Posts tagged ‘My Education’

April 24, 2014

A social story for writers

He's just so much fun. :)

He’s just so much fun. 🙂

Nearly six months ago I contacted an early intervention team, concerned that my toddler son showed too many signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out he’s fine, but the experience held great value for me. As I visited with professionals about how to help him better understand social situations,  I learned a little bit about social stories.

According to The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding:

A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format…

…Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

I was  already a believer in brain retraining. I’ve enjoyed learning about and using several different techniques to retrain my own brain in the quest to create a better Gwen. The idea of using social stories to help my son understand social situations better made sense to me.

Social stories work best with my little guy when we read them aloud together at least three times each week. Reading them together every day is even better, and it dovetails nicely with ordinary story time. He’s always enjoyed being read to.

Although I’m still learning about social stories and the proper way to write and use them, I thought they slightly resembled the techniques described by Ford Robbins Blair in his Instant Self Hypnosis (which I already use and have a lot of fun with).

I wondered: could writers benefit from writing and reading their own social stories?

I haven’t had a chance to experiment with this myself yet, but just for the fun of it, here’s a very short social story for writers trying to develop the habit of writing every day, written with my limited understanding and ability. Enjoy!

I love to write, and I’m good at writing. I smile when I write. I feel happy and proud of myself when I write something every day.

Because I love writing so much, I try to write something every day. It is important for me to write every day if I want to be a good writer.

Writing something every day is a great habit to develop. I am very happy when I write something every day, and being happy is good.  



February 15, 2014

We write because we love to write

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

There’s an interesting post over at Author’s Promoter about why writers write, including a pie chart showing the writing reasons of a hundred different published authors.

Among the top purposes writers listed for writing was they had to…they felt they couldn’t survive without it (that answer was second only to writing to express themselves), and I wondered how many authors I know feel the same way.

It also gave me cause for reflection. Over the years, the reasons why I write have changed.

  • Twenty years ago, I wrote to entertain myself.
  • Fifteen years ago, I wrote with the hope I would someday entertain others, and someday maybe even make some money off my writing…not a bad dream. 🙂 
  • Ten years ago, I wrote to educate myself, to educate others and to share with others the delight I felt in the world around me. This came mostly in the form of freelance articles rather than book-authoring, though.
  • Five years ago, I wrote because it was my profession. (Freelance journalism, again, but I had found some success.)
  • During the past three years, I’ve written primarily because writing relaxed me and supported me across some rough waters.  Words flocked around me like friends, drawing me out of myself and into the wider world.

The reasons I write  now are kind of a combination of everything. I still write to entertain myself. I still write to educate myself (though not as much as I once did), and I again write to share my joy in daily life. I still write books, and I still occasionally write articles.

I write because the ideas in my head won’t leave me alone until I’ve at least scribbled them down in a notebook somewhere. And I write because my family enjoys me better when I’ve written something.

Interestingly, only three percent of the authors interviewed said they wrote as their profession. Only two percent wrote to entertain, and only two percent wrote for exposure and fame.

Which leads me to believe that most writers are like me.

We write because we love to write.

Is this true? Please let me know why you write.




September 29, 2013

Why Dad is one of my writing heroes

My dad as a young man

My dad as a young man

I’ve said several times I don’t try to impress anyone, but there are a few people in this world whose good opinion of me (and my writings) I treasure dearly. That’s been on my mind lately, and as I’ve reflected on the people that matter most to me, my thoughts keep flowing to my dad.

He and my mom are alike in important ways: they seek with all their hearts to serve other people, they make a point of befriending the friendless, they’re loyal to their families and kind to everyone they meet.

These examples have had a huge impact on my writing. I enjoy writing most when I know it’s going to cheer someone up or inspire someone or just help someone relax.

That said, there are some ways Dad has influenced my writing that I don’t think anyone else could have done.

  1. When I was young, Dad read fiction–mostly western novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. Although I never really did get into western fiction, I picked up the books enough to get the feeling of the plots behind them. These are my first memories of thinking about and trying to understand plot structures. My thoughts were completely unsophisticated, but they deepened my curiosity. I learned to love learning about (and trying to create) a good story line.
  2. Similarly, my dad read a lot of nonfiction. Not because he had to–because he wanted to. For years, I didn’t understand that. Now I find myself buying and devouring more nonfiction books than fiction books (I downloaded about 20 textbooks to my Kindle for PC lately) simply for the joy of learning. I feel a deeper connection with my dad because of it.
  3. About a year ago, I took a difficult assignment that required me to compare North Dakota’s oil fields to the oil fields in another state (where, coincidentally, my dad used to work). He did something completely in character for him. In order to make my writing life easier, he spent an entire afternoon teaching me what he knew about the oil industry. That afternoon is a specially treasured memory.
  4. Most recently, Dad boosted my lagging confidence with a simple question: “What have you been writing lately?” And my heart soared; he cares about what I write, and that makes a lot of difference in how I view my own work.

It’s not that dad writes. It’s that he helped me love a variety of writing. Very occasionally, I even love my own writing now. I’ll always be grateful for his influence.


August 14, 2013

Slow Blogging, emotions, and marketing

Best-selling writing elicits emotions strong enough to move a reader to action. Could this apply to blogs?

Best-selling writing elicits emotions strong enough to move a reader to action. Could this apply to blogs?

About four months ago, I came across an idea called slow blogging. I’ve seen it several times since then, and wondered about whether or not it’s a good idea–specifically when health, hearth and other obligations recently kept me away from my blog for more than two weeks.

As I understand it, slow blogging refers to blogging less frequently, but putting more time and thought into posts–kind of allowing them to age.

I admit, my first reaction was one of skepticism. How, exactly, are writers supposed to develop a decent platform for selling their work without gaining followers on their blogs? And how, exactly, are bloggers supposed to build their followings without writing three or four posts a day, at least?

Then I came across this guest post at ProBlogger, written by Brooke McAlary ( This is what she had to say about it:

I’ve been writing about simple living for over two years, but it wasn’t until I started applying the elements of slow blogging that I saw vast improvement in my work, my community and my readership.

Slowing down, posting less frequently, spending more time thinking, studying and writing my posts, has ultimately led me to attract a much bigger audience. My readers now are engaged, inspired and my greatest champions, and I put much of that down to my decision to go Slow.

I’ll say that part again, because it bears repeating.

My readership has grown as I’ve posted less.

I’m giving the idea of slow blogging some serious thought now, partly because, although my readership dropped when I wasn’t posting, I kept gaining followers.

Mind you, I like getting followers, but that’s not why I blog. I blog because I’m a talk-a-holic, and I sometimes just have to get things out of my system.

I blog because I like the online community of writers, photographers and other artists–everyone has something wonderful to share. I like to be there to enjoy it all.

Also, I blog because I have a nagging need to learn, and it seems like the best way to really internalize what I’m learning is to share it with someone else. Blogging is the perfect medium for this.

I can’t say I don’t enjoy the feeling of attracting readers who think about and dream about the same things I think and dream about. I appreciate the fact that these people form part of my platform, but I really value them as a network of real-life friends that I just haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet. The really important thing about blogging, for me, is not so much the possibility of using my contacts to promote my work as the fact that my blogging friends add joy to my life.

Who doesn’t like joy?

And that brings me to my next point: my recent marketing studies have convinced me that if I really want to get the hang of writing books that sell, I need to get the hang of writing books that evoke emotions strong enough to move a reader to action.

From Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines:

Do you see the relationship between reading and other forms of recreation? Here it is: when we read, we buy into a shared dream, a fiction, and by dong so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy.

Later he wrote:

At the very heart of it, reading stories or viewing them allows us to perform an emotional exercise. And the better you as a writer are at creating fiction that meets your audience’s deepest needs, the better your work will sell.

(Read more about what I think about this book here.)

From Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On:

When we care, we share.

This includes sharing things on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

Berger also wrote:

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

I’m convinced that emotion-provoking writing is a must for fiction. It’s likely a must for nonfiction, as well–and maybe it’s even more important in that arena.

But how does it relate to blogging, and slow blogging in particular?

My initial thoughts are these:

  • If I’m blogging fast because I’m feeling emotional about something, that’s probably going to be apparent to my readers, and it might be okay to share that. If, however, I’m blogging fast just to blog something–anything–then I may just be blowing smoke and wasting the time of readers I respect and care about.
  • If I’m blogging slow, I have time to savor my own thoughts before I share them with others. Since I tend to be impetuous, this might save me from the embarrassment of sharing things that are too personal. It also gives me time to think about what I have to offer my online friends, hopefully protecting them from seeing careless posts they feel uninterested in but obligated to respond to.
  • The more I control my blogging, the more real writing work I do–and that’s emotionally rewarding on an entirely different level. Conversely, if I’m discouraged about something, I tend to avoid my works-in-progress (and any other uncomfortable challenge) and focus solely on my blog. I have to wonder what kinds of emotions my readers pick up from me then.

At this point, I’m not sure how seriously I take slow blogging. It may happen on my blog by default as the demands of life create new priorities. A quick note here: I refuse to get frustrated by this. 

If slow blogging becomes a bigger part of my life, it won’t be because I don’t enjoy blogging. Rather, it will mean that I’m enjoying the balance of ALL of my life–blogging included.


May 8, 2013

Marketing and The Night Ones Legacy

I love my Amazon sales page. :)

I love my Amazon sales page. 🙂

Nearly two weeks ago now, I promised to post results from my most recent marketing lab. This time, it was a two-day KDP Select promotion for The Night Ones Legacy celebrating its two-year anniversary. Here’s what happened:

I requested free advertising on about 15 sites and received it on about five of them. I also paid for advertising ($20 for a package that included tweets) on eReader Perks.

I really didn’t know what to expect, since the book has been out now for two years and doesn’t seem to fit into any category very well. Under the circumstances, I was pleasantly surprised when The Night Ones Legacy reached #764 free in the Kindle store. My best stats included #25 in Kindle eBooks>Literature & Fiction>Action and Adventure and #61 in Kindle eBooks>Teens. (It’s nothing spectacular like what author Charles Yallowitz has experienced—see his successes here and in other spots on his blog—but I was pleased, anyway.)

I wondered whether the promotion would spark new reviews for it on Amazon, but I haven’t seen any yet.  The Night Ones Legacy currently sits at #553,140 in the paid Kindle store.

That’s certainly not a high number, but before I began blogging again around October 2012, sales numbers for The Night Ones Legacy hovered consistently just above #881,000. To that point, I hadn’t really done anything to promote it other than one quick banner advertisement when it was first published two years ago.

Since then, it’s been the focus of a contest, several blog posts, this KDP Select experiment and a rather quiet give-away (If people contacted me and requested a copy, I gifted them a free Kindle version—I’ve given away about 25 books this way over the past six months). Oh, and I did finally start tweeting about it a month or so ago, but I haven’t yet built a habit out of Twitter, so the little bursts there have been inconsistent.

What this means to me: my marketing experiments are paying off both in terms of what I’m learning and in my sales rank, but they’re paying off very, very slowly. This is a great exercise in detaching my emotions from the outcome and just enjoying the journey, and I can say, it really is a wonderful ride.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this book while I’ve been working on its sequel. For the following reasons, I think it may always be difficult to sell this series of books:

  • I cannot seem to find a category where it really fits. In the first book, the protagonist is too young to fit with young adult books, but the story is too…old?…to qualify as a middle-grade read.
  • Although it’s high fantasy and there is plenty of adventure in the book, it focuses more on Lily’s character development than anything as she is forced to participate in the events unfolding around her. One writing friend has told me this is kind of a literary device.  I’m sure every fantasy writer wants to be like Tolkien to some extent, but I have to wonder if contemporary high fantasy can be marketed as literary, as well.
  • At less than 400 pages for the first book and with only three books planned in the series, can it be marketed as epic fantasy? I’ve had mixed reports on that one, although I lean toward the ‘no’ answer.
  • Another problem: As I’ve been studying how to raise boys (yes, I really do read about that!), I’ve learned that girls often enjoy books with boy protagonists but that boys hardly ever enjoy books with girl protagonists. If what I’ve read is true, that limits my target audience even more than the age group thing does.

It’s definitely an experiment in the elements of writing. I plan to finish the entire series, mostly because I enjoy writing it. After that—and maybe during that, as well—I intend to branch out and try different things. I really, really love variety.

I know that goes contrary to the whole idea of branding. I’m not yet sure how I’ll address that. I’ll have to figure it out if I ever get serious about selling fiction books. For now I’m just learning and having fun. 😀

April 27, 2013

Wedding Dress Draft One: checking facts and more

Well. This has been a busy week. I haven’t been blogging or writing as much as I thought I would be, but with the help of some wonderful people we did make some headway on my niece’s wedding dress. Granted, there’s still a lot to do, but it’s finally starting to come together.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fact checks as I’ve worked on this dress. This is a one-of-a-kind dress for a once-in-a-lifetime day, so it has to be perfect.

The level of perfection I’m seeking makes me feel like I’m working on an intricate article on a topic I’ve never covered before.  The fact check is like pinning things on, making sure they drape accurately over the outline, fit perfectly in the seams, and are stitched together into a whole piece that–hopefully–is a masterpiece of its own.

Fact checking is hard work. For me, it involves several drafts of an article. I underline things I think I understand and ask myself whether I’ve put the ideas into words well enough that others can see the same pictures I see in my head. I write several follow-up questions, deepen my research following my initial interviews, and usually run at least a few follow-up questions once the drafts begin to shape up.

It’s exhausting, but it’s part of what makes writing my constant education and my lifetime learning project.

And that brings me back to my niece’s wedding dress. I can’t begin to say how much I’ve learned so far. Yes, I’ve used the seam ripper (more than once). It’s okay. It’s a creation process that’s making me a better person, and that makes me happy.

It also means I’ve had several opportunities for girl time with my niece, a cousin and my daughters, and that’s been great. I guess networks are needed in every area of my life.

Along with that comes another happy announcement. My niece has started a writing blog. Please fly over to the BR Chaston blog and welcome her to this new adventure.

Wishing a wonderful and exquisitely happy weekend to all! 🙂

April 16, 2013

Wedding dresses and writing

Lace for her wedding dress...

Lace for her wedding dress…

I’ll be making a wedding dress over the next few months for a remarkably creative niece.

She came to stay with my family one summer, several years ago. One of the things we found we had in common: we both love to write.

In those days, freelance writing was still fairly new to me, poetry was my secret stress relief, and fiction was merely a way to daydream.

Through several talks, this niece taught me that it’s okay to have a vivid imagination as an adult, and it’s even okay to pretend. Because of her, that’s how I think of my fiction. It’s my way to play.

Even now, as I try to learn about marketing by working with my fiction, it’s mostly an enjoyable way for me to delve into the possibilities of another way of life. To me, that’s what play is all about.

When she was with us, this niece would often shut the door to her room, put a fantasy-inspiring soundtrack on her CD player and role-play for a while. Then she took her notebook and wrote down all the ideas she had.

Her imagery in writing has always been good, but I have to admit, the years have improved her writing. The scenes she writes now are very vivid, descriptive and active.

Last week, as we shopped for a wedding dress, we talked about writing again. She still intends to be a full-time fiction author, and she’s getting closer to realizing those dreams. I’m hoping to see something of hers come out in the next year.

We weren’t able to find a wedding dress she liked that fit into our budget, so we headed to the fabric store and bought everything we need to make her dream-come-true dress. I think about it now, and I think it’s really a lot like her stories. There are a lot of beautiful books out there, but sometimes it’s just more fun to make your own, to make it the way you want it, to enjoy your personal play time so much that it becomes valuable to the world at large.

One other really great thing about writing: it doesn’t cost a thing.

April 15, 2013

Social currency, chocolate and promoting your book

Orange Sticks from Sweet's Candy Company

Orange Sticks from Sweet’s

Always a chocolate fiend, I was completely happy when a local friend suggested we start a Wednesday dessert club. I knew she was smart. I just didn’t know she was THAT smart.

I’ve had that kind of thing happen to me before. When I first moved to Utah, a friend living in Wisconsin (who had lived in Utah before) introduced me to Sweet Candy Company in Salt Lake City, where they make chocolate covered orange sticks and saltwater taffy. I’ve enjoyed this friend ever since I met her, but that day at the candy factory outlet store, my estimation of her soared even higher.

Why am I bringing this up now, on this blog?

Besides the fact that chocolate is involved in both those stories, they demonstrate a word-of-mouth marketing concept I’ve recently begun studying: social currency.

Here’s one definition of social currency, from Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice:

Social currency is the value you earn in a social engagement by being interesting and fun to be with.

As I understand it, social currency is something that boosts the social status of the person doing the talking. Apparently, talking about chocolate with me is an easy way for this to happen. I think it’s more than ‘like what I like, and my estimation of you automatically goes up,’ though.

In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger wrote the following:

Word of mouth, then, is a prime tool for making a good impression–as potent as that new car or Prada handbag. Think of it as a kind of currency. Social currency. Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends and colleagues.

So to get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting these products and ideas along the way.

So here’s the big question, for all of us who love to write and want to sell our fiction books. How can our books give social currency to people so they’ll actually start talking about them?

I’m all for handing out enough chocolate with my books that the people who talk about my book could pass pieces of chocolate on, but I don’t think I could afford it and I don’t really think it would work. 🙂 This has to be something intrinsic.

I’m brainstorming about The Night Ones Legacy now, as well as the sequel that’s underway. Berger said talking about remarkable things creates social currency. So does making people feel like an insider, and so does making something into a game or competition–which could explain why book giveaways and contests are so popular right now.

So maybe, for all of us, at least part of the solution to creating word-of-mouth buzz about our books is the ability to answer the following questions:

  1. What makes my book remarkable?
  2. Beyond that, how will talking about my remarkable book help another person seem remarkable?
  3. What about my book helps others feel included in an exclusive group?
  4. How can talking about my book help others feel like they’re doing well in comparison to other people in some way? Can I use a contest or giveaway to create word of mouth buzz?

There’s a lot to learn here, and I imagine I’ll be experimenting with (and blogging about) this sometime in the near future.

I’d love to hear feedback from others, both authors and seasoned marketers, on what sorts of questions we need to be asking ourselves. Better yet, I’d love to know what the answers are. 🙂

Since this is something different for every book, it’s probably something we’ll all be learning together.

March 26, 2013

My Lake House

The Great Salt Lake, late summer 2012

The Great Salt Lake, late summer 2012

In the late winter and early spring of 2012, I began writing a book for my eldest daughter. She always enjoys action and adventure, especially in unreal or historical settings.

This is the daughter who loved the first Pirates of the Carribean movie so much that she choreographed a pirate ballet when she was seven. She and a ballet-class-friend performed it at their Christmas recital. After that, how could I not take her interest in pirates seriously? So she learned about Anne Bonnie and Mary Read, and when I finally got around to starting her book, her love of all things pirate-y was my inspiration for it.

I can’t say that it’s gone without a hitch. The first draft needs some major re-writing to fix plot holes. I’ll spend days editing it to deepen the characters, enhance the writing and clean up the grammatical errors.

I set it aside this winter when I began blogging because I needed a break from it. Now that there are hints of warmer weather, I think I’m getting ready to tackle it again.

That’s partly because I’m reminded of it every time I drive past the Great Salt Lake and see sail boats out on the water.

In the spring, when the water is high, I can see a small sliver of the lake from my office window. The fact that it’s about twenty miles away doesn’t matter. I’ve never lived anywhere with a lake view of any kind before, so by default, this has become my lake house. I’m finally settling in, but for the first full year here, that’s how I thought of this place. It felt temporary.

Moves always do that to me. For quite a while, I feel like I can set my new home aside as easily as I set aside a manuscript I’m not in the mood to edit. It takes a while for the feeling of home to seep back into my skin. It’s finally happened. I realized today, as I was thinking about picking up the pirate manuscript again, that I’m ready to resume life as normal.

I’m not on vacation. This isn’t temporary. It’s real, and it’s wonderful, and it’s a life worth embracing. I think I love it here.

I’ll be working on the edit for this particular manuscript through the spring. I have a goal to get a solid next-draft done by the first of June. I’ve even contacted a book cover artist, and I’ll be commissioning a cover with her as soon as I’m able to pull the money together. It feels good to be sailing ahead on this again.

Speaking of which, there’s something else really great thing about this: in order to make my plot believable, I’ll get to learn at least a little bit about sailing.

I’m really, really looking forward to that–and if anybody out there sails and feels like answering questions, please let me know!

March 25, 2013

The Night Ones Legacy gets a new look

New book cover!

New book cover!

This is an exciting day for me: The Night Ones Legacy has a new cover! (Well, as I write this, it’s been uploaded to KDP but it’s still under review.)

The need for a new book cover grew out of feedback I got from some terrific reviews and the contest I hosted earlier this year. The story itself was earning five-star reviews, but the cover was detracting from the content inside.

There were about six concepts to choose from, and I was able to narrow it down to four fairly quickly. From there, I asked for opinions from a diverse handful of people. The concept above was the one liked most by almost everyone I asked.

Most importantly, the daughter I wrote the story for likes this one the best.

I also made a few changes to the text. There were a few grammatical errors to be addressed (a ‘to’ that should have been a ‘too,’ etc.). There still may be a few mistakes, but I’m not anticipating any other changes to the book.

I’m slightly apprehensive as to how the updates will go for Kindle owners who already have the book. I’ve never had problems with book updates before, but I’ve never been on this end of it before, either.

One other thing that I learned from the contest: it seems my writing is geared more toward a young adult audience, even though I tried to make this first book a middle-grade read. The sequels will most definitely be written for a young adult target audience.

I’m ready to focus on the sequel, which I’m tentatively hoping to publish at the end of April. We’ll see how that goes! My chapter-by-chapter beta readers are already hard at work as I write, and I have a list of full-book beta readers in place. I’m looking forward to the feedback.

I was so shy when I wrote The Night Ones Legacy that I really didn’t ask for any help. After fourteen drafts, there were still quite a few changes that needed to be made. Hopefully most of them are addressed now. If nothing else, writing and publishing this book has been a great education. I really love that part of my life.

Just for comparison, here’s the first book cover one more time:

book cover possibility three point seven five

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