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5 Signs You’re Stuck in Your Writing Comfort Zone

February 24, 2021-As we finish up with this month’s theme of smashing out of your comfort zone, we’ll look at some clear signs that your writing is stuck. Stop playing it safe and start taking the writing risks that get you excited to write again! The list below are some of the most common tells:

  1. You’re tired. You’re tired of writing, your ideas are tired, your plot lines and characters are tired,  and you’re writing the same old thing that you’ve always written.
  2. You’re doubting everything. You’re doubting yourself, your craft, your abilities as an author, and you’re doubting that you should have ever started writing in the first place
  3. Your answer is “no”. You rarely consider new and exciting ideas or avenues for your writing career to take. When you think about taking a risk in your writing or doing things differently than you normally would, your go to answer is always, “no”.
  4. You’re bored. Sitting down to write doesn’t excite you anymore. It seems like a chore more than a passion and you find yourself easily distracted and before you know it, you’ve procrastinated all day and you haven’t put a word on the page. When it comes to writing, you can take it or leave it. It leaves you feeling meh.
  5. You’re complaining. You blame everybody but yourself; agents, publishers, the market, editors, readers, and reviewers. Perhaps your work isn’t being lauded because it’s boring/safe/done to death.

If you’re experiencing anything on the above list, chances are you’re not taking any risks in your writing. Obviously what you’re doing isn’t working, so why not change things and step out of your comfort zone? If you want different results, you have to start acting and writing differently. Take the risk! What have you got to lose?

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Imposter Alert

February 23, 2021– As we finish up our series for this month about breaking out of our comfort zones, we see that it can be uncomfortable to realize and be proud of our accomplishments and writing life because we don’t want to be seen as arrogant and perhaps, we lack the self confidence to feel as though we deserve them. If this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone! Even after writing eleven books and winning several awards, Maya Angelou couldn’t escape the doubt that she hadn’t earned her accomplishments. This feeling of fraudulence is extremely common. Why can’t so many of us shake feelings that our ideas and skills aren’t worthy of others’ attention? Elizabeth Cox describes the psychology behind the imposter syndrome, and what you can do to combat it.

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Warning! Lack of Failure!

February 19, 2021– Lack of failure is a troubling warning sign. Umm, what? Lack of failure means that you’ve taken no risks  and that you’ve tried nothing new. Babies fall down a lot when they’re learning how to walk, but not once do they say, “Wow, maybe this just isn’t for me!”  Humans are the only species on earth that don’t try to grow to their full potential. A tree will always grow as big as it can, it never decides that 6’2 is as big as it will grow and then it will stop.

Some of us don’t reach our full writing potential because we are afraid of failing and other’s don’t bother to try. A lack of failure in your writing life means that you aren’t taking risks and putting yourself out there to grow as an author. The only way we grow? You guessed it, by failing and learning from those failures. Imagine that you were perfect at absolutely everything you tried? How boring would that be? There would be no point to living, because part of the fun, is overcoming challenges and obstacles, and tracking our improvements.

Let’s do an exercise to see if there are warning signs in your life due to lack of failures. Please list the following:

  1. Have you accomplished everything you’ve wanted to do in your writing career?
  2. Have you reached all of the goals you’ve set for yourself?
  3. Have you ever failed at anything in your writing life?
  4. Have you experienced rejection?

If you’ve accomplished everything, reached all of your goals, never failed at anything, and haven’t experience rejection…Congratulations! You’ve lived a very safe and comfortable life well inside your comfort zone. Let’s be honest, that’s not something to celebrate. Ask yourself, am I stifling my true potential as an author because I’m afraid to try something new, take a class, meet new peers, or get out of my comfort zone? Do yourself a favour and fail as much as you can! I’d much rather live a life of, at least I tried, rather than what if, and I hope you would too. Fail forward and you’ll never lose, you’ll learn!

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The Positive Aspect of No

February 18, 2021-As authors, we hear the word “no” a lot more often than we’d like to. But what if I told you that there’s a positive aspect to “no”.  Let’s back up for a minute, rejection can be painful, but it’s part of life. You’re not the only one who’s ever been rejected by a publisher, magazine, blog site, or writing contest; rejection is common and I’m here to tell you to embrace it!

We fear rejections as humans because it’s part of our make up, our biology, and is reinforced by our instincts to keep us alive. That good ole reptilian brain is alive and well! Rejection lights up the same part of the brain that allows us to feel physical pain, can you believe it? Rejection=physical trauma according to brain scans done on subjects by the U of Michigan Medical School. There is an evolutionary foundation to the trauma associated with rejection. Being left out by our tribe during the caveman days would leave us to face dangerous animals, or challenging environments on our own and that could lead to injury or death! No wonder we hate rejection, it’s a built in survival tool.

I receive approximately 175 manuscript submissions per month and I reject most of them for various reasons. Perhaps it’s not a good fit for our House, or we have enough subject matter of a particular topic in our roster, or we’ve filled our schedule for the next two years with new releases. No matter the reason, it’s NEVER personal. Rejection is never a judgement on who you are. We need to rethink what rejection means; it’s merely a subjective opinion. The entire world isn’t evaluating your skills/abilities, it’s just me and maybe I’ve got it wrong.

Facing rejection is just a matter of trying again, it’s a statistical/numbers game. One of the first things that I learned while studying marketing, was that if you want one person to say yes, you have to get 99 people to say no. If we flip that around, all we need to do is ask 100 people for what we want before one of them says yes. 99 people may say no, but all it takes is one yes!

The most successful authors I’ve had the pleasure of working with, have always done one thing differently than others who have been rejected before them. They ask how. Not how could you possibly reject my wonderful writing, but instead, how can I improve my writing? How can I improve my chances of getting a publishing deal? How can I get better? That’s what separates the haves from the have nots.

So, the next time you’re feeling upset about being rejected (it’s going to happen more than once, trust me) remember these things:

  1. Have you asked enough people? Remember the 1/100 rule. 99 no’s will equal 1 yes.
  2. Is the rejecting person’s opinion subjective? Probably, because especially in the art field, art is always subjective.
  3. Are you taking rejection too personally? Rejection is not a reflection. Nothing in this business is personal.
  4. Have you asked how you can improve? What can you do to improve your writing? What can you do to hone your skills? Are you open to resubmission after I fix what you’ve mentioned? etc.
  5. Have you set the stage for yes? This means, have you checked the submission guidelines? Have you addressed the correct person for your query? Have you polished your final draft? Have you built your author platform? Have you followed the industry standards for your submission? etc.

So, I’m telling you to embrace the word no. Because every no gets you closer to yes. To check out my number 1, best selling book Advice from a publisher, click here: Advice from a Publisher (Insider Tips for Getting Your Work Published!): Bakker, Lacey L., Goubar, Alex: 9781989506141: Books – Amazon.ca

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Embrace Their Bravery

February 16, 2021-Think of a character from your favourite book; why do you like them so much? Is it their sense of humour, their bravery, their quick wit? We often create characters who have some form trait that we lack or that we wish we had. It’s fun to escape into new worlds that have hidden dangers lurking around every corner, or challenges that we can relate to in our actual lives. Books take us to places and allow us to experience things that we may never get to experience in reality-that’s one of the reason why romance and mystery novels are such a strong genre that sell well.

For today’s exercise, as we continue to examine breaking out of our comfort zones, I would like you to do the following:

  1. Write down your favourite character from a book. It can be anyone or anything you want. Let’s use the character from one of my favourite books, The Alchemist, as an example. Santiago the Shepherd boy is the character who spoke to me the deepest.
  2. Write down all of their best attributes. Using the example above of Santiago, his best attributes include, bravery, not taking no for an answer, listening to his gut instinct, his love of adventure and the unknown, his love of travel, his unwillingness to settle, his determination and perseverance no matter what faced him, his work ethic, his self-belief, his positive attitude.
  3. List the attributes that you wish you had more of. I wish I had more of Santiago’s trust in his gut instinct and his positive attitude.
  4. Get to work. Do the things that you need to do.  This week, I will work on listening to my inner voice and choose based on what it tells me, and I will remain positive in the face of adversity.

It’s impossible to write a book without leaving a piece of ourselves behind. Books and characters change us even if we’re the ones writing them. What character traits inspire you? What do you wish you had more of? Less of? Get to work this week on embracing bravery and breaking out of your comfort zone. You can piggy back this exercise with the blog post that talks about employing alter egos. Happy Writing!

 

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Photo Writing Prompt Featured Author

February 12, 2021– Last week we did a photo writing prompt and received over thirty submissions from authors locally and abroad. There was one that stood out from the crowd. I was blown away by this when I read it, and in parts, it took my breath away! This is titled Breaking Free of the Past by our very own Tonya Cartmell. To check out her book (illustrated by Emily James), The Twelve Days of Rescue, click here: The Twelve Days of Rescue: Cartmell, Tonya, James, Emily: 9781989506219: Books – Amazon.ca

Breaking Free of the Past by Tonya Cartmell

“Stop whining.  Sit Down. Shut up and type.”  The words ran like ice water down her spine, chilling her to her core. Reluctantly, she slid down hoping to melt into the chair.  Running her long fingers over the dusty, old, worn, round typewriter keys, she let her mind drift back to happier times.  There were long periods where she loved to sit in this small attic room she had converted to an office.  Her grandmother had helped her set it up with an old antique desk, chair, lamp and of course this typewriter that she knew today, would bring her death. She glanced into the cold, hard, steel blue eyes and whispered, “Why do I listen to you?”

“What was that?  Why are you fighting so hard against the inevitable?  You always knew how your story would end.  You used to plan for it; sitting alone in the dark feeling sorry for yourself when life got hard.  It is time.  Your novel is done and what better way to instant fame then to leave your fans wanting more when you won’t be here to give it to them.  This letter will become the prelude to your life’s work.  People will remember you.  You should be happy and thanking me, not questioning me now when you are at the finish line.  We had a deal.  Finish it.”

She slowly slid open the desk drawer.  It moved quietly and smoothly from centuries of use.  Reaching in she pulled out a single sheet of paper and slowly fed it into the typewriter roller; turning until the paper reached typing height.  She turned on the single bulb lamp near the right edge of the desk, not for the light it offered but for the comfort the warm glow provided. A single tear slid down her cheek as she looked at her fingers resting on the keys.  Nails that were once long and covered with bubble gum pink polish, now sat bitten and bleeding from the stress of the last few months. She shook her head gently from side to side, her long dark hair brushing across her back as she tried to clear her head.  She had tried her best to fight but now realized nothing she did would lead to her coming out the winner in this situation.  Resigned to the fact there was nothing else she could do; she began to type.

Breaking Free of the Past, has been a labour of love and exploration of the depths of my sadness.  Like many of you who read this book, my life has never been easy.  It has been filled with struggles, adversary and pain intermixed with some joy, laughter, and moments filled with love. The decisions I have made may not have won the popular vote and I’m sure many people would not always understand them, but they were my decisions and I stand by them.  My moto has always been that is ok to make mistakes if you learn from them and move on.

There is one decision that almost broke me.  One that took all my strength and energy to crawl my way back from.  Perhaps, I never fully made it out of the black void it left behind in my life.  The decision I made to stay behind on that snowy day while they went out.  Safe and warm at home waving goodbye from the window as they climbed into the car.  My husband was annoyed I wouldn’t join them.  Did his anger lead to the death of my family on that slippery road?  Was he distracted?  This is the one event that I truly need to break free from. Yet as I sit at my old desk, in the office of my youth, writing this preface on the typewriting I used before I was married; I realize that I will never be free of the past. I have prayed for forgiveness.  I have begged for it.  I thought I had found peace, but the nightmares have returned and are dragging me down again.  There is a constant reminder that I failed; that the empty hole my family used to fill is my fault.  That the silence will never again be filled with laughter.  That love will never warm my heart again. My despair runs deep, and I have never felt so alone.  I hope reader, that you never experience this pain, loss, sadness and numbness.  Please seek help before you reach this point.  I hope you find the light in the dark that I lost.  Learn from me.

She finished typing and hung her head as her tears flowed.  When they had subsided, she wiped her face with her sleeve then reached into her bag and pulled her manuscript.  The envelope was already addressed to her publisher.  She used the return bar to remove the paper from the typewriter.  Each ding pierced the quiet in the darkening room. She added it to the top of the pile of pages and then sealed the envelope.  She set it off to the side of the desk under the lamp.

“Finally, you are done.  One last hurdle to get over and then everything will be completed.  You won’t feel sadness anymore.”

“I don’t want to”, she said quietly refusing to look up.

“It is your obligation.  You should have been in the car with them.  Maybe if you had gone, he wouldn’t have been driving so quickly.  Maybe you could have asked him to slow down or told him to watch out for that curve. If you were there, your daughter might be downstairs laughing instead of sitting on the mantel in a metal urn.  You know what you need to do.”

She looked over at the firearm on the desk.  Almost surprised to see it sitting there.  She didn’t remember bringing it here or putting it on the desk.  The black matte finish of the Glock 9mm handgun made it almost disappear in the fading light.  Only one round sat on the desk beside the empty magazine.  Her husband had taught her how to safely handle and fire the gun.  She loaded the single round into the magazine before slamming it into the receiver.  Then drew back the slide to chamber the round.  With her shaking hand, she placed it back on the desk.

“What are you doing?  This is the last step.  You must do this.  Pick it up.  Join them.”

She took a deep breath and raised her head.  Starring deep into those eyes that haunted her for years.  She was so tired of fighting.  Tired of pushing every day to just get out of bed.  To try and find something to live for.  She looked down at the locket on her chest.  Inside was a picture of her husband and daughter.  She finally realized it was time to let go.  They would not want her to live this tortured life.

She picked up the gun and fired without hesitation.  The sound was deafening, and the smell of gunpowder filled the air.  The mirror above the typewriter shattered.  The voice in her head was finally silenced.  She placed the gun back on the desk.  Tomorrow would be another day.

Thank you, Tonya for this moving and heart wrenching story! You are a very talented writer and we are so proud to know you. X LLB

 

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Encourage Adventure

February 11, 2021– As we continue to explore Breaking out of our comfort zones this month, we’ve got a great Ted Talk to share with you! Meet Caroline Paul, Firefighter, Paraglider, and all-around adventurer. Gutsy girls skateboard, climb trees, clamber around, fall down, scrape their knees, get right back up — and grow up to be brave women. Learn how to spark a little productive risk-taking and raise confident girls. Be brave, be confident, and be adventurous!

 

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Ships Aren’t Built for That

February 10, 2021-“A ship is always safe at shore, but that’s not what it’s built for.”-Albert Einstein
As we continue our topic of stepping out of our comfort zones this month, I think of the above quote quite often. Did you know the same is true for authors? We’re safe keeping our words to ourselves, away from the world, but that’s not what we’re built for. The creation of any type of art, puts us in a vulnerable situation where people can judge what we’ve written and once the words are out there, we can never get them back. It’s an exhilarating process, but terrifying at the same time because we don’t know what to expect! Here are some tips for silencing your inner critic that will help you set sail to your writing destination:

  1. Remind yourself. You’ve been through a lot of things that have made you stronger, you’ve overcome challenges, and you’ve even surprised yourself at times with what you have been able to do. Remind yourself of this every time you’re afraid to put the words on the page, send in your manuscript, read the reviews of your work, and when you’re feeling hesitant about getting started. Reminding ourselves of how far we’ve come can be just the boost we need to get going!
  2. The 5×5 rule. I have a rule for my life; if it isn’t going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it. Is anyone going to remember the bad review of your book five years from now? Are you going to be upset that the manuscript you sent in five years ago was never published? The point is, not to get upset, but to do something about it! Keep submitting, keep honing your craft, and keep working toward improving your writing skills because that  is what is going to make a difference in your life five years from now and beyond.
  3. Map it out. Ships have a destination and so should you for your writing life. What would you accomplish if you weren’t afraid? Where could you go in your writing? Where could your writing life take you? Where would you like it to lead? Map out a plan for yourself and your future and work on it every day. We don’t need fine details, but we need an overall view of where we are going so that we know when we get there. For example, someone wrote me an email a few weeks back that they wanted to become a best selling author, so they started with our Best Seller Bootcamp course, then they researched the genre they wanted to write in, and started writing. Now they are at the second draft stage and their work is really taking shape. If they had never left the harbor so to speak, they would still be stuck there. I applaud this person for taking the first steps to get where they want to go. You can do the same!

I hope that you’re enjoying our theme this month of stepping out of your comfort zone. Feel free to send in your questions and comments to pandapublising8@gmail.com. Also, check out our podcast on Podbean every Tuesday and Thursday. Download the app on the Google Play Store or iTunes to take us with you on the go!

 

 

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Where Dreams Go to Die

February 9, 2021-Dreams die when we fail to pursue them. Everyone has dreams, but not everyone follows them. When I was a kid, I used to dream about being the person who goes out on to the ice to stitch up injured hockey players; guess what came of that? Nothing. Because I failed to take the necessary steps to make that dream a reality. If I really wanted to make it happen, I would have chosen the correct classes in school, went to a different college/university, studied kinesiology, interned in a medical setting after graduation, and applied to jobs that would further my career in that specific field. There are steps, very specific steps, to realizing our dreams.

The same thing happens to us as adults; it’s fun to dream about all of the things we want. Wouldn’t it be nice to win the lottery? And wouldn’t it be so cool to be interviewed on tv, or to be someone famous? Wouldn’t it be so awesome to travel the world and teach writing on a global level? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a TedTalk speaker? 

We can dream all we want, but if we don’t make a plan and put it into action, we’ll never accomplish what we dream of. Today’s exercise:

  1. Write down your dreams for your writing career. What do you want to accomplish as an author? Think bigger. Do you just want to see your name in print? Do you want your writing to be featured in a magazine, newspaper, or blog? Do you want to write for famous publications such as the New York Times or Vogue? Do you want to have a freelance career that allows you to write from anywhere in the world and make your own schedule? Write it down.
  2. Be more specific. Don’t generalize. If one of your dreams is to become a best selling author, narrow it down. Which genre? Which Best Seller list? What is the timeline you’ll give yourself to get there? Do you want to be a number 1 best selling author, or will simply making the top 10 be enough? etc.
  3. Devote time each day to take action. A dream is a dream until you write it down and take action. You can never make your dreams come true if all you do is dream about what could be. Don’t have the wouldn’t it be nice syndrome and let your dreams sit on the shelf without doing anything to pursue them. Make them happen with hard work, a clear plan, consistency, perseverance, and focus.

Don’t let your dreams die! It’s time to get to work and make them a reality. You’ll be so glad you did.

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Scared? Good.

February 8, 2021-Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing that you need to do.” If you’re scared to do something, good. Why? Because it means that you’re alive and still growing. You’re courageous and you may not have all the answers, but you’re willing to bet on yourself that you’ll figure it out. What are you afraid of in your writing life? That’s what you need to do next.

We’ve all been scared and being afraid comes with the territory of being an author. Writing things for the world to read, that you can never get back, is the epitome of being vulnerable. What if they don’t like it? What if I never sell a single book? What if I’m ridiculed by my peers? What if my dream of becoming an author doesn’t work out? Those are the risks that we take in this business. And I would rather risk it all than have a life half lived. Sometimes the worst place we can be is inside our own head with that little voice shouting, “Don’t do it, it’s too risky!” We don’t expand our inner or outer world when we stay inside of our comfort zones. The only way, is through. Through the fear, through the self-doubt, and through the uncertainty.

What are you afraid of as an author? Write about it. Put it on your characters. And then run toward it as fast as you can.

A baby bird and a mother bird were sitting in their nest one day. The mother bird said to it’s baby, “Today is the day that you leave the nest!” The baby bird turned to it’s mother and said, “I’m too afraid, it’s safe here and what if I fall?” The mother bird smiled and said, “Oh but, darling! What if you fly?” 

So, my dear baby birds, I know you’re not afraid of the branch breaking, because your trust is not in the branch, but in your own wings.