#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to make healthy comparisons

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Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 Hi folks! Today I’m participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. Last month I tackled comparisonitis, the tendency to make yourself feel like crap by comparing yourself to others. Today I’m going to look at the opposite: how you can make comparisons that actually serve you.

What are healthy comparisons?

I’ve heard it said that the only healthy comparison is a comparison to your past self. I even almost agree with it. After all, using your past self as a basis for comparison keeps you focused on your own journey, but still encourages you to keep moving forward. It seems like the best of both worlds.

But here’s the thing: our work isn’t created in a vacuum, and our goals shouldn’t be either. We need at least a vague idea of what other people can accomplish to make realistic goals for ourselves. We need people to admire and achievements to look forward to. Comparisons, done right, can give us all of these things.

Healthy comparisons, then, are comparisons that inspire you rather than dragging you down. They are comparisons that push you to improve yourself and your life.

Today I’m going to show you how to make those comparisons.

How to make healthy comparisons

You can build healthy comparisons into your life by intentionally choosing what my friend Sharon Ledwith calls pacesetters. These are people who are living the life you want, with one caveat: it must be reasonable to believe that you can replicate their success. In other words, you don’t want to compare yourself to a writer like Stephen King, because his level of success is an anomaly. But it is reasonable to believe that you could achieve a level of success similar to someone like Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, who is one of my own pacesetters.

You can create a list of pacesetters with this three step process:

1. Choose an area of your life to improve

Comparisons are only healthy when they’re intentionally used to improve specific areas of your life. You need to know what you want to improve to be sure that you’re making the right comparisons. You also don’t want to be comparing every single detail of your life to someone else’s. We’re all different, and our lives should be different.

In fact, I think healthy comparisons should focus on specific skills you want to improve. For example, you shouldn’t compare your entire writing career to someone else’s, but comparing the quality of your worldbuilding to someone else’s can be useful. You want to compare your cooking skills, not your overall diet or health.

You probably want to improve more than one area of your life, but for now, pick one and focus on it. Once you’ve trained your brain to make healthy comparisons with pacesetters, you can add more to the list.

2. Find people with the level of skill/success you want to develop

This should be the simplest part of the process. There’s a good chance you already know who these people are, even if you haven’t intentionally designated them as pacesetters. These are the people you avidly follow on social media, consuming their podcasts or blogs or whatever it is that they do. They’re the ones whose work already inspires you on some level.

I chose Joanna Penn as my primary pacesetter because she publishes quickly (28 books in just under 10 years) but not so quickly that it sounds impossible. My goal isn’t to hit her pace exactly, but to train myself to write faster so that I can eventually be publishing at least two books a year. I also want to write a combination of fiction and nonfiction, and Joanna’s balance between the two is pretty close to ideal. I’m confident that if I keep improving my process at the rate I have been for the past two years, in another five I can hit a similar place with my own work.

Your own pacesetters should be similar. It shouldn’t be easy to achieve their level of skill, but it should be something you can accomplish with a solid five year plan.

Choose no more than three pacesetters. Like everything in life, healthy comparisons can become unhealthy if you spend too much time on them. The easiest way to prevent that is to limit who you’re allowed to compare yourself to.

3. Study their success

For pacesetters to truly improve your life, you need to go beyond simple comparisons. Become a student of your pacesetters’ success. Study how they got to where they are, and what they’re doing to move forward. Map out their journey, taking careful note of anything you can replicate in your own life. Create goals that will help you do that.

If your pacesetters are other writers, you get lucky on this front: many writers openly track their goals and successes through blog posts, podcasts, and/or YouTube videos. Joanna Penn does all three, and has been since the beginning of her author career. This means you can access all the knowledge you need to replicate elements of their success, without having to reach out and hope they have time to answer some of your questions.

4. Do regular reality checks

Healthy comparisons are great, but you need to be careful with them, especially if you struggle with comparisonitis. The downward spiral into crippling comparisonitis and self doubt happens fast. If you’re not paying attention you might not even notice it happening.

At least once a month, check in with yourself. Ask all the questions from my article on how to beat comparisonitis. Are your comparisons realistic? How much time are you spending on them? If you don’t like the answers, stop making the comparison completely. Pacesetters are only helpful if you’re mentally healthy enough to avoid the spiral into comparisonitis. Get some professional help, learn some practical coping mechanisms and self care techniques, and return to this article when you feel ready.

Final advice

Comparisons can be healthy if they’re used properly. Choose your pacesetters, study their success, and model your own life after it – but don’t forget to check in regularly and make sure those comparisons are still serving you.

Do you have pacesetters? Who are they and how did you choose them? Let me know in the comments section below!

The story behind my semicolon tattoo

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A couple weeks ago I got my first tattoo, a semicolon with the lyrics “in my darkest night I am beautiful” written underneath. Today I’d like to share the story, and the symbology, behind that tattoo.

My affinity for tattoos

I have wanted at least one tattoo since I was twelve, a wolf similar to the one my dad had tattooed on his forearm. Unfortunately, there are no good pictures of said tattoo, so I don’t have a good basis for mine. This means I will get it one day, but it’ll probably take me another decade to decide exactly what I want.

Discovering the semicolon movement

In 2015 I discovered the semicolon movement and Project Semicolon, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention. The semicolon was chosen because in grammar it represents the choice not to end a sentence. In tattoo form, and for Project Semicolon, it represents the choice not to end your life.

Creating my own semicolon tattoo

The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark, so I immediately fell in love with this idea. But I knew I didn’t want just any semicolon. I wanted something unique, something to represent my personal journey. To show the individuality of my struggle.

This is what I ended up with:

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In the end I chose three symbols:

The spiral of life

Instead of a regular dot, the top of my semicolon tattoo is the Celtic spiral of life. It represents the journey we are all on. I chose this instead of a circle because I don’t honestly know if I believe in reincarnation, so the spiral, with its fixed end point, has always seemed a more appropriate representation of the cycle of life to me.

The unfinished tail

The tail isn’t filled in, and in fact has something of a splatter effect, to represent that my journey isn’t over. The struggle continues, even if I happen to be winning it most of the time these days. I might get this filled in someday, if I come to feel that the battle is well and truly won. For now, it’s a reminder of how much work remains to be done.

The lyric

The words “in my darkest night I am beautiful” are a modified lyric from the Icon for Hire song The Grey. I knew I wanted to add an Icon For Hire lyric to my semicolon tattoo for a long time, because their music speaks so clearly to my specific journey. I’ve never felt so much like a band was telling my exact story. This was the first lyric I wanted, and I kept coming back to it, even after their most recent album came out.

This lyric represents the lessons I’ve learned and the art I’ve created during my darkest times. It reminds me that there’s always an opportunity to turn the darkness into something beautiful, to transform it. And it also reminds me that I’m not alone, that so many people are also on this journey.

Final thoughts

This tattoo is many things to me. It is a reminder to choose life, no matter how bad it gets, because I have so many stories left to tell the world. It reminds me that many of those stories will come from my future struggle. And it reminds me that as far as I’ve come, there’s still a long way between “not suicidal” and “actually healthy”.

What do you think of the tattoo? Of Project Semicolon itself? Let me know in the comments section below!

How to stay motivated through February and beyond

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As many as 80% of people fail their New Years’ Resolutions by February, and only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions by the end of the year. But if you want to deeply improve your life, and especially if you want to build a creative career, you’ll need to stay motivated long past February.

Today I’m going to show you how to do exactly that, using three strategies I’ve built into my own life.

Self Care as a Mentality

Sort-of Transcript:

In the year long stream of chaos since Trump’s election I’ve had thousands of conversations about the importance of self care. Social workers, activists and artists have been talking about self care for decades, but sometime in the past few years it entered the mainstream consciousness. Self Care became a buzzword, an almost meaningless short form for a laundry list of things that are supposed to make us feel good. There are millions of articles offering self care tips (over 17,200,000 according to Google), all offering the same advice. Get some exercise. Take a long bath, preferably with an aromatherapy bath bomb to calm yourself down. Rewatch one of your favourite movies. Book a professional massage.

None of this is necessarily bad advice, but there are a couple problems with this approach to self care. The biggest issue, the one we’ll be discussing today, is that the mainstream approach to self care is entirely superficial, acting as an emotional band aid rather than a proper treatment for overwhelming stress or mental illness.

Put another way, these temporary self care strategies are great ways to avoid truly changing your life.  They give you an endorphin rush that makes individual days better so you become complacent about tackling the bigger issues bringing your down. This effect is particularly powerful if you are struggling with an actual mental illness, as eventually the bigger issues overwhelm you so much that no number of temporary self care measures helps.

If you want to drastically and permanently improve your life, you need to dig deeper, to change your entire approach to life. You need to develop something I’ve come to call the self care mentality.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to beat comparisonitis

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Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 Hi folks! Today I’m participating in the first #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. This month I’ve decided tackle one of the most common personal struggles writers face: comparisonitis, the tendency to make yourself feel like crap by comparing yourself to other, more successful/wealthier/happier/more in love people.

Are your goals actually serving you?

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We’re exactly one week into 2018. Some of us have already started on our 2018 goals. Others are returning from vacation to begin their 2018 work today. Either way, the year is officially kicking into gear and it’s time to dive headfirst into achieving our goals.

Or is it?

I want to encourage you to stop for a moment. Take a look at the goals you’ve created, and ask yourself an important question: are these goals really serving you?

Most people wait until one, three, or six months into the year to re-evaluate their goals, but by then we’ve often already wasted weeks on goals that aren’t helping us. Some of those goals might even actively harm us.

Checking in with ourselves more often, especially at the beginning of the year, helps us avoid wasting time and keeps us on track as we work towards the life we want.

18 Articles to make 2018 your best writing year yet

18 Articles to make 2018the best year ofYOUR writing life2017 is officially over! I’ve accomplished a lot of great things and written many wonderful words. Now I’m gearing up to make 2018 the best year of my writing life – and I’ve compiled 18 of my best articles to help you do the same.

Articles to improve your writing practice

1. 5 Tips for working with beta readers, critique partners, and editors – Based on everything I learned preparing Keeper of the Dawn for publication.

3. How to be a good beta reader or critique partner – Lessons from my own time as a beta reader/critique partner.

4. Evening Pages – A night owl’s take on the concept of “morning pages”.

5. How to push through when you hate your novel – I did this one for Nanowrimo participants in the second week slump, but it’s applicable to all of us at some point, no matter how we’re writing our novels.

6. How to boost your creativity even when you’re exhausted – I’m a night owl and an insomniac. Over the years I’ve learned how to stay creative despite those things – and now I’m sharing my best strategies with you.

7. Using Twitter chats to connect with other writers – An extensive guide, including a list of Twitter chats I love.

8. How to reap the rewards of the Nanowrimo community all year long – How to keep the community momentum going after Nanowrimo.

9. Letters to explore character – How letters have become my most powerful character development exercises – and how you can use them too.

Articles to improve your overall life

This year I also started writing a lot about mental health, something I plan to explore more deeply in 2018. These articles are just the beginning:

10. Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness – If we want it to get better, first we must talk about it.

11. Writing to yourself – I wrote a letter to myself in my new book. Here’s why – and why you might want to do the same.

12. Why you should never feel guilty about taking the time to write – The guilt monster is the ultimate enemy of productivity.

13. Your personalized definition to success – Why it matters and how to create one (bonus video on this topic coming this week!)

14. 5 FREE self care activities to help you survive the winter – Self care doesn’t have to cost money when you use these strategies.

15. Hold on to the light and shine it into the darkness of our minds – My contribution to the #Holdontothelight 2018 campaign, a series of blog posts from over 100 science fiction and fantasy authors raising awareness about mental illness.

16. The physical side of self care for writers – Your physical health is essential to your mental health – and your writing practice.

17. 3 Simple strategies for fighting imposter syndrome – Imposter syndrome is one of the most common problems for writers. These strategies will help you kick its butt once and for all.

18. A writer’s (or artist’s) holiday survival guide – All right, so it will be a while before you need this one, but I promise these strategies will bring you plenty of holiday joy come 2018.

Now get out there and make 2018 amazing!

Phenomenal Female Character Book Tag

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This week I’m doing the Phenomenal Female Character Book Tag created by Nicole Pierman. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite women in fiction with you, then passing this along to some other authors I love.

1. Your Favorite: Who is your favorite female lead in bookish history?

I hate being asked to pick favorites. HOW DO YOU WANT ME TO CHOOSE ONE?

But at this moment I’ll go with Oree Shoth from The Broken Kingdoms, the second book in the Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin. Oree is a fascinating character in large part because she’s blind. The only thing she can see is magic. The book is written in first person, and her blindness makes her one of the most interesting narrators I’ve ever read. She’s also forthright, strong, and all around awesome.

2. The Scariest: Who is the scariest female character you’ve ever read? (She doesn’t have to be a villain or evil.)

Haha this is a tough one, I don’t scare easy. But Immacolata from Weaveworld terrified me. She’s a witch whose main weapons happen to be the souls of her dead sisters. Did I mention that those sisters were her triplets? And it gets even worse: she strangled those sisters in the womb. She’s been walking around with them ever since, performing all kinds of evil deeds.

3. Oh-so-sassy: Who’s your favorite sassy female character?

Isabelle from The Mortal Instruments (link to book one). She’s the embodiment of sassy, kickass confidence, and there’s one book (I don’t remember which) where she basically reams EVERYONE out, including Clary’s mom, in the best way possible.

4. The Kindest: Which female character is the kindest female character you’ve come across in literature?

Actually stumped on this one. I rarely remember characters because of their kindness. I hate to do this, but SKIP.

5. Best Character Development: The female lead that’s changed the most throughout a book series?

Lirael from the Old Kingdom Series. She starts out in the second book, Lirael as a massively introverted girl struggling with depression. By the end of the third book she’s in, Goldenhand, she’s a powerful and (mostly) confident warrior mage.

6. Sidekicks ROCK: The best female sidekick?

This one has to go to Hermione Granger. Those boys, and the entire wizarding world, would have been doomed without her.

7. Your BFF: The one female character you’d love to have as a best friend?

Kelsea from the Tearling Trilogy (link to book one) would be a great best friend. We have a lot of common, including temper problems and a love of books.

8. Misunderstood: Which female character is the MOST misunderstood?

Cersei Lannister. When we judge her based on our modern ethics and sensibilities she seems all kinds of awful. But she’s a woman in Westeros, and that only leaves her with so many options. Most of her ‘evil’ decisions are really the only choices she can make to stay alive. This is shown a lot better in the books than it is in the show.

9. Save The Day: Who is the one female character you think would always save the day, no matter what she’s up against?

I really want to cheat here and say Buffy. She was in GRAPHIC novels, that counts right 😉
TOTALLY counts. Sticking with Buffy.

10. I Need More: Finally, which female character do you want to see more of in literature?

I’d like to see more female characters who are strong in the same way as Sansa Stark in the current seasons Game of Thrones. Quiet, dignified, very much feminine, but also very capable and strong in her character and morals.

Who are your favorite female characters? Let me know in the comments section below!

A writer’s (or artist’s) holiday survival guide

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The holidays are a wonderful time for many people, but for us artsy types they can be an emotional minefield. Even if we have a good relationship with our families, the sheer amount of exposure to people in such a short period of time can be exhausting. And that’s without getting into all the awkward questions well meaning relatives like to ask about our creative hobbies.

I can’t make your family more pleasant, or their questions less awkward, but I can give you some strategies to survive the holidays with your sanity more or less intact.

How to build a permanent writing habit out of Nanowrimo

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Nanowrimo officially ended last week, and whether you won or not, I hope you took a break over this weekend. Nanowrimo is a massive challenge with a lot of pressure, and it’s as exhausting as it is fun. You earned a weekend off, and you needed it if you want to avoid burnout (if you didn’t take this past weekend off, take the coming weekend off instead).

But the weekend is gone, and if you take any more days off you will lose the momentum you built during Nanowrimo. So today I’m asking you to get back to work, and to set a new goal for December: create a regular writing habit you can maintain year round.
How Nanowrimo helps you build experiene

What do I mean by a regular writing habit?

A regular writing habit can be writing 1,667 words a day, or it can be writing a sentence every day. It doesn’t even have to be every day–but it does have to be at least once a week.

It definitely doesn’t have to be a novel, short story, article, or blog post. It can be pages in your journal. The only thing that matters is that you’re writing on a regular basis.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to maintain a daily writing habit forever, but it’s easier if you start writing every day. You’ll fall into the habit more easily. When you eventually do need to take a few days off, you’ll be itching to get back to your writing.

Why is a regular writing habit so important?

Most people could benefit from a regular writing habit. Journalling provides an excellent emotional and creative release. It can even help people re-evaluate their lives and commit to improving them. If you’re already making changes, a journal can track how those changes affect your life on a daily basis. It’s a private place where you can be completely honest about your thoughts and your life. Nobody will judge you, because nobody will ever read it.

Fiction can serve many of these same benefits. There’s something cathartic about examining humanity through a fictional lens. I work hard to avoid blatant self inserts, but my characters do live through some of the same struggles I have. Helping them conquer those struggles shows me how to conquer my own. When I reread my own work I can see how my own trauma influenced those words, for better and for worse. And if I write something a little too cathartic I don’t ever need to share it.

In other words, a regular writing habit is good for the soul.

For those of us who want to become successful authors, it’s also something more: the foundation of our careers. You might be able to write a single great book without one, but it will take a lot longer. And a single book doesn’t make a successful career, even if you sell a million copies. So you need to develop habits that will see you through not just one book, but many books.

Those habits must also be built around your normal life, because you can’t expect to quit your day job any time soon. It is possible to make a living as a writer, but it’s not easy, and it’s not a quick process.

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve the career of your dreams.