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5 Things I (Re)Learned from Volunteering

5 Things I (Re)Learned from Volunteering

For those of you who don’t know, the month of July has been one long list of volunteer service at my house. From cub scout day camp to letting one of my closest friends crash on my couch, it has been a very hectic month. The biggest volunteer project I had, came in the form of creative director for my neighborhood’s summer connection program. All of these volunteer services have forced me out into the world again after thoroughly enjoying almost a year of working from home, setting my own schedule and having as much time for my craft as I desired.

This month of volunteer work reminded me of several lessons I experienced in my younger years and that I would like to review with you. 1. Not everyone appreciates art. 2. Think big, work small. 3. Work is hard! 4. Commitment is key and 5. Emergence is real.

Not Everyone Appreciates Art

    OK, this is kind of vague and not entirely true. What I did learn is that not everyone likes art, not everyone realizes how hard art is and not everyone will think “Wow, she is an author! That is so cool!!”

     The first day of my volunteer project, I did not know what to expect. (A common feeling with any new job.) But I remembered my many encounters as a child with authors whom I had never heard of before and I thought these kids would be impressed that I was an author. Nope. Not even a little.

    It was… disheartening. I had spent the last year of my life building my career, getting an agent, writing my little brains out and this group of kids were wholly unimpressed that I was going to be giving five hours a day, five days a week of my time to help them learn my craft and (I had hoped) inspire them to follow in similar footsteps.

  There were days when I just wanted to scream with frustration. I was barely able to maintain my blog. My creative energies were completely sapped and it took everything I had to force myself to do some editing in the evenings after chasing 30 to 60 kids all day. I would be lying if I said that I got much done.

    I had to re-develop the tough skin that I protected myself with in college when people would laugh at my dreams.  I had to bite back tears of humiliation and frustration when the children said insensitive and thoughtless things like. “So, basically you are a stay-at-home mom.” Or “My dad can’t find a job either.” Ouch!​​

Think Big, Work Small

     This is something my dad taught me during summers when I would help him with work. It applies to every facet of your life. The gist is that you need to be able to see the big picture and at the same time focus on the small tasks that will get you to the big picture. It is really important to have that big picture so that when your original small steps have to change (as they invariably will) you can adapt them to best suit the big picture.

   When I signed on for this volunteer project, I had planned activities for children ages 5 to 12 years. That was what I was told. No one knew how many kids there would be in the program, but I figured that there would be other volunteers to help with projects. I planned big. I had craft projects, a plan to work in groups and have the kids make their own movies, an art show at the end for the parents to see all the work the kids had done. I planned on making a huge difference in these kids’ lives. (In one month in the middle of the summer? Yeah, I was a little naive.)

  Then I got there the first day and found out that my mother and I were the only volunteers signed up and that one lady from the city was going to be there every day… and we had 66 applications for the program. 66 kids to three adults… oh my!

   And what an unruly group of kids, let me tell you! I had kids from three or four years of age, to teenagers up to 19. How was I going to keep all of these kids engaged and entertained with only two other people to help? Let alone teach anyone anything?

   With my big plan still in mind, I adapted the activities as best I could to ensure that it would engage a much larger age group and.. well, there were many days that we had to change plans at the drop of a hat because the children just weren’t interested in what we were doing. There were some days that we ended early and there were many days that we spent more time outside while they played with the sports equipment.

Work is Hard

     Now, I guess because I love what I do so very much, I have become a bit immune to this concept. I have been writing for so long that it just comes to me. I haven’t suffered from writer’s block in years and I gravitate toward art that I know. But writing is a job, just like any other. People think that artists and creative types don’t really work. They think of their times in art class and their times in creative writing and they think we do what we do because it comes naturally to us. It’s easy.

      I taught an important lesson on our first day. I first asked them how many of them liked to draw, and how many liked to write. Several hands went up for drawing,  but very few went up for writing. A lot of hands did not go up at all. I asked one kid why she didn’t raise her hand and she said she didn’t like to do either. I asked her why and she said, “because I’m not very good at it.” I told them that very few people are good at anything the first time they do it. It takes an average of 10,000 hours to become good at anything. That applies to anything in your life. Art, craftsmanship, school work, playing a musical instrument. Everything.

  So many kids would ask me to help them with something we were doing because it was hard. Then they would sit back and expect me to do it for them. I wouldn’t do it. I would offer advice and encourage them to do it themselves. When they would get upset about the way something turned out, I would encourage them to start over and try again. Practice makes better, but perfect practice makes perfect.

   Even if something is hard if you like what you do it doesn’t necessarily feel like work. That doesn’t mean it is easy. Work is still hard. That just means that you love what you do!

Commitment is Key

     In this world of instant gratification, commitment has become a dirty word. Very few people have a commitment to anything anymore. But without commitment, you will not get anywhere in life. If you quit because it is hard or because it is taking longer than you thought or whatever reason crops up, then you will never reap the benefits.

     I told the kids this but had my own personal trial by fire about halfway through the program. The adults were exhausted. The kids were very hard to manage, and the program wasn’t what we had anticipated. The city had initially offered to pay me because I was basically acting as the program director, but then they couldn’t find the funds. We had a couple of groups that were warring with each other and the heat was getting to all of us.

   One day, I overheard the kids talking and they used a racial slur… a racial slur that could only apply to me or my family as we were the only ones of that race in the room. After all the time I had given and all the energy I had put into the program they were talking this way about me?! Well, I was under a lot of stress because of several other things going on and though I am not usually one to cry, I burst into tears. Which gave the teenagers something to brag about. They had made the white lady cry.

   They were incredibly disrespectful about the whole thing and my mom totally lost it. She was done. She was not coming back. She quit. I can understand why she did what she did and would be lying if I wasn’t tempted to do the same thing. I had a lot on my plate. My house was a disaster, I had other people that needed me. My work was suffering and these kids were completely disrespectful and it just wasn’t worth the time.

    But I had committed myself to this project. When I had calmed down, I realized that there were only four or five kids involved in the situation and there were 30 or 40 who had nothing to do with it. What would I accomplish if I quit? I would re-enforce racial stereotypes, I would give my children a reason to have racist feelings. I would effectually abandon a great group of kids, because of a few troublemakers. I stuck to it. There were days that were really hard. They thought by making me cry, they had broken me. They pushed harder to get rid of me. But those that wanted me there, that appreciated what I was doing, reached out more. In the end, even the ones who pushed me away were glad I was there, and when I offered a program teaching these kids how to use computers to create art, that core group that gave me such a hard time were some of the first to sign up!

Emergence is Real

   Ok, so for those of you who have been out of school too long, Emergence Theory is the concept that the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. The idea that the value of a home is worth more than each individual piece of wood that went into building it.

     In this case, I went in and worked for four weeks with a group of kids from a low-income area. The point of the program was to keep these kids off the street and keep them from causing mischief. In the beginning, there were only three or four out of 66 that I would have said were worth anything. There were maybe ten that were too young to be able to tell. I was working with a tough crowd.

   When it ended last Friday, I wanted to sigh with relief that it was over, but I was also proud. I walked out knowing that every single one of them had the potential to be great. Every single one of them had a gift or a talent. They had grown on me.

    We as a group had overcome racial tensions, had learned great and wonderful things together, had created a community. They had motivated me, the one who wanted to quit on the second week, to give even more of my time to help them become better and to teach them more. We built each other up and as a group, we became worth more than even the best of us and had made the worst better than they were when we started.

I didn’t get the paycheck and I didn’t get much work done, but I learned so much from these kids. In the end, despite the hardships, I wouldn’t trade this summer’s volunteering for anything. There are some things I might have done differently, but I would sign up again to help next year in a heartbeat. The reminder of life lessons was worth more than the city wanted to pay me anyway!

   I am putting together a free e-book for all my fantastic followers! It is a compilation of some of the activities the kids and I did to help inspire their creative side. I hope that you will find it useful as well. My goal is to have it out to you by the end of August!

In the meantime, what lessons have you learned (or re-learned) this summer and how can you apply it to your craft? Please share in the comments section

Until next time, 

Keep Writing!

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Keep on Facebooking

Keep on Facebooking

This post was last updated July 13th, 2020

Hello Lovelies,

We spend a lot of time talking about how to grow your digital platform to grow your brand. We’ve talked about Twitter, how to grow your e-newsletter list, Today we are going to focus on Facebook.


It is very easy to get sucked into Facebook. There are dozens of time wasters (farmville, who’s your celebrity lover, etc.) and if you have a very large network just keeping up with all of your friends can be overwhelming. In the beginning, I spent several hours a day… just on Facebook. At the end of the day, I would be so frustrated because I felt like I had accomplished nothing with my writing.

And man can it be toxic if you let it. So much political garbage, fake news, and negativity. It takes diligence, commitment, and a solid plan to keep from letting it overwhelm you.

Stick to your Brand

In Social Media 101, I teach how to come up with your worldview for your brand. You need to stick to that. Unless your brand is specifically targeting conspiracy theories, religion, politics, etc you should avoid such content. Remember, this is a professional page.

If you want to talk politics, religion, whatever then go hog wild on your personal page. But make sure your personal page is listed private and don’t accept random requests because the internet is a dangerous place to speak your mind. Screengrabs are easy and something you wrote 10 years ago can come back to destroy your career. Follow the 80/20 rule of content for your worldview and be sure to engage with other people’s content as your page so you can build your page’s engagement and brand.

Page VS Group

A year ago, Facebook figured out that we were working around their page exposure by using groups. So they found a way to limit and advertise through groups. So at this point, it doesn’t make a ton of difference what you have. I like having a main page that is for anyone interested in my blog and my books. Then I have two private groups that are targeted toward authors and my super fans. Both are spaces of exclusive content and I don’t really promote them much.

Get Greater Exposure

There are a couple of ways to expand your exposure on Facebook. The first is boosting posts. The second is to run ads. The third is to cross-post. Each of these options have their pros and cons.

Let’s start with boosting posts. The big con, obviously is that you have to pay to play. I’m sure you’ve noticed that any given post will only reach between 1-7% of your audience, depending on interaction. Facebook has arranged this to increase its profit margins. While it is tempting to only boost posts where you have a vested return (like your 20% content) that’s not wise. After all, the point of the 80/20 rule is to balance content so your fans don’t always feel like you’re asking for the sale. I prefer to focus on boosting posts that are performing better than most posts. They perform better because they are getting more engagement. Which means they are resonating with your audience. So boost that. If that is a sales post, cool. If it’s not a sales post, that’s ok too. I don’t let boosted posts make up more than 10% of my overall budget because they’re really just about building relationships, not getting sales.

This leads me to option 2- Facebook ads. Facebook ads are great for building your brand, and getting more likes, but the best way to use them is to add readers to your newsletter list/ to promote your book/ or to promote an event. Before you invest in those ads, A/B test them with your organic audience first. You can quickly spend far more than you ever wanted and see very little return if you’re not careful. As it is, the return on digital advertising is pretty low. 0.9% CTR is considered average on Facebook. You have to do a lot of testing before running with an ad to get those kinds of results. It is not for the faint of heart, especially when you look at the cost per click there. $3.77 is the most common cost per click. For most authors, that’s outside your budget. So you have to keep it tight.

Another alternative that many authors go to is cross-promoting. Sharing their post from their professional page to their personal page. (I do this with every post.) Sharing it to any and every group they can share to (called spamming.) and even sending it to followers via messenger. Those last two tactics can be valid tactics if you do it right. But they have been horrendously abused by people in the past and now you have to be super careful or you could get blocked and booted.

Make sure that if you are cross-promoting, your content is truly relevant and follows the community guidelines of the group you’re trying to post on. Make sure that you are visiting that group regularly and interacting with other people’s posts and building relationships. Don’t just post and ghost. And don’t abuse it. I have to kick people out all the time for abusing these rules in my Author Anon group. There is no call for it.

My last tip is to limit your time on any platform. Set a timer and then scan and engage with people as much as you can in that time frame. If you don’t interact with others then quickly neither of you will see one another’s content. It’s social media, not free TV ad spots. So be social on it or don’t be on it at all.

Do you have any Facebook tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Until next time, 

Keep Writing!

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3 Common Reasons Writers Admit Feeling Driven to Write

3 Common Reasons Writers Admit Feeling Driven to Write

This post was updated on Aug 19th, 2021

Hello Lovelies,

I would just like to say, that this is by no means a comprehensive explanation for every writer motivation out there, as we are all unique and creative individuals. However, why we write tends to be a common discussion among many of the writers I know. There are a lot of people who write, but not all people who write are writers. That being said, I wanted to take a moment to discuss three common reasons writers admit feeling driven to write because I personally am tired of the stereotypes of introverts curled up in cabins in the woods or tortured souls. (Or nutjobs who torture others. We only do that in our books, people!) 

Johny Depp as a crazed writer in Secret Window Courtesy of IMDB

So, after nearly 15 years in the writing community, here are the most common reasons I have seen for writer motivation: 

Mode of Expression

I think for most writers, words are an innate mode of expression.  When we think of stories, often, the words are what drive us. We who write love the words and the ability to shape feelings and thoughts in such a manner that others can relate.  While often people think that writers are able to do this because they feel more/differently than other people. If we felt more than other people felt, then they could not relate to our writing. But our ability to express those feelings that others feel, but are not able to express themselves, is what makes us unique and is what makes people read what we write. Even though they might not express themselves the way we do, they can relate to our expression and that is what makes it real for them. Now, for many words may be the first step in their mode of expression, but they may not be the main way that their work is displayed. For many, those words will go on to become video content, webtoons, movies, games, or something else combining a visual element. While those people are writers, they are also something else. Storytellers

The Need to be Storytellers

Another reason we write is to share stories. Most writers don’t write because they desire fame, fortune, and notoriety. Most of us write to tell stories. We want to enrich the world with new ideas and concepts. We feel a passion for our stories or perspectives and we want to show others that, much in the way that new parents show off their kids. We create through a labor of love for the material and the characters and we want the world to meet our characters and feel the same way we do. 

Whether our medium is a blog, a vlog, short stories, novels, nonfiction, graphic novels, webtoons, spoken word, shorts, television, films, theater, speeches, courses- so many mediums that all require the passion of storytelling and often start with the written word. We want to tell a story that creates all the feels.  It is much like having a child. The pain and labor that goes into creating it, the passion to share this beautiful thing you made, the dreams of how this beautiful thing will change your life and the lives of all it touches, the hopes for what it will become. 

I think this is why many writers have a hard time with negative reviews. I mean, how would you feel if someone called your kid ugly? And our works are like our children. We spend so much time and energy making them, expecting little monetary reward in the end. (Sounds like parenting to me!!) And it is just as fulfilling as parenting too as any writer who is a parent can attest.

Sad Book Momma
Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Other Common Reasons

Sure, there are those who go into writing because they hear it’s easy. But they don’t last long. Because even for those who love it, it is not easy. It is frustratingly, beautifully, chaotically messy, and complex with brief moments of brilliance where everything just comes together. But it is not easy. 

There are those who are told they have to publish- researchers, some colleges require staff to regularly publish, entrepreneurs, speakers, coaches all are told that publishing a book is the way to drive audiences to support their true passion. But unless they are a writer inside this is viewed as a daunting task to keep their true mode of expression intact. 

There are those seeking the fastest path to Fame and Fortune. After a few books when they don’t feel like the next Hot Ticket, they move on to the next “fast path”. 

Some just have one all-encompassing story they feel compelled to tell and once that is done they never feel the need to write again. There’s nothing wrong with that. We have some amazing one-hit wonders in the writing realm. 

Because We Must

I can honestly say, and I think most writers would agree, that even if I knew my writing would never be published and I would never get paid, I could never stop writing. Sure, it is nice to receive some compensation for what I have done, but it is so much more rewarding to see someone smile or tell me that they love my character, or that they were not expecting that wild twist. I don’t write for the paycheck, I write to relate to others. Although I will (probably) never have a lot of money from writing, I will be far richer for the difference I have made in others lives. Unfortunately, some feel that because of that attitude that so many in the arts community in general have, we can be paid less. We shouldn’t be paid less simply because we’re compelled to do it. But that is why My Blood, Sweat and Tears are No Longer Free

That is why we write.

Do you have a different perspective? Did I miss a common trend for why writers write?

Feel free to share in the comments below.

Until next time, 

Keep Writing!



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Writer’s Corner: Dealing with Writer’s Block

Writer's Corner: Dealing with Writer's Block

I have been fortunate in my writing experience to almost NEVER experience writer’s block, but it seems to be a big problem for a lot of authors out there. I decided to take this article to give some tips on things that I do to prevent writers block. I think the most common cause of writer’s block is poor planning. Most people come up with a brilliant concept (mine usually come through dreams!) and then they take that little nugget of brilliance and start writing. Problem is, it is a LITTLE nugget and it is very rarely the beginning or the end, it is usually the middle. But since you know where you are going it is fairly easy to piece together an acceptable opening to get to your golden nugget, then you have the nugget and… writer’s block strikes!!​​

     This occurred because the writer did not have proper planning. I always make sure that I have a solid opening, middle and end before I start writing a project. I have tried several methods and depending on your story line, some of these may help you. The first method is writing it in my head. This is actually my preferred method. I have been writing an apocalypse story in my head for the last… hmmm… two years? Not one piece of it has made it to paper yet, because I’ve had so many other projects going on and because I have not figured out the ending. (I suppose I could be suffering from writer’s block, but since I haven’t started writing it, I don’t let it count!!!) When I get to a point where I am ready to start seriously working on this project I will sit down and map the story line. I used to do this on paper the same way we would outline school papers, but I recently got this fabulous dry erase board that I am using for another project and I ABSOLUTELY love it!!! I draw it out in a time-line format and it helps me to stay on track and not ramble! Yep, my absolute favorite!

Now, once you have done all of that and you sit down to write, I have heard that some people get to a point and they know where they need to go from point F to point G, but they just can’t come up with anything. Well, my rule of thumb is that while I am writing I NEVER stop at a logical place. For example at the end of a chapter or scene. I stop in the middle so that the next day I pick up with what I was already creating. AVOID cold-starts. Engines don’t like them and neither do our brains.

Sometimes I just need to take a few moments to step away from the computer and do something else. But while I am doing that something else (usually cleaning house) I am acting out the next scene in my head visualizing it like a movie and finding the way that feels like it fits best.

The last thing I do, is make sure that I work on other projects in between my re-writes. For example, over Christmas break I wrote a stalker story before I started my sequel to my next book. After I finished the first draft on the stalker story I started working on the sequel. I am just over half way finished with the sequel and once I am done with that, THEN I will go back to the stalker book. If you give the story time to breath, it allows you to have a fresh eye when looking at it.

The last bit of advice to prevent writer’s block is to write a little bit every day. Even if you are in-between projects, find some writing exercises. (Some of my favorites are randomly selecting a dozen words from the dictionary and then using them to write a poem, short story, etc.) You see our creativity is like a muscle and if you do not use it and flex it regularly then it will atrophy.  Just as you work out several times a week (if you don’t, you should!!) You have to work out your creativity as well.

And there is my advice on dealing with writer’s block! Hope it helps any of you out there plagued with this problem. If any of you have any other tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section. I have seen lots of other suggestions on-line and what works for one may not work for another. These are simply the things that work best for me. 

How do you deal with writer’s block? Let us know in the comments below.

Until next time, 

Keep Writing!