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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: enemies of the art

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There is one failing that will undermine all our efforts, the inability to focus. Years ago, I was on the debate team. I loved debate and spent hours researching, building cases, writing cases, and learning all I could to be prepared.

Most of my nights were spent researching thick dusty law books in the downtown library. Yet, though this information and preparation helped, there was one tactic that worked every time, a mantra I lived by in competition. This move could take out the best cases from the best teams from the best schools.

If you cannot defeat them, distract them.

If I could redirect my opponent into focusing on non-issues and intellectual bunny-trails, then all I had left was to mop up in my final argument. Sounds pretty ruthless, but how did I learn this? By falling victim to it, myself ;).

Distraction Equals Death

All of us, when we decide to become professional authors, must pass through an apprenticeship phase. This is when we are reading fiction, dissecting craft books, attending conferences, writing, and building our skills. One skill that separates the amateur from the professional is the ability to focus.

Others will try to redirect us down fruitless bunny-trails. They will tell you writing isn’t a real job. They will tempt you with settling for day jobs with steady paychecks and 401Ks. Day jobs are great and so are 401Ks, but they must not be the goal, they must support the goal of being a professional author.

The Importance of Goals

Goals give us a place to focus. They also offer critical information about how to change our approach. My husband is on a military shooting team, and frequently we practice together. Whenever we have a new scope, we have to “sight-in” the rifle.

To do this, we set up paper targets. Fire a couple rounds, see where it hits. Is it high? Low? To the left? The right? By seeing where we are NOT hitting, we can then use that information to adjust.

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This past weekend, my husband set up small metal targets so I could practice with the pistol (and I haven’t shot in months). I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when normally I am very accurate. At first, I didn’t understand what was going wrong. Then I realized that I always warm up using a paper target.

Though I can see without glasses, I have just enough of a stigmatism that what I “see” isn’t quite true. When I shoot a paper target, I can adjust right or left, high or low. I have enough information to know how my vision is deceiving me.

Yet, with the tiny metal target, I couldn’t see where I was hitting (or, rather not hitting), so it was just a lot of wasted ammo. I was extremely frustrated because I didn’t have enough information to do any better than I was doing (which wasn’t well at all).

Goals help us be able to see where we are hitting, but more importantly, where we are not hitting. We can glean vital information that can get us back on target.

Goals Must Be Specific, Actionable, Accountable and Have Deadlines

Years ago, I took Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writers seminar (the class inspired the name of this blog). Bob, being a former Green Beret is all about goals. He asked us to write down our big writing goal. Being the classic overachiever, I wrote.

I will be a New York Times Best-Selling Author.

Sounds good, right? Um, best-selling author in what? Origami cookbooks? See how broad this target is? There is no focus. No genre. No place. Was I content to “make the list” or did I want to be in the top 20? Top 10? Or even number 1? A goal like that was better than no goal, but…eh, not much. How long did I have to accomplish this? Five years? TWENTY?

Write your big goal, then write as many subgoals as you can, each a step toward that main goal. Put your goals where you can see them. Give them deadlines, then share them with friends who will keep you accountable.

Learn to Ignore the Ants

Ants are all around us. They look like laundry in need of folding, kids who need entertaining, dishes that need to be put away.

Ants always bring friends.

When shooting long-range you have to lie on your belly in the dirt, rock and grass. This is a sign to every fire ant in Texas to build a condo in your boots, but you have to learn to ignore it. Keep looking at the target.

Ignore the bee that is suddenly in love with your hat.

When I first started writing, I believed I needed a quiet, private office with just the right light and the perfect computer to be a productive writer. Now? Life has trained me to be stronger than that. Learn to write with the toddler on your head and the cat who wants to nest on your keyboard.

Not distracting AT ALL....
Can you spot the Attention Whore?

Focus, keep pressing.

View those kids that interrupt you ever three minutes as training. Life will rarely hand us the perfect conditions for premium productivity, so train yourself to work in less-than-ideal situations.

The writer who can focus no matter what else is going on around him is the writer who will succeed long-term. There will always be pets, kids, family, friends, bills, deaths, illness, and drama. We need to learn to work no matter what.

A great way to focus? Get the best information and the most effective methods from experts. Yeah, yeah shameless plug but you have no clue how many experts I had to stalk to make this conference happen. Help me make it worth the restraining orders :D.

Please check out the new Worldwide WANACon. This conference will equip you to pursue any writing dream with laser focus and expert tactics. This is an affordable, on-line conference with some of the top talent in the industry delivered to you right in the comfort of home. No travel, no pile of extra expenses, ALL AWESOME. We even have AGENT PITCH SESSIONS!

What are your thoughts? Do you find it hard to focus? Do you feel guilty for writing? Do you have methods you use to help you keep your eyes on the prize? Please share!

I LOVE hearing from you…

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of February I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

Image of "Patches" via LaurieSanders60 WANA Commons
Image of “Patches” via LaurieSanders60 WANA Commons

We have already discussed four enemies of the art–Approval Addiction, Psychic Vampires, F.E.A.R, and pride. What I find so fascinating is how all of these enemies seem to link together, forming a net that can ensnare us, trapping our muse and strangling her. When we are addicted to approval, we are far more likely to tolerate Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires feed off drama, conflict and misery and one of their favorite weapons is F.E.A.R. These types of people love using fear. Why? Because as humans we are wired to combat fear, and Psychic Vampires use this to their advantage.

When we are upset, our brains default to limbic mode—fight or flight. Unfortunately, we can’t operate in the primal brain and the higher thinking centers at the same time. This means that, in the reptile brain, we are prone to making dumb decisions. If a Psychic Vampire can keep us rattled, frightened and upset, we are far more likely to give in, to let them have their way because we are just trying to escape. The really bad part about this limbic mode is it’s great for fight or flight, but creativity can’t dwell there.

This is one of the major reasons that we must clean house and remove toxic people if we want to be successful.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? When I write this here in black and white, it makes sense. If it is so simple, why don’t we do it? Pride often makes us prone to think we can handle more than is healthy. We aren’t being honest that we need rest, because we want others to see us as strong, or more put-together than we really are.

Another reason for this poor judgement (and far more common)? Plain and simple. We’re tired. Rest is critical for so many things. When we rest, we can calm down. When we can calm down, we gain clarity. When we gain clarity, it’s easier to recognize then remove toxic people. When we rest, we can start to see our agendas more clearly.

Am I doing this for me, or to PLEASE/APPEASE someone else?

Give Ourselves Permission to Rest

In our Western culture we are all go, go, go, go, GO! AND GO FASTER! Vacations are frowned upon. We feel like we need to be productive every waking hour, yet this is a LIE.

Busy work and productivity aren’t the same thing. A hamster can run in his tiny wheel all day long and get nowhere. So can we. We can be so tired we fail to discern the urgent from the important. Everyone wants everything instantly and we need to set firm boundaries.

I’ve had people who just pushed and pushed and pushed to get what they wanted immediately. You know what I had to learn to say?

I AM NOT McDonalds. I have no MAKE-YOU-HAPPY MEALS and no drive-thru.

We have to be firm and be in charge our our own agendas. People can learn to wait. In fact, it might be good for them.

Understand Your Brain

The human mind is essentially a dual-processing unit. It’s always taking in information, sorting, making connections even when we are working on other things. The only way the mind can truly work its magic is if we back off the throttle. Some of the greatest inventions in human history didn’t come while in the lab, sitting at the piano, or hunched over a typewriter. The ideas came during a nap, on a walk or in a warm, relaxing shower. The body and mind could relax enough for the AHA! moment.

It isn’t Goofing Off; It’s WORK

For writers, reading is essential. So is watching movies, traveling, going for a walk or even attending a party and joining in (or eavesdropping) on conversations. This is all the “data” we feed into our brain, the ingredients we give it to mix together to create the magic. Don’t berate yourself for watching a movie or playing with your kids. Great writers LIVE LIFE and that’s why their characters sound like people…NOT characters.

What are your thoughts? Are you chronically overworked? Do you have a hard time just resting? Does it make you feel lazy? Is it hard for you to simply play? Have you overcome these feelings? How did you repair your distorted relationship with rest? What ways do you employ to ensure you are rested?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of February I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

January’s WINNER will be announced Monday.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

peacock, Author Kristen Lamb, Catie Rhodes, WANA, We Are Not Alone
Image via Catie Rhodes WANA Commons

Pride is most frequently a malaise of the insecure. I suffered terribly with a pride problem for many years. On the outside, I looked like I knew it all, that I had all the right answers, but really? I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground, and I was terrified other people would realize this if I asked questions or admitted I didn’t know everything.

Of course, the consequence of being prideful is we aren’t teachable. Those who aren’t teachable won’t grow. Things that fail to grow long enough eventually DIE.

When I began to write fiction, I didn’t want to read craft books because I was afraid other people would think I didn’t know how to write. My first conferences? I was more focused on getting an agent than I was from learning from other more seasoned and experienced people in the industry. I should have been attending classes to teach me better ways to plot or methods to make my characters more dimensional, but I was too busy lining up to learn how to land an agent or a three-book deal.

Looking back? Yeah, I kinda want a DeLorean so I can go back in time and kick my own @$$ for being a prideful idiot.

There is No Shame in NOT Knowing

Just because we have command of our native language does not automatically mean we possess the skills necessary to write a novel. Think of it this way. Unless we are mute, we all have a voice, but just because we can “sing” doesn’t mean we can SING.

No one would fault a singer for taking voice lessons. No one would fault an actor for taking acting lessons. Yet, when it comes to writing, there is this societal assumption that, because we are literate, we have everything we need to become rock star novelists.

A Hint: The masters of our craft are always learning. NYTBSAs still read craft books, attend lectures, and read authors they feel are stronger in some area where they want to learn.

Want to know who doesn’t?

Insecure amateurs.

Mentors are Vital

Part of the reason I started the warriorwriters blog, was to honor my first real mentor Bob Mayer. His classes (and books) were the first time my head was crow-barred out of my derriere. And, when I finally saw LIGHT, I was grateful and a tad…mortified.

Life is short and we only have so much time to learn what we need to be successful. Mentors help shorten this learning curve tremendously. Mentors can guide us, give advice, point us to the right resources and books.

I’ve made mentors out of many people I’ve never met and perhaps never will meet—Seth Godin, Penelope Trunk, the Bloggess, and Steve Tobak to name a few. I read their blogs, their books, listen to their lectures and see what I can apply to come up higher, to do better. TED is an excellent resource.

I couldn’t do any of this when I thought I knew everything.

Two Paths to Humility

There are two paths to humility. One is The Easy Method. We submit willingly and admit we need help. Easy. Yeah.

Uh-huh.

But that would have been too “easy” for me. I needed The Meat Tenderizer Method, which is where life and failure beat the hell out of you long enough that you, the soft, bloodied mess, finally tap out and realize you maybe don’t know as much as you think you do.

One of the reasons I gave up having an on-line writing workshop is that I spent too much time arguing with people who couldn’t take correction. I simply didn’t have the energy to write 2,000 word dissertations 3 times a day about why all books need a core antagonist, why flashbacks every other paragraph were bad, and why having the cast of Ben Hur in the first 10 pages of a novel was a flawed plan. I was exhausted working with students who knew everything (and probably got a dose of how it had been working with me all those years).

Remember, minds are like parachutes. They work best when open.

Humility will take us farther faster. When we’re humble, we’re open to mentors, to learning new things, to trying other ways. I see a lot of writers who rush out to publish before they are ready instead of listening to the 42 people who told them the book wasn’t yet marketable and needed work.

When they then get the one-star reviews, they want to report the reviewers instead of realizing, they published before the book was ready, before THEY were ready. This author all too often fails to see the real problem and markets more and spams tweets more and pays big bucks for SEO gurus to improve their web site because it couldn’t possibly be they don’t know how to write novels.

Again. Easy Way or Meat Tenderizer Way? We all have a choice. But take it from the person with meat tenderizer scars on her forehead. Easy Way is easier. Shocking, but true. The writing community is VERY generous. James Scott Bell, Candy Havens, Les Edgerton, Shirley Jump are all heroes of mine and they are so kind, thoughtful and liberal with praise and guidance. Please seek them out (they are all instructors at WANA International). Remember that true artists are always learning and looking for ways to grow stronger.

What are your thoughts? Do you have meat tenderizer scars, too? Or were you smart and quickly took the easy way? Who are some mentors who’ve helped you? How did you grow? What was your experience?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

I know I went back to my deadbeat ex even though you told me not to, but I really need to talk. I don't know what to dooooooo......
I know I went back to my deadbeat ex even though you told me not to, but I really need to talk. I don’t know what to dooooooo……

The first enemy we discussed, was Approval Addiction. Today, we discuss Psychic Vampires. We all know them and likely are related to more than a few. These are the complainers, the whiners, the neverending-vortexes-of-need, the flakes, the wafflers, the haters, the critics and the bullies.

Writing is a unique profession. We are in the entertainment business which means we wear many, many hats. We are artists, but we are also entrepreneurs in a marketplace with staggering competition, where discoverability is nothing short of a nightmare.

Our profession is also distinctive because our emotions and state of mind cannot be separated from our work. Anything that drains us, distracts us, discourages us can spell death if not dealt with early and swiftly. Toxic people will poison our muse, the root system of our art.

Things to Understand About Psychic Vampires:

Psychic Vampires are Never Full

They feed because that’s what they do. We can’t give them “just a minute of time” because they will take an hour, a day, a week, our lives.

We Can’t Change Psychic Vampires 

We can’t negotiate with them, change them, rehabilitate them or rescue them. All we can do is set boundaries and avoid them at all cost. Often these people may not mean ill, they simply can’t see the truth of what they’re doing. Thus, trying to rationalize and negotiate is a waste of time that drains our creative energy.

When It Comes to Psychic Vampires, Stand Firm

In our society, we are taught to be polite, but psychic vampires don’t take hints and they don’t go away easily. Sometimes we have to be “not nice.” Boundaries aren’t “being mean.” All healthy relationships have boundaries.

Don’t Change to “Appease” a Psychic Vampire—There IS NO Appeasing Them

Recently, a writer friend of mine posted something rather innocent on her FB page. A “friend” of 20 years went nutso, ranting on her page and then unfriended her. My friend was contemplating starting another private page to avoid insulting anyone, and I stopped her, saying something akin to:

Why are you fracturing your platform , your focus, and your time to make ONE jerk happy? He unfriended you. Good. Dead Weight did you a favor and removed himself. Be grateful. 

Psychic Vampires Start Drama to Feed

This person who started the digital row on my friend’s page fully expected her to pursue him and ask what she did wrong and how she could make it right and blah, blah, blah, drama, drama, drama….

BAH! That’s crap. Let the vamp start drama elsewhere. Eventually, if enough people starve the PV, he/she might get a little enlightenment and be forced to grow up and change.

Common Psychic Vampires and How to Stake Handle Them:

Friends who repeatedly go back to deadbeat exes and then want to whine.

Tip: RUN!

Family members who continually make stupid decisions because they know you’ll be there to “fix” things.

Tip: Voicemail. We all learn by failing. When we rescue others from their failures we aren’t doing any favors. We are actually setting them up for a harder fall with harsher consequences.

Remember, we learn to swim faster if we aren’t provided water wings.

Writer pals who believe in luck not work, who want to gripe non-stop about how unfair publishing is.

Tip: Change writing groups before they poison your attitude and work ethic.

Pals who start dumb drama on social media and drag you into it.

Tip: Unfriend. They are tarnishing your author brand. If they don’t value your brand, they don’t value you. If they genuinely apologize, let them back. ONCE.

People who want you to be their personal free therapist.

Tip: Be unavailable.

Friends who take and don’t give.

Tip: Distance yourself and make better friends. Be too busy with REAL friends to cater to deadbeats. Hopefully, Deadbeat will get a clue and mend her ways. No company is better than BAD company.

Friends/family who change their minds what they want to do with their lives all the time, and want your unwavering support and advice. But, since they never make up their minds and stick to anything, the effort stresses and exhausts YOU.

Tip: They will never make up their minds. Cut bait. Or simply be quiet and wait. Something shiny will distract them soon enough.

Friends, family who can’t be trusted to keep their word.

Tip: Don’t rely on them or we’re the fool.

Friends or family who only remember you when they want/need something.

Tip: Again, voicemail.

I know it seems like I am recommending a lot of avoidance tactics. Yep. We’re writers, not shrinks. Feel free to try some loving confrontation, but most Psychic Vampires are so steeped in their own immaturity and self-centered ways they will only defend, attack, or fight and then we are right back feeding their need for drama.

What are your thoughts? Am I being too harsh? What would you recommend? Do you have some Psychic Vampires in your life and no idea what to do? Have you effectively dealt with Psychic Vampires and have some tips to offer?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.