Why taking a risk matters—win or lose

It’s interesting. I just got back from a romance writer’s conference here in Atlanta and was reminded of some of the steps necessary when plotting a story to understand your protagonist’s motivation, and how they’ve changed by the end of the tale. It’s irresistible to think of your own story and motivation when crafting fiction. (It’s that whole unexamined life not worth living thing again.) I find it amazing how detailed and focused we can get in trying to figure out a character’s purpose or goal while, at the same time, blithely sail through life uninterested in figuring out our own. I’ll illustrate this with one antagonizing statement. And bear with me. Remember it was a romance writer’s conference I just got out of and so matters of the heart are on my mind.

The older we get, the less open we are to finding and accepting love.

Wow. Big statement. (I expect LOTS of comments!) If you’re happily ensconced in a loving relationship, you can sit this one out or not as you like. But here’s how I see it.

Remember in the 80’s there was that Time Magazine article that came out and sent millions of single women into vortexes of depression because they pronounced it easier for a woman over 30 to be abducted by aliens than find a husband? Well, with Internet dating and other available matchmaking tools, it is easier today to connect with someone but, statistically, it continues to be a major struggle for people of a certain age to find love.

In terms of actively seeking a mate, statistics show that as we age, we actually fear the companionship and love we think we crave. (We might’ve feared it a little bit when we were younger, but it gets worse as the years add up.) Steeped in habit and afraid of change, the older we get, the less inclined we are to risk getting hurt or disappointed. So, basically, just when we need love and companionship the most, we are more likely to turn away from it. (See how a little self-knowledge would be REAL helpful about now?)

Psychologists have shown that depression can be an offshoot of aging (no shit!) But struggles with loneliness are typically trotted out as a major reason for that.  What’s surprising is the fact that studies show that many older people (we’re talking forties and fifties here) are more comfortable being sad and alone than risking finding and being with someone who they might love or who might love them back. Like a lot of things, it’s easier to do nothing and take solace in the familiarity of your own depression than get off your ass, wash your face and “put yourself out there.”

You can say that life itself is a gamble and that’s undeniably true but nowhere is the gamble bigger than where it concerns the heart. Love is risky—no matter what age you are. (That’s why it makes such good fiction!) While the rewards are great, even if just temporary, the downside of a misguided or ill-matched romance is pain and even worse loneliness.

But, heavens, not even trying is just wrong.

Why Point of View Matters So Much

 When my son was a baby and being fussy, my husband would sometimes hang him upside down by his feet and John Patrick would almost instantly become quiet, widen his eyes and stare about as if fascinated with his new upside down world. My husband usually said something like “alternative perspective” to explain our baby’s reaction but the take-away was: sometimes you just need to look at the world differently.

I’ve discovered that that idea translates to grownups, too. I really believe that you can’t really see your world by sitting still (or upright). To see a thing (or a problem) properly, you have to get up, walk around it, squat down, close one eye and then move to the other side. The way an artist stalks around his model, squinting at her from every angle before attacking the canvas is, I firmly believe, how you need to tackle your life. I used to think that summing up what you’ve done and where you thought you were going—almost as if you had sixty seconds on the Oprah Winfrey program to tell the world about who you were—was an effective way to get a snapshot of your life. Kind of like the famous thirty-second elevator speech we’re all supposed to have. But like a lot of things that sound too easy, I don’t think a simple statement can cut it. I’ve come to believe that the effort of standing up and moving about your life to get a better view of it is essential. I bring this up for two reasons. One, I just read an awesome piece by Claudia Welch in this month’s Romance Writers Report called “Playing with a Full Deck” where she talks about identifying theme in your novels. She says, basically, that beyond the specific, obvious, theme which is evident in any one particular book, if you look at your work as a whole—all your series, your short stories, your stand-alones—you’ll find a theme that comes from the very heart of who you are and one that shows up in all your books in some form or another. I loved this exercise and was astounded to realize that all my books have me putting my protagonist on foreign soil or in an alien environment of some kind. I clearly have a “fish out of water” focus that finds its way into all my books. Now, the reason for that isn’t too earth-shattering (I’m an ex-military dependent and moved about the world relentlessly as a kid), but the fact of it, was. Knowing yourself and what drives you is always helpful when it comes to your work.

Looking down on the town of Freiberg, Germany

The other reason has to do with the fact that I just got back from an overseas trip with my husband and that now seventeen year old baby, and the experience impressed upon me yet again the amazing benefits of travel for perspective in your life. I asked my husband when we got back if he thought he might do things differently in his daily round now that we were back and he replied: “Of course.” See, it really is that obvious. It’s like stepping out of your body, out of your present lifestyle and being able to see, almost clinically, how you live “back home.” And that’s important because until you take the emotion out of it, until you step away and view it from an alternative perspective, you can’t see how many short cuts you’ve started to take, or how many habits you’ve created that don’t work.  I hope my new point of view of how I live stays with me. But if it doesn’t, I know where I can buy a plane ticket to get it back again.

Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

Today’s post is another contributing chapter in the Social Media saga as it pertains to authors trying to flog books to the millions of as-yet unaware readers “out there.” If you will direct your attention to Exhibit A—the chart you see here was pinched from a recent Romance Writers of America article. (The article had a whole bunch of other interesting facts and stats you might want to check out.) While it’s true that Romance readers are different from other genre readers, there’s an argument to be made that how they decide on what book to read next is not terribly different from how other readers decide.

As you can see, if this chart is correct, a whole lot of effort is being made by myself and my fellow-authors in areas that prospective readers are not very interested. In fact, the only area with a remote interest shown is that of our websites and even then it’s less than 50%. Personally, after you wince your way through the big long blue bars, you have to discount the red bars, too. Because let’s face it, if you have to convince people first to do whatever the thing is over and above looking at your book, it might as well be a blue bar. For example, on the one that says “saw a promotional book trailer and bought the full book,” if 23% said “not done but some interest,” what does “some interest” mean? I think it means now you have to convince them or interest them in watching the damn trailer before you can lure them into your web to peek inside the book. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through before they start to consider whether or not they want to read your book. In fact, the only portion of this chart that we need to be looking at is the purple part and, except for the author’s website (even so, barely 40%) the rest of these activities look like, if not a waste of time then at the very least something that takes you away from writing.

Again, that’s just me and if you know me at all, you know I lean in the direction of lazy. So what do you think? Is the chart shocking? Do you still believe? Are dreams really not about ROI? Love to hear your take…