C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

My Top Ten: Becoming a healthier writer

Remember when this blog was about publishing?

It still is, but I’ve got to talk about the author and publisher and our mental and physical health. Without us, there will be no books.

As I write this, I am battling a bad infection. On Tuesday, I find out about some medical test results. In short, things have been tough lately, emotionally and physically. I have a plan to deal with this mortal coil (more on that in a moment) but in the meantime, not much writing is happening. A little, yes, but at George RR Martin speed (i.e. glacial). Once this latest problem gets sorted out, I hope to be free of health scares for a good long time. Sickness and fear is draining. Life, as I have failed to organize it, is draining.

And here’s where the mental game comes in…

This last three weeks has been a series of blows. Most of that problem is mental. I’m not dealing with stress properly. I’m obsessive. I’m negative. I’m focussing on what not to do instead of focussing on what to do. If you spend your energy in the present on what you know you should do, you won’t lose time with regret and anger. I know this because I’ve lost too much time already.

The short story is, I allowed an energy vampire into my lair and he shat in my living room. Two days ago, another energy vampire attacked. I dealt with the problem faster this time, but it still ruined an entire day while I obsessed over what else I wish I’d said to cut him off. When I was younger, I wasted a lot of time being furious. The rage monster is back. I’m not punching walls or anything silly like that. Just seething. That can even be useful when I channel that energy into Misericordia, the beastly vampire in This Plague of Days. It’s less helpful when I argue everything in my head again and again. (At least the revenge fantasy with the torch, the knife and the bag of rats is fun.)

But here’s the paradox:

Writing makes me happy and yet I haven’t been writing enough. A friend asked about my strategies for dealing with negative emotions. For two years, I was free of all this nonsense. Those were the happiest two years of my life. Guess when that was. Yes, it’s when I was at home writing and only writing. Running two struggling businesses at once is a time management problem, though proper use of a calendar and a stopwatch alarm should get that sorted out.

There are many components and variables to health and everyone has to deal with these issues at some point. This is where I make my stand. Turmoil and rage is not a successful life strategy.

Living the way I have been isn’t working.

Underneath the anger is fear, just like Yoda says. I’m afraid of failure and a short life and I’m even more scared of a long life in which my brain and body abandon me. Sometimes, I cry a little and wish I could cry more to let it all out. Mostly, I want to take all the bad in the world into my arms and squeeze until it’s tiny and dead and dust. I want justice and just desserts. I want us to live in a better world and I think, through fiction, we can come at solutions sideways. Even if we can’t save the world through Art, we can save people by giving them harmless vicarious thrills and joyful distractions. Stephen King calls books “escape hatches”. That’s exactly what they are. We write about heroes and heroes affirm our humanity in the face of Darkness. We need these myths as a starting point for our aspirations. There is wisdom and honesty in good writing. With our fiction engines running hot, we can make the hopeful lies true.

I know what to do for myself and these latest health problems are reminders that, yes, I really have to deal with this stuff STAT.

Here are my strategies to protect my brain, body, energy and mood:

1. A diet of plants with some protein on the side. Vegetables are the main thing.

2. Daily movement. It could be dancing or Fight Club or running from bears or chasing criminals through the night in my cape. But keep moving.

3. I built an incredibly cheap treadmill desk ($100) but I find it difficult to compose while walking. A friend gave me a pedal treadmill for Christmas (to use while sitting at my desk). I hope to do better with that.

4. No aspartame. As little processed food as possible. Stevia or xylitol in small measures, okay, but the chemicals I can’t pronounce have to be cleared out.

5. Tracking. The same friend who gave me the desk treadmill gave me a FitBit Flex because (a) he’s awesome and generous and (b) that which is not measured cannot be improved. Everything I eat and do goes into tracking. From graphs and math come course corrections and healthy habits.

6. Closer contact with my doctors. I go for regular physicals, but we’re going to do closer monitoring to make sure I’m on track as I make more lifestyle changes.

7. First drink of choice is water. Then more water. Thankfully, coffee is still in, though less than I have been drinking.

8. More sleep. Early mornings are fine, but the late nights have been too much for too long. I took workaholism as par for the course to get things done. Now I think it’s a stupid ego thing and a result of impatience and poor planning.

9. Be more social with friends and invest in those healthy, positive relationships. Cut rude people off faster and destroy any hope they have of being casually destructive to my energy reserves. Psychopaths don’t lurk behind every rock and tree, but they’re out there. I’m not going to engage these people. I’ll simply delete them or throw them out.

10. Write. For me, it’s as important as exercise, if not more so. When I am writing I am most myself. When I am writing, I disappear from the stresses of this world. In that world there are psychopaths waiting, too, but I know how to deal with them better. I’m very unkind to the bad guys in my fiction. They get to think they’re winning for a while, sure. Then? They burn.

11. Every day in this world, I am kind. I make a point of it. The day isn’t done until I can find a way to do someone a solid if it’s within my power. But I have to be kinder to me, too. That’s why I’ve got 1 – 10. Your strategies may not be identical to mine, but I hope you have some that work for you.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all my readers!

My next entry on ChazzWrites.com will be in the New Year. As you can see, I have to take some time off to organize for lifestyle changes, rest, recharge and, of course, write. Let’s all have a healthier and happier 2014. We need each other for the fight.

Be well.

~ Chazz

PS If you have links, books, or green smoothie recipes to share about how you take care of yourself, please leave them in the comment thread. We all need to know.

Filed under: Rant, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 How to be happy (oddly, this will infuriate people it’s meant to help)

This is probably the sort of topic where, if you get it, you don’t need it. If you don’t see it, you probably never will. (Then why blog about it? Because I don’t see any windmills! Now gimme that lance! Let’s go tilting!)

Change can happen though.

A bureaucracy, that shall remain nameless, gave off a lot of bad hoodoo. They’re infamous for holding the people they serve in contempt. The way they related to people led, in part, to the installation of bulletproof glass in their place of business. (I’m not kidding.)

Recently, they responded to the wails from those who paid their salaries. The video they sent out stopped short of an apology, but they did acknowledge they needed to set a new tone. They promised to work on changing their corporate culture.

I was one of their most strident critics. If they’re sincere, I’m surprised how willing I am to forgive and forget. The changes I see so far are free and subtle. I dealt with them again recently and a few pleases and thank yous was all it took to ease my wariness. It seemed, in the span of a few short paragraphs, that they weren’t trying to make me feel like a dirtbag. Refreshing.

Which brings us to blogging and relating to people.

I’ve found myself skipping past the blog titles that say, “Here are X number of reasons your blog sucks.” Maybe there’s good information in there, but I’m an author with an Irish family on one flank and teenagers closing in on the other. I’ve got enough negativity in my life. I already have a dim view of the world and I enjoy it in fiction. Less so, when someone harangues me.

I attended a webinar that made me sad.

The guy was knowledgeable, but the way he communicates needs to soften. The louder he talked, the less we heard. He then confessed that a big business opportunity fell through because of “conflicting styles and interpersonal stuff.”

I think I know the problem. It was the abrasive guy. “Go-getter” and “jerk” don’t have to be synonymous. The adage is not that you get more flies with corpses.

Which brings us to Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com.

My friend, supporter and sounding board, Kit’s a graphic artist who is a great resource for any publisher. He works with all of us, big and small. But that’s the least of why you should do business with him.

He knew I was feeling down the other day. He took the time to write a kind note that hit me at just the right time. Clearly, if you’re an author or publisher, this is the sort of person with whom you want to work. He does great work and his portfolio is impressive. You’ll get great covers and he’s not done until you’re happy. Work with Kit Foster and you’ll sell more books.

But many people can deliver book covers at a reasonable price, right?

Sure, I guess. But how many will bother to send you an email that makes you feel better when you’re down?

For a lot of people, anytime they see you’re down is when they start kicking.

How can we make more people like Kit?

1. Go back in time and get nicer parents, smoke helpful medicines or be Scottish, I suppose. I’m not sure what makes Kit the way he is.

2. Some medical schools use actors to teach doctors what compassion looks like so they can fake it. I don’t know if that sticks. I’ve often said the only thing I learned from Survivor was that jerks and psychotics can’t fake being nice for a month, even for a million dollars.

3. We can practice random acts of kindness and see if that elevates our mood. Happier people are nicer people. This doesn’t apply to people who get happy for the wrong reasons. If you’re one of those psychos, seek professional help before the rest of us rise up and throttle you.

4. We can practice gratitude (I guess I’m doing that now.) It sounds kind of hippie, but there’s science that shows the more thankful you are for what you already have, the happier you will be.

5. If you can’t manage these suggestions, professional scuba diving limits your ability to damage the rest of us, so take one for the team and go scream at fish. 

6. Use Kit’s services at KitFosterDesign.com. Maybe exposure helps by osmosis.

7. If you’re angry at somebody, make sure you know why you’re really angry.

Here’s how you’ll know you’re angry or sad about something else besides the target of your ire: You should have a range of emotional responses. If you review a book with the same level of vitriol that should be reserved for skinning live puppies? You’re Monty Burns and you have a problem, no matter how catchy the tune you sing about making fur coats.


8. If you’re already happy, spread it like fertilizer. Maybe it will grow. A bookstore employee told me she didn’t aim for happy. She aimed for contentment. Ironically, that suggestion made me happier.

9. Exercise. Meds to treat depression and disorder. Talk therapy. Total gene and personality transplant or personal tragedy that leads to an unlikely transformation. I don’t recommend leaving the problem so long that the solution is that last option.

10. Take Joe Rogan’s suggestion and pretend a documentary film crew is following you around, recording the lost time, outbursts and ill temper. Do that for one day and you might decide it’s time to change all your other days.

When you look up to find you’re surrounded by happy, creative, productive people and you don’t resent them for it?

You’ll know then you’re on the right track.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I am not happy all the time. I am working on improvement. Check out my books and podcasts at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: author platform, getting it done, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TOP TEN: What used to be cool

I used to think people don’t change, but we do, around the edges.

Here’s my list of what used to impress me…overly.

1. Movie memory: My wife remembers where we were on vacations. She recalls the restaurants, the sights and the good times. I can’t remember any of that. My memory box is stuffed with movie dialogue. In fact, that’s my super power. My parents owned a video store and I watched at least two movies a day for years. If you’re watching a movie with me and I feel the urge to show off —a sad, dependable occurrence — I’ll jump in and tell you the next line before the  actor can deliver it. It doesn’t have to be a great movie like The Karate Kid. It could even be The Karate Kid 3.

I’m briefly, ridiculously, proud when this happens and She Who Must Be Obeyed smiles tolerantly. But it’s not a super power that saves babies from house fires. I can’t monetize it. Any memory that’s at all useful, and much that isn’t, can be found on the web. Every time I hear a podcast where the host and guest speculate about what happened, which movie was what and who was Miss October 1993, I think: Look it up! We don’t need our pitiful brains anymore for trivia!We’ve got Wikipedia and the hive mind! Google it!

If our experience makes us what we are and all I’ve got is movie dialogue?

I. Am. Screwed.

2. Unguarded moment memory: Yesterday I chatted with a college buddy on Facebook. We have a strange friendship because: on the political spectrum, I’m Lefty Lefterson, he’s to the right; he loves debate and I love people who agree with me too easily; and we weren’t that tight in college. We even came close to getting into fisticuffs once. And what’s more? He doesn’t remember it. I have joked with him, somewhat passive aggressively, that I remember all his unguarded moments. We spent very little time together at school, but for some reason, as soon as I was around him, my brain box was wired in to his every utterance as if he were on film. (See #1)

One incident in particular became a source of hilarity: In the journalism school newsroom, he looked at me and then he ogled my girlfriend (who years later became my wife.) “How could a guy like you get a girl like that?” he asked, genuinely dumbfounded. I was a tad sandpapered by that at the time. Now, as I write this, I’m suppressing a giggle. He’s a supportive, funny guy who manages to think and smile, often at the same time. I don’t have that capacity and I admire it. But my wife’s still hot.

When I bring up unguarded moments from the past, my buddy has a certain lopsided smile of chagrin. I confessed to him yesterday that I have an eidetic memory for everything he said or did in college whenever I was within ten feet of him. (No, Marvel Studios won’t be making a superhero movie about this mutant power, either.) I told him that if I were him, I’d kill me.

But we’ve found transcendence. We laugh a lot. And I’d rather laugh than remember #2 sandpaper moments from the dead past.

(I’m an asshole for carnivoring yesterday’s conversation and bringing this up at all, so this was the last time.)

3. Domination: I used to watch Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and a host of Hong Kong martial arts movies obsessively. The idea that one man could dominate others with precise kicking skills was attractive. Now it strikes me as silly, simplistic and repetitive. Back then, I aspired to — this is really embarrassing — a whole whack of macho bullshit. As I edit my books, the theme that macho doesn’t mean mucho comes up a lot. Many of my stories explore how men relate to men, how men relate to women and how to be a man without devolving into a bully or a pussy.

I’ve figured out that my need for domination wasn’t rooted in strength.

That bullshit was all about fear.

4. Being a loner: I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, so I wasn’t brought up by parents, but by movies. And what do all cool movie gods have in common? They’re alone.

Dirty Harry didn’t have to pick up the kids from daycare. Except for Casablanca, even bulldog-faced Bogey got the girl. The movie was about the getting, never about enjoying the having. Bachelors are available and open to romantic and adventurous opportunity. They don’t have to arrange a babysitter before they go on safari or take up a mission. Martin Sheen wasn’t on screen debating about who left a ring in the tub after the crazy caper to tunnel into the bank vault in Loophole. Heroes were alone and liked it until they chose, at the end of the story, to start a new, more mundane, domestic story. The few female heroes of that era were largely  indistinguishable from men. The glamorous life was not a life that included children. All movie heroes (who aren’t superheroes) were, and are, marvellously egocentric.

Since I’m not-so-marvellously egocentric, emulating The Loner with a Mysterious Past or The Last Honest Man seemed a good thing. I need space and a buffer zone and time to myself, too! I’m a writer. Of course being a loner was the key to happiness!

But I was confusing fiction and reality. 

Being a loner in real life isn’t glamorous. It’s lonely. 

5. My library: I’ve been getting rid of a lot of books, but I still have a lot of books. My collection not only conveys to visitors that I’m bookish. It says, I’ve found an alternative way to further insulate my home. Look at all those books! See? I must be smart. Please love me! Respect me even though I prefer books to interacting with people!

SAT question:

A doughy guy in a midlife crisis is to an expensive red sports car

as you are to…?

Choose one:

A. The hypotenuse of the square

B. John Adams

C. the Bill of Rights

or D. books.

Yes, D was the correct answer.

As my e-readers fill up, the walls of books look less like a personal statement of integrity and more like (Krom forgive me) clutter.

My new policy with paper books is to sell them or give them away once I’m done with them.

If all that macho bullshit was about fear,

my hoarding is about low self-esteem.

6. Anger: I mistake self-righteousness for being right. Often.

I always loved that line from Dr. Bruce Banner just before he turned into the Hulk: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

You know what I’ve figured out about readership with all the blogging I do?

People don’t like me when I’m angry.

People like me when I’m honest and authentic.

Well…most people. Fuck those trolls.

(See what I mean?)

7. Heroes: My daughter asked me who my heroes are. Her first guess was, “Kevin Smith, right?” A few glib, funny answers sprang to mind, but she had that earnest look on her face, so I went serious and gave her the true, complicated answer.

I like Kevin Smith a lot for his independent spirit, wit and smarts. We agree on a lot. He’s definitely Top 10 material, though I get the feeling he’s also a mercurial god who can be moody. Maybe that’s why I relate to him. But I’m lucky because I know my top heroes personally. They aren’t nationally known, but they should be.

My heroes are celebrities in small circles who lead by example:

Anne is the bravest woman I’ve ever known. She suffered greatly from a terrible disease, nearly died several times, and overcame it all to rise again from her electric wheelchair and walk again. She remade her life long after most of us would have given up.

The late, great Reverend Johnny T. Collins was the single best Christian I’ve ever known. My love and respect for him hasn’t changed a bit though I became an atheist after his death. It would grieve him enormously to discover that I became an atheist largely because of his death.

One of my best friends (I’ve mentioned several times in this blog) is Peter. He has a super power that’s much more useful than mine: Peter makes friends easily and unselfconsciously. Few people have so deep a capacity for joie de vivre. He’s forever the Big Man on Campus no one can hate. (As opposed to the other Big Man on Campus, the smug bastard who led the football team and everyone secretly hoped would get leprosy.) Everyone is richer who has Pete in their lives.

And number one? I’m a very lucky man because my wife is hero number one. She’s the single most kind and generous person I know. (Also, as previously, pervilly mentioned, hot. Really can’t go without mentioning that.) It makes sense that the woman I’m married to must be a paragon of patience.

The heroes I know as individuals are beyond cool. But heroes as a class of people to look up to? No. Heroes as a group are overrated. Kevin Smith, for instance, idolized Brice Willis until he worked with him. I’ll never forget Kevin’s look of regret and disappointment when he stared at the floor and said, “Never meet your heroes, man.”

My heroes are stellar people who are my friends and family. They are people I can rise to be among and still belong. Any hero worth the title empowers you, assuring you that you can be a hero, too.

Don’t just watch heroes. Be one. 


8. Greatness: Perfectionism is self-hatred or, as writer Mur Lafferty says, “It’s okay to suck.” I write books. I’ll begin making them available to the universe this fall. The universe may or may not notice. That’s okay because this is what I do now, whether it goes big or stays small. Of course I want all my books to be made into movies and checks in the mail, but that sort of all-or-nothing thinking will hurt and hold me back. Last night I was up until two finishing a draft of my third book. I had stamina because I was excited about what I was creating. I wasn’t living in the future, thinking about accolades from strangers from whom I desperately want love, respect and money. I do want those things. But writing is about how to make the story more clever, more funny and more surprising. I get brain tickles from the dopamine kick of doing my thing.

Enjoying the journey is the only way to get to the destination.

BONUS:

We learned in The Matrix “There is no spoon.” There’s also no destination. It’s all a journey.

CHAZZ PARADOX:

Knowing there is no destination allows you the chance to get to the destination

(Yup, I have a minor in philosophy, studied Zen and yes, that was annoying!)

9. Ego: When I started out as a therapist, I put on my ID badge and my shoulders went up and my chest went out, much the same way Erik Estrada always substituted posing for acting on CHIPS. I walked into my clinic, “The Expert.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this was self-aggrandizing bullshit I used to meet challenges I wasn’t sure I equal to.

Ego can make you do stupid things. Longer. Everybody needs self-esteem, but too much ego pushes people away and makes you a prick. As a prick in rehab, I know.

Ego leads to stupid shit, like planking. All over the web you can see pictures of people doing the latest thing: Somebody had the balls to stand up and call it planking. Or, as we used to call it, “Lying down.”

Too much ego betrays the truth about ourselves:

NOT. ENOUGH. SUBSTANCE.

10. Certainty: I used to want to know exactly how things will turn out. That’s part of the whole, living-in-the-future disease. I thought that if I could just get this one thing right, everything else would fall into place and success would be mine. Certainty is poison, though. Success comes from doing a lot of little things right along the way, not from sweeping mission statements (like this.) A need for certainty can lead you to avoid tackling those little things.

For instance, I don’t know how to format my manuscripts for ebook formats. Yet. If I had to know it all before I could start, I’d never get it done. Instead I’m learning as I go and nibbling away at it. I’ll never know it all and get it “perfect”, but eventually I’ll be able to digest enough to get my ebooks done and out there.

Recently I listened to a podcast about how to podcast. There is a staggering amount of trivia to know about podcasting. But you don’t have to know it all to begin. You just have to begin. A need for certainty can give you paralysis by analysis (a confident, oft-spouted aphorisms which must be true because it rhymes.)

George Bush elevated certainty as a virtue over intelligence. (Obama doesn’t convey any certainty, so the culture may have over-corrected on that one. Oops.)

Certainty is a conceptual synonym to dangerous things like patriotism and zero tolerance. When someone comes at me with too much certainty, my bullshit detector rings an alarm. Absolute certainty tells me there’s a loss of nuance, somebody’s a quart low on compassion and probably suffering a dearth of thinking.

And I’m sure of that.

Filed under: Books, ebooks, self-publishing, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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