Chaos Theory

FractalAbout two weeks ago, I had a bolt of inspiration…or maybe it was lunacy. By this I mean turn my household (including my home office) upside down and reconfigure the way I utilize my work and living space. Not that it wasn’t perfectly functional,  it just didn’t make sense anymore.

It all began last December when my son Will completed his academic curriculum and entered the home stretch toward graduation in May. He already had a full-time job, and since he no longer needed to spend school nights at his dad’s to be closer to campus, I suggested that he come to live with me in my spacious, two-bedroom apartment.  At the time, the logical choice seemed to be that I would incorporate my home office into the larger master bedroom, and he would occupy the smaller bedroom.

At first, I liked the convenience of my integrated office and personal space, but over time, as my son and I got comfortable in our daily rhythms and routines, it became clear that we were both cramped in too-small spaces, while an absolutely lovely 150 square-foot living room went virtually unused. It’s decorated in a Japanese motif, with shoji screens framing a sliding-glass door that opens onto a balcony overlooking a wooded ravine with a creek running through it. Truth be told, I’ve fantasized about making it my personal space since the day I moved into this place eight years ago, especially since I don’t do much entertaining at home.

So…in that moment of inspiration / lunacy, I decided it was time to deconstruct my world. I had no trouble enlisting Will in the process, and the following Saturday, we set about the task of relocating every object we own: clothing, furniture, artwork, books, office supplies, computers, televisions, appliances…absolutely everything. Of course, this would mean living (and working) in chaos for a couple of weeks until all was put to rights; but it seemed a small price to pay for the reward of more spacious living for us both.

The following morning, when I awoke amid a sea of boxes and dislocated furniture in what used to be my living room, my first thought: “Good Lord!…what was I thinking?” As a Type-A personality, chaos makes me cranky, even if I’m the one who created it. But if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m a firm believer in the divide-and-conquer method of task completion. My motto: I can’t do everything, but I can do one thing. And that’s what I’m doing…tackling the chaos one tiny task at a time until my well-ordered world once again approaches an entropy of zero.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

5 Types of Real Magic for Your Story Beginnings

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Story openings are magical. 

There’s something that happens in that first line, on that first page.  Just words.  It seems simple.  One sentence after another.

But these opening words somehow, cleverly, shoehorn the reader into your story and the next umpteen pages. And they do not let them out.

once upon a time

It’s that last piece that’s key. 

Good openings trap them.  Holds them hostage to the story.  Convinces them to select your book over thousands of contenders.

It’s one thing to talk about that magic and examine an already-published passage.  But it’s another thing to come up with it on your own.

There is no magical shoehorn app.  I’ve looked. (Please develop one, someone.  You’ll be a writing badass and a hero to at least one.  Do it.)  For meeeeee.)

Until technology catches up with us, we’ll have to look at manual methods for creating Opening Magic.

Here are mine:

#1 Regret

There’s something about knowing a regret of some sort exists that creates a reader-compulsion to Find. Out. Why.

This seems useful.  The regrets are already in your story.  Trust me.  So, that might be a great way to start.

#2 Mystery, Lies, and Secrets

Again with the compulsions.  If there’s a mystery, I want to solve it.  It’s as if the universe is unbalanced until an equal and worthy solution is found for a named mystery.

And here’s the key.  Mysteries aren’t that emotionally interesting unless they are surrounded by lies and secrets.  Without these two elements, it’s more like “Hey, some frustrating facts are missing over here,” which is not the same as a true, story-worthy mystery.

Secrets and lies imply there is huge and dreadful meaning that matters to a human being or two.  These elements imply an active efforts to create the mystery, an opponent, a devious adversary who will counter every move made to set the universe right.

And that is conflict, baby.  That’s story.

#3 Danger in the Air

Love this one!

Things are, somehow, not right.  Out of balance.  Mis-matched. 

And it all starts with a recognition that something is worth noting.  Small parts of the universe are rubbing together and creating friction. Or even something big, if you want.

That something is Story barreling down on us.  The earth trembles.  The air quickens.  And soon the impact of Story will force the viewpoint character to adapt in order to survive.

It is the need to adapt that speaks directly to our biology of fear.  And fear is compelling story magic.

# 4 Haunting, Specific Imagery

It’s hard work getting  the story to mean something to the reader.

Creating a luminous picture in the reader’s mind, rooting the reader down into the story world, is an immediate bridge to meaning.  It’s as if each, carefully-selected, unique detail imparts an associated memory of time and place.

All you need is the unusual and the (misleadingly) simple detail… leading directly into the mystery of the story.

Suddenly, the reader and the viewpoint character are sharing the same experience.  Memory. Meaning. Ripples of time and place.

In the end, as humans that’s all we have.  So we connect to it all the more.

#5 Worry

Ah, the subtle awareness that things are not right. 

  • The exploration of the edge of normal. 
  • The expectation of normal and the heightened awareness of pseudo control over the outcome of anything.
  • The worry that leads to action.

In the case of beginnings, these can be more effective, sometimes, than The Big Bad stomping all over your characters, because with worry, there’s room to get to know your character and understand context.

As Chuck Wendig says, “Without depth of character and without context, an action scene is ultimately shallow and that’s how they often feel when leading off the first chapter.”

Tell me your Story Magic.  Let’s make this list long and fruitful!

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

My Freelancing Motto

book and script editor for hire Joe Wallaceby Joe Wallace

My freelance philosophy is pretty simple. I don’t over-commit, but I do wake up at 5:30 every morning wondering how I’m going to get everything done. It all gets done, on time.

That sounds like I am a total workaholic, spending every waking moment of my day on projects, gigs, and with clients. But that’s not true. I spend plenty of time learning and attending classes. I also travel. But my workload is respectable and actually causes fear in the minds of less-busy people.

I’m happy with that.

The key is that I combine my interests with my work. I love collecting vinyl records, so I sell them online. This gives me a great excuse to buy more records. I love the internet, and a great deal of my work involves online research. I am addicted to cinema, recording, making music, and editing.

So I started working on independent film and video game projects in the Chicago area, doing location audio, sound effects capture, post-production and dialog editing.

To be fair, I have a background in these things. I didn’t start from scratch in media. But it’s not hard to learn what it takes and the world is full of independent film producers now. You can find a way in if you look hard enough. But having the persistence to stick out the lean times in that industry is the same as any other. A true freelancer finds a way to keep at it.

One of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is determine what kind of work you DO NOT want to be doing, and move away from it as soon as it’s financially possible. For some, that isn’t realistic for a variety of reasons. But you CAN work TOWARD doing that. It’s a financial tightrope, but as you become more skilled and confident in your work (and have results to show for it) you can make a determined move towards combining your interests and your work routine.

Joe Wallace is a freelance social media writer and audio professional based in Chicago. His recent projects include video game sound effects and music composition for Shedd Aquarium, location audio, dialog editing, and post-production for the web series Family Values, and location audio for the indie thriller Still. Wallace is set to release his own short independent film, 45 RPM, in early 2014.

Website Myth #5: Instant Credibility!

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Unprofessional

WEBSITE MYTH #5:  A website creates a professional image for you and your writing. 

REALITY:  Have you seen some of those writer-sites out there? 

They actually decrease the professional image of the author.  They are anti-advertising, the kryptonite of self-promotion.  They are a very fine example of shooting yourself in the foot.

Design badness.

Content badness.

Marketing badness.

As Jane over at DearAuthor says, in her article What Every Author’s Website Should Contain

Let me say that like the writing, the quality of the website/blog varies a great deal from very amateurish to very professional. I’ve seen very good websites for bad authors and very bad websites for good authors.

Thank Goodness!  A Disclaimer.

When writers are told to have a website for instant professional cred, there’s a whole disclaimer that is left out, and it is thus:

#1 Websites only increase you professional quotient if (A) the design and (B) the written content are….

  • well-done,
  • easy to use,
  • engaging,  and
  • focused specifically on meeting your specific visitor’s immediate needs and taking key action

#2  You’re probably not the best judge of any of this, even though you are a writer.

#3  Excelling at A and B, if the results mis-represent you or your writing, will do you no good at all.  (Especially if you’re misrepresenting quality.)

#4 Failing at A and/or B can generate negative word-of-mouth that starts with the voice inside the visitor’s head.  That negative feeling becomes your Brand.  Your reputation suddenly is dirt.  Don’t be dirt.  No one wants that.

So, do it right. That’s the message.

There’s a whole lot that goes into sites being well-done, easy to use, engaging, focused on meeting needs, and taking action.  In fact, there are whole fields of study, like usability, marketing, branding, engagement, authority-building, relationship creation, voice, etc.

And don’t forget the professional practices, standards of all that pesky the technology.  (And a special shout-out to making it all accessible.)

I Dare You…

To read something really helpful on the whole professional website thang, read Jim Yu’s 5 Pillars of a Successful Modern Web Design.

And what about marketing and writing content?  Try Skip Besthoff’s Improve Your Website Content’s Quality: 5 Ways to Drive High Performance.

TO BE CONTINUED.

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Website Myth #4: If readers can’t find you….

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

So far…

#1 Websites promote you! Smash.

#2 It’s the only way to find you! Smash.

#3  You’ll be open 24/7!  Smash

Here’s another myth that uses fear to make sure writers, specifically book writers, get that website.

MYTH:  If readers can’t find you, you won’t sell your book!

Really?  Is that because you’re the only one with directions to the bookstore?Last Bookstore

Your website is not the last bookstore on the planet.

Seriously.

In fact, I’m pretty sure your website is not a bookstore at all.

Let’s imagine a reader wants something to read.  She might go to the library, borrow a book from a friend, stop by a physical bookstore, browse an e-store, or stop by a review site.

But she’s not thinking, “Wow, I’ll search Google to see if I can find a random author website, where I can find out if the author has a book for sale that happens to be something I like and want to read.”

TRUTH:  Here’s how you REALLY won’t sell your book.  If you don’t have your book in any of the places readers actually go to shop. 

What about writers who sell only from their website?

Yeah.  Okay.  In that case, you have to have a website.  You win!

But all you other book authors, a site isn’t your answer to selling. Nope.  Then what is a website?

A website is your answer to “give me more.”

And this is a very powerful thing!  (Power is so much better than fear.  Repeat that a few times.  Kinda makes you want to say, “Hell Yes!” doesn’t it?)

Dear book authors, if a reader takes the time to look for your site, that’s an invitation to WOW her.  Dazzle her.  Pow.  Delight. Entertain.  Blow her mind.   And other good words.

You’ve just been handed the keys to the kingdom, baby.  Your reader’s mind has an OPEN sign. She’s willing to listen , create a relationship, and be influenced.  You have what marketers call permission, and this is a very valuable thing.

Up until now, she’s not been interested in hearing more.  But then she clicked onto your site and said, “You can tell me about your writing now.”

So just to be clear, before now, any selling you did to her was basically a cold call, pushing your message on her whether she wanted it or not.

But now?

You’re in a conversation with her.  She’s curious.  And you are the thing she’s curious about.  Your writing too.  You’re the center of her e-universe.

Woo her with your authentic self, your fabulously bound words, your ability to do that thing that you do so well.  She’s the fan you’ve been wanting.  You know all this because she just told you by showing up.

Click.

Yeah.  I can see you blush from here.  A fan.  You have a real live fan.

Good for you.

Now give her more.

CONTINUED.

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Website Myth #3: Open 24/7

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

too much time on internet

Why do you need a website?

We’re looking at the top 10 myths that writers buy into.  The exciting hype of website ownership.  The fear of what will happen if you don’t have one.

There are real benefits to having a website, of course.  They’re hidden behind the myths.  Let’s expose them together, by wielding our mighty Thor-sized, myth-smashing hammers!

So far…

#1 Websites promote you!  Smash. 

(Websites are passive by nature.  Any customer-influencing will require  effective, marketing-savvy content.)

#2 It’s the only way to find you!  Smash.

(Turns out there are other ways to find you.  Go figure.)

And next on our list: Website are open 24/7!  I’ll make sales 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  More customers!  More sales!  I’ll be rich!

Nope.  A myth.  If that’s your reason to get a website, then, my friend, you don’t need a website.

–> Myth:  You’ll be open 24/7!

Reason #3 You Don’t Need a Website: More Time Doesn’t Equal More Shopping

Here’s where reality is much different than your perception of reality.

Adrian Ott, Author of The 24 Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (Harper Business, 2010), has done research smashing this myth.

From Adrian’s article at Fast Company, “When I speak with many business executives, there is a common belief that 24/7 commerce has increased the amount of time that customers devote to purchasing goods and services. The reasoning goes that the ability to shop in slippers at midnight creates endless possibilities for promotions and sales.”

This is what this website myth is selling.  However…

“The World is Competing for Less Than 3% of Waking Hours.”

Hey….  that’s not 24/7….

“The latest government research on Americans reveal that adult consumers on average spend a paltry 28.8 minutes a day in the act of buying–that’s less than 3 percent of waking hours! This activity includes researching and browsing products and services, weekly grocery shopping, and e-commerce in addition to the purchasing transaction itself.

“There are simply too many choices competing for too little time–often leaving us feeling overwhelmed by it all.”

So, more websites has not equaled more shopping.  Instead it’s equaled mind-boggling competition for a very narrow window of time.

Darn.

What you’re really competing with is NOT other products or services.  It’s information overload. That’s your competition.

To gain some insight into what IS working, read Adrian’s article, 5 TRIGGERS THAT MAKE YOUR PRODUCT ADDICTING.

But back to websites.

If people are spending less time buying (and researching what to buy), why should you have a website?

#1  When well written, a website is a way to engage your customer (with quality and value) and build a relationship (human connection).  So, it’s not just about buying.

#2  If you’re competing for time, then you can make your website into something your customer thinks is time well spent.

#3  You can create real and true reasons that coming back to your site is worthwhile.  And by definition, fans are those people who seek you out again and again.  You have an opportunity to create fans.

#4  You can make it easy for customers to get research they trust and shopping information that matters, so they can get on with their day.

#5  You can participate in creating value.  Value can mean different things, but it usually comes down to outstanding usefulness, amazing problem solving, or ingenious fun.

You’ll notice something important here.  The original premise was to sell things 24/7.  That’s about you.

The real reason to have a website is to create something your customer will want.

It’s about them.

And they don’t actually want to shop 24/7.  They’re doing the same (or even less shopping) despite 24/7.  They’re having to make decisions and filter information from thousands and thousands of options/websites.

Don’t add to the noise.

Add to the benefits.

TO BE CONTINUED…

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Chicago-based content writing, editing, and social media. 1579 N. Milwaukee #220, Chicago Illinois 60622