New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #1: Insomnia

New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #1: Insomnia

A few weeks ago, my wife and I got a limited time offer subscription to HBO Max. I decided to avail myself of the opportunity to rewatch the 2003 Robin Williams/Al Pacino vehicle Insomnia, which I’d originally seen in the theatre when it came out. Williams plays an Alaskan murderer in a cat-and-mouse game with big-shot cop Pacino. The renowned comedian and actor had relapsed in real life during filming, and I had a morbid curiosity to see whether I could pick up signs of it during his performance this time around.

I’d been a Robin Williams fan since the days of Mork & Mindy and his first comedy album, Reality…What a Concept. Even before that, my own mind ran in the kind of hyper-rapid, manic, stream-of-consciousness manner that came out of Williams naturally in everything he did. I loved his comedy but loved his serious work just as much. To me, he wasn’t merely hilarious—he was relatable.

The reason I rewatched Insomnia may have been out of a curious desire to find signs of relapse in the performance (I didn’t notice any), but I also found myself compelled by the levels of insomnia Pacino’s character suffers in the brutal Alaskan summer solstice. The sky never gets dark, and Pacino’s cheap motel room doesn’t offer anything like a true blackout curtain. Williams’ character needles Pacino about it as the days pass and lack of sleep becomes a greater and greater problem.

 

 

Why the Movie Review?

I don’t normally get into writing about anything other than books or publishing here on the blog, but I thought this week I’d begin a series on writer problems: procrastination, impostor syndrome, and so on. But the first topic I wanted to address is the name of that movie: insomnia. 

Without knowing what it was called, I had bouts with insomnia going all the way back to childhood. And I suppose this is true for a lot of writers—let me know in the comments if you’re one of them—and in my own case, it probably came from sources beyond my creative processes. I was a cartoonist and artist before I became a poet and fiction writer, so it wasn’t that. Instead, my mind would race around all sorts of topics, and my brother, in the adjacent bed, would talk back and forth with me about whatever we wanted until we finally decided to play a game we called “Shut Up and Go to Sleep.” Pretty funny.

The obsession with sleep came from other reasons: sometimes our parents argued, and we’d find ourselves out of bed, side by side on the floor behind our bedroom door, eavesdropping. Those times were terrifying, and sleep surely didn’t come for us right away, even after an argument subsided into silence and then, their lights out, darkness.

 

And On Into Adulthood

As kids, our parents let our cats sleep with us. I recall sparks of static electricity flying off a cat in the dark as I petted it, listening to the loud purring that went on for hours. I even remember something that seems like it must have been a dream: sitting up in bed, with what looked a protective spinning net or mesh whirling around me. The intersections of the net were red, like strawberries. This happened more than once, so I’m sure I didn’t dream it. Yet I’m also equally unsure it was merely a child’s imagination or tenuous grip on reality.

In my teens I kept insomnia at bay listening to the radio with a tiny headset. I’d fall asleep to music, then wake to the sound of a DJ interrupting the end of a song. Eventually, there were substances, and these would put me either into a blissful oblivion or a sickeningly spinning bed. Before I got sober for good, I had a few bed spin misadventures that hurled me straight into the bathroom, worshipping the porcelain god. Bad times indeed.

Now 32 years sober, insomnia’s a different animal, not the result of racing thoughts or overstimulated imagination. It’s more the byproduct of ringing in my ears that started at 46, and a few aches and pains in the joints. Meditation, daily exercise, melatonin, and other late-night alternatives have all found their way into my routine to beat back the insomnia beast. It’s become not so much a writer problem as a me problem.

Got sleep challenges? Need to silence your devices and switch to a paperback before bed? I’d welcome comments, commiserating or sharing experiences that helped with your insomnia.

post

Why Subscribe To A Blog?

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Forget the Big “Family & Friends” Plan

Forget the Big “Family & Friends” Plan

About three months ago, I wrote a post entitled What I’ve Learned In Six Years of Growing An Indie Author Business. My idea was to share six lessons from my publishing experience, one for each year in the biz.

As time went on, my thinking evolved. I realized these six short points could all be expanded upon as part of an ongoing effort to help fellow indie authors in their inevitable struggle with marketing.

Thus was born a six-part blog series, ending today with Forget the Big “Family & Friends” Plan.

 

Family, Friends, and Other Creatures

Here’s part of what I wrote back in April:

Your family, friends and colleagues are not your audience. People who like your kind of book—maybe—are your audience. If there’s an audience for your book, you’ll need to find it…and keep looking to expand it. The majority of your best, most loyal readers will be people you’ve never met. That’s as it should be.

Sure, you can host a book launch event. Invite all your friends if you like. But once that’s over, forget the “friends and family” plan. Find your readers where they already hang out, and entice them to check out your work. 

This is a lesson, I’d hasten to add, almost nobody likes. Nearly every author, at least starting out, thinks, My book is different. My family is different. My friends are different.

They aren’t. Trust me.

 

Universal Truth

The mistake of thinking friends and family who don’t read will magically devour your special book is so pervasive, even I was surprised.

A recent post by fellow writer Anne R. Allen details how bad it really is out there. Not only are most writers’ friends and family not fansmany are unsupportive or even downright hostile. Check it out:

I think some [friends and family] are afraid of seeing themselves in our writing — either as a fictional character or a direct portrayal in memoir. They also may fear knowing too much about you — information that might necessitate guilt.

But most of the negativity comes from their own blocked creativity. I believe every person is born creative, but modern life marginalizes creative activity. Most people have to squelch their own creative urges in order to function in an industrial society. So they tend to feel hostile toward people who remain unsquelched.

How many people have told you they’d write a book too, “if they had the time”? Those people can be super-negative about your work because they so desperately want to write but can’t allow themselves to put in the time. 

And there you have it. You may have a supportive friend or family member, or even two. But think of that as a bonusnot as your primary audience.

Have these posts helped? Need to vent about negativity from friends or family? Hit me up in the comments below.

platform

Platform-Building for Authors

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New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #4: Isolation vs. Solitude

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Yes, I’m The Head of My Company’s Marketing Department

Yes, I’m The Head of My Company’s Marketing Department

A few months ago, I wrote a post called What I’ve Learned In Six Years of Growing An Indie Author Business. The idea was to provide six bullet points, one for each year I’ve run my publishing company. Ultimately, I realized that each of those six points could use some exposition. So I’ve been creating more detailed posts elucidating each one.

This week, we’re up to point number four: Ultimately, you are the head of your own Marketing Department. 

As I wrote back in April, even if you are traditionally published, you still have to do a lot of the heavy marketing lifting. As an indie author, though, you’ve got to do it all. You can hire someone for certain things, but not for everything.

 

The Write Stuff

The whole marketing topic reminded me of a post I wrote back in early 2020 called How Do You Sell A Book in the Digital Age? Market, Market, Market.

As a creative person, I’m always driven by the desire to make something. Of course, people don’t always want to pay you for what you’ve made, so you do what you have to do to earn a living. For me, much of my living has been made through marketing writing, first as an employee and then as a freelancer. 

When a writer spends much of his time creating content designed to make sales, he learns a little about how to create similar content for his own stuff. In my case, as an author, I learned how to market to readersmy readers.

And when it came time to market my books in the glutted market we have these days, where thousands of new books come out each day, I’d already learned something invaluable. Recognizing the importance of different strategies is priority number one in setting up your book’s marketing plan.

 

Three Things

As I said above, you can hire someone for certain things, but not for everything. Here are a couple points I’ve found crucial in marketing my own books:

1) Take a targeted approach, not a scattershot one. Not everyone is your reader. Talk to your readers, not everyone’s readers.

2) Use different strategies. I have a quarterly newsletter, a group of companies I can use to get more reviews, and a social media management tool. And that’s just for starters!

3) Don’t try something twice if it didn’t work the first time. This was one of my most valuable, if difficult, lessons. Your marketing dollars are precious. If you spend some of them on a strategy that’s ineffective, you need to move on. Find a strategy that works.

It can be incredibly frustrating to be the head of your own marketing department, but the key is flexibility. When you find something that works, keep doing it; when it doesn’t work, get rid of it. Have a plan, stick to your plan, and you should find that your marketing is more effective in the long run.

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