Friday, September 20, 2013

Self Defense Against Doubt

Doubt is a writer’s most formidable and dangerous adversary. It waits for the moment you are most vulnerable and strikes without mercy, leaving you hurt and afraid.

So, what can you, as a writer, do to protect yourself from doubt in a business that feeds doubt with long periods of waiting, rejections and criticism?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Today I’m going to give you a crash course in Self Defense Against Doubt.

I have been writing for eight years, so I have a great deal of experience with doubt. I have also been studying Isshin-Ryu karate for seven years. During my journey from white to black belt, I’ve learned several ways to defend myself against attackers. Doubt is an attacker, so many of the methods against a person intending to do you harm, may be used against doubt.

Self Defense Against Doubt Tips

In karate, the number one rule of self-defense is to NOT put yourself in a position to be attacked. Attackers love areas that are not well lit and where they can catch a victim alone. They also look for victims, who do not carry themselves with confidence.

Doubt is the same. As writers, when we receive a particularly harsh critique or rejection, or when the days of waiting for a response on a submission stretch into weeks and months, we tend to mope. And when we mope, we like to do so alone, curled up on the couch with an obscene amount of chocolate...ok, maybe that's just me, but you get the point. When we mope, we make ourselves the perfect target for doubt to strike.

 TIP #1 : DON’T put yourself in harm’s way. Just as you shouldn’t walk to your car alone at night in a poorly lit parking lot, you shouldn’t isolate yourself in a dark room when you receive a rejection. First, put down the chocolate and get off the couch.
Get outside, go for a walk, soak up some sun, get together with a friend, preferably one who understands the ups and downs of writing. Do something so that you are not caught alone with Doubt.
TIP #2 : Keep your senses alert and don’t ignore your instincts. You know the warning signs of doubt. The punch in the gut feeling of rejection, the whisperings of uncertainty that grow louder as the days progress, the urge to consume your weight in chocolate. Pay attention. Watch for hints that doubt is sneaking up on you, and avoid it by referring back to the suggestions in Tip #1.
Tip #3: Use your voice!

When we teach self-defense at the dojo, we give students an arsenal of effective weapons to use against an attacker. Of all of the weapons, the most powerful weapon in self-defense is your VOICE.

Attackers do not want attention drawn to what they are doing. Be loud! Scream so anyone and everyone around you can hear. The karate shout is called a KIAI. You’ve probably heard it before in martial arts movies and most likely mocked out the strange cries emanating from the actors’ lips as they fight.
In Isshin-Ryu karate, white-brown belts all use the same kiai: Osu! (pronounced “Us”) When you earn your black belt, you choose your own kiai. Mine is “Hi!,” which sounds friendly, but when screamed as I punch and kick, it loses some of its warmth.   
Despite its sometimes comical sound, the kiai has very important purposes in self-defense.

I memorized the purposes of a kiai with the acronym P-SAFE. I know, kind of gross, but I have two sons, and the acronym is nothing if not memorable.

When you kiai loudly during an attack, you do the following:

1. Protect the inner organs from harm by quickly exhaling and tightening the stomach muscles.

2. Scare off an attacker, who does not want attention drawn to the act

3. Adrenaline rush. A strong kiai will force a surge of adrenaline through your body and psyche you up for defense.

4. Focus your mental and physical Energy

In self-defense against an attacker, we recommend a kiai that will draw attention to the attack. Effective self-defense kiais are “No! Stop! Police! Help! and for kids, “You’re not my Mommy/Daddy!”

As a writer, you may effectively use a kiai with the same results as P-SAFE. My personal kiai against writer’s doubt is “I AM a Writer!”

Pick a kiai that will pump you up and use your VOICE! Shout your kiai at the top of your lungs and send doubt scurrying back into the shadows.
TIP #4: Figure out your “Go-To Moves” against doubt.

As I stated earlier, in the dojo we teach students a variety of ways to defend themselves in an attack including punches, kicks, breaks, locks, holds, and sweeps. Though they learn a myriad of moves, we stress that they choose 2-3 moves that they feel will be most effective for them. I am partial to elbows and knees. Others like palm heels and hirakens. Whatever moves are chosen, they need to be moves that can be executed swiftly with little to no thought. They are “Go-To Moves.”
Personally, I keep an arsenal of the following 5 weapons/moves in reach at all times while writing:

Go-to Move #1 - Copies of positive notes, emails, feedback I have received about my writing.

Go-to Move #2 -  Inspirational quotes. I love Disney quotes!

Go-to Move #3 - Visuals: plot diagrams, chapter breakdowns, SMART goal charts of my work to remind myself that I can do this and have made progress on the days when it feels I’m at a standstill.

 Go-to Move #4 - Music! When doubt grabs hold, I pump up my favorite inspirational songs, sing along at the top of my lungs and dance it out or hit the heavy bag in my basement.

My Current “Go-To” Playlist

I Lived - OneRepublic
The Fighter – Gym Class Heroes w/ Ryan Tedder

Hall of Fame – The Script w/ wil. i. am

One Step at a Time – Jordin Sparks

It’s Time – Imagine Dragons
You're the Best - Joe Esposito

Go the Distance - from Hercules

Go-to Move #5 - Best friends and writing buddies phone numbers & emails at my fingertips.

Use your “Go-To” moves in combinations. Hit Doubt with a powerful 1-2 punch!

In addition to the above 4 tips, here are 10 “Mental Self-Defense” Techniques written by the amazing Renshi James Snow for Fairport Karate Academy. They are techniques used in our dojo that may be applied to protecting yourself against Doubt.

1. BREATHE: Breathing helps connect the mind and the body, calming both and soliciting power. Exhale tension, inhale power.
2. ATTITUDE: Recognize its importance. If you say, “I can’t”, you won’t.
3. COURAGE: Be courageous. It is human to be afraid, but you CAN control your fear. True courage is not a matter of eliminating your fear, but doing what you know to be right despite fear.
4. COMMITMENT: Make a commitment to your goals. The Samurai burned their ships when they attacked a distant foe, since knowing they could not turn back enhanced their commitment to victory. (NOTE: This IS not the same as burning your bridges)
5. RESPECT: Treat everyone with respect, including and especially yourself. While it may be worth ignoring bad behavior from strangers, do not accept disrespect from people you deal with frequently. Let them know such behavior will NOT be tolerated and has a consequence.
6. FLEXIBILITY: Be flexible. Emulate the willow that bends with the wind, but does not break. Adapt and overcome.
7. STAND IN BALANCE: Stay centered and focused on what is important to you. Do not let others sucker you into losing your focus, and learn to deflect an attack by disrupting an adversary’s physical or mental balance.
8. THE BEGINNER’S MIND: From Zen, a term that masters give to the humble state of always being open to learning new things.
9. BE POSITIVE: If you exude positive energy, positive things will come to you.
10. RESOLUTION WITHOUT FIGHTING: Reserve physical force as a last resort if in danger…you or others. “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”
With these weapons now in your arsenal, the next time Doubt attacks, scream your self-defense kiai at the top of your lungs, and KICK Doubt’s sorry, cowardly BUTT!!!
And when Doubt has been beaten, get back to what you love to do, what you’re meant to do.

Photo from my Self Defense Against Doubt for Writers demo at RACWI talent show.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Planning your Twitter Pitch

If you are not already aware of the amazing networking opportunities for writers to be found on Twitter, go directly to Twitter, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Once you're there, register for an account. 

With popular threads; such as, #MSWL(a literary agents’ wish lists) and #PitMad (a book pitching event), Twitter is the best source of up-to-the-second information on what literary agents and editors are seeking.

For twelve hours on Thursday, September 12th, Twitter exploded with book pitches during #PitMad. The event, organized by the amazing BrendaDrake, is an extraordinary opportunity for writers of all genres to pitch their books to agents and editors, who pop by the thread throughout the day in search of pitches that capture their literary hearts.
If an agent favorites your pitch, once you complete your happy dance and stop hyperventilating, you get to send them a partial of your manuscript.

It is a fabulous and fun event. And regardless of whether or not your pitch is favorited by an agent/editor, you can learn a great deal from the experience. Reading through the thousands of pitches gives you insight into what constitutes a tight pitch and what other writers are querying agents/editors. But before you can join the fun, you have to craft a strong Twitter Pitch.

Now if you thought summarizing your story in a 1-page synopsis was terrifying, brace yourself for the 140-character beast that is the Twitter Pitch.

 Actually, allow me to correct that last statement, once you subtract the mandatory 7 character hash tag and 3-4 character genre abbreviation, you will have 130 characters in which to pitch your story. So buckle up, fellow writers, this could be a bumpy ride. But I promise, the process of perfecting your pitch will strengthen you story, writing and confidence, so rev up your creativity engines and let's hit the road.

In order to help smooth out the journey a bit for you, I’ve created some Twitter Pitch Planner sheets that note some of the steps I took when creating pitches for my book FINDING OBENO.

The following sheets I created for an upcoming writer's group meeting. We will not have access to computers at the meeting, so we needed hardcopy forms to practice Twitter pitches. I did not use these to create my pitches. I copied and pasted my pitches from a Word document into the tweet box on Twitter to see if they fit. 

Below is an example of one of my pitches plugged into the chart.

  Feel free to use, alter, crumple up in frustration or burn any of the forms. But if you think of anything I missed or should revise, please let me know. Or if you create cool origami from them, take a picture and send it my way.

Once you've crafted a pitch you're proud of there is one more step: repeat the process.
When entering a pitch event like PitMad, you want a minimum of 3-4 strong pitches. This is important as different agents respond to different pitches. Besides, being able to write a variety of strong pitches for your book shows your versatility as a writer.  
Mix up your pitches, so that most of the key components of your story are covered in them collectively. Here are the six pitches I used during #PitMad.
1. Based on a true story, child soldier Ricky escapes Kony’s LRA, but must face his captor & past in a fight for his life & future. YAC #pitmad
2. In Uganda death stalks children w/guns & machetes, but when Ricky escapes the LRA, he fights to save them w/ 1 weapon: his story YAC #PitMad
3. A LONG WALK TO WATER meets Kony’s LRA. Based on the true story of a child soldier fighting for his freedom & future in N Uganda. YAC #PitMad
4. As a child soldier Ricky faces death w/ a gun and machete, but when he escapes, he faces a new challenge: rebuilding his life. YA- C #PitMad
5. Joseph Kony arms children w/guns & machetes. After escaping the LRA, Ricky fights his former captor armed w/1 weapon: his story. YA-C #PitMad
6. In Uganda Obeno is the cloth moms use to carry babies. To child soldier Ricky it is code for home & his vow to someday return YAC #PitMad
Above all, remember a Twitter Pitch is not a do-or-die situation. If a solid Twitter pitch remains elusive, there are other ways, like queries and conferences, to reach out to agents/editors with your idea. In the end, a strong pitch may grab someone's attention, but only strong writing will hold it. So try to have fun with your pitch. Approach it like a puzzle. Play with the words. Become better acquainted with your story. And as always, have chocolate on hand. Lots and lots of chocolate!
Good Luck & if you'd like to post your pitch below. I'd be happy to take a look and offer feedback.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Find a Way

In March, I wrote a blog post titled JUST KEEP SWIMMING.

It related the trials and tribulations of swimmer Florence Chadwick to those of a writer.

Yesterday, Ms. Chadwick's perseverance came to mind as I sat in awe reading about Diana Nyad.

If you were “unplugged” over Labor Day weekend, on Monday, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. The feat alone is amazing, but Nyad also accomplished it at age 64! Having sailed from Florida along the coast of Cuba two weeks ago, I cannot imagine swimming that 103 mile stretch of ocean…or 103 miles of any ocean…or body of water. One mile in the local YMCA pool is my limit. Nyad’s accomplishment both astonished and shamed me. (Note to self: Next time you’re whining about crowded lanes at the pool, think Dian Nyad and SHUT UP!)

Both Chadwick and Nyad embody the spirit of perseverance. They faced painful failures in their quests for their dreams, but learned from each setback and didn’t give up. Like Chadwick, who reminded herself to keep her goal in sight even when obstacles and doubt obscured her vision, Nyad pushed through pain, doubt and exhaustion to reach her goal. It took the 64-year-old swimmer five attempts and 35 years to get there, but Monday, Nyad reached her destination. In an interview after her swim, Nyad said throughout the 53-hour swim she held her mantra close: "You don't like it. It's not doing well. FIND A WAY."

Diana Nyad’s “never give up” attitude is now on the wall of my writing space and at the forefront of my mind as I deal with the ups and downs of submitting my manuscript and entering writing contests. She and Chadwick have proven to me and the world that when working toward a dream, you need to “Just Keep Swimming.”

The shore may be closer than you think.