Monthly Archives: May 2017

Don’t Thank Me

Today is Memorial Day, the unofficial first day of summer. A day of great celebration across our country. There will be barbeques and picnics, hours by the lake, or tanning by the pool. Time spent with family and friends.

It’s also a time of remembrance for all those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. A day when we honor our fallen heroes, those men and women who gave their lives so that we may live in the greatest country on earth.

As many of you may know, I’m a veteran. Once a long time ago, I raised my right hand and swore to protect and defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. It’s an oath that never expires and a promise I’ll carry to my grave.

And yet, my time in the Army was as uneventful as it’s possible to be. I never saw combat. I was never deployed to a hostile area. I never faced the nightmares that often come after impossibly stressful decisions are made in a split second of chaos.

I am a very average peacetime veteran who served my time and got out to go onto other things. There are millions of us all across this country. We’re the ones who put on the uniform for a few years and then went on with our lives.

I’m very proud that I made the choice to serve. I learned a lot of difficult lessons. I gained a new confidence I never would have found without the Army. I got to travel to Europe and see places I may never have visited.

But I’m no hero.

I’m just your typical, average one term Vet.

I understand the desire to show appreciation for those who served and I accept those sentiments when they’re offered. But I do so on behalf of my brothers and sisters who gave so much more than I did. I do so for the Seamen who were lost in Pearl Harbor and for the soldiers who never returned from Normandy Beach. I remember those who came back from Iraq draped under a flag covered coffin. I remember the soldiers like my father-in-law who served four tours in Nam.

Those are the people I thank for my freedom. They’re the real heroes who deserve our honor.

So while I appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture, on this Memorial Day, stop and say a quick prayer for those souls we lost along the way. And thank God that they were there for all of us.

But don’t thank me because I stand in awe of those great men and women too.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day filled will good health, beautiful weather, family, and friends. And let’s not forget those who gave everything so that we all might enjoy another day of freedom.

God Bless you all and God Bless America!

Andrea Patten Wants You to Love Your Inner Critic

Author Andrea Patten

Like many of us, Andrea Patten has been writing books — at least imaginary ones — since she could first hold a crayon. A favorite place to play was her grandmother’s desk with its endless supply of scrap paper from Gram’s classroom projects. “I’d spend hours on my stories, adding colorful covers and carefully stapling each masterpiece together. I loved writing “by Andrea Patten” in my best version of fancy handwriting on those covers.”

So, of course, one of the places her writer’s journey frequently took her was to ghostwriting. So much for the byline, huh?

“I worked for several people whose vision was far more inspiring than their ability to share it. I’m not sure how it happened the first time, but it was never uncommon for my immediate supervisor or her boss to stop by my desk and ask me to “have a look” at a speech, an article, a letter, or a memo before sharing with a wider audience.”

But those experiences helped her learn to write in different styles and voices: a CEO’s speech to motivate the staff required different writing chops than persuading legislators to provide funds for homeless teens.

“I wrote curricula and reports, financial disclosures and direct mail pieces… Brochures, classified ads, grant applications, staff bios, and company histories. It was excellent training and helped me appreciate the impact good writing can have,” says Patten.

Eventually, Andrea started to discover her voice as a writer. It’s honest, straightforward, and often funny.

“I worked in human services for a long time and wanted to continue to help people. I realized that part of that might come from sharing some of the fascinating ideas I’d picked up along the way. What Kids Need to Succeed is a book I wrote for parents, but it includes wisdom from the business world: when setting goals and making plans, start with the desired outcome in mind. Part of that book’s purpose was to help parents stop getting discouraged with day-to-day challenges and think about the bigger picture: raising future adults.”

Her latest release has similar roots. “Everybody talks about the Inner Critic, but most of the available advice doesn’t work. You can try to ignore “that voice” until you’re blue in the face but that’s not enough: the name of the game is to get it on your side… to make it an ally. You can learn to use its’ energy to your advantage.”

And, to anyone who has struggled with an Inner Critic (or Inner Editor or Inner Bully) this is very good news, indeed.

Here’s an excerpt from The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head by Andrea Patten

“A few million years ago, when the inner alarm bell sounded, all stress was short-lived: prehistoric primates either responded and escaped or became part of the predator’s buffet. Period. Either way, intense stress did not last long.

Modern stress is different. It’s cumulative — and from the lizard brain’s point of view — relentless. From the jarring sound of the alarm to the gloom and doom news report that accompanies morning coffee, there’s no break. Commuting. Car horns. Caffeine. Kardashians. And that’s even before you get to work.

Most of us don’t pay attention to regular, vanilla stress. It gets stuffed because we think we should be able to handle it. We tamp it down or ignore it and assume we should be able to just power through.

Can you imagine the impact this has on the primitive part of the brain? From that perspective, we’re ignoring death threats which tends to make it cranky. Louder. More insistent. No wonder it wants to take over — you’re not paying attention and giving it relief.

Remember, the survival center’s job is to alert us to potential threats: it is NOT for deep thinking, nuance, delicate wording or high-level negotiation.

Continuing to ignore the needs of our primitive brains can lead to chronic stress, making us unreasonable and sometimes causing arguments. I don’t think that’s what it intends to do — it’s really just the old brain’s way of trying to get your attention.

To help you. When trying to get along with people at work or seeking compromise with a loved one, we need to get that thing tucked in.

Despite the problems it has caused for you, there’s much to respect and appreciate about that old brain. It:

  • loves you and wants to keep you safe,
  • is part of your hardwired survival mechanism,
  • constantly scans your environment for threats, and • will not back down until it has been heard.

It takes hard work and a special sort of mindfulness to turn an Inner Critic into an ally, but do you have what it takes to turn it into an advantage?”

Check with your local indie bookstore for the softcover version of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head by Andrea Patten. It is also available in e-book or softcover on www.amazon.com

Happy Reading!

(Jennifer B. Duffey is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. To download a free copy of her latest novel, The Face in the Mirror, click here.)

The Little Things

The other day I was chatting with a lady who was very curious about my writing career. I’ll offer you a condensed version of the conversation.

Lady: So, how do you become a writer?

Me: You write.

Lady: That part doesn’t sound hard because I have some great ideas but what about all the little stuff?

Me: What little stuff?

Lady: You know, like commas and quotes and stuff like that.

Me: You mean grammar?

Lady: Yeah, all that stuff. I don’t know where any of that stuff goes.

Me: Ummm… tactful, tactful, tactful…Yeah, grammar is kind of important.

Lady: But don’t you just send it off and the people do all that stuff?

Me: People?

Lady: Yeah, the people who publish it.

Me: Well, I’m an independent writer so I am the people.

She was somewhat deflated after that but we continued to chat for a few more minutes before we parted company. I’m not sure writing is in her future. Especially since the little stuff she kept referring to is actually pretty big stuff.

In fact it’s major stuff.

In a way, the conversation with this lady reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother about a year ago. He’s a construction expert who specializes in foundation repair. He was telling me about a client of his who noticed the walls of his house were shifting.

The home was not very old and had been built by the previous owner.  It was a nice house, valued well over $250k, which for the area is a substantial size. The client was the poor soul unfortunate enough to purchase the home. You see, as my brother began to investigate the cause to the problem, he found that there was no foundation. For reasons only known to God, the previous owner/builder had not poured any footings. Not one. He had merely laid some crossties or beams down and started building.

I mean, who needs footings anyway, right?

As you can imagine, the solution to this problem was not pleasant. My brother recommended contacting a good attorney.

Grammar is the foundation for good writing. Without it there is nothing to build on.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear. Joan Didion Click To Tweet

Of course, artistic expression comes into play, but the basic grammatical foundation is always there. Can you imagine opening a book and finding one long continuous block of words without the first hint of punctuation? How would the reader differentiate between characters or settings? Who is speaking and when? Where are they and what are they doing?

The mere idea makes head hurt.

I would actually argue that for independent writers, grammar is more important than for traditionally published authors. Why would I say that? It’s simple. The idea of an independent writer comes with a heavy stigma. Many readers assume that the only reason authors go the independent route is because they can’t get a traditional publishing deal. Somehow their work isn’t quite good enough to make the cut. These readers are hesitant to give our work a try from the beginning because they already think it’s going to be of a poor quality and why should anyone waste their money on poor quality?

That stereotype is changing, but change comes slowly in the minds of the masses.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of independents out there who prove that point. Every single day, thousands of new titles hit the marketplace. With those types of numbers, some bad ones are bound to slip by, like the books written by someone who wasn’t worried about the little things, such good grammar. Alas, that just goes to further alienate mainstream readership.

Look, I get it writing is a hard, especially if you choose to go the independent route. EVERYTHING falls squarely on your shoulders. Story and character development, writing, editing, rewriting, quality control, layout and design, publication, distribution, and marketing. Whether you do it yourself or hire a team to assist you, it is all ultimately your responsibility.

And THAT’S a lot of responsibility and work. It’s easy to be tempted to skip something.

Personally, I love being an independent writer. I enjoy learning more about the process with each new project.

But I would NEVER, EVER try to take on a writing project without a firm grammatical foundation. I wouldn’t consider editing it. I wouldn’t want to read it. And I pray to God that I would never write it.

As I said before, the idea makes my head hurt.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to go diagram some sentences and brush up on my comma usage.

Here’s hoping you never find a book without its foundation!

Happy Writing!