Category Archives: Motivation

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!

New Beginnings

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.Aristotle

Photo courtesy of Greg Gatliff, Greg Gatliff Farms

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with a gentleman. He was discussing his upcoming anniversary (24 years!) and telling me about the adventures he had at his wedding.

Apparently, it was quite the event.

It had already been a fairly long day, so I didn’t stop to do the math to find out the year of his wedding. It wasn’t until he mentioned he was married in 1993 that I paused.

I was married in 1993.

It turns out, he wed about a month after I did. Small world isn’t it?

I congratulated him on his upcoming anniversary and wished him and his family well. I truly hope that he and his wife have many, many more wonderful years together.

And yet, I couldn’t stop thinking of my past. Not of my wedding but of my divorce and the time leading up to that point. It’s been five years since my ex and I separated. Five years since my life began again.

Life can be very tumultuous at times. That was certainly a roller coaster episode for me and one that I’m in no hurry to repeat. But the thing that truly struck me was how bleak things were leading up to the final separation. I can remember wondering if I’d ever make it through that period of time. Was my life over? Would I ever be able to move on? Would I ever come out the other side of that nightmare?

Now, it’s five years later.

While I was busy trying to be a single mom with all the responsibilities that entails and start a writing career, while I was busy living life, time moved on, almost without me noticing.

Sure, my kids grew taller, my daughter graduated high school and joined the Marines, and my son is now a freshman in high school. Those milestones are how I normally measure the passage of time. I don’t normally think about my anniversaries.

Looking back, a lot has happened that I would have never dreamed about. I’ve published two novels and a collection of short stories. That’s a dream fulfilled which never would have happened if I’d stayed married. If I hadn’t begun again.

I’m also happy, truly happy with myself.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things I want to accomplish. There are goals that I’ve set and want to see to fruition. I have many more milestones to meet.

But when I look in the mirror, I like the person I am. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m at peace with my past and I’m looking forward to my future.

That’s no easy feat to accomplish.

Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m no longer in a relationship that tended to bring out the worst possible qualities in both of us. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve lived through hardships and understand my own ability to survive.

Maybe it’s a culmination of all of these things.

For many people, they’d like to turn back the clock to an earlier age. They’d like to erase the mistakes of the past and avoid a mountain of regrets.

I’m not one of those people. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than waking up as a teenager and having to go through all that again. Even with what I know now, I’d hate for something like that to happen.

Erasing certain decisions of my past would greatly alter where I currently am on my journey. It would change everything about who I met along the way and which relationships I fostered. Would my kids be the same people they are now? Probably not. And they’re pretty awesome people. I wouldn’t want to change them in the slightest bit.

And I wouldn’t want to change the person that I am now.

I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to begin again, despite all the pain and suffering that I went through to get there. Those battle scars were hard fought and won at great expense. They are worth more to me than gold because they created a foundation from which I’m building the rest of my life. A life that I cherish.

I can’t say what the future will hold. I have no idea of the challenges I’ll face along the way or the pains that may greet me in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. But I know that I can survive because I’ve already survived. I know that whatever curve ball I’m thrown, I can adjust and create something positive.

Starting over again is scary. It’s fraught with uncertainty. But when we embrace the change, we open ourselves up to experience new joys that we never imagined.

And I truly hope that whatever challenges you’re facing, whatever new beginnings are on your horizon, I pray they bring with them a mountain of happiness and self-fulfillment. I hope you create the life you’ve always wanted, the one you’ve always dreamed about.

All the best!

(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.)

My Own Stupidity

I’m a pretty confident person. And usually, I’m a fairly smart individual. Not one prone to random bouts of folly nor known as a bumbling idiot.

I’ve been told that I’m a bit overconfident.

I don’t honestly think that’s the case. I simply think that I understand myself rather well and know that while I don’t tend to make a lot of little, trivial mistakes, when I do make errors, they are of an epic scale.

Some days you’re better off in bed.

I’m reminded of an incident several years ago when I was diligently editing my first completed novel. (This was well before I realized it was 200+ pages of worthless drivel, but I digress.) I remember that day very well, because I’d been working for about two hours on the project and felt like I’d made some real progress. And then, my stupidity got in the way.

I remember I was trying to finish up one last little thing before I had to leave for an appointment. You see, one of the characters frequently said “okay.” I noticed that for some of the entrees, I had typed ‘OK’ and others ‘okay.’ Trying to make all the entrees uniformed, I used the Microsoft Word feature Find and Replace to change all the ‘OKs’ to ‘okays.’

But I forgot one tiny, insignificant detail.

When using the Find/Replace option in Microsoft Word, there’s a small box that says ‘Whole Words Only’ or something to that effect. Guess which box I forgot to check.

In my haste that day, I completed the task (proud as punch), saved the updated copy, and went on my merry way. Imagine my surprise when I opened the file a few days later and found words like ‘lookay,’ ‘bookay,’ and ‘tookay.’

Do you know how many words have the letters ‘ok’ in them? A LOT! It seemed like hundreds.

I know, because I had used every single one of those words in that manuscript! I was still finding mistakes because of that bout of idiocy months later. Every time I thought I’d found them all, another would pop up. I honestly wanted to straggle my computer every time I opened the file.

Needless to say, I haven’t made that error since.

No, I don’t usually make the same mistakes twice. I merely venture off into entirely new areas of epic stupidity.

Case in point, I recently got an email from Go Daddy that one of my domain names was expiring and I needed to renew it. It’s one that I no longer use and have no reason to keep, so I let it go. No use in spending money on something that’s not needed, right?

Anyway, there was an email address associated with that account. Again, it’s not one I plan on keeping so there’s no problem with letting it go. This was as good a time as any to declutter things a bit.

A few days ago, I went to log into my Twitter account. My professional Twitter account that I use for promoting my writing and my blog. There was a problem. The emails they’d tried to send weren’t going through. I needed to change my password.

Still, no problem.

Until I hit the link to update my password and was informed that they needed to send a reset key to my email. You guessed it, the email they had on file was the one that I let expire. I’d forgotten to update my Twitter account before I lost the old email address.

Well, drats!

I tried emailing Twitter support explaining that I no longer had access to the old email account but was told they were unable to verify that I am who I say I am so they couldn’t help me. Now I’m completely locked out of my old Twitter account. I can see it. I can see my 3,000+ followers. I can see my 11,000+ tweets. I just can’t get to them. They’re stuck in some sort of internet limbo forever to taunt my momentary bout of stupidity.

I know what you may be thinking, 3,000 followers isn’t that impressive. There are people out there with millions of followers and far more tweets than that.

That’s very true, but for an independent author with a small fan base, 3,000 followers on any social media platform is huge. And like I said, it’s one of the major ways I promote my writing, so this mistake really hurts.

It’s not a completely hopeless situation. I’ve opened a new Twitter account (@authorjbduffey) and have begun posting new things there. Currently, I’m up to (drum roll please) 5 followers. Granted I only opened it yesterday, but it’s going to take awhile to get back up to the levels I was at previously. After all, I’d had the old account for about 7 and 1/2 years and had been very active for about 4 of those years.

Trust me, this is a mistake I won’t make again.

No, I’ll venture off into new, uncharted areas of stupid mistakes. That’s my modus operandi. It’s what I do.

And looking back, maybe it’s why I don’t worry, and sometimes don’t even notice, the minute challenges of any given day. Those are easily fixed and corrected. If you’ve spent all your energy on the major problems, the minor ones don’t seem as important anymore.

At any rate, I need to get to work rebuilding a major portion of my social media platform. Here’s hoping that I can avoid any major bouts of stupidity for awhile.

Happy Reading!

Writer’s Block? Maybe It’s Time to Declutter

This morning I should be writing. I want to write. There’s a novel that’s dying to leap onto the page. I’m sitting here in the kitchen at table. A sky is beautiful outside. The birds are singing. My pen is poised over the paper ready to strike at any moment. And. . .

Nothing!

Not one single, solitary thing.

The pen and paper repel each other like oil and water, together in proximity but not in spirit. I can see the characters. I know the beginning and the ending. I even know most of the middle which for me is often the trickiest part. But the words won’t come. I’m stuck in quicksand and don’t know exactly where to begin. So how can I work my way out of this momentary lapse into writer’s block? It’s obvious the current path I’m on isn’t working. Time to change course a bit, I think.

I read about a trick some years ago in which a well published author suggested mentally opening up your character’s medicine cabinet. What do they have hidden in there and why? Not having a medicine cabinet in my home, I’ve modified that trick somewhat. I often dig through their junk drawer. You know the one I mean. That one drawer in the kitchen that’s crammed full of trinkets and what-nots that no one can exactly remember acquiring. There’s a box of matches in there from a long ago vacation to the mountains and a light bulb for over the stove. You find a bottle opener which used to play your college team’s fight song but now it only putters out a few miserable notes. And my personal favorite, mismatched birthday candles from parties past, leftovers from an eight piece packet bought for a six year old’s cake. The items are endless and there’s a story for each one. A uniquely individual story that helps paint a picture of who your character truly is.

Today, I have decided to let my mind wander a bit further. Thinking back to this past weekend when I was cleaning out some boxes in my garage, I decide to repeat the exercise with my character. The old box of photos she finds. A box full of books, very technical manuals from the age long before internet surfing. And last, but certainly not least, a Hawaiian floral shirt in vibrant orange and yellow.

It may be that I never use any of this. But it provides an important back story for my character and more importantly it gives me an opening with which to begin writing again. For me, this little trick works wonders. So please pardon me while I go and explore why this uptight teacher has a grass skirt hidden away in the back of her garage. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

Happy writing!!

Time or Inspiration?

propiska-a-notes-cernobilaI always knew that one day I wanted to be a writer. Even in my youth when I dreamt of doing everything under the sun, I could always see the day when my name was on the cover of a novel. Today, that dream is a reality.

For many years, though, I struggled with writing. I had tons of ideas, some good, quite a few bad, and even a handful that were downright horrible. Yet, I was never able to actually put pen to paper long enough to complete anything worth reading. I’d fiddle around with a beginning to a story. Maybe I’d jot down a few passages from the middle of another. Very rarely, I’d sit down and write the ending to anything.

I didn’t have the time to write.

Like so many other would-be writers, I didn’t have the time to devote to my craft. I owned a business, was a wife, a mother, and managed the day-to-day affairs of a household. I took the kids to the dentist. I took the cats to the vet. I shopped for groceries. In short, I did what countless of other novelists do on a daily basis yet they still found time to pursue their dreams of writing.

I couldn’t because I was too busy.

And then things changed. The economy tanked. My business closed. I got divorced. We lost everything and had to start completely over. Our family went through a financial and emotional upheaval. It was an abysmal time to say the least.

But something happened during that process. At rock bottom, at my very lowest point, when those who I thought were friends were nowhere to be found and I was alone, I began to hear that still, small voice in my mind. Stories began to form in a way I’d never experienced before. There had always been a dull drone in the back of my mind where ideas and characters went to die a slow and forgotten death. Yet now, it was as though I could finally hear, in crystal clear detail, what they’d been trying to say all those years.

I began to jot down some ideas. Slowly at first. It had been so long since I’d actually written anything that I wasn’t even sure how to begin. Initially I would describe something or someone. A simple, short paragraph. Nothing overly impressive. Certainly nothing worthy of publication. Then I saw two characters, two ladies, as clear as the noon day sky. I saw everything they were doing. I could hear they conversation. It was like watching a feature length movie.

I had no choice but to write.

In less than four months, I’d written their story completely. My first novel. I had given birth to my first full length manuscript! That single accomplishment meant more to me than any of the business accolades I’d ever received. It meant more to me than owning a business. It felt as though I’d successfully climbed Mount Everest!

And in a way I had. I’d overcome my biggest obstacle in life. By every definition, I was the single biggest failure you could imagine but through it all, I had survived and found my voice.

Today, I can’t imagine NOT writing. It’s almost a compulsion. I have to do it. Even though I’m still a mother, I still have to work, I still have to run a household, I still have to go to appointments and cook dinner. I haven’t gained any extra time in the day. I have 24 hours just like everyone else.

Looking back at the differences in my life now versus where I was a few years ago, I realize how much happier I am today than I was back then. I had let everyone else’s expectations and desires drown out my own inner voice. I had followed other people’s dreams down a path I didn’t want to be on. I had stayed in a marriage that should have ended far sooner than it did. I was miserable.

I didn’t abandon my writing because I had no time. I abandoned my writing because I let my misery drown out my voice. I wasn’t inspired to write. I wasn’t inspired to do anything. I was merely muddling through life on a predetermined trajectory. Once I was finally out from under that weight, my writer’s voice came back with a vengeance.

I can’t say that there’s an easy answer to the ‘time’ issue of writing. I certainly wish I had more time to write than I do. I still struggle with making deadlines and meeting my expectations of when a project should be finished. I am far from the perfect example of time management skills.

But now I find myself squeezing in time to write wherever I can find it. I’ll jot down ideas or story sections while waiting at my son’s orthodontist appointment. I’ll scribble frantically on those little paper place mats in a restaurant. I actively look for interesting ideas that might make a good story in the future.

Finding time is easy once you find your inspiration. Once you find your voice.

I sincerely hope that no one goes through the pain and turmoil that my family and I went through. In the end, it turned out for the best. I’ve been able to follow my dreams. I’m building a new life that I love. I’m happy. I’ve found my inspiration and my voice. But it was fraught with agony. I’m sure there should have been a less dramatic way for me to learn some of those lessons although I know that I was probably too hard-headed to listen.

I do, however, hope that all those who eventually hope to write take a few minutes to truly examine what is really holding them back. Is it actually a lack of time or have you created a life that denies your writer’s voice to shine through? Are you truly inspired to get up every morning and write? Are you willing to slog through the difficult times of novel writing because you know the story you’re telling must be told?

There’s no right or wrong answer to that question. We each have our own lives to lead and must find our own path to happiness. I encourage you to make sure that path you’re traveling on is actually one of your own choosing.

Best Wishes and Happy Writing!

Any Given Day

If you’ve been watching any of the Olympic coverage, you know that a lot of unexpected things have happened over the past few days. The Williams sisters, unbeaten in the last three Olympic appearances are out in doubles play and both have been eliminated from the singles tournament. Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one ranked men’s tennis player, lost in the first round of competition. And yesterday, the US Women’s Soccer Team played a mediocre match to scrape by with a tie against Colombia.

If I liked to gamble, I would have lost a lot of money on these matches.

You see, these feats weren’t supposed to happen the way they did. These were upsets, major ones at that. The winners should have been easy picks and the losers were supposed to be thankful for the experience of playing greatness.

Welcome to Life 101. At any given time in any given day any given person can rise up above where society tells them to be and achieve greatness. It’s that way on the playing fields. It’s that way in life.

This is one of the main reasons I love sports. Anything can happen. It’s the perfect analogy for life.

You see, I truly believe that each one of us, every day has the opportunity to achieve great things. Perhaps not standing on an Olympic podium or winning the Nobel Prize, but we can achieve greatness. We can chase our dreams, even if those dreams seem unattainable, and we can reach for the stars.

We might not win today. We might not win tomorrow. Yet each day we come closer to attaining the life we desire. Each step, whether it’s met with success or failure, is a step toward ultimate success. Each trial and struggle is a lesson learned that will one day propel us toward our own personal greatness. We just have to keep moving, keep trying, and keep working toward our own unique end goal.

Olympic champions aren’t born. (Although some athletes are clearly more gifted than others.) Champions are made each day in the weight room and on the training field. They practice. They hone their skills. They study their mistakes and learn from their opponents.

And most importantly, they always, ALWAYS get back up when they fail. A gymnast who falls off the balance beam doesn’t wallow in self pity. She picks herself back up again until she gets the routing correct. Michael Phelps didn’t become the most decorated Olympian because of his long arms. He spent months and years in the pool practicing to become better.

These are the lessons we can learn from Olympians. Practice, persistence, and perseverance pays off in the long run. We may not see it today. We may not see it in ourselves tomorrow. But if we keep going, keep moving, keep trying our efforts will pay off and we will become the best examples of who we can be.

On any given day, anything can happen. I hope you make today the most amazing day ever!!

God Bless!