The Scariest Thing You Will Ever Do As A Writer

There is a skill set that, when mastered, will not only help you reap significantly better results in book sales over the long haul, but will vastly increase your self concept and confidence and is something that fewer than .05% of the population can do.

Not only can they not do it, but the majority of them would rather die than try.

Wow.

It’s easy to see that you would have a serious leg up on everybody if you could join that .05% group.

I am talking of course about public speaking.

As a writer, it is possible that the percentages of comfortable, accomplished speakers in your group are even smaller than .05%. Writers tend to be shy types, happy to hole up in remote cabins and drafty guestrooms, turning down social invitations in favor of a laptop and a bottomless cup of coffee. Which makes the benefits that much greater if you can learn to conquer your issues with speaking publicly.

Six Ways that being a speaker can help your writing career:

1. You will sell more books at the back of the room after your talk. I have watched people read directly from notecards and then charge ridiculous amounts for self-published books I wouldn’t look at in a garage sale—and they sell out within minutes of leaving the podium.

2. The more you speak, the better you get, and the better your speaking resume gets and the more writers conferences you’ll be invited to speak at. Attending a writers conference as a speaker (read: expert) is much better than attending as a participant. You get instant credibility, even before your work is examined. Plus, you get to sit at the editors and agents’ table!

3. Speakers are looked upon as subject matter experts, even if they aren’t.

4. Speaking enhances your author’s brand and extends the efforts you make through social media because your audience is very likely tweeting or blogging about the conference.

5. Speaking helps to promote your reach online. If you have more than one book, you’ll have people looking online for the stuff you’ve written. Plus, people who have heard you speak are more inclined to like you because there’s a feeling of ownership or discovery for them.

6. When you speak, everything you touch is worth more. There is a kind of celebrity involved with speaking. When you speak, no one else is talking; it’s not a give and take. It’s YOU talking, and the audience listening. That dynamic illustrates a premise that you are someone important who can be learned from. Plus, you are performing and so the value of anything attached to you is increased. If you give out business cards or bookmarks with your information on it—blog site, amazon book  page, website—people will snap them up like they are valuable because you have been set apart as a VIP.

So, how do you achieve this desirable state of speaking without throwing up? I don’t absolutely promise there will be no vomit involved, but you could read articles online or buy any number of how-to’s. Personally, I think learning by doing is the best way. Because there’s such a psychological element to public speaking (“My God, they’re all looking at ME!!”) you really need to feel the experience over and over again. You very well may feel like you’re going to throw up the first few times you speak in front of group, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I found Toastmaster’s to be a great way to learn this skill in a friendly, supportive way. Everyone at the meetings is working to be a better speaker so you’re in good company. After a few months of having a helpful, friendly group of people listening to and critiquing  your speeches, trust me, heading out to a public forum where people are simply listening to you for content not “ums” and “ers” will have you confident in no time.

It’s worth a try anyway, right?

What about you? Are you afraid to get up in front of a group or do you do it all the time? If so, got any tried and true tips for new speakers to help chase (or redirect) the butterflies? Would love to hear from you!

As Parents of Boys: Does the Worry EVER End?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a statement that I know a lot of people will have an issue with but it needs to be said so here goes: when it comes to having children, girls are better than boys.

There. It’s said.

And I have to say I welcome any and all to refute or argue that this is not true. My own incontrovertible arguments are below.

It has been my experience as an only girl with three brothers and as the mother of an only boy that a boy is born and then begins a fairly constant campaign of trying to kill himself from then on.

You do not find girls flipping through gun magazines at age eight. You don’t see girls trying to create their own mailbox bomb at ten or taking apart the laptop because “You didn’t look like you were using it much and I wanted to see how it worked.” You just don’t.

I have friends with girl children and they have plenty to complain about but none of the whining or gossiping or nonstop talking or whatever gripe you have about daughters can compare with the worry you must live with on a daily basis when your child is a boy.

My older brother got his pilot’s license on his sixteenth birthday, before he even collected his driver’s license, which he did the very next day. My mother, when it became evident that my son was also mad for jets, said: “Do yourself a favor, forbid him to learn to fly now and save yourself the terror you’ll experience every time he walks out the door.”

Unfortunately, when I laid down the edict to my son, like most things, I went too far. I told him something along the lines of : “I don’t want you to fly as long as I am taking breath on this earth.” Maybe not surprisingly, the thought of my dying does not appear to unduly unsettle him. Rather, he finds himself wondering how old he’ll be (i.e. when I die) and if there’ll be a flying school near his house.

Boys want to do dangerous things with dangerous implements and they want to do them pretty much from the moment they can reach. I have a girlfriend who had three girls before she and her husband were surprised with their last, a boy. She told me the story of how she handed down to this, her last child, a wooden toy that all her daughters had played with as babies. She said the first time she gave it to him—he still couldn’t walk yet—he gave it a whack that broke it into three useless pieces.

Boys are so different.

My husband’s cousin’s son achieved fame within the family (posthumously, I must add) when, clowning around with his pals, he climbed a telephone pole and then reached for the wrong wire.

Can you imagine a girl doing this?

“A daughter is a daughter all of her life, a son is a son ‘til he takes a wife.

I have quoted this line to friends who had baby girls for years before I became a parent myself. I am that kind of daughter. The kind who calls and worries and visits and keeps my parents, now just my mother, in my daily thoughts and activities. On more than one occasion, my son, now seventeen, has offered the lawn mower shed to his father and me in the backyard of whatever home he eventually moves to when we are in our dotage.

I think being a parent means learning to manage fear just about all the time. When you treasure something that much, you’re constantly worried about losing it, but with a boy, the worry is racheted up several notches higher. I mean, really, what is there to worry about with a girl?

That she’ll drink or do drugs? That worry is not exclusive to girls and boys have a worse peer pressure for doing those kinds of naughty things.

That she’ll be abducted, raped and murdered? Sorry, that also is not exclusive to girls.

That she’ll get pregnant? Please. Not the end of the world. Nobody dies in this scenario. Next.

That she’ll get a DUI (or worse)? New statistics have come out that indicate teenage girls are delaying getting their driver’s licenses. So, fewer of them are driving until later when they’re more mature. Boys are LESS mature at 16 than girls are at that age and THEY are not delaying getting their licenses!

How about that she’ll want to play with guns or bash her brains out playing football or decide to join the Army or take up rock climbing so she can hang from a precipice 10,000 feet up and make you go totally WHITE before your time?

Boys are different.

My son is into backpacking and he’s recently bought a camping hammock. To me, the hammock resembles one of those contraptions you hang bananas in until they ripen, not unlike, I assume, how a hungry bear will view my son.

Which brings me to the end and the seemingly innocuous incident which prompted this post in the first place. Upon returning home from school today, my son grabbed a hatchet and said: “Heading into the woods, Mom, to find something for Dad’s birthday.”

Seriously. Can you honestly imagine a girl uttering these words? (Fortunately, it was a tree, not an animal in his crosshairs but even so, there was blood involved when it was all over.)

Boys. Are. Different.

And finally, what about the undeniable comfort one parent gets from the solidarity of being able to share fears and concerns with the other parent? Let me refute that myth right now. When my husband came home tonight, he dropped his briefcase and headed out the back door, yelling over his shoulder in the direction of my son’s bedroom: “Hurry, John! Neighbor said there’s a nest of copperheads in the back yard.”

Seriously?

ALL. Boys. Are. Different.

How Social Media Made The Writer’s Life Bearable

When I think of a typical author (is there such a thing?) I think of a quiet type–antisocial or at least very shy–whose life is played out among the characters she creates in make-believe worlds. This is a stereotype and I personally know some very noisy and social creatures who are also fine writers. But I think there is some equity to the stereotype. Writers are readers and writers spend a lot of time writing. Reading and writing are both solitary activities. I’d have to believe that most writers like to do these things so they either a) have no problem being alone or b) they prefer it.

There was a brief time in our history where writers had to do something that would be considered torture for normal people, but was positively HELL for shy or retiring people. There was a time when writers, in order to sell their books, were forced by their publishers or convinced by their own marketing common sense, to sit on display in public bookstores while shoppers walked by them and alternately ignored and felt sorry for them. As bad as this would be for anybody else, I think it must have been particularly agonizing for the typical writer.

One of the great things about how writers are being encouraged to market their books today is that social media is ideal for shy people. You can now pretend to be the amazing writer you’ve created on your dust jacket, complete with airbrushing and that photo that was taken ten years ago. And you can deal with people as THAT person, kind of like an avatar you’ve created that does all your talking for you. Social media lets the part of you that is the awesome part of you—the part that communicates by putting amazing words together—take over and meet people and make connections.

On Twitter, you don’t have to worry about meeting fans and not measuring up. (“Wow. You’re short.”) You don’t have to lose weight or shave or get a brow lift. You can be friendly and brilliant in your bathrobe with yesterday’s cat vomit crusted on your bunny slippers and no one will ever know.

My father used to tell me when I was a teenager and he was in his late fifties that I would be surprised to discover some day when I’m older that regardless of how I appear on the outside, who I am on the “inside” will always be 25 years old. At the time, I didn’t understand him. The man had a full head of white hair and a beard. Was he really telling me he looked at the world through the eyes of a twenty-five year old??!

What I discovered as I grew older was, of course, it’s true. You operate in the world on a daily basis and, in your mind, nothing’s changed. You toss your hair and smile winningly at someone in the parking lot and they grab their kid and hurry away, and then you catch your reflection in a mirror and you want to grab yourself and hurry away, because you’re a crone! But it’s not fair, you whimper. You don’t feel like you now look.

But with social media, you really are 25 forever. Who you are on paper–the best part of  you –is the face you present to your social media friends. And because you know you’re looking good (on paper), you are brighter and wittier and friendlier. You are, in fact, your ideal self.

This was actually going to be a lead-in to why I think writers need to brush off or discover their public speaking skills! So now that I’ve got you all comfy and determined never to go out into public again, check my post next Wednesday when I move us all into the scariest light of all: the limelight.

Are you shy? A natural talker? Writers come in all sizes and flavors. I would love to hear about you! Stereotypical writer or offbeat all the way?

Final 10 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mother

An AARP article a few years ago listed the sorts of personalities that tended to make the best Moms. Now, I know this is grossly subjective but like all things smarting of common sense, the article felt right. It said the number one personality that made the best Mom was the high school cheerleader, the close-second was the tom-boy, (go figure!) and the third highest ranked was the equestrienne. (Personally, I would’ve combined the second and third since most equestriennes I know are very tomboyish but I supposed there are some girly equestriennes.)

Which brings me to the final 10 items in my Top 20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mom:

  1. Pride of Presentation. The forerunner to my desire to dress my five-year old son like his last name ends with “Fauntelroy” had to be found in the many happy hours I spent braiding my horse’s mane, show-sheening his coat, and brushing his tail.
  2. Fearlessness. There is a saying in horsey circles that addresses scary moments, like when you approach a jump or coop. The saying goes that you should “throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The adage means to say that if you’re ready for the jump, the horse will be, too. And, on the other hand, if you’re not too sure about that five-foot water-jump, well, don’t count on Thunder to sign on for the trip. This idea translates beautifully to motherhood. Whether you’ve facing a high fence with a jittery purebred under you and a stand full of people watching you, or bravely staring down a defiant three-year old in a fully-packed grocery store—the principle is the same. Act like you mean it and there’s a good chance he’ll believe you.
  3. Kiss the boo-boos. I recently read that 73% of mothers comfort their child first before examining or treating the child’s hurt. While I can say I certainly spoke soothingly to my horse while I dabbed on topical analgesics to his various cuts, I can’t say he was very impressed. Nonetheless, it was good practice for the little boy who would come later who definitely appreciated his mother’s words and touch during a trying time.
  4. Be mindful of the company he keeps. The proper equine pals will bat flies off your horse’s face with their tails and run up and down the pasture with him for hours (mindlessly, one presumes) until they all flop down on the ground, panting and happy. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Blithely releasing your horse into the pasture without checking out the field can have you retrieving him the next day with big bite-marks on his neck and rump. I always knew which horses in the barn were friendly sorts and which ones to keep Prince away from, and I took even more care with my son’s playdates. And that went double when he got to middle school.
  5. Keeping things in perspective. I don’t care how hard you trained for the three-day event when Jiffy went lame at the last minute or how clean he looked after his bath (and just before he rolled in the dirt), none of it amounts to a hill of manure as long as he’s not tangled up in barbed wire or given himself colic because he got into the unlocked feed bin. By the same token, a situation where your three-old throws his metal truck into your flat screen in the middle of a tantrum is not the end of the world. Period. It’s a huge, expensive pain but it’s not worth getting derailed over. Losing him in a crowd at the mall—even for a few seconds—or watching your babysitter roll in from the local DQ with your toddler unrestrained in the front seat—is.
  6. It’s Fun to Get Dirty.
  7. It’s Fun to Play in the Rain.
  8. Eat Your Vegetables. My horses loved watermelon, apples, corn and sweet carrots. Coincidentally, they were my son’s favorites too. (He passed on the sweet feed.)
  9. Proper dental care is essential. While I don’t have to float my son’s teeth periodically (taking a huge file and whittling them down in the back) as I did with my mare, I am very aware of how often and well he flosses.
  10. Hugs are better when they’re returned. Having and caring for a horse involves a kind of love. It’s a source of pleasure, frustration, endless expense and hard work and most horse people think it’s worth it. A child, on the other hand, is all that, plus he probably won’t be the reason you show up at work with a limp or your arm in a cast (hopefully not, anyway.) And while I have often hugged my horse, nothing compares with the hugs I gave (and got) from my kids.

So, take it from me and my experience with a long line of horses, kids (and stepkids!), whether you’re a teenager looking to buy your first horse or a grown woman with a stable full at your beck and call, the things you can learn from the world of riding, riders and the ridden can prove enormously helpful later on if you ever decide to pick up the Mommy gig.

What about you? Do you ride? Are you a Mom? Do you have another hobby that you think has helped make you a better parent? Love to hear from you!

7 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Your Creativity

While I’m as big a believer as anyone else in the “just do it” mentality when it comes to getting my daily word count in, I have to admit I’m always on the look-out for an edge in the quality aspect of  “just doing it.” To that end, I’ve discovered a great article (via Behance in case you haven’t discovered them yet—an awesome resource for creative and compulsives alike) and recapped it here!

Enjoy and after you put that barbell down and finish playing with the dog, get back to work!

  1. Eat breakfast. I know, I know. I always suspected Kellogs invented this one but it turns out it’s probably true. At least a quarter of all Americans skip breakfast (me, included.) But studies show increased productivity, lower weight, etc. if we eat breakfast (and not, of course, beignets and Fruit Loops.)
  2. Sit less. Okay, a little tricky when you are writing at a computer, I know but a report on a recent 14-year study showed that there was a 20% increase in the death rate (40% for women) for those people who sat six hours or more every day. So! Motivation to get off your ass? CHECK!
  3. Exercise helps your mental performance and overall productivity. Turns out hitting the gym during the day will help you problem-solve and write better, longer. Who knew?
  4. Get a dog. Well, it doesn’t have to be a dog. Any kind of a pet will do. The reasoning behind this is that having an animal while you work increases trust and team cohesion. On the other hand, if you work alone, and collaboration is not an issue, skip the dog and get back to work.
  5. Kill the commute. If you write in your back bedroom, go ahead and skip to the next item on the list. If you have a job that forces you out of the house and that job is not close by, a new finding has shown that a commute of much duration is a total happiness killer. It significantly decreases your quality of life. My suggestion on this one? Find another house or find another job or just accept you won’t be as happy as you could be.
  6. Use all your vacation days. This was never a problem for me. In fact, I struggle to understand people who don’t take paid days off from work. I’m not making this up. An article from the Harvard Business Review said that “More than half of all Americans now fail to take all of their vacation days.” Okay, since I really can’t understand people who would do this, I can’t speak to it. (OTOH: if you really want to work so damn bad, donate your vacation days to me.)
  7. Get pissed. And I mean that in the American sense, not the British. New studies show that being angry (sad works too) is a key driver to creativity. And if you’ve ever knocked out some of your best work right after you were dumped, fired or lost your best dog, you’ll understand. Anger, it seems, fuels idea generation while sadness, perversely? drives us to work harder.

So there you have it! Seven easy ways to boost your creativity and get the most out of your writing environment. If you’ve tried any of these ways—or have issues with any of them—I would love to hear from you!

20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being A Mom

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through a science magazine and came across the news that scabbing on a wound is now considered counterproductive to the wound healing quickly and with minimal scarring. I don’t know why the article surprised me. As an equestrienne, I’d been peeling scabs off my horse’s various cuts and scratches for years. The real surprise was that I hadn’t wondered, if it was de rigeur to do it for horses, why people didn’t do it too? My husband looked at the article, shrugged and said: “Kids always rip their scabs off.”

All of which triggered a burgeoning notion that being a Horse-Mom first before becoming a real one had prepared me for the job in many exceptional ways. Here are some of the things that owning a horse taught me about being a mother:

1. The Discipline Thing. This is a major issue in most relationship where you are outweighed by your charge by some 1700 pounds. If you can handle a truculent 1,800 pound four-hoofed, jerk-on-wheels (we all have our days), you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to handling a child of your own under the age of three. Except for the occasional sharp smack on the neck to get Sparky’s attention, the disciplining is amazingly similar: You set boundaries, you make the boundaries clearly understandable, you respond to infractions of said boundaries with immediacy, love, firmness and consistency. And a good thirty percent of the time your horse and/or child will behave accordingly next time.

2. The Ability to See Past the Discomfort of the Moment. It’s the memory of uncomfortable equine incidents, like walking in mud and rain, cold and dark, looking for my horse out in some hilly, hole-infested pasture that later helped prepare me to weather a tantrum, clean up a seemingly impossible mess, or endure the constant sleep interruptions from an over-stimulated child. You’ll find you’re better able to deal with the unpleasantness if you can envision the coming, happier time: the tidy room, the tear-streaked but calm face, the peacefully sleeping child.

3. Sweets Make A Great Reward. And you still don’t want them to have too many.

4. Patience, Patience, Patience.

5. Expect the Best and You’ll Get It. Expect the worst and ditto.

6. It’s Only Poop.

7. Take Your Time. Unless you have servants to do it for you, getting ready to ride takes a good deal of preparation. One of the first things most equestriennes learn is to slow down and—since you have to do the job right (or, like checking your instruments before a flight, you may live (or not) to regret it)—you might as well enjoy the process. I have spent many happy hours grooming my mare, cleaning my saddle and other tack, watching the mice scurry out of the feed room, and listening to the other horses in the stalls nicker and murmur to each other; enough to know that riding horses is only a part of enjoying them. In many ways, this is one of the most important lessons my horse taught me about mothering. Forcing myself to slow down and listen carefully to my son’s report on his morning at Sunday School, or really involving myself in a game of hide-and-seek with him, allows me to enjoy him more deeply than I would the paltry satisfaction of ticking items off a list or finishing another task.

8. Second Sight. I am not talking visions here. I’m talking about sensing danger before it’s present. Because of a horse’s skittish nature, it’s always wise to keep your wits about you and see—before your horse does—anything that might cause a problem. That red jacket hanging over there on the fence? Steer clear or prepare yourself. Rocket might just rearrange the order of your spinal column if he sees it and decides that, today, it’s a threat to him. With horses, you always need to be one step ahead. Same with kids. The habit of looking down the road while at the same time looking at what’s right in front of me has helped me keep my child from walking into eye-level sharp objects, swinging car doors, too-steep stairs, off the edge of decks and any number of what-are-the-odds-he’d-get-into-that? kinds of dangerous situations. Developing eyes in the back of your head is a skill you hone with time. Taking care of a horse who saw bogeymen behind every tractor, rock and bush—helps.

9. Don’t Play in Traffic. Enough Said.

10. Endurance. I don’t mean the kind of endurance that has you switching horses on a mountain trail at 45-miles an hour, with your crash helmet caked in muck from the last hell-bent hour of your 20-hour ride. I mean a smaller kind of exhaustion that can overwhelm your determination not to quit. For example: I don’t care how tired you are from a long trail ride when the weather turned nasty and RockStar took that spill that left him shaky but YOU with a twisted ankle and now it’s so dark you can barely see the rider in front of you. When you finally make it back to the barn you still need to untack him, check him out for any boo-boos, clean him, dry him, feed him and tuck him in for the night before you can even think of icing that ankle, stripping off your muddy clothes and collapsing into a hot bath with a stiff one. I once broke my arm jumping a coop in a field and waited while kind friends fed my horse and turned him out to pasture before driving me to the nearest medical facility. (Being in shock helped.) As a result, you’ll find that years later, you’re wonderfully prepared for the moment—at four in the morning Christmas Day—when you still haven’t figured out how the damn dollhouse goes together. Or when you know you’ll end up screaming like a mental patient if you have to read the “Cat in the Hat” one more time, and then you read it a few hundred more times without any loss of inflection or drama when “Thing One” and “Thing Two” show up.

The Final Ten Things My Horse Taught Me About Mothering will continue next Friday! I’d love to hear from you—is there a hobby you had before you became a mother that you think made you a better mother? I’d love to hear about it!