Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sometimes I Amuse Myself

There are times when I think of things that I'm sure will be really funny when I tell them to people. There are also times when I - luckily - realize that the really funny thing I've decided to tell someone will only be funny to myself.

This is one of those things that I was pretty sure would only be funny to me, but I decided to share it in my "Top 20 Worst Mistakes in Writing" list.

The reason I'm mentioning it tonight is that I've begun working on the second round of an edit at work. Typically, even if the first round is riddled with misspelled words, by the time you spend a couple of weeks correcting them even if the author mucks about with the manuscript before round two there aren't too many incorrect words left.

This time, though, I started working on the manuscript and as it loaded in on my screen eventually I got a pop-up saying that there are too many misspellings for Spellcheck to display them all.

Which brings me to the quote from my list:

"Spellcheck is not your friend. Spellcheck is a passive-aggressive co-worker who likes to point out when you do things wrong, and just when you really need help goes to take a coffee break and ignores you."

I have no idea whether that's funny to people who don't work with Spellcheck every day. But it truly does amuse me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Learning My Own Lesson

As I've mentioned I was going to do, I went to Idaho last weekend and gave two talks on the subject of "The Seven Deadly Sins of Self Publishing." They went pretty well, and I'm really glad I did it. But that's not what this post is about.

This post is actually about listening to your teachers, paying attention to words of wisdom, and following the right path - even when you're the one who is teaching/imparting/pointing it out.

You see, I've been feeling pretty good about the two sessions. Yes, three people nodded off during the first session, but the conference room was probably about 80 degrees and pretty stuffy and at about 3:30 in the afternoon they'd all been in and out of sessions for 7 hours. Plus... well... the majority of the audience were not spring chickens, so they hadn't ever learned to over caffeinate to keep going. And it was only three people out of about 18, so I figure that's pretty good.

By the second session, I was a bit more on my game (remember - it has been 20+ years since I last taught a class), and of the 12 people in attendance, only 1 nodded off. And I saw her nod off at the banquet that evening, as well. So I figure she might do that a lot.

From what I've learned, there were about 45 people in attendance at the conference. I had about 30 of them listening to me between the two sessions. Plus I had 4 people sign up for one-on-one writing coaching sessions in advance, then 1 signed up after hearing me speak - and one of the original four signed up for a second session with me to try to answer some more of her questions, and truly seemed energized by what we discussed.

After each session, people came up to chat. People struck up conversations with me later on. And someone even asked if I'd be coming to their conference next year.

I left there feeling pretty darned good about it all. I texted Christopher and we chatted on the phone and I told him all about it. I couldn't wait to get back to work today and talk about it with people.

Then, as I was sitting in the office this afternoon, my boss came in and asked how it had gone. I told him I thought it had gone well - that I had handed out all of my business cards and lots of people asked about the company - and that I was glad I had gone. He asked how many people attended, and I gave him the ballpark numbers, and told him how many people I had spoken to. And he just kind of looked at me and said "Oh," which seemed to include a mix of "Is that all?" and "I'm glad we're not paying you for that." in his voice.

I went from really proud of my weekend to feeling like the conference might have been a bust.

Then someone asked me what my talk was about. And I told him my topic. He asked what the Sins are, as I see them. And he laughed with me as I listed them off, ending with "Sin #7: Judging your success by anyone else's standard." To which he said "Sounds like a good idea for life in general."

Lightbulb. Lightning bolt. Whack upside the head with a pillow. All the cartoon cliches for epiphany moments.

No. I wasn't the opening act at Madison Square Garden. No. I didn't do a Ted talk with 47,000 views on YouTube. What I did do was step out of my daily life, put my skills and knowledge to good use, and - hopefully - make a difference in a few people's lives. Maybe inspiring a few people to write some more. Maybe convincing a few writers to consider self publishing. Maybe reminding some frustrated self-published authors that success is what you make of it.

And I had fun doing it. Which is why this weekend will become cocktail party conversation for the next few months, while the eight hours I spent at work today will simply become a footnote.

I guess you could say I learned my lesson - I just needed someone else to remind me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Worst Mistake in Writing

I'm working up a talk that I'm going to be giving at the annual conference of the Idaho Writers League later this week.

The catch is that the topic I submitted isn't the same as the topic that showed up on the schedule that was sent out. So I'm kind of working up two different talks. I really like my original topic - and I've got an 11-page outline for it - but I feel like I should be prepared to do the other one, as well.

So tonight, after finishing the outline for Talk #1 (The Seven Deadly Sins of Self-Publishing - as I mentioned on Sunday), I mapped out a quick outline for Talk #2 (Worst Mistakes in Writing).

I created a list of 20 things, which I have found over the years are some of the biggest flubs people have made. Not specific instances, but broad strokes. Things like putting too much trust in Spellcheck, or assuming that every reader will understand your jargon.

When I got to number 20, I realized that there is one thing that is the worst thing any writer can do: Not write.

If you have a story in you, you have to let it out. If you've got a great new strategy for business that could revolutionize the way marketing is done, you need to tell someone. If you feel the need to throw your thoughts against a blog wall every couple of days in the hopes that someone might read it, you've got to wing it up there and hope it sticks.

Not writing when you've got something to say is like holding your breath until you pass out. It's one of those things that benefits no one - and can only hurt you.

Which is worse: being received with total ambivalence, or suffocating yourself with fear? (That's a trick question: they're both pretty horrible.) Sure, you could be met with opposition, naysayers, or angry mobs with pitchforks, but you could also be met with praise, encouragement, and offers of speaking engagements.

So forget the other 19 worst writing mistakes (which, fortuitously, I haven't told you, so that should be easy to do), and focus on fixing number 20. Get out there and write!

(I'll even make it easy on you: There's a comment section at the bottom of this post. Start by putting something in there - a quick "I read this!" or a haiku or the first line of a really great story, even. It'll make us both feel better!)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sin Manufacturing

In what I'm realizing more and more is a bit of a strange and exciting turn of events, later this week I'll be speaking at the Idaho Writers League annual conference.

My talk is going to be a little about editing, but mainly about the world of self publishing. So, when I was working up the topic proposal, I was debating what to call it. I didn't want to go for anything too bland (because I want people to come to it), but I didn't want a title that was all flash, because I also wanted people to know what to expect.

After some consideration, I came up with "The Seven Deadly Sins of Self-Publishing."

I like it. It's catchy. It's sort of self-explanatory. It's a little intriguing and a tad irreverent (which, hopefully, is what the talk will be like, too).

There's only one problem: I have to come up with Seven Deadly Sins of Self-Publishing.

Oh - and I have to make them last for 90 minutes.

(For a little context, I just read the above text out loud and timed it: 45 seconds. So I need to do something like 120 times that.)

I've got a partial outline that includes interactive moments. Q&As. And at least one quick writing exercise. 

I also have a reminder to make sure that I have a very large glass of water with me.

What I don't have, so far is those Seven Sins.

Perhaps I should start with "Deadly Sin #1: Titling your book before you have any content" but that might be just a little too on the nose.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sleepy in the Cities

It's not quite as catchy as "Sleepless in Seattle," I realize, but it's kind of all I've got right now.

Twice this week I've had to get up extra early to be places an hour earlier than my usual start time. And multiple nights we've been up later than usual, too.

I used to do great when I was in my 20s - or even my 30s - but these days I just can't function as well on days when I've misplaced an hour or more of sleep.

I keep waiting for the "as you get older, you need less sleep" thing to kick in, but it hasn't yet.

So for now I'll just sign off and try to at least have an "even" night before we launch into the weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Baker's Dilemma - Frosting

It is impossible to make just the right amount of frosting. There is always either too little or too much of it.

As someone who has dealt with the trauma of having too little - which almost always seems to happen when it's a colored frosting which will be impossible to duplicate - these days I pretty much always aim for having too much.

SO close!
But then you get done frosting whatever you're frosting and you have a leftover mound of amazing sugary goodness. It's never quite enough to use for something else, and yet there's always just enough left that you'd feel guilty to throw it out.

I admit that tonight's problem was caused by the corollary dilemma of not wanting to bake a partial sheet pan of cookies. The batch of cookie dough I made makes just over 8 dozen cookies. We have 4 cookie sheets, each of which can hold 2 dozen cookies. So when I was done filling the fourth sheet, I looked at the cookie dough still in the bowl and debated whether I wanted to spend another 15 minutes watching about 5 cookies bake, or whether I should just throw out the rest of the dough.

Had I not chosen option #2, I definitely would have gotten closer to using all of the frosting from tonight (and had less of a dilemma). But I had other things to bake - at a higher temperature - and didn't want to wait. So the dough went into the trash, and I ended up with leftover frosting.

The cookie is there for size comparison - and because I also didn't have enough room on my cooling/drying rack for that one last cookie.
It probably should have followed the dough into the trash - and it might, yet - but for now it's in the fridge. No idea whatsoever what I'm going to do with it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time

There seems to be something really odd going on with time, lately. In part, I blame the weather for this, but mainly I blame weird marketing and such.

You see, it was really warm last week - the first week of September - and so it felt like it was still summer. But this weekend it is really cool, making it feel more like the first week of October.

Christopher and I went to a birthday party tonight held in a neighbor's backyard - and although I was comfortable in shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, by the time we were leaving, they had turned on a propane heater in the yard because people were getting cold. If they had had it last weekend, they'd have needed extra ice and fans, instead.

But - even more than that - there is the fact that we're already getting pushed toward Halloween. The grocery stores are full of Halloween candy and ephemera. Even if I didn't hate Halloween, I would still think this is way too early.

That's how I feel about the fact that I'm already seeing some pushes for Christmas.

It all just makes me want to unplug from the world - or else plug in an iron to smooth the calendar back out.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tomatic Proof

I actually remembered to take photos after picking my most recent two tomatoes! (If you're counting, that means I've now had FOUR tomatoes this year.) Although I thought that these were going to be green tomatoes, after a stretch of warmer days, I found out that this first batch were all Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

The first one I picked got eaten - without benefit of camera - as part of two fried-egg-and-tomato English muffins. The second was chopped up and made into a chunky avocado/tomato salsa. 

The third, however, became the photographic centerpiece of two open-face "tomato-and-egg-on-toast" sandwiches:

Tomato #3 and tomato #4 (which became part of a Salade Nicoise)

The Cherokee Purple tomato is an heirloom variety that is purple on the outside with red flesh, flecks of green, and yellow seeds. It's a little weird looking when you cut into it, but very tasty.

Gotta have fried eggs in this sandwich. I may have added butter...

Toasting - in the toaster oven, obviously. Yes, basic white bread works best for this.
There seems to be the outside chance that I over-fried my eggs. So let's go past this picture to the next one.

Buttered toast, mayo, tomato, fried eggs, salt, and pepper...  If that's not a summer dinner, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Confusion in Aisle 7

Could someone please explain to me why two grocery stores - both part of the same chain - can have such completely different stock?

I was looking for some toothpaste this past weekend, and after striking out at Target and Walgreens, I tried our "local" Cub grocery store. They also didn't have what I was looking for. 

So I went to a different Cub, where I didn't find what I was looking for, but did find something really close to it, which I thought maybe had replaced it. When I got it home, though, I realized that it wasn't the same. 

This led me to going to Cub number three after going to a movie tonight. I returned the toothpaste I'd found at Cub #2, and then went down the aisle just for the heck of it. Lo and behold, on the bottom shelf, there were probably a dozen or more boxes of what I had been searching for - the kind which didn't even exist in any of the other stores. 

Now, I know that some stores carry food items specific to their shoppers' demographics. I used to live near a "mainstream" grocery store that had a HUGE selection of international foods because most of its clientele were first-generation immigrants. And when I lived in Baltimore there was a chain grocery store in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood which carried no pork products. 

But toothpaste? Why would there be such a huge disparity between stores in the types - not even the brands, but just the types - of toothpaste they stock? 

Some things I suspect I will never understand. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Retro Weekend

I've been spending a certain amount of time streaming Netflix, lately. But I'm not watching anything recent. Everything I'm watching is actually from a while ago.

Having just wrapped up season 3 of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," today I watched the first two episodes of "The Gilmore Girls" as well as the first ten minutes of the pilot episode of "Ally McBeal."

I'm not sure why I've been doing this, but I am enjoying it. There's an aspect of it that is kind of like meeting up with old friends and telling old stories as a group. You all know the stories, but you all tell them slightly differently, so it's good to hear someone else's version.

Except, with these, you can turn them off after 10 minutes and no one gets mad.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ironic Holiday Ads

I was listening to the radio a couple of days ago, and an ad came on talking about Labor Day.

Some kid said, "Mom, what is Labor Day about?"

And as the mom launched into the story behind the holiday, another voice (we assume it was Dad) interrupted with "Picnics! Grilling! No one has to work!"

Then the announcer started in on all of things that were going to be on sale... in the store... on Labor Day.

So... Let's look at this: The ad is all about how "no one has to work on Labor Day," but it's an ad for a store that will be open - with hundreds of people having to work.

I only heard the ad once. Makes me wonder if someone at the company actually heard it and realized that the irony cut a little close to the bone...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Branding - Not the Cow Kind

I used to have a website. It wasn't a great website. It was a build-it-yourself website that kind of came along with having my email address at the time.

I was able to put up a sort of basic portfolio of things I'd worked on in the past and add in my resume. It wasn't exciting, but it was workable, and it gave me somewhere to refer people who asked about my background.

Then that went away, and aside from this blog (which, honestly, I'm not planning to refer people to if I'm looking for a job) and a couple of social-media-type sites, my web presence disappeared.

But I'm going to be speaking at a conference in a few weeks, and I really want to be able to point people to somewhere if they want to find me. So I'm trying to find a website building/hosting company that is quick and easy (and cheap) so I can put something together.

There are apparently a bunch of places that do this - at various rates of cheapness - so I've spent a few nights scrolling through lots of template designs searching for just the right look. But this is the kind of stuff that people pay companies thousands of dollars to develop and design. The all-important "brand identity" can make or break an online business.

Do I want to be slick and modern? Do I want to be cozy? Do I want to be artsy and laid back? Or do I just want to be Times New Roman on a white background?

How do I know? I mean... I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up - and I've had a LOT more time to consider that.