Just Wants

The other day I found myself thinking about my goals and caught myself saying “I just want to be published.”  I immediately stopped what I was doing and scolded myself firmly.  Just Wants are dangerous things.  They creep up when you’re least expecting them and lure you into a false sense of simplicity.  It’s a trap all of us fall into.  “I just want (insert want here)”.

See, the thing is, there is no one Just Want (yes, I am personifying it.  I picture a Just Want as a small, somewhat fluffy creature with big dough eyes.  It looks so adorable you just have to pet it, but then it opens it’s mouth and you drop it on the floor.  It’s gaping, impossibly large, maw lined with rows of razor sharp teeth, ready to ensnare you).  You may think something like: “I just want five minutes of peace and quiet” or  “I just want my car to run smoothly” or even “I just want to help people.”  But that’s not true.  Not at all.  You don’t just want peace and quiet, et. al.  You also want the those around you to understand what you’re going through, to be sympathetic to your plight, to make things easier on you.  To take it another step further, you also want to be warm, well-fed, comfortable, clothed, the list goes on and on.

I am an insomniac.  It’s a mix of staying up late reading under the covers with a flashlight (or light up troll doll after my dad took my flashlights away) and genetics (my dad, his sister, his mom, my brother, we all have a hard time sleeping).  It sucks because I love to sleep.  When wide awake at three in the morning after hours of tossing and turning, I frequently sigh in frustration, or sometimes through tears if I have to be awake at five-thirty and travel or something, and proclaim “I just want to sleep!”  Even that statement is usually followed with a string of disclaimers, like there’s some genie in a bottle somewhere listening, looking for loopholes to slip my wish through.  “I mean I want to sleep soon.  Like in the next few minutes.  And wake up rested.  And wake up on time.  And not have a bad day because I didn’t fall asleep early enough.”  So, I don’t just want to sleep.  I want lots of things.

And I don’t just want to be published.  I also want to make enough money to support writing full time.  And I want people to like my books.  And I want to connect with readers.  And I want to inspire people.  There’s a whole string of “ands” from that one statement.  Not to mention that I want all of the comforts I already mentioned (food, water, shelter, etc).

I think one danger of Just Wants is: what happens when we don’t get it?  If you trick yourself into thinking that’s the only thing you want in the world, the only thing that matters, it’s a lot more soul crushing when you don’t get it.  For a long time I Just Wanted to be a veterinarian.  When vet school didn’t work out, my world caved in.  I had no other goal.  That was it.  The one thing I’d wanted since I was four.  It was a lot harder to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.  I’ve always wanted to be an author too; I’ve mentioned before,  I believe, that I wanted to write books about being a vet.  (I say author because anyone can be a writer, you just have to write.  In my mind, authors are published.  It’s not exactly an industry definition or anything, but it’s my personal differentiation).  But I don’t Just Want to be an author.  There are other things I want in life as well (happy, healthy, wise).  So my world doesn’t revolve around that one thing.  It’s kind of freeing, actually.  To know that the world won’t end if I don’t obtain my goal.

Another danger of Just Wants is that we think we’re easy to please.  We just want one little thing, right?  But that’s exactly what the Just Want wants you to think.  It’s just sitting there, looking cute and fluffy, with its Precious Moments eyes, waiting for you to pick it up.  We don’t want to admit that there are actually a ton of things we want.  We feel guilty (or at least I do) because there are people whose Just Wants include clean water and a safe place to sleep.  But pretending doesn’t really do much for us.  We should just admit that there are a lot of things we want.  It’s okay.  For me, going through the list of things I Just Want makes me appreciate the things I have.

Besides, there’s a lot of good that can come out of not getting the things we Just Want.  My best story ideas come when I can’t sleep.  In light of the season, when people are asking you what you want for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, think about your list of Just Wants and be honest with yourself (as well as being grateful for the things you already have), and see if it doesn’t free you up a little bit.

Minnow in the Shark Pool

I absolutely, positively, completely suck at networking.  Even the word makes me shudder.  I’m just not that good with people.  Never have been.  When I’m thrust in a networking situation, I freeze.  I don’t know what to talk about, what the appropriate responses are, or how to gracefully exit a conversation.

Law (if you haven’t read my “About Me”, I’m a lawyer) is all about networking.  It’s one of the attributes of the profession I despise.  I don’t have a “lawyer” personality.  If you’ve ever been around a group of lawyers you know what I mean.  It’s all about  connecting with people, working a room, talking and interacting with a lot of different people…i.e. all of the things I’m terrible at.  Sure I’m great in a courtroom and can rock an appellate brief, but stick me in a room full of other attorneys and tell me to schmooze and I’ll be cowered in the corner with an eye on my watch waiting for an appropriate time to leave.  I used to take my husband with me to any events like that because he’s my complete opposite in this regard.  He’s a talker.  He’ll talk to anyone about anything and can keep a conversation going well past the point I’m comfortable with.  Plus, he’s a good launching pad for conversation.  “How are you doing?  Oh, have you met my husband yet?”

Fortunately, my current job requires very little networking.  In fact, the job itself doesn’t require any.  It’s wonderful.  I sit in my office all day working.  If I want to talk to someone, I venture down the hall and interact.  If I don’t, I stay in my office and keep busy.  Every year I have to accumulate twelve hours of Continuing Legal Education credit, which requires me to jump into the shark pool (pun intended) try not to get eaten for a few days, but a book, laptop, and internet connect get me through those long hours swimmingly (also intended).

Unfortunately, I want to be a published author, and I’m discovering more and more that networking plays a large part.  I can’t tell you how many “how I got published” stories I’ve read that cite networking as the ultimate turning point.  It’s a lot of “I had a friend/student/co-worker who knew XYZ agent/editor/publisher so and so and handed them my manuscript.  It didn’t work for them but they passed it along to such and such and we clicked.”  Sure, there are authors who just queried the right agent with the right project and it worked out, but I’m finding that more often than not it comes down to who you know.

I can’t tell you what a tremendous let down this was to find out.  I thought I’d moved away from networking.  I left it standing on the pier as my ship sailed off to bluer waters, waving goodbye like a crazy person with a giant relieved smile on my face…only to find out the earth is round and my ship just circled the globe to find networking still waiting for me, wearing an even bigger “you can’t escape me” grin.  It reminds me of that song “The Cat Came Back”.   “The cat came back, the very next day.  The cat came back.  They thought he was a goner but the cat came back.  He just couldn’t stay awaaayyy.”  (Watch the video if you’ve never heard the song, it’s a classic). Networking came back.

Not only do I suck at it, but I’m not exactly in a great geographical position to network.  I don’t live in a big city, or near a big city with publishing connections.  I don’t know anyone who knows anyone. I stumbled onto a networking opportunity this past weekend at a bookstore.  I went in to look around, because that’s what I do in my free time, and literally walked smack into a crowd of people surrounding a table covered in books, with two authors seated behind it talking and signing.  When we realized what it was, my husband told me I should go talk to them.  Cue spasms of fear and a waterfall of excuses why I couldn’t possibly do that.  (Which coincidentally led to the coffee shop where I figured I might as well get a peppermint mocha, convenient, no?)  One of these excuses, to be honest, was that I didn’t know the authors and hadn’t heard of their book.  Always the man with the comebacks, my husband suggested I google it (stupid smart phones!).  So I looked up the book, read about the authors, swigged my mocha, and full of pepperminty courage, stepped up to the table, grabbed a book, and hopped in line.  Of course then I realized I just drank coffee, not some sort of magic courage-inducing elixir and tried to wimp out again.  Hubby took the coffee and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me standing there alone and, gulp, next in line.

Taking a deep breath, I crept forward and handed the author my book.  He asked who to sign it to, I said with some measure of embarrassment:  “well, um, me I guess.”  Then I almost chickened out again and just walked away, but instead, I steeled myself and began talking to him about writing.  I was one of the last people in line, so we chatted for a few minutes and ultimately ended with him giving me his email address and an offer to come speak to my writing group.  His book sounds interesting and I enjoyed talking with him, so it would be cool to sit down with him again and go more in depth.  The only thing I’m not certain of is if it would work because he writes adult literature and my group is for children’s authors.  Nevertheless, I did it and I’m proud of myself for that (and grateful to my hubby for pushing me out of my box, but don’t tell him that).

Afterwards, I was discussing this networking dilemma with my husband and he had the novel idea (yep, that pun’s intended too) that I start going to writer’s conferences to meet other people in the publishing world, which sounded like a great idea, but induced images of me cowering in the corner again.  Then I remembered…I’m not alone in this regard.  Other writers are…kind of like me!  The majority of writers are introverted (me too!), shy (yay!), book nerds (whoop!).  They might be scared of talking to people too!  This might just work.  Of course, I’ve never been to a conference, so what do I know?  It could just be a different variety of shark pool, but I have hope.

So, dear readers, I’m curious: have you ever gone to a writer’s conference?  What have been your experiences?  I’d love to hear about them!

QR Codes: Wave of the Future for Books?

I am not a fan of e-readers.  I’ve touched on this topic before.  It’s not that I’m anti-technology or anything like that.  I just prefer to have a real paper and ink book.  The thrill of turning a page to see what happens next, feeling the paper under your fingers, or placing your bookmark when you’re at a stopping point then flipping the book up to see how much is left (how can it all possibly come together in the few pages remaining!) is unmatched.  Clicking a button or checking your progress via a status bar at the bottom of the screen just doesn’t cut it.  (Never mind the fact that I’m a frequent tub reader and having dropped a book in the water a time or two, I’m freaked out at the possibility of dropping an e-reader).  How long will it be until kids have no idea what “having your nose in a book” means?  You can’t exactly bury your face in a Kindle or Nook.  Then there’s the distraction of it all.  The regular Kindle isn’t so bad because it is purely for reading. The Nook and Kindle Fire, however, are both trying to be a more book-centric iPad, complete with games and all of the other things I’m trying to escape when I sit down with a book.

This post is not a tirade on real book vs e-book, however (as I’ve said before, the e-book has its merits), so I digress.  One of the issues I have with an e-book is that it doesn’t lend itself to my vision of my dream library, where every thing is categorized, alphabetized, and indexed.  You read a book on the Kindle, then…it’s just there…on the Kindle.  A line of text that indicates a book is a click away.  There’s no satisfaction of placing your recently completed tome on the shelf, another trophy in the case!  And it’s not practical to go and buy a bound copy just to put it on your shelf.  My husband prefers to read on the Kindle though, so when he downloaded “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it didn’t make sense for me to buy the hard copy.  So what’s a real book lover to do?  Well, I’ve come up with an idea.  Thanks to this post over at the Dystel blog about comic books retailers selling electronic copies with hard copies.

Have you seen the QR barcodes?  I’m sure you have, they’re on everything these days.  Especially the Christmas ads.  For instance, my husband wants a gyro-copter.  Brookstone sent us a sales paper (that’s what we call them here in the South) that had a gyro-copter and in the upper right hand corner was a blobby looking barcode.  My husband scanned it with the barcode scanner app on his phone and voila, a video appeared demonstrating everything the gyro-copter could do.  These little codes are linked to everything lately.  You can even generate your own with hidden messages inside.

What does this have to do with books, you ask?  Well, what if each book came with one of these codes?  It could be something like the ink tags on clothing in department stores, or perhaps it would print out on your receipt after you purchased the book.  You would scan it with your smartphone and download the e-book.  I have a Kindle app on my phone that syncs with my husband’s Kindle, so if I download a book on my phone the next time I turn on the actual Kindle it’s there, and vise versa.  There would have to be some sort of limit built in that would only let you download the book once.  I’m not sure how that would work since I don’t know that much about the codes, but I’m sure there’s a way.  There’s bound to be other flaws with this idea, but I think once the kinks were worked out, it just might work.

Think about it.  Let’s use “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as an example.  Say you haven’t read it yet and in anticipation of the movie (in the US at least) you decide to pick up a copy.  You truck down to your local bookstore, buy the book, and scan the code that prints out on your receipt.  Then you go home and read away.  The next day you wake up late, rush to work, and by lunch you just need a break.  So you head off somewhere quiet to eat and read, but in your rush you left your book at home.  No worries, though!  You just pull out your phone, skip to your page, and there you go!  When you get home you can pick up your book again, and when you finish, add it to your collection.

Personally, I think it’s a pretty brilliant idea, but I’m a bit biased, haha.   I’m curious to know what the issues might be with it.  What do you think?  Could this work?  Could it be the wave of the future for book lovers?  Or are there problems or issues that I don’t realize?