Saturday, April 11, 2020

Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 Virus pandemic has hit the world hard and many of us have had a taste of quarantine for at least a few weeks. If you have kids at home, you and they are no doubt going stir crazy. No school, no sports, no friends to see in person, and worst of all, for you, possibly no job. 

With your layoff, you may be experiencing a loss of purpose in addition to a loss of income. This can definitely cause great stress and anxiety, both mentally and financially. But this situation is not the new normal. It’s the new temporary. We’re all in this together. Adaptability is important.

For those who work from home or can do so during this quarantine, the stress is reduced. For the kids, however, especially those from warm climates, being confined to the house is a new, different, and unwanted experience. I’m originally from Portland, Oregon, where it rains at least eight months out of the year, if not more. Kids spend practically the entire winter indoors. I’m used to this.

In addition, I spent a year on an oil tanker, where my ex-husband was the chief engineer (like Scotty on Star Trek). We were at sea 36 days at a time, with a 24-hour turnaround when we reached the Persian Gulf. With nowhere to go ashore, we were effectively at sea 72 days before we arrived back in Europe. Talk about an isolated and confined environment!

I had been warned it would be easy to lose one’s mind. They call it “tankeritis.” Since I was a writer, I warded this off by writing a book. That took the entire year. Growing up in a horrible climate and being aboard that tanker were great dry-runs for the circumstances we’re in today.

Know that you are not powerless. You can choose how to navigate and survive COVID-19. Obviously, taking the recommended precautions is in order. But also, focusing on the mindset of looking at the jelly jar half-full rather than half-empty is a strategy that will help you get to the other side of this pandemic unscathed. Easier said than done, you say, but stressing and worrying does no one any good. It only makes the time pass more slowly.

Why not maximize the opportunity. You’ve no doubt binge-watched those shows on TV that you have wanted to catch up on, so seize the day. Get dressed in the morning to set a tone for the day. If you’re self-employed and usually deal with clients face-to-face, think about meeting with them online through a program like Zoom (download for free at www.zoom.us) or Facetime. If your job can be done remotely in any way, shape, or form, ask your boss for permission to do so.

Some employees have already realized that they want to work from home permanently. They have few interruptions and so are much more productive. The savings on wear and tear on their cars and on commuting time also contributes to what they know will be their future psychological wellbeing. Employers are likely to be more open to this idea as well.

If you’ve “always wanted to write a book,” now’s your chance. Go for it! And professional writers can use this time to increase productivity. Begin a new article or book. Edit material you have in progress. Write posts for your blog or start a podcast. I’m in the process of adding a voiceover to a webinar I just created.

Or take the opportunity to do all the things around your house you’ve been putting off for months or even years because you didn’t have time. Clean out closets, cupboards, drawers, files, and the garage. Read books (you can download free e-books from bookbub.com). Get your taxes organized. Catch up on your hobbies. Put photos in albums or boxes or scan them into your computer. Take some free classes online you’ve never thought about. Online resources are more abundant than ever.

Dig out your puzzles and board games. Have tournaments. Expand those activities by having a virtual game night on Zoom so your friends and relatives can play. Here’s a link: https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-have-a-zoom-game-night-22639026 for some online games.

If you have kids, help them with their homework. Exercise with them. Take them on Internet tours of famous places related to the topics they are studying. Rather than reading younger kids a bedtime story, tell them one from your childhood. These activities will take your mind off your worries and provide a sense of accomplishment. If you need help, get on the Next Door app and ask.

One mom on Next Door in my neighborhood has a daughter who turned nine last week. She asked the community to organize a car parade to come by her house at an appointed time. Several people decorated their cars with posters and balloons, and I joined in the parade. We honked our horns and yelled happy birthday. Her daughter was thrilled and we had a great time helping her celebrate her special day!

Others have put teddy bears in their windows so that the kids can count them on their walks around the neighborhood, since we are still allowed to do that. Some have put painted rocks around the green belt that runs through our area and in their yards. This is a great activity to keep kids occupied, both with painting the rocks and with finding them. And others are leaving chalk art on sidewalks.

Another great idea is to carry out “Formal Friday.” It’s like date night, only with your family or someone on Zoom or Facetime. Eat meals on good china. Have a picnic in your living room or outside if the weather allows. Try new recipes, maybe even some more complex ones that you might not normally have time to make.

Using something called Morning Pages to clear your mind, improve creativity and productivity, and for self-reflection (see https://www.lavendaire.com/morning-pages/) can help to alleviate stress.

Establish an evening ritual of sharing at least one “high” and one “low” of the day with your partner or as a family. This opens up communication and allows exploration of how you are handling the events of the day. It’s important that parents participate to set an example and to allow their children a better understanding that adults do have challenges. Communicating them in a supportive environment is helpful.

Of course, adults should be cautious not to burden their children with worries over “lows” related to major problems. Those who live alone can accomplish this communication with a family member or friend via Zoom, e-mail, Facetime, etc.

Remember, this situation is only temporary and not the new normal. It may last a few months, but eventually, we’ll get back to our old schedules. By making good use of this pause on life we have now, when you do get back to work, your free time will really be your own. And, if you turn this catastrophe into an opportunity to try new things, some of these activities might stick around and enhance your life long after COVID-19 has passed.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Don't Let the Naysayers Get You Down

If you’re a serious writer, you no doubt not only love to write but you also love to read. I know I do. Has anyone criticized you for either? And if you’re a professional writer and have a home office, has anyone assumed that you “aren’t working”?

Regarding the former, when I was growing up, we had many books in our house. My mother bought them for us for various occasions and also just because.


       As an adult, I started my home library with books from childhood, college, and grad school, and have kept accumulating them ever since. Enough shelf space was a must in the three houses I have owned.

 It took me a month to pack my approximately three thousand tomes when I moved from my previous residence to my current one. Many of these and the hundreds I’ve acquired since are signed by the authors.

My library is my pride and joy. Fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, science, social science, and childhood treasures fill the main one, located across the hall from my living room. Writing, publishing, and marketing categories are in my office. Texts and other academic materials are in a spare bedroom upstairs. Those written by friends and colleagues occupy hallowed shelves in my master bedroom. One cabinet in the upstairs hall houses my beloved Nancy Drew collection.

So imagine my surprise when a psychologist friend visited me and said upon seeing the books in my main library, “Why don’t you get rid of them?”

What?? I thought. Who would suggest such a thing?

And what would she say if she saw all the others?

By her own admission, she doesn’t read. Yes, a non-reader suggested I get rid of my most precious gems!

Then I remembered that this is the same person who said, “You don’t have a job.” This despite my having published over 200 articles in national publications and twenty-nine (soon to be thirty) books, eleven traditionally and the rest through my own small press.

Never mind that I market my work and do speaking engagements, both of which provide good income. And never mind also that I publish other people’s work and coach subject-matter experts in writing books based on their expertise. She certainly has heard my 30-second pitch often enough on the latter at our networking group.

“Writing, publishing, and coaching ARE my jobs,” I told her. And no, I have no intention of getting rid of any of my prized possessions—except marketing and grammar ones that are out-of-date¾and these I replace with new editions.

Regarding working from home, we’ve all heard of actors and musicians being accused by family members and others of not having “real jobs,” but I never expected this comment from someone in my networking group—all of whom are self-employed, including the person in question. The difference is that she goes to an office every day. But because I have a home office and don’t go to another building to work, I “don’t have a job.”

We have to accept that some people just don’t understand us. So what to do about them?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. Most are business owners, but many are artists, musicians, and writers. Some are doctors and lawyers in private practice. Mine is definitely an artsy family rather than a science-oriented one. Never have any of my relatives accused me or anyone else who is self-employed of “not having a job.” So I let comments like those of my acquaintance roll off my back.

We’re writers because it’s in our blood. It’s the essence of who we are. It’s our passion. We can’t not write.

If only people like my colleague knew how much time and energy producing an article or chapter takes, not to mention the time and energy involved in marketing for sales and/or new clients. And good writers must be readers.

We work for ourselves because it provides us the freedom to run our own lives and the ability to have unlimited income potential. If you find people criticizing you, ignore them. Don’t let the naysayers get you down.

Heed not only my words but also those of Kimanzi Constable:

You have to be your biggest cheerleader…. [Don’t] depend on someone else for…for validation from people who don’t understand. …Real strength …starts with you. Don't depend on anyone else for emotional, mental, or entrepreneurial strength” (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/305563).

So ignore those who don’t understand you. Keep on reading. Build your own library. Continue your writing career.

And believe in yourself. No matter what.


Friday, February 28, 2020

Update

Hi, everyone,

I haven't posted for awhile, and that's because I've decided to change the focus of this blog slightly.

I started it while I was the editor of The Datagram, the newsletter for the IEEE-Orange County Section's Cybersecurity special-interest group (SIG). (The IEEE is the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers.) That meant I was privy to terrific information going on in the cybersecurity world.

Since the SIG no longer exists, I'm going to concentrate on writing, publishing, and writing as a business. I hope you'll continue to subscribe. There is a lot of great information to come!

Carol

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Help save America's Oldest Bookstore!


Leo Atkinson is my guest blogger today, and he has an important mission: Saving the oldest bookstore in America, which is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. As you will read, the store is in danger of being turned into a Barnes and Noble College Bookstore. Read on to see how you can help Leo save this historic site.

Moravian College recently bought the independent Moravian Book Shop with plans to turn it into a Barnes & Noble college bookstore, which will end the 273-year-old business. Please stand with us in telling them "NO!"
The Moravian Book Shop has anchored Bethlehem’s historic downtown for generations and has built itself into the premier location for books, gifts and Christmas decorations in downtown Bethlehem. Despite what some people have said in the news, after a few up and down years, the Moravian Book Shop is in a good position in terms of its core business.
In the last year we have streamlined our operations and modernized the store’s back-end systems. We had almost $2 million in sales last year and we are on pace for an even better 2018. In fact, any financial difficulty stems from the Moravian Church’s Provincial Elders’ Conference (PEC) and the Moravian Book Shop’s Board of Directors decision, over the protest of lower management and employees, to take out bad loans to open a location in Allentown in 2015. The Allentown store lost money for two years and when it closed last year the bad loans became due. Despite the Bethlehem location’s strengthening position we were not able to absorb the entire cost of the bad loans and so the PEC decided to negotiate in secret to sell the store.
As it currently stands, the Moravian Book Shop will be taken over by Barnes & Noble (the national bookstore chain) and Sodexo (a multinational food services company) to provide a college bookstore for Moravian College. All of our staff will be laid off, though we were told we could interview for jobs at the new store, and the mission of the Moravian Book Shop will be lost forever. Moravian College is a great school, indeed, my brother and many of my close friends are alumni. And, the Moravian College students deserve a place to buy their textbooks, but that need does not have to erase 273 years of Bethlehem’s history.
I think there are other avenues worth exploring, but if the sale from the Moravian Church to Moravian college is inevitable, the college has a choice as to who will operate the bookstore, including giving the current management a chance to show what we are capable of. I ask you to please tell the college that local small businesses are important for the health of our historic downtown and the entire city.
We need you to sign the petition on Change.org and contact Moravian College (information below) to tell we do not want huge national and multinational corporations controlling our downtown!

Send your objections to the sale of this historic site to:
Bryon L. Grigsby
President, Moravian College
610-861-1364
grigsbyb@moravian.edu

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Spare Me…My Problem with So-called “Women’s Fiction”


I have decided that I don’t like “women’s fiction.” That may seem odd coming from a female, but I joined a book club and have read several novels that fall into this category. While the cover copy for these books was intriguing, which is why we selected them, the stories failed to live up to expectations. They shared a number of common elements:

1. Unsympathetic, shallow, and boring characters
2. Nonsensical and/or slow plotting
3. Deviations into long passages of unnecessary backstory
4. Author intrusion

The astonishing part is that they were traditionally published and all made it to the New York Times Bestseller List and a few of them have been sold to movie studios. 

“HOW???  WHY???”

Where were the editors when these manuscripts were being considered. Who would approve them as written? What happened to novels with compelling characters that the readers care about, with plots that keep them turning the pages and get them lost in their worlds? 

Legal thriller author and writing instructor William Bernhard (the Ben Kincaid series) has numerous guidelines for creating a blockbuster. One, he says, is readability—creating a narrative that is “unputdownable.” With these books, I had to force myself to plod on through boring paragraph after boring paragraph. 

And what about character arcs? The characters should go through some change by the end of the book. These did not. Things happened despite them, not because of them. They didn’t solve their own problems. 

I’m going to be revealing the plots of two of the books I read, so be forewarned. 

The novel our club originally chose was The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, a prolific author. This one made me so angry that had I not been reading it for the group, I would have quit after the first chapter. The main female lead is a wimp, and nothing turns me off more than a weak woman.

Around page 250, I was surprised to see the plot finally kick in. Those first 250 pages could have been condensed into 25-50 to keep the story moving. The problem with the last 200, though, is that the real plot is rushed. What was in these pages should have been the entire book but stretched out and expanded. I’m not sure why the editors at St. Martin’s Press didn’t see this and do something about it. 

And what about adding tension and introducing intrigue? 

In The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty, there was a secret, but it was presented amid endless pages of backstory. The wife, Cecelia, found a letter her husband had written years before that was to be opened only in the event of his death. But John Paul was still very much alive. Holding the letter in her hands was the first line of the first chapter. Then the rest of the 15-page chapter was backstory, with only the last line once again addressing the letter and what Cecelia should do with it. The next two chapters left this plotline altogether and introduced two new characters along with much more backstory. 

Eventually, we find out that the letter is John Paul’s confession that when he was a teenager, he murdered a girl. Cecelia is horrified, but instead of realizing that she had just become an accessory after the fact, she rips the letter into tiny pieces and decides to say nothing. After all, she reasons, John Paul is a wonderful father. How can she turn him in, even if he is a murderer? 

She has now committed a second crime--destroying evidence.

There is also no depth of character. As a reader, I didn’t care about any of the people in the story except for the dead girl, Janie. This made reading the book even more torturous.

As for conflict and controversy, this book had none. The characters take the easy way out and do so in a boring way. Rachel is Janie’s mother, and she hates Connor, a coworker at the school where she is employed, thinking he is the killer. She dreams of this man’s demise. Yet, when Cecelia breaks down and tells her that John Paul is the real killer, does Rachel transfer her hatred to him? No. She decides she can’t hate him because he’s handsome. She thinks that she should invite him over for tea and find out what her daughter’s last moments were like. Then the author intrudes, explaining that it doesn’t matter that John Paul doesn’t go to prison because Janie died of an aneurysm anyway.

None of these characters face any consequences. Rachel deliberately tries to run down Connor with her car but hits Cecelia’s young daughter instead. Even though the daughter survives, she loses half her leg, but everyone believes it was an accident, so Rachel is not held accountable. John Paul doesn’t go to prison, and Cecelia doesn’t get in trouble for destroying evidence. Where is the justice for Janie?

Apparently some of these authors’ other works are of higher quality, but they certainly missed the boat with these two. But again, because I made the commitment to the club to read through this drivel, I should get some credit in purgatory. 

I have enjoyed plenty of terrific women writers, such as Amy Tan, Jodi Picoult, Maeve Binchy, Anne Hillerman—the list goes on—who deserve to be on the bestseller list. But it seems that quality writing has nothing to do with being a bestseller. This does a terrible disservice to those great women—and men—who share that spotlight. 

I know I won’t be reading any more “women’s fiction,” and I’m not the only one in the book club who feels this way. A few of us intend to suggest that we read other genres, such as murder mysteries, historicals, spy novels, sci-fi—anything! 

I wish these novels had been as well-written as their cover copy. Perhaps screenwriters believe they can take these weak plots and turn them into something better for the silver screen. Since actors can put in the depth of character the books lack, perhaps they can keep these movies from becoming box-office flops.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Get Started with Social Media for the 50-60-Something Entrepreneur

Guest blogger P. Lorraine Wigglesworth, CSP, is an international entrepreneurship and marketing consultant and Managing Director of Experiential Hands-on Learning. She is also the author of The 50-60-Something Start-up Entrepreneur: How to Quickly Start and Run a Successful Small Business. In this second installment of her three-article series, she discusses why entrepreneurs age 50+ have a high success rate.




When you see the title of this article, some of you may be saying, 'what do you mean, how do I get started with social media, like it's some big secret?' To some, it might sound like a silly question as most people just dive into a platform and begin making posts.
Now imagine if you will, that you're a 50 or 60-something new entrepreneur. Most of your posts have been on Facebook or and you might have contributed to the company LinkedIn page, but you never had to bother with setting these social media accounts for your business.
With dozens of multi-million networks and big companies pouring millions of dollars into it, social media may seem daunting for any small business entrepreneur, even more so for fifty-somethings who haven't grown up with the Internet. But the amount of exposure social media can bring your business, and the opportunity it offers you to connect with your target audience and spread the word about your products or services cannot be ignored.
Your competitors are already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social networks. In a world full of mobile devices and apps, having only a website and blog is no longer enough.
Here are some tips to get you started for the #FiftySomethingEntrepreneur.
The Right Approach to Social Media
Before getting started, you have to remember that social media is first and foremost social. While brands do use it to market themselves, sometimes using paid ads, the main benefit of being social is interacting with your audience. What's more, Google takes into account the buzz you generate on social networks when determining your search engine ranking, or how high you show up in the Google search results.
Start Small
There are many social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Tumblr. As a startup or small business, you may not have the time or the resources to be active on all of them, nor should you.
An effective strategy is to start small. Most businesses start with #Facebook, #Twitter, #LinkedIn, and optionally, #YouTube. Depending on your target customers, some of networks will offer you better returns on your time spent on them than others.
Create a SM Marketing Strategy
It's important to have a social media marketing strategy in place. Without one, social media can become a time-sink. Considering your audience, their needs, and what you can offer them. Decide what content would work best for them, whether it's articles, images, videos, short updates, how-to guides, and so on. Social media is very flexible, so you mix it up to keep things interesting.
Creating an Engaging Social Business Page
After creating your accounts, you have to personalize them. Keep personal and professional accounts separate. For your business, make sure to create a business page, rather than a standard profile. This will enable you to customize your page with a logo, business address and other details, as well as access a wealth of data about your fans and followers. Add a custom header and background to your business page, and try to keep all pages consistent in terms of design.
Content: Creation, Curation, and Timing
You also have to determine how often you will post fresh content on social media - at least two or three times a week is a must, and ideally you want to post something new every day. Fortunately, you don't have to create all the content yourself. You can always curate or share content from experts in your industry, news sites, and other relevant sources, so long as you give credit to the creator and don't infringe any usage rights.
The Key to Success - Being Active and Involved
The hard work begins after you've set up your accounts. Posting is not enough. You have to interact with your audience by answering their questions, starting discussions, organizing contests, and rewarding loyal followers with mentions, and possibly for ecommerce businesses with coupons, or freebies. You have to follow others, share their content, and join groups and discussions. On social media, if you are not active, you are invisible.
Social media can also open up the door to new professional connections. Actively connect with your existing connections and also seek influencers, experts, and other notable people in your industry. Share their content and you may catch their eye.
Be Social
Last but not least, it's important to keep in mind that being on social media is no longer optional for a small business. If you are not "social," people won't be able to find your business as easily, and many will go to your competitors instead. That's why if you don't have the time to manage your social media marketing efforts yourself, it's better to delegate someone within your company to do it for you, or hire someone to help you with this.
The key is to get started and not to shy away from engaging in social media. Trust me when I say it gets easier the more time you spend in doing some type of post. Now go and have some fun.