Developing Better Habits: 8 Takeaways

In the hopes of developing better habits (both as a writer and a regular person), I decided to do a little self-improvement experiment during the month of July.

Mainly because I believed my habits were pretty terrible.

If this is something you can identify with, I’d love to hear what your habits are and how you go about changing them.

This is roughly how it went for me and why I wanted to change them in the first place.

I got the idea from a number of places: my older brother, Josh, who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to productivity, (he draws a lot from Brian Johnson) as well as Jerry Seinfeld, and authors such as Mur Lafferty and Joanna Penn who talk about their habits on Podcasts like I Should be Writing, and The Creative Penn, respectively.

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The idea is that you pick one habit that you’d like to change or work on. Make it small and attainable. If you want to write more and you’re not writing anything at all at the moment, don’t set your goal to write 3,000 words a day. That is too big of a jump. Instead start small and try to accomplish the goals you set for yourself.

I had to get my tonsils out in June and would be taking two weeks off from work. I knew I would probably need all of that recovery time, but I thought once the pain and sleep inducing medications wore off, I’d at least be able to write a little bit. I kept looking forward to not being in pain because of my tonsils, but also because I’d have a large chunk of time off from work. Time. I was going to be blessed with it and I was so happy.

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But time is a fickle beast. I found this out in the 17 days I was recovering. I kept counting down the days as though returning to school was the worst thing in the world. I wouldn’t have my time anymore. Or I’d go back to a regular working guy, teaching, going to the gym, and writing when I was able. The more I counted down and dreaded my return the more I lost time (obviously). And though its something I can’t really put into words here and now, I knew it wasn’t just about time but it was about the way I was viewing time, and I needed to make a change.

So I gave myself 4 goals to accomplish during the month of July after I was done with my surgery and back at work. The rules were this: put an X through each day of the calendar where you succeed in the goal/habit you set for yourself. Never miss a day. If you do, never miss 2 days in a row.

This is something Jerry Seinfeld did early in his career. He told himself he needed to write a joke every day. His goal was feasible and measurable. It began with a word and ended with some sort of punctuation.

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My four goals were:

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  1. Write at least 100 words a day (to keep up with the worlds inside my head and also because I SHOULD BE WRITING) – attainable and not such a big jump from my days of not writing anything. I always thought I’d need to sit down and pump out a chapter and because that was always such a discouraging thought I never got around to it at all! Sheesh!
  2. Meditate every day (headspace.com). That was the big one. I found I was spending so much of my days thinking, waking up tired and going to bed awake. I was on my phone a lot because I’d get messages right when I was about to go to bed (because of the time difference between Korea and most of my friends and family back home). I also am a little OCD and wanted to respond to messages as soon I got them so they would clear. Before I knew it I was spending large chunks of time on my phone and not really accomplishing anything. I wanted to start mediating to be more mindful of where I was at all times and also to have better piece of mind. My sleep patterns were affecting me.
  3. Do yoga every day (Yoga with Adriene) (I want to be more flexible and work on different breathing techniques)
  4. Read one chapter of a book every day. I needed to pair this with my writing so I could nourish my brain with more writing fuel. In general I need to read more.

I am not totally proud to say that I did miss 2 days in a row for some things 🙁 But it was a really fun exercise and I find myself more aware, more alert, on my phone less, and writing and reading more. I’d like to say the X trick had a lot to do with it. Getting myself to strike a line through a day does something for me, I think.

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A breakdown of 31 days in July:

1. Write 100 words: 30/31 – Missed two days in a row? No.

2. Read one chapter: 27/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x1. 

3. Yoga with Adriene: 24/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.

4. Meditate: 20/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.

The biggest things I took away from this little experiment:

  1. Time is amorphous, but saying you don’t have enough time is just an excuse to yourself. If you want to do things, like write, and make time for important things, you will. Every great writer, artist, and athlete has.
  2. It’s not about being perfect. I did 30 days of yoga with Adriene, and I really loved her approach to yoga, that is: non-judgmental (because I’m pretty lousy at yoga), encouraging, and down-to-earth. Even though she could crush the forms and poses she didn’t pressure me to. It was okay to be imperfect and human.
  3. Breathing exercises can make you more mindful and connect you to things around you more intimately (not to mention make you a better writer). When I focused on my breath or got to a place where I just sat and observed things without trying to change them, I found myself more relaxed and almost all of my problems with falling asleep went away.
  4. Being on my phone is such a waste of time. I set aside times of the day where I would specifically be on my phone so I could respond to things and other times I just put it away and didn’t look at it. Still, I need to get better at this.
  5. There are so many little pieces of the day where you can get things done. Whether I was on the train, bus, on my lunch break, or waking up early before school, I could put an X through my calendar for one of the things, and free time up later in my day.
  6. It’s not always about the result. When I first started mediating using headspace.com I almost always immediately wanted to get something out of it. I automatically wanted answers or better sleeping habits or to be as calm and as wise as the Dalai Lama but it wasn’t at all reasonable. Instead, it was better to focus on the journey and unlock things day by day, rather than have them all at once.
  7. Being mindful and aware is not only for you. Another thing I picked up from meditating is that these practices aren’t only good for you, but for those around you. Being a whole person can have a positive effect for the people you interact with on a daily basis.
  8. Set not only a goal, but also a purpose. Why did you show up to yoga mat today? Why are you sitting on a couch for 20 minutes with your eyes closed focusing on your breathing? Find out your purpose by asking the important questions: what do I want out of this, how can this help me, how can this help those around me? It can something as simple as I want to smile more.

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Having said all that, I think I’ve only scratched the surface. My habits are better because I have a regular schedule now, but they’ve still got a long way to go. Time to set some for August. I think I’m going to continue the meditation, read at least one chapter, and change my yoga slot to studying Korean for at least 15 minutes a day. As far as writing goes, I think its time to bump it up to 500 words since I was reaching that goal most days anyway. Though if I had started off with that goal I think I would have felt discouraged and not been able to achieve the goals I set for myself.

What would you say are your best and worst habits?

How do you go about developing better ones?

I’m always trying to learn more about this and change my ways.

Let me know in the comments!

Clover Lovers Dot Com #BlogBattle

By the time Reshan decided on the profile he wanted to message on cloverlover.com, his heart was in an uproar. All the clovers were all so beautiful and exotic and different from him, but he wasn’t about to ruin his reputation in this new land. He had done that too many times before and he wasn’t about to do it again. So, he decided on one—the best and most well-rounded, symmetrical clover on the site.

Hye Rynn.

Her “About Me” section was just one line.

If you want me, come and get me.

Reshan breathed deeply before typing into the message box.

I bet you, that I am much harder to find.

Reshan’s heart beat faster as soon as he hit the send button. Why did I do that! he thought. It was because in this land, he most certainly was harder to find. In his homeland where he was just another plant in the crowd, he was no different from the four-leaf-clover next to him really.

Before he could ponder these things, a message came back, making him jump.

I’m not into betting.

A lump formed in Reshan’s dry throat. She was so concise! Oh, to know of her mysteries! After reading the message several times, he tried to decode it, discover if she was being coy, or wanted him to go away. If she wanted him to go away, she wouldn’t have responded, right?

He typed back furiously.

Are you into coffee?

He waited, stared at his computer screen, and knew this was the make or break. He hated the make or break.

You can find me at my favorite coffee shop on Shamrock Block at 6 pm tonight.

Reshan loved the make or break!

This was a make, he thought. He had scored himself a date! It was his first real date in this strange new place. All he had to do was . . . what was it?

He read the message again. His heart pounded with feelings he hadn’t felt in so long. The surge of adrenaline rushing through him made him break into a dew-sweat.

What was her favorite coffee shop? he wondered. There were at least twenty of them on Shamrock Block! What sort of game was this Hye Rynn playing!

Reshan shot out of his chair and he shouted. He pulled at his plant hairs. He paced around his room for quite some time before something struck him. He returned to the chair and wrote out a message.

Which coffee shop is that?

Before hitting the send button, he stopped himself.

Clearly this girl liked a chase. She liked games and a big part of Reshan loved it too. Looking at the clock, he threw on his jacket and boots and left his room. He needed to look at all the shops, match one to her personality, and on top of that do it all before 6! He needed to choose one, and arrive around or at the same time as her!

Reshan arrived at Shamrock Block with plenty of time to survey the area. Some shops he knew well, some he had never even noticed. As he strolled, he noticed the way the strangers looked at him—some in fascination, others with the faintest sense of apathy. But he didn’t want them. He wanted Hye Rynn and he knew he could feel some link with her, even through cloverlovers.com—even through all the words she didn’t say.

After more than two hours of checking all the shops, much like the profiles on the website, Reshan decided on one. It wasn’t a super commercial one or a mom and pop place but something in between, and a bit of a hard one to find at that.

Reshan looked through the window and saw a girl take a seat near the east corner.

He swung the door open and carefully walked up to her.

She looked up at him and smiled. “Well you found me. What comes next?”

“I think the coffee comes next.”

Reshan took her order and returned minutes later with their drinks.

They looked at each other a moment before Reshan said, “you want someone to find you, but what are you looking for?”

Reshan studied her, took in all the features of her people, of this different species. He wanted to know more because he knew nothing, because she was exotic and he was so normal—at least where he was from—and he wondered if she saw him the way he saw her—exotic and otherworldly.

They talked and talked and the more they did, Reshan felt a connection with her but he also sensed her reticence as the minutes passed. She was being overly coy about some aspect of Reshan.

He couldn’t figure it out so he asked her.

She took a long, deep breath as she fixed her stray strands of hair through the mirror in her hand. “To be honest, I wanted to give you a chance because I was interested. I was curious,” she admitted. “But the answer is the same as it’s always been. “Our cultures are too different and I need a man I can marry. I need someone I can take home to my mother and father. You know how our culture is, don’t you? She tried to sound sweet at the end but Reshan couldn’t help but feel the hurt.

“No, I don’t know,” he said.

“I don’t date four leaf clovers. I’m sorry.” She packed up her things and looked at him one last time before saying, “what would people say? Me a three-leaf clover and you a four-leaf —what would our kids look like? I don’t want to mix the veinlines. A four-leaf and a three-leaf!” She shook her head and laughed, a tint of cruelness in it. “I want three-leaf children! Not four leafs or three-point five leafs!”

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This is part of the 4 Leaf Clover #BlogBattle, started by friend and blogger Rachael Ritchey. Check out her post here for the official rules!

I had fun with this. Great idea and way to get others blogging! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone!

Very Inspiring Blog Award

This award means that someone thinks I’m a “Very Inspiring Blogger.” I hope there are some out there that follow along with what I do. Either way, I’m happy to be considered for this award!

award-inspiringbloggerI want to say thanks to my fellow blogger and friend, Sara DeLavergne! If her last name isn’t enough to catch your attention, her stories will be. Click on her name above to find out more about this dynamic and fascinating person!

The Award Guidelines are as follows:

1. Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.

5. Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Here are my facts!

1. You want seven facts? Here’s the first one. I love the number seven! I’m the seventh born of nine children and have always carried this fact around with me. I don’t live and die by numerology but when I learned that 7 was the number of perfection, I couldn’t forget that quickly! The number 7, “is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth (notice the capital “T”). The 7 doesn’t take anything at face value — it is always trying to understand the underlying, hidden truths. The 7 knows that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions.” I believe this fact personifies me in some ways and definitely comes out in my characters.

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2. I’m constantly creating worlds inside my head. Growing up, I was constantly told I was quiet. I didn’t know if that meant I spoke quietly, didn’t speak often, or both! It’s just like Stephen King’s quote, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” This is why my friends.

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3. I’m an English teacher in South Korea. I have always wanted to travel since I was little but could never afford any big trips. With this teaching opportunity, I’m getting to work and see parts of the world I never would have otherwise.

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4. I wish I had superhuman powers. Something. Anything. I often dream about this.

5. My biggest passions are writing and traveling. I hope to do both simultaneously until the end of my days.

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6. I love all things Avatar, and I’m not talking about James Cameroon’s film. I’m talking The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. This brilliant show has influenced and inspired me in countless ways. I will always be a fan . . . oh yeah, and being a waterbender wouldn’t be terrible either . . .

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7. I have a mom, a dad, four brothers, and four sisters (as you may have noticed from fact # 1). Yes, we are all from the same parents, and I love my family dearly. One of the hardest things about living and working abroad is not being able to see them often.

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Now it’s time to nominate 15 other inspiring blogs! Holy Shinto! That’s a lot of blogs, but I think I can do it . . . Here goes!

1. I want to nominate the person that often first pops into my head when I think about inspiring writing friends. Even though she has already been nominated for this, I am re-nominating her (you don’t have to repost, my friend). I have never encountered a more genuine, selfless person that I met through . . . Twitter, was it? She is one of those special writers whose personality shines through her words. Rachael Ritchey has that spark.

2. The second person I’m nominating (also already been nominated) is another Twitter/writing/dwarf friend, Nicholas Hughes. No, he’s not a real dwarf. He, Rachael and I have an alliance of dwarves, elves and men. We get real weird on Twitter sometimes. He’s a great guy with an incredible work ethic. Check him out!

3. The next blog I’m nominating is from Katie McCoach. She’s a freelance developmental book editor by nature, but also so much more than that. I like Katie because she does things. She edits, she helps other authors, she goes to conferences, and she does some writing herself. She ain’t just a one-trick poodle-pony. I find all the articles on her blog extremely helpful and I often go to it when I need some writing advice.

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4. Next up is a very inspiring person that I always wish I had more time with, Mignon Senuta. She recently finished her Peace Corp contract in Botswana – a challenging and life-changing experience that I can’t wait to hear more about. Mignon helps others, travels the world, masters yoga techniques, and is a beautiful person, inside and out. Oh yeah . . . and she also happens to be my cousin!

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5. The next inspiring blog I want to nominate comes from my friend Sarah Nieburg. She recently finished doing work in Ghana, creating programs for girl’s soccer teams, teaching students of all ages and tons of other cool things, which I don’t even know about! Anyway, I like Sarah and I think she writes really well. Our backpacking journeys will cross paths one of these days.

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6. Number 6 on the list is my friend, Chelsea Jane Boice. She’s not only inspiring because she did 40 blog posts in 40 days, but also because she’s got a good head on her shoulders. I like what she writes about and I like her voice!

7. This nomination goes to someone who has inspired me every day of my life. She’s a terrific listener and often my go-to when I need to talk to someone about my book and plot ideas. I’m surprised she hasn’t blocked my Skype number by now. This award goes to my younger sister, Mary (notice how I put her at #7 spot?). She has a tumblr blog but she really wants to start a more official one about art, travel and cooking – three of her greatest passions. All she needs is an extra nudge. Befriend her on Twitter and tell her to start her blog!

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8. Like my sister Mary, I believe my family members have the ability to influence and lead others. My brother Josh, head coach at Salisbury University, is a fantastic leader and person, and I believe people could benefit from his words of advice. Same as Mary—get on Twitter and tell him to share what he knows!

world-leader-quotes-4-19. Okay, I’m almost finished going through my family . . . no the last 7 spots are not the rest of my siblings, although it is tempting. But number 9 spot goes to my sister, Mollie. She wants to start a blog, or a place where people can watch her web series that she’s been working on. She asked me for advice on how to start one, and I said, “You just gotta start one!” I believe Mollie is a comedic genius, and could help others in her field tremendously. Here’s her Twitter.

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10. Next on the list is the only other sibling that does have a blog, my brother, Jeremiah. He is also a writer, but isn’t set on publishing or anything like that at this point. He writes to express himself and he’s really good at it. But he doesn’t like to be on the map. In fact, he’s probably not happy about this nomination! Check it out here!

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11. The next inspiring blog I want to nominate comes from my friends, Kenny and Alison and their blog, A + K Wanderlusts. I always enjoy reading about their travels abroad, and various other posts. Together, they are a wealth of knowledge!

Sorry to say but 11 blogs is all I’ve got. Hope it’s enough for you to sink your teeth into!

Enjoy!

Want to hear more from me? Leave a comment and let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

Counteract by Tracy Lawson

What is Counteract, you ask?

Counteract by Tracy Lawson is a Young Adult dystopian novel and is considered Book One of the Resistance Trilogy. A trilogy, huh? You had me at Book One.

When Free Will Becomes an Illusion, the Resistance Will Rise . . .

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I’m here to host the next stop on Tracy Lawson’s virtual book tour for Counteract. So, let’s get started!

I met Tracy through our wonderful editor, Susan Hughes, and since then I’ve been following along closely with Tracy’s journey. I even had the pleasure of speaking with her about Counteract and here is what I learned:

Dun, dun dun . . .

The year is 2034, and the United States as we know it is no more. In the future, the concept of “Big Brother is always watching” has taken on new meaning.

NSA drone flyovers and government surveillance of citizens’ emails and phone conversations are the least of anyone’s worries. With the rampant threat of terrorism a constant presence, the government has had to take extreme measures to ensure the public’s safety.

The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD) has been enacted as an offensive against terrorist attacks. And make no mistake, attack is imminent.

Citizens in 2034 now live in carefully monitored quadrants, with regulations governing food distribution, driving, entertainment, and much more. For college student Careen Catecher, and recovering accident victim, Tommy Bailey, life is far from carefree and easy.

Anyone who loves a good dystopian thriller will find a new favorite in Counteract. Lawson joins the ranks of authors like Aldous Huxley, and his Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, as she questions whether the government should be allowed to usurp personal freedoms under the guise of doing what’s best for the people.

Readers will find themselves eagerly turning the pages as Careen and Tommy uncover the enemy in their own backyard and discover just how far they are willing to go to fight for a freer way of life.

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I look forward to sitting down with my own copy of Book One in Tracy’s Resistance Trilogy!

And now for the giveaway!

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GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We’re celebrating the release of Tracy’s book—Counteract—with some great prizes:

One winner will receive a brand new, handmade, silver vial necklace courtesy of Bella Beads Studio. The vial measures approximately 2 inches in length and is capped top and bottom in silver-plated pewter. It hangs from a 30″ sterling plated patterned cable chain with a sterling silver clasp. This is the same necklace that appears on the front cover of Tracy’s book (minus the red liquid.) They will also receive a copy of the paperback, and swag.

Ten additional winners will receive a Counteract — Join the Resistance black wristband and a bookmark.

HOW DO I ENTER? Just leave a comment for Tracy at the end of this post. Want more chances to win? CLICK HERE!

DEADLINE: Giveaway ends tonight at midnight, August 12th!

And here’s the fine print: Winners will be chosen at random and must include an email address in their comments.

Want to know more about Tracy?

Follow along here!

Tracy Lawson on Amazon

Tracy Lawson on Facebook

Tracy Lawson’s Website

Counteract Website

Tracy Lawson on Twitter

The Resistance Trilogy on Twitter

Buddhapuss Ink’s Website , Blog, Twitter

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Tracy Lawson signing copies of her very own Counteract!

“Nothing better than talking about reading, writing, and Counteract!”

Feast or Famine: Why Is It Always Feast or Famine?

Feast or Famine: Why is it always feast or famine?

If you know me at all, you’ve probably heard me say the phrase, feast or famine: why is it always feast or famine?

I often ask this question because my life seems to circulate in this pattern of feast or famine.

One day, I’m lucky to have it all. Things are going for me. My students are being wonderful and kind, calling out to me from across the school ground, shouting “hellos” or words of encouragement, or even running up to talk to me. Writing is bearing many fruits, and I’ve received positive and reconstructive pieces of feedback from writers and non-writers alike. Social life is good—I might even have a few dates lined up. Vacation is around the corner and all I can think is: this is a feast for kings. I am lucky to have so much.

And then just like that, famine strikes.

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Perhaps I did something without knowing it, or my students are just tired of school, but the greetings don’t come raining in. Instead, my presence is met with disinterest and downright apathy. When it comes to my writing, I haven’t written a good scene to save my life, and the comments I receive, although much needed, are enough to make me re-evaluate what I’ve been doing. The dates I’ve had have withered to nothingness and it seems like all my friends are dead.

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Why is it always feast or famine? Why isn’t there a middle ground? Maybe there is and I just tend to intensify the experiences of good and bad, but I often feel like there is truth to this revelation.

You’re probably wondering why I am telling you this.

Because I’ve realized I have gotten away from the personal articles, and focused more on author helping stuff, or posting about my Nintendo and animation interests. I noticed I haven’t said much about what it is like to be a writer living in a foreign country. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing the same thing, but I figured it would be interesting to some people.

My life, like the one I had back in the states, is again, feast or famine. But other than that, it’s exciting. Every day feels different, like I’m always adventuring onto the next thing, or merely surviving the moments of confusion brought on by cultural differences and language barriers.

I study Korean and I’m trying to be better at it all the time. I can read it, although I don’t always know what I’m reading. I can write it, although my spelling isn’t great. I can speak and hold a conversation as long as I can ask the questions I want to ask. My vocabulary needs to improve, but I know how to construct the basic sentences, conjugate important verbs and communicate what I want . . . usually. Never again will I ever underestimate the power of body language.

The other day I walked into a butcher shop (no this is not a joke) because I needed to buy some raw meat for a barbecue my book club was having. Other than a small fruit table, I am surrounded by meat. Men stand behind the counter in aprons, putting meat through a slicer—you know . . . things you would see in a meat shop. And in my panic and somewhat limited Korean as the shopkeeper walks up to me and asks me what I need, I say, the noun – meat, and then the verb construction, I am looking for (In Korean the verb comes at the end of the sentence). In other words, I say in Korean, “I am looking for meat.” The look on the woman’s face was priceless, and although she smiled I knew she was thinking in her head, “Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.”

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That was definitely one of my brightest moments. A friend (who no longer lives in Korea) and I would often joke that we spent 95% of our time in Korea confused. Of course it was an over-exaggeration but it was funny to say. I spent a lot of time confused but that percentage has gone down a lot. I’m trying to keep a journal of funny moments like that.

I’m in Korea because the lifestyle is comfortable, because I love traveling, and because I can write a lot in my free time. But I’m also here to learn, to absorb all the sights, sounds and smells, and of course, to teach English. I like being a teacher but I also like being a student.

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 Me in Seoul at What the Book, buying my next book for book club (Dune)

I’m on a high right now. I’m definitely feasting. The next two weeks are summer vacation. I have to go to school to teach for 3 more days but it’s only for a few hours each day. I’m getting pretty far on my edits, and I am loving this summer weather. My old high school friend who is teaching in Malaysia is coming to Korea for a visit, which kicks off my ten day break from school, where I will see her and travel to different cities around Korea, seeing old friends and different sights.

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My friend Lauren and I (one of the few friends I have from childhood/high school/college life that is also in Asia) – kept in really good touch with her through the years

I’ve joined a book club, which is a fantastic community of book-loving people, all with unique opinions about the books we read. The writing critique group I joined is just as awesome, and I’m meeting all sorts of interesting and friendly authors and artists through all the different social media. Another friend I met in Korea gave me a great piece of advice. She said, “stop and take in the moment, and try to remember it, and how you felt at that very moment – you won’t ever have that same exact feeling again.” It was so poignant and I’ve tried to do that when things are going great. This is no exception.

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 Me with my Yeosu Book Club homies (Book of the month: The Boxer Rebellion)

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Gwangju Inter Futbol Club – winners of the Plate Cup (the team let me play as a satellite player from Yeosu – used to play more regularly when I lived in Gwangju during my first year in Korea)

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Me being social for Canada Day – some fun in the sun at local Ungcheon Beach 

I’m gonna try to ride this high, but inevitably it seems the famine always comes. Can a positive attitude fight it off?

I will keep you posted.

“Feast or Famine” Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky

Like what I have to say?

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

Stay tuned for my next posts

When I post about the “Very Inspiring Blogger” Award

and

When I get to partake in Tracy Lawson‘s Virtual Book Tour (August 12th)

and the release of her upcoming novel, Counteract!

9 Steps to Follow When Revising Your Novel

Whether you’re self-editing or taking the advice of a hired editor, there are some basic things you must do when revising your novel. Sometimes this means rewriting the whole thing, sometimes just sections.

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Today, I’m going to talk about the process of revising your novel once you receive the suggested changes from your editor. Recently, my editor, Susan Hughes, returned my edited 75,000-word novel, Worlds Apart: A Myth Reborn. Here are the 9 steps to follow when revising your novel.

  1. Read Every Note, Edit, and Comment that Your Editor Makes. 

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Don’t read the first chapter and start fixing things right away. If you do this, you may miss problems that appear later that repeat themselves. If your editor finds something off at the end of the book, then you’ll need to resolve it, and if there’s a connection from the ending to the beginning (which there probably will be), then you’ll have to go back to Chapter 1 again to fix it. Before you make any changes, read the whole manuscript through. You’ll have a much wider understanding of your own novel and your editor’s notes.

  1. Take Notes.

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When you are reading through the edit, take notes. Do not be passive about it. Who knows what you will remember from it. I suggest making a story map to keep everything organized. Mark down changes you want to make and how those changes might affect other parts of the story. Don’t trust your memory for something this important.

  1. There are Two People in the Editing Process.

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As if that were not obvious already. You are the writer, not the editor, and your editor is not the writer. Of course these roles can overlap at times. You can and will have to edit on your own, but that will be different from the changes your editor has made. In the same vein, your editor is your editor but he or she may suggest changes or even write in their own little piece. They are meant to be suggestions. You as the writer need to decide what to keep and what to change. If you’ve shopped around and found a good editor, then most—if not all—of these points will be valid. Trust your editor, and if you’re uncertain about something they’ve suggested, ask them about it, look it up, or do both. If you don’t make suggested changes and end up making mistakes when your book releases, it will look bad on both of you.

  1. Clean It Up.

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Now that you’ve read every word both you and your editor wrote, it’s time to make some changes! First, you’ll want to go through the edit and clean it up. This means looking at the small changes, accepting what has been deleted, getting everything to match, and correcting the same mistakes that you always seem to make. For me, I always put the letter ‘s’ on the words backward and toward! So fix that up and then . . .

  1. Revamp. Rework. Rewrite. Polish.

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This will be the most difficult part of your edit. You’ll find yourself deleting paragraphs, pages, and even entire chapters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to curse your editor’s name! Get it off your chest, laugh about it, and then move on. The great thing about an editor is that they are neutral. They aren’t being personal. Every suggestion they make is to help you. If it takes you weeks, months or years, then so be it. Don’t expect instant gratification. Work smart and work hard.

  1. Set Goals.

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It is too easy to get away from your writing if you don’t set goals. Set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and yearly goals. Set a schedule for yourself. Make the things you want attainable and stay on task.

Example: Finish the rewrite of chapters 1 – 3 this week.

  1. Find a Balance.

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You must set days aside where you don’t write. If you don’t, you’ll make yourself crazy. Just like we cannot sleep, study, or eat all day every day, neither can we write without stopping. Set aside one day a week where you do something for you. Meet some friends, go bowling, or go to the gym. Do something where you don’t think about your novel. I talk more about that in my post What to Focus on as you Move Toward Publishing.

  1. Join a Critique Group.

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Now that your editor has finished with your work, it might be a good idea to join a critique group in case you aren’t already a part of one. Find one that is right for you. Don’t compromise your creative property. Work with people you trust. You’ll want to get more reactions from people as you rewrite.

  1. A Second Edit?

There is nothing wrong with sending your manuscript off for a second edit. Maybe you’ll keep the same editor, maybe you won’t. But if you’ve made drastic changes and are looking at a completely new manuscript, you may want to think about a second-round edit. There is no shame in it. You want to have a quality book on the market. Take your time and enjoy the ride.

My editing has begun. I must say that this part of the process is both exhilarating and terrifying. You hold all the power to change the words into something new. You get a second stab at perfecting the novel you love and believe in so much. Thanks for all the support from friends and family, and a special thanks to my editor, Susan Hughes. I wouldn’t be able to tackle this monstrous mountain without her.

How I think I looked when I received my edit.

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How I really looked.

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If you’re also revising your novel, good luck!

My June Free Giveaway Monday, on June 30th is almost here. Stay tuned for details!

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

How to Retain your Human Mortality: Some Personal Vows To Live By

You may not have a life bottle to keep your hit points up, but there are always other ways.

In my last post, I talked about what to focus on as you move toward publishing, but today I want to talk about something different.

I read something on Twitter recently that went like this: “The best form of self promotion is to be a real human. With real interests. No one can talk writing and books 24/7” (via @andeehannah). It not only occurred to me that she was absolutely correct, but also that I might be doing just that—talking only about writing.

In the interest of staying away from all that, at least for now, there’s something I’ve been wanting to write about that will show you that I am, in fact, human.

If you choose to follow me in any way, shape or form—become my pen pal, ask me questions, send me emails, or support me in any fashion—I’d like to make some promises to you as my reader, follower, and friend.

I call them . . . Dwarven Vows.

The term was coined in Nintendo GameCube’s “Tales of Symphonia,” which is not only a terrific role-playing game, but also an inspiration for some of my writing.

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Lloyd Irving (in red), the protagonist of the game, is an orphan raised by a dwarf, who teaches Lloyd a series a vows throughout his life.

Here’s one example. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but I think it sits at the heart of every thing that is good in this world.

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 Here are my top ten personal vows. I try my best to live by these. Ready?

#1. Never turn your back on someone who needs you.

Unless you’ve done me wrong and never made an attempt to apologize, I will never turn my back on someone who needs me. I think it’s the way my mother raised us. She never turned her back on anybody. And I don’t plan to, either.

#2. Always be yourself, no matter the cost.

I’ve always been an honest person, sometimes to a fault. Being honest tells others a lot about the kind of person you really are. This saves times, too, because you’re not running around trying to portray yourself as something you’re not. Life is too short for that.

#3. Take your chance the first time. It won’t come around again.

The older I get, the more this becomes true. I travel, I meet new people, friends come and go. Nothing is permanent. I’m not living with my family anymore. I’m not in college with friends around every corner. Too many times I’ve wanted to talk to someone but was too shy. The moment to say thank you or I love you passes me by all too often. Second chances, if you get them, are one of life’s greatest blessings. But why wait until the second one?

#4. Don’t look back with sorrow, regret, or anger, but fondness.

Sorrow, regret, and anger are necessary emotions that all humans must experience. But when you look back and reflect on your life, try to do so with fondness. Learn from your mistakes, but move on from them. The British band Oasis sings, “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and they’re right. The future is bright, so focus on that. Put away the regret over what was.

#5. Understand that family doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone.

These days, family has a variety of meanings. Psychologists try to pin it down to some exact definition, but it’s not some black and white thing. At least not for me.  If he’s your half-brother, and you want to call him your brother, go for it. Maybe your friends—those people who stand by you through thick and thin but aren’t blood relatives— are your family. Family is family, but sometimes other experiences can cultivate these relationships in the most unlikely of places.  Be open to that.

#6. Be loyal until the very end, even if it’s not reciprocated.

There are leaders and followers in this world. No matter which of these you are, you’re open to criticism from those around you. Don’t lower yourself to the hater’s level. It’s a waste of time and energy. They are going to talk about you anyway, so just be yourself. Once they realize they can’t get to you, there’s no fun in it for them. They’re usually just jealous anyway. Stay loyal as long as you can, and then bid them farewell.

#7. Transform your negative thoughts into creative ideas.

A great mind is terrible thing to waste. If you’re having a negative thought, try to transform it into something positive and creative. Some of the greatest inspiration comes to us when we’re at our lowest point.

#8. Never let money, power, or work consume you.

You were born with nothing, and you will die with nothing. My father always reminded us that death is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how much we accumulate or achieve in this life. In the end, we’re still only going to have as much as the guy in the grave next to us.

#9. Living is not the same as existing.

Have you ever thought, I feel really alive right now, in this moment? Maybe it doesn’t happen for everyone, but when you feel it, you don’t ever want to lose it. We’re all going to have our highs and lows, but don’t live in the low for too long. Remember what it’s like to be high (no, not that kind), and try to find time to recreate that feeling. So many people are stuck in a rut these days and don’t make time to really live. Never forget how to really live and be alive, every second your heart, mind and soul can allow it. You only get one shot at it.

#10. Beware of the lies you tell others, but even more so, beware of the lies you tell yourself.

Lies are like hundreds of drone bees, working together to build something even greater for the Queen of Lies. Once you start lying, you build this hive, where the lies live and flourish. They are almost impossible to get rid of once they have started. The lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous ones because they prevent us from being who we really are, and being someone else is like living a lie, every second of every day.

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So, there you have it. And yes, it’s easy to throw out all these wonderful pearls of wisdom, but difficult to follow through with them sometimes. We’re all human; we make mistakes. But these are things I want to strive for, both as an author and as a human being.

See? I can write about something other than writing, I’m working hard not to let that consume me. Hopefully this gives you a little insight into who I am.

In this day and age of self-publishing, it’s possible for authors to engage with their audience in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. I want to be accessible and engaged, and I want my readers to know me as a person. That is my final vow today.

Whether you call them resolutions, goals, promises, or vows, what code do you want to live by?

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

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Worried about your book, or how you’re branding yourself as an author? You’re not as alone as you think.

What to Focus on as You Move Toward Publishing

Self-publishing is a jungle. When I made the decision to self-publish my first book, Worlds Apart: A Myth Reborn as opposed to going through a traditional publisher, I knew it would be hard work. But, sweet Mother Nature, I never knew it would be this much work. 

Write it. Edit it. Publish it. Market it. It’s only four things. How much time could it possibly take? Well, that depends on who you are. If you’re self-publishing, then you’re the author, publisher, and marketer. That can change if you want to hire help to get your words out there, but for the most part, you’re on your own.

As part of “An Author’s April Spring Cleaning,” I’d like to share what I’ve learned about juggling all these things without making my head explode. I’m not to the publication stage yet, but there are some things I’ve learned along the way. And the main one is . . . I’m going to learn things along the way—on my own—and I don’t need to subscribe to one hundred fifty-seven email lists to learn them all. Here’s what I’ve learned so far – what to focus on as I move toward publishing.

One – Relax. I had the most difficult time embracing this one. My book, as usual, was pervasive in my thoughts. I was sleeping 4 to 5 hours per night, heading to work to teach my high school students, and spending my evenings sitting in front of a book, computer screen, or notebook, trying to learn all the “author things.”

And while I came across so many great resources, many of which are still on my Kindle waiting to be read, I realized that I needed to chill out.  I had to focus on the things in my control, manage my time constraints, and just breathe. After I realized that, and came to terms with it, I was falling asleep faster than my e-book downloading skills the week before.

Two – The Book: Inside and Out. It doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers, Facebook “likes,” or blog comments you have if your writing sucks. It doesn’t matter how many people know about it. Your book, both inside and out, is the most important thing to focus on, hands down.

When I say “outside,” I mean the book cover. Start planning how you want your cover to look. Although he’s not accepting any new clients at this time, Derek Murphy of Creativindie Covers is a wealth of knowledge on the topic, and his book, Book Marketing is Dead, is a must-read for any start-up writer. Derek also suggests how to make DIY covers, among other things.

Graphic designer, artist, and aspiring author, Stephanie Mooney of MooneyDesigns is one of my personal favorites. She offers a variety of services at affordable prices and delivers quality work. Whatever your preference is, whether it’s DIY or hiring someone, making your book cover look incredible is non-negotiable. Spend the money to do it. It’s something you won’t regret.

Createspace, another great option for formatting the inside and outside of your book, will be one of your greatest allies as you move toward self-publishing. Other great resources I’ve found useful include Book Design Templates and 99designs.com.

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Are you picturing your book yet?

It’s difficult to think about the possibilities without getting really excited!! Make sure you take your time and choose an option you won’t regret.

As for the inside of the book, the same is true. Hire an editor. My editor, Susan Hughes, has been a fantastic choice for my needs. I found her through the Editorial Freelancers Association, a site for authors, both novice and expert alike. I emailed about 15 editors and received responses from all of them within 48 hours. After much deliberation, some back and forth emailing over a two-week period, I had an editor. Check out more about what I have to say about that here.

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 Susan Hughes is prompt, efficient, and always there to tell me what I need to hear—whether I like it or not.

Three – Preparation. If your book is set to launch in a week, a year, or after the 2018 World Cup, make sure you’re prepared for it! And while you’re relaxing, I recommend focusing on three main things:

1. Build your email list. Do it now and don’t wait. If you’re waiting until your book comes out, it’s too late. A good way to build an email list is to have a Facebook page, website, or blog where people can subscribe to your updates. A great automated way to keep track of your email lists and newsletters is Mailchimp. The website basically held my virtual hand throughout the whole process and made it super easy for future visits. As for Facebook, set up an author page, and have a subscription option there. Do the same for your blog.

2. Use Twitter. Tweet like there’s no tomorrow! No, don’t be annoying about it. Tweet relatable content that your followers or others in your field of interest might find useful. Engage with your tweetmates. As an author, I find it extremely off-putting to see thousands of tweets per day from authors trying to push their books onto people’s shelves. I think finding your focus, finding your following, and being genuine and honest are the best ways to build your platform on Twitter. If you do all that, the followers will come.

3. Finally . . . use the rest of social media. Four months ago, I was only a member of Facebook and LinkedIn. I used Facebook a fair bit, but for entertainment purposes only. After I made the decision to self-publish, I joined about 20 other social media websites and joined over 50 email lists. As a perfectionist and someone who needs to check up on all websites constantly to be sure I don’t miss something important, I was going crazy.

That didn’t even include all of the emails I was receiving, trying to take what I needed from my inbox or downloading it to my Kindle. It was too much, and I realized I would drive myself insane before my book even came out. I decided to take what I needed and ditch the rest. I didn’t have the time or energy to be the jack-of-all-trades. So I stuck with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, Stumbleupon, and Google+. Then I unsubscribed from over 40 of those 50 email lists. They were all great resources and I was sad to leave some of them, but it was just too much for me.

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For the first time in months, my mind, my body, my soul – felt free. I was relaxed and breathing, and I was enlightened to one final thing. Of course I want my book to do well, but my health and sanity are more important. I have to focus on the things that matter – relaxing, enjoying the process, the book—inside and out—and the marketing. Beyond that, I can’t control what happens. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to be working hard to do everything I can to raise my visibility, but I’m also going to work smart, saving time and energy wherever I possibly can.

The more you read, the more you immerse yourself in these topics, the easier it is for your brain to absorb these things. That’s where I’m at right now. However, there is so much more to learn, as the worlds of self-publishing and social media change daily. And I certainly haven’t learned it all . . . I merely discovered a better way to digest it.

So, if you’re also struggling in this thicket of madness that is self-publishing, remember to breathe. Remember that if you love to write, and you like your stories, nothing else really matters. Because you’re having fun and you’re going to keep writing – just like I am.

Want to hear more about this topic? I tried to keep it short and sweet, but I have a lot more to say. Leave a comment or send me an email (jobmerkel@gmail.com)!

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com 

Don’t forget about the next #Free #Giveaway, happening on April 28th.

Back to cleaning up the email lists – let the spring cleaning continue!

 

Self-Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing

What revolution am I talking about?

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The war between people who can bend the elements, and those who can’t? No. Sorry Amon . . . not this time. I’m talking about e-books! Yes, that’s right—electronic books. And they can be yours at the touch of a button. That is, assuming you have a device to read them on. But, look around you. Your home, apartment, office—is there an e-reader somewhere? The answer is, probably. Or maybe there will be soon.

In the 1990’s, publishing a novel consisted of finding and working with agents and publishers and/or paying a lot of money to print thousands of copies of your book. I say this from a research standpoint not because I have experienced it myself (I was still in middle school). But I did query a few agents and publishing companies, all of which denied me. Okay, I only queried five, but there were many publishing companies I wanted to query, but couldn’t without an agent. Ahhhhh. It was like applying for that job that needed at least one year of experience and the only way to get it was . . . have at least one year of experience. There was a way to break into the publishing world, but it would take some work. And I was willing to do it.

And then, the talk and buzz of e-books whispered sweet nothings into my ears. I was avidly against it at first. I wanted to do it the traditional way—the way J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien did it. When the new millennium (2000) began, publishing electronically was available, but most people would have to read the books on computer screens. There was a certain stigma related to e-books. Only geeks had them. And I believed all of those stigmas . . . until about a year ago, when I did some research, and actually educated myself about it.

To my surprise, there were tons of success stories!

One of my favorites, and one of the most famous is that of Amanda Hocking. Early 2010, Hocking was writing at night while working a low-paid day job. She wanted to raise money to take a trip so she decided to self-publish her unpublished novels as e-books (which then numbered 17). Hocking uploaded her first e-book to Amazon in April 2010. By January 2011, she was selling more than 100,000 e-books per month. And she is just one of many of those who found great success (Publishing e-books for Dummies).

So many people, both ordinary and book lovers alike, own e-reader devices. Alas, there was a way to get my books out into the public. It was a different kind of work, and arguably just as difficult as traditional publishing, but I wanted it—I wanted it real bad!

I decided to take control of my own writing career as both author and publisher. I’m telling you this because I want to share my personal story, but also because I want to educate you. In case you do believe the stigmas about e-books, they don’t always have to be true. Of course, there are two sides to this.

The Good – anyone can publish anything they want, whenever they want, as often as they want.

The Bad – anyone can publish anything they want, whenever they want, as often as they want.

The In-Between – “Joe Schmooze” can publish his book about his crazy and probably only partially true vacation in Cancun, Mexico, “Betty Spaghetti” can publish her poorly written, chalk-full of holes cookbook, and “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” can tell you, in the most boring way possible, how her garden grows. On one hand, self-publishing gives everyday people like you and me, an outlet to express ourselves, and share with the world what we have to say. On the other hand, anyone can publish, which makes for a virtual world of readers having to sift through the waves of crap. But, it can be done!

So, if you have some talent, and are thinking about writing a book, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, business advice, recipes, travel, or anything in between—there’s an option for you too!

As I work through the publishing process I’m excited to see what kind of success I’ll have with my first series of e-books, Worlds Apart. If that frozen lake in the middle of an arctic tundra is the e-book realm, I have only looked at an Internet picture about how to scratch the surface, but I’m a studious learner of the process and I’m ready to take the plunge. (I wouldn’t have announced my plan to publish this year if I wasn’t). I’m ready to go to the frozen wasteland, no matter the cost and find out what’s underneath. If you have any interest in doing the same, follow me, talk to me, ask me questions—let’s take the journey together!

A great adventure awaits us, if we would only so much as reach out and grab it.

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