know I will cry when I see the completed book. That’s just how I roll. And there will be only one critic whose opinion matters in the end: my son. This was written for and about him. This story helped me feel more in control at a time when I felt so helpless as a parent. Part of my nerves are because I want to make him proud.
Drawing on our real-life experience and being able to write my own happy ending was therapeutic. This book helped he and I heal as much as it entertained. September 14, 2020 is the day this first book of a trilogy is released. That's the day I will finally have my nervous breakdown.
Every published author knows the madness of release day. We willingly embrace this madness over and over again.
It’s totally worth it, don’t you think?
Have you written a special story for a family member? Changed your genre? Do you get nervous on Release Day? Tell us about it in the comments!
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John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Pirates, will be released in Summer 2020.