Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: creative life

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."

Struggling to balance

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

If you’ve been following my blog this month, you know I’ve been struggling to balance a range of unusually urgent demands on my time. As January draws to an end, I can close the book on several of those tasks, but the underlying challenge persists. always have a lot to do.

This quote image by an anonymous writer says, "The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it."
(Image courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Don’t get me wrong. like it that way. But it makes me vulnerable to overload, if I need to take on extra stuff. Whenever I can, I try to anticipate when I’ll be most busy. Then I’ll either work ahead so I’m prepared, or cut back some obligations so I don’t drop any balls.

This quote image from Gary Keller says, "Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls--family, health, friends, integrity--are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered."
(Image and quote from Gary Keller courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Working ahead is great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t always go as I hoped. Rescheduling till later isn’t always an option, either. Then I end up struggling to balance all the stuff I need to do.

(Image and quote from Betsy Jacobson courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

There are lots of demands to balance

Balancing the demands of family, friends, and health needs with work is especially difficult when you’re doing work you’re passionate about. Or even work that’s necessary to support the work that you’re passionate about. Support work includes things like running Amazon ads to sell my book, or supporting my platform by blogging.

When you’re struggling to balance everything, even doing the research that will enable you to outsource some of it may take time you don’t feel you have!

This quote image from Jessye Norman says, "Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself."
(Image and quote from Jessye Norman courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Thing is, nobody can “do it all.” Many of my friends have begun to retire. They don’t always understand why I can’t just spontaneously drop everything to do something fun, even though I’m “home all the time.” 

Do you get enough sleep? Eat nutritious, healthy food? Exercise enough? All of those things take time. All are essential to health. How does a person on deadline after deadline prioritize?

When I was younger, in the season of my life when I was rearing small children, I couldn’t write or make artwork as much as I do now. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to keep up the creative work when you’re also the primary on-site caregiver for a small child either has never actually done that, was guilty of child endangerment through neglect, or didn’t get as much creative work done as they claim.

A seasonal balancing act 

No matter what season you’ve come to, in my experience you’ll still find yourself struggling to balance the load from time to time. But the struggle is worth it. For a person who does creative work, the creative work can be the thing that keeps you going in tough times.

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."
(Image and quote from Thomas Kinkade courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

The creative work keeps our juices flowing. But the ultimate creative challenge is how we meet the challenge when we’re struggling to balance the demands.

How do you meet that challenge? How do you manage the balance? Please share thoughts, tips, or questions in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

IMAGE CREDITS: All of these quote-images came from the same source, for once! I am deeply indebted to EnkiQuotes’ page of quotes about work-life balance. I literally couldn’t have created this post without them! Many thanks!

Retreat to Paradise Point

I’m writing this post from the edge of Table Rock Lake, in the Hollister, MO area, at a resort managed by Bluegreen Vacations called Paradise Point. I’m enjoying a mini-writing retreat there with my friend Dora Furlong, who set up this trip.

Here’s the view (across an arm of Table Rock Lake) from our balcony at Paradise Point.

Neither of us is officially participating in Na-No-Wri-Mo, but both of us are trying to make progress on our current projects. And what a beautiful setting for our efforts! The physical beauty of the land is sometimes absolutely breathtaking.

Fog rose from the valleys in southern Missouri  on our trip to Paradise Point. Photo (complete with unavoidable bugs on Jan’s windshield) by Dora Furlong.

We drove down from the Kansas City Metro Monday, and were startled by the thickness of the fog in the valleys at dusk. I remarked to Dora that it was like the fog that comes up each evening from the Sirius River on Rana Station in my stories. From there, we launched into a discussion of ways to create greater drama with the fog (writing retreat; it’s what we do!).

The lights and the fog held an interactive dialogue on the grounds of Paradise Point after dark.

After supper we wandered around in that selfsame fog on the Paradise Point grounds, both to get a sense of our surroundings and because it was good to take an after-dinner constitutional. And of course I collected more great resource material!

It’s a mini-retreat, so our time is limited. But I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse. If you’re a creative person, I hope you’ll consider taking some time away (with a friend or alone) to concentrate on immersing yourself in your own creative work. Not all of the rewards show up on the page, but I think you’ll find those rewards are both real and enriching.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Dora Furlong for sharing her photo of the fog along Hwy. 65 in southern Missiouri, and giving me permission to use it here! The other two photos are by me, Jan S. Gephardt. As ever, if you wish to use an image from this post please include a link back to your source and an attribution to the photographer, when you do! Many thanks!

Being critiqued

A Hinkley Buzzard comes in for a landing.

They’re all coming back home to roost.

Somewhat like the buzzards returning to Hinkley, Ohio (albeit several weeks later–I can’t believe I missed Buzzard Day, which was March 15), my manuscripts are slowly returning from my beta-readers.

sent drafts of my science fiction novel What’s Bred in the Bone out in March, to a collection of willing souls. Some are published writers, some are working-on-being-published writers, some are much-prized living embodiments of my “target audience,” and some are simply friends who’ve been hearing me talk about “the book I’m writing” for years, and were curious. A few are even friends of the volunteers, who became interested.

Some wanted e-book format, some wanted Word documents, some PDFs, and a few wanted hard copies, which I put in binders with a quick-and-dirty cover so they’d be quickly able to distinguish what side was “up.”

One and all, I deeply appreciate the time they’ve spent reading my manuscript and answering my questions. Not all have reported back in, yet, but I’ve begun reading the comments of those who’ve finished. They’ve proved quite interesting, and in many cases very helpful.

I’m a veteran of several decades’ worth of writers’ groups and critique partnerships, so I know how to compartmentalize (I learned that studying journalism!). It’s still sometimes a challenge not to take it personally, but the writer with a tender ego is a writer afraid to grow.

I also know how to evaluate. Not all critiques are equally valid. Some seem to come straight out of left field. Some are internally contradictory. Oh, but then there are those other ones, the ones that hit you dead-center, with a deeply resonant, “Oh, man, s/he’s right!”

Very few people will be able to resist at least a few little nitpicks, and there’s almost always an “outlier,” someone who gives such radically different feedback from what everybody else said that you wonder “what manuscript were they reading?”

At the end of the day, the best a writer can do is tell her story as well as she is able at the time, read or listen to every critique with an open mind and her heart safely tucked in a padded box somewhere, then make the changes that won’t let her ignore them. And after that, MOVE ON.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the “Haglund’s Heel” Blog, for the nice photo of the Hinkley buzzard; to Scribendi, via Pinterest, for the quote image from H. G. Wells; and to Pinterest again, for the “Read-Write-Revise-Eat-Sleep-Repeat” image (no other associated link still seems to work). I took the photo of my pile of manuscript printouts in recycled binders. Please feel free to use it if you like, but have the grace to give an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!

For Companion Animals

Day Six: Gratitude for Companion Animals

When placed up there next to some of the other massive issues (yesterday I was talking about global food security, for example), the blessing of having a companion animal in one’s home at first doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league.

But human-animal bonds are ancient and strong. I have argued on this blog in the past that the history and development of humans would have been considerably different without domesticated animals–especially dogs (dogs are my ultimate favorite animals, so I admit I’m sorely biased).

It’s a really incomplete picture to leave out cats, horses/donkeys/mules, cattle/oxen/water buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, chickens and other poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, camels, and llamas, though. Indeed, without mice, rats, and other animals, our medical history also would have progressed much differently.

But this post is particularly concerned with companion animals–the very dearest pets, the ones we invite into our homes, and often consider to be members of the family. Readers of this series with exceptionally good memories will recall from the latter paragraphs of Monday’s post that I do consider ours to be family members.

We have several decades’ worth of studies that affirm their value, at this point, though the unenlightened in Western society still all too often insist “it’s just an animal.” Poor things: they simply have no idea.

I can personally attest to the importance of companion animals for meeting people and staving off loneliness (yes, that’s me in the photo above, with my current dog Jake). The very best way to meet people in our neighborhood is to take the dog out for a walk.

As to staving off loneliness? My dearly-loved Chihuahua-MinPin mix (who stayed right beside me through three successive bouts of pneumonia one horrible winter, and who still is featured in my Facebook profile pic) died the Christmas before both of my kids moved away to college and took all the other resident animals with them. With my Beloved working extremely long hours, if I hadn’t gotten my little Iggy-girl Brenna that following November I think I’d have gone into an even deeper depression from sheer loneliness.

My daughter spent more than a year, living mostly–except for her animals–alone in California, doing hard, undervalued work as a caregiver to an elderly relative. She did make friends, but her animals helped keep her sane. They still do, even as she faces new challenges.

I also can attest to the beneficial effects of companion animals on children. In my family’s case, two Border Collies and a Bernese Mountain Dog-shepherd mix helped my Beloved and me rear our kids, assisted by several cats and an assortment of gerbils and hooded rats (at our church, my daughter became known as the “gerbil-whisperer” for good reason!).

It is perhaps needless to say that I believe that the initiatives to use therapy animals for everything from the “reading dogs” who help beginning readers strengthen their skills to the “comfort animals” who visit hospitals and hospicesdisaster sites, and nursing homes are well-advised to tap into the almost-magical connection humans have with companion animals.

I’m a strong believer in the value of the human-animal bond. As our society splinters into ever-smaller family units and as people “cocoon” in their homes more and more (the telecommuting fad seems to have peaked, but internet sales still continue to gain on actual face-to-face shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores), humans’ essential, social-animal nature hasn’t changed. It’s healthier to connect with an animal than with nothing and no one at all. I could argue that our animals are one of the last things keeping us connected to ourselves.

The health benefits of companion-animal ownership–both mental and physical health–are well-documented and hard to dispute. The soul-benefits are harder to define, but no less important.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Likewise, the three quotes from Allan M. Beck and Marshall Meyers all were extracted from an article by “Anna” on Ethical Pets The Blog, but the photos are variously by my daughter and me, of ourselves and some of the dogs in our lives. I did the design work for all three of those quote-images. Feel free to re-post them, but please include an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks! The Jane Goodall quote image is from the Eco Watch site, from a post by “True Activist” last April. The Anatole France quote image is from One Green Planet (featuring a photo by Wendy Piersall), via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

Watch out!

They’ll be haunting the streets tonight!

Stay alert when driving, and keep an eye out for their safety, all through the night. It’s a time for creative fun and laughter, but also for keeping all the little ghouls and goblins bright-eyed.

Unfortunately, hazards do lurk. Children (and pets) don’t usually think to watch out for them. It’s up to all of us to make sure the little kids stay safe and have fun.

Here’s to a happy and healthy Halloween for all! 

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Pinterest page, 1000+ Toddler Halloween Costumes! Check that page out, if you’re up for creativity and cute little kids–they have scads of both. 

Is your book a high-value item, or a low-value item?

Last week I attended MidAmericon II, the 74th Worldcon, which was held  in my home metro area of Kansas City.

A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room, including a small press booth.

A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room, including a small press booth.

As the author of a recently-finished (but not yet published) novel, I was a bit more finely attuned to the crosscurrents (perhaps “riptides” would be a better description) of opinion about publishing that could be observed in action at this convention than I have been in some time.

Between the panels, the readings, the parties (such as they were) and the Dealers’ Room, I encountered a wide cross-section of opinion about the “best practices” in publishing today.

More booksellers--or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?--in the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room.

More booksellers–or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?–in the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room.

One practice I found particularly curious was the free book giveaways. Many of the smaller operations seemed to think that a good way to attract new readers was to give away books.

Samples, you know? So people can see how “good” we can write, and love us, even though we haven’t had a copyeditor look at our work, much less a competent beta reader–or even (God forbid!) a professional editor.

Yeah, no.

If on the first few pages I encounter characters using each others’ names in dialogue (“Fred, as you know, I always write good,” Ellen cried. / “Why of course, Ellen, your writing is always just dandy,” Fred gushed), and alleged words such as “alright,” then SURE, I’m absolutely going to love it (NOT). In such cases, the free sample is worth every penny I paid for it, and it is going to make me take every effort NOT to bother with that person’s work ever again (even if they later take a writing class and get a clue).

This is the kind of “indie” publishing that gives indie-publishing a bad name, because no gatekeeper–no qualified second opinion–was ever allowed in. This is usually because the author is afraid to do so.

"No! Please! Don't make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!"

“No! Please! Don’t make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!”

“They won’t understand” or “I swear, it gets better by Chapter Five” just doesn’t cut it. For God’s sake, people, study the craft! And beyond that, study best practices in marketing! Yes, I know, you are a Creator, and Heaven forefend that you should have to trammel your muse with such mundane things.

You have a choice: go on giving horrible warnings away for free, and dragging down the value of the product for all the rest of us. Or you can take a different view.

Two kinds of products: High-value and low-value

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath now, centering myself, and thinking calm thoughts. The main purpose of this post is to call attention to a basic marketing guideline I learned years ago when I was a direct marketer.

The rule of thumb goes:

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. 

How does this work in practice? 

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. A low-value item is a cheap throw-away. It isn’t worth much, but if you sell a whole honkin’ lot of them, you can make a profit on the cost-markup margin, because of the volume. Such an item doesn’t cost you much to give away a free sample, so it makes sense to give away a few, in the hope that people will like it, tell their friends, and buy more.

This is a standard in the marketing world. Experienced consumers (i.e., most of us) know how to interpret a free giveaway. If you give your book away, it places your book in a category I doubt many indie-pubbers want to be placed into.

If your book is a cheap, throwaway, piece of crap, then perhaps the free-giveaway marketing ploy is your thing. Do you write dozens of them a year, and fail to do any research? Okay, then! You’ve found your strategy! In my humble opinion, if you give your book away, you are as good as labeling it dreck.

Is this what you're selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.

Is this what you’re selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.

 

 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. In this case, the item itself is far too costly to give away, and has a high intrinsic value. It takes a lot of time, effort and (dare I say) skill to create the item, and it can add lasting value to the owner’s life.

I would like to argue that a well-written book is a high-value item. The author has invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, and effort into it.

A book is a high-value item. It should be marketed that way!

A book is a high-value item.
It should be marketed that way!

First, there have been years of learning the craft and creating the best possible story. Then this author has engaged well-read beta readers, possibly a copyeditor, and ideally an outside, professional editor to vet and perfect the product.

In the marketing phase, discernment and effort have led to the production of a high-quality, well-edited edition, with an attractive, appropriate cover, and high production values.

Appropriate premiums might be a first chapter as a teaser (a time-tested approach used by big-name publishers), an author autograph, or perhaps background, “insider” information. Up-sell might include an illustrated, limited edition, a signed and numbered slipcovered collector’s edition, etc. Tie-ins could include an author’s newsletter, pins, prints of the cover or illustrations, short fiction related to the major work, etc.

Your marketing strategy is up to you, of course. But I’d say it pays to think carefully about your approach.

IMAGES: The photos from MidAmericon II were taken by yours truly. The “Wow! Free Stuff” image is from a UK coupon company page called Wow Free Stuff. The photo of  the distressed writer contemplating editorial scrutiny is from Margaret Snow’s blog post on the Damsel in Distress archetype. The “Horrible Negative Example” quote image is from The Quotery. The ironic sign-failure CRAPBOOKS photo is from the Stuck on Stupid Pinterest Board, via Curiousread.com and Thisisbroken.com. The wonderful image of the girl hugging the book is by ToucanPecan, and may be found on ToucanPecan’s deviantART page. Check out the whole gallery, while you’re there!

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