Tag Archives: writer behavior mod

Using your writer RESET button asap


RESET just hit. Again. It’s been crazy – the day before yesterday I had to be coherent for over an hour in a meeting with the H/AC people – a sudden crisis because of an uh-oh! noise coming from the compressor/condenser/whatever they call the external unit, noticed by hubby when mowing the lawn.

Needless to say, I don’t do well without AC – my brain is as fragile as the chinchilla’s, and as useless when overheated.

And yesterday was the expected day from hell: with a whole bunch of incentives, all vanishing as the summer progresses, we bit the bullet and ordered the new system to be installed – immediately. Which meant they were here before 8AM on one of the hottest days of the year.

Did anything go wrong? Do we have AC?

They left by 2:30 – pretty amazing. It all works. We had a cool house by 3PM. Also amazing. Gizzy and daughter each had their room AC to keep them cool while they slept, sort of, as the gentlemen from A.J. Perri SLAMMED the door each time, about a thousand, they came in and out of the house. The whole house vibrates when you do that, and the sound is like having a two-ton piano dropped on the sidewalk behind you. I imagine, never having actually been present when they did it.

Note: when daughter or I leave the house, you can’t tell the door was closed, because we just close it.


It doesn’t matter – it still stops forward progress in my brain

Yesterday, all day after they left, I was completely fried and frazzled. Got almost nothing done except feeding myself. I couldn’t even get to sleep until 5AM. Naps and counted breaths and all my stretching yoga tricks – nope. Resisting carbs – nope. It is quite comical as I watch myself completely out of control – once I can watch myself. Which took until about a half hour ago.

So I just read my own post – this is why I write these things – and will continue the reset process with 1) starting to wake up daughter with sleep disorder, and 2) nap. Again. Until the process works, I’m back where I need to be, and I can function again. Which, if this comment is reasonably coherent, shows I’m starting to get to.


Is there a moral to this story?

I’ve been doing this for years, folks – and I still have to drag my brain out of the deep well it goes to hide – with the slightest provocation.

It still feels gut-wrenching, fraught with all kinds of dire thoughts and worries, and hours of simply not being human. I can’t describe it any better – maybe it’s that my brain is so full of debris, a special kind of debris from things I try not to let get in there in the first place, things such as having to make a decision in very little time, feeling pressured, worrying like crazy about the alternatives, worrying if we can afford it, worrying whether we can afford NOT to do it…

On and on for hours – and not stopping until we make the best decision we can – at which point the consequences will start.

What I am finding is that the cycle is shorter now. I KNEW I had written a post on having a functioning RESET process (as a writer, but that’s basically my life, so really everything). I read it with the beginning of the returning threads of whatever it is that happens in there (and which I wish would happen MUCH closer to the actual crisis, but I also wish to be 30 years younger and have a metabolism like a teenage boy (the skinny ones – I already have the other kind).

Sooner, rather than later, IF possible

This is the fastest I’ve processed.

Maybe I’ll learn – IF there is time (there wasn’t) – to set up the RESET process BEFORE it is needed.

There’s a thought. For when I have some extra energy.

Push the button, folks. The warnings sirens – like the ones the installers of our AC set off during the process of installing, I believe, a new CO2 detector – will stop eventually.

Do you know when to push your RESET button?


Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2


This is a toughie, because we would prefer to be attractive naturally (‘attractive’ here meaning strictly to find more readers who will like your writing), and then any picture would do.

So you have to instead suss out what those readers expect to see, and trust to produce the kind of writing they like to read.

You can go with mysterious, and skip all forms of visual presence. Your choice. Which will be destroyed if you ever get interviewed, do a book signing, go to a convention – and someone takes a photo of the ‘mysterious author’ and makes it public.

“But,” you say, “I never go out in public.” Like me. Okay, not never, just rarely. Maybe then it’s even MORE important to have a photo you like be your representative out in the world.

I’m sure it varies widely by genre, and a fresh-faced young beautiful blonde girl would lack the picture creds to write a really nasty military thriller conspiracy. We trust Stephen King to write horror – he LOOKS like he writes horror. We have these ideas in our head…

If you don’t look like the stereotype, can you modify yourself to look like the stereotype? No.

Can you modify your PHOTO to look like the stereotype? Yes.

Determining the stereotype requires a bit of detective work

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a mainstream contemporary literary love story.

Here’s my analysis:

  • The author of such doesn’t have to be as pretty as the author of a Romance (who should at least look a bit like her (usually young and beautiful) heroine).
  • She should be older than the ‘pretty young thing,’ but maybe not ‘old.’
  • She should be smiling. Love, after all, makes us happy. But not grinning.
  • She should NOT look like a business person, yet she should look competent. She will be your guide on an adventure.
  • She should be slightly soft, rather than hard.
  • She should not look deeply worried.
  • She should definitely not look realistic, warts and all.
  • She should be dressed in something that does NOT signal Romance or Romance writer (think of Meryl Streep in She-Devil with Rosanne Barr – go look; I’ll wait). Nor should she dress like Roseanne Barr on that poster (which is a parody of the Romance-reading suburban housewife). Roseanne Barr is a beautiful woman, and so is Kathy Bates, but they have made a career out of allowing themselves to be portrayed as ugly or frumpy – I’ve been startled by how well they clean up!

How does this translate to what I hope to aim for in the Author Photo?

Plan to ‘airbrush’ or ‘retouch’ the heck out of anything I choose. This is not the time to be starkly realistic.

Plan to pick a background to enhance the person; here’s the Kristin Hannah photo on Amazon – if I looked like her… but older? A really good makeup session, and a really good photographer would do that for me. The choice of clothing and the background combination bring out her eyes beautifully.

A forward-facing but slightly un-centered and three-quarter body position is better than one squarely facing the camera, like a mug shot or a photo for a job application.

Look directly at the reader. Readers need to be able to trust the writer of an improbable tale.

Smiling, but not grinning.

No plastic hair for this – enough said? Soft, flowing, but tidy, a frame for the face. This part is me: no bangs/fringe. Not too much hair obscuring the face. No hint of hiding.

And, of course, the EXPRESSION – the overall ‘feel’ of the image – has to be right. And no, I can’t define ‘right’ in this context; I hope I’ll know it if I see it. It’s not just ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ or ‘competent.’

It’s the same reason I licensed the photo for the cover that I chose: I could not find another that had the right ‘expression’ as a whole – and that one worked for me, though in that case the face is not visible – it’s the whole body and body position that expresses the longing.

Okay now – skillset? Acquire or farm out?


*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***

I thought about going to fiverr for the retouching after I picked out a photo with a suitable expression. There are a lot of people there who will retouch for a very reasonable fee, and the portfolios I saw were impressive.

Maybe I’ll go there later, if Richard Avedon still doesn’t live in Hamilton, NJ.

For me, it’s always the balance between how much energy it takes to set up and work with another person, usually a healthy, energetic person. But more importantly, people with their own ideas and opinions, whom you hire because of those, are not going to get exactly what you want without a good deal of back and forth over a suitable period of time. And it would take a lot of time to vet the portfolios, and go through the whole process with several people. I might be surprised and pleased – the same way I might be surprised and pleased with some of our local photographers – but I don’t have a history of success in that department.

Maybe I’ll just send the picture I choose, pay three or four people, tell them ‘glamorous,’ and see what comes back. Still sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t have a friend who just had a gorgeous head shot taken.

I don’t live near my sisters, or their hairdressers.

Pixelmator and Youtube to the rescue!

With the caveat that the best way to get a great picture by retouching is to start with a very good picture that is almost what you want, but needs a little enhancing and cleanup – and I lack said good picture – I located online, free, available any time (my kind of energy saving), a series of videos giving me exactly the tools and instruction I need, and which I am learning, taking notes on, and starting to follow.

As usual, I talk/write too much, so I’m going to cut the ‘goal’ post off here, and write the rest as I try to achieve my goal: to look like me as you should see me, not as the cold harsh light of day does.

Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!

*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 1


After having just interacted online about the dreaded Author Bio, and navigated that to a conclusion (satisfactory or not), I continue on my mission: to have every useful feature that connects me to potential readers for my fiction neatly and professionally (in the DIY sense) filled out.


*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***

I COULD go out and find a photographer, get the professional headshot created, and post that. In fact, that’s on my To Do list. Has been for YEARS. NOT very near the top. If I ever become famous, have some extra time to waste, or decide I absolutely must, well, there are photographers in Hamilton, NJ. Every once in a while I look them up online. Richard Avedon is NOT in Hamilton, NJ.

I want to return to writing – and I’ve seen so many headshots that I positively hate, and few that I don’t – so, in my ‘fools rush in’ usual manner, I’m trying to make do with no help from anyone. Because I can count on me, and my tools, and everyone else seems elusive and slippery.

I have a nice little camera, courtesy of husband a few birthdays ago. It has lots of megapixels. It is the source of the snapshot that is the current photo of me in most places online. I’ll put it here, because the whole point is that it’s about to change.


It has, of course, been edited. Taken in New Orleans on a family vacation a couple of years back, it is cunningly calculated to fool all automatic editing by the cunning collection of windows and other architectural features from the cathedral I was standing in front of when someone caught a snap of the least objectionable expression on my face of the whole vacation.


The source of the problem is…

That I, like many women (including models), don’t like the way I look in photographs.

There are PLENTY of photographs of me.

I come from a photogenic family – any picture of my sisters will show you how beautiful, polished, smiley, and always impeccably dressed and made up and coiffed (even on the golf course) my sisters are. Mother’s cheekbones are still impressive and lovely, and she just turned 93. She is ALSO kept beautifully coiffed by her lovely helpers.

But I rarely measure up. The CFS means the energy it takes – and it is considerable, ask my sisters – is not available. I throw myself together the best and quickest I can (cleanliness IS next to godliness, if not before it – I manage that often), with no thought for style.

This little detail is a very large part of why ‘Have professional headshot taken’ is so low on the priority list, BTW. Besides the four months of doing nothing but dieting required, I would have to get hairstyling and makeupping and fashion updates which are out of my energy budget from the sheer amount of time they would take, not to even mention the energy.

Your excuse may vary.

So the solution comes from…?

Well, I’m working on it.

For people like me, there are two sources of an acceptable photo:

  1. Candid shots taken by someone else – the source of the one I’ve been using
  2. Shots taken by me on daughter’s forward-facing iPhone camera – one of these days; for reasons which will be discussed below, it won’t help until I have some extra energy
  3. Shots taken by me on my computer – with the software and hardware already available to me – in this case, the wretched Photo Booth

Why wretched? Because it turns out the resolution is absolutely crappy, and there is no way to change it! The resolution settings for the camera – which sends much better quality pictures of me to Skype and such (so I know it can) – have NO way to be accessed ON the computer.

But it has the ONE advantage I need: I can see what I look like as I take a picture. Or rather, what I THINK I look like. So I can manipulate the heck out of that.

The source photos I accidentally acquired

One day within the past year, I went to church, where I sing in a tiny choir.

As I try to do, I was tidy, had a tiny bit of makeup on (okay, eyeliner – it makes my pale lashes stand out a little; possibly lip gloss – easy compared to lipstick), my favorite purple shirt, and my hair was as clean and soft as it gets with my limited haircutting and maintenance routine (yes, I cut it myself when it drives me crazy; very fast compared to that energy-sucking salon trip which normal people use).

So, basically, I looked as good as it gets nowadays (don’t expect that much).

For an unknown reason, I had a bit more energy than usual when I got home from church (maybe daughter drove), I sat at my computer, and it hit me: take some quick snapshots – and we’ll process them later and see if we can kick this headshot thing up the next step. I took my glasses off to avoid reflections. Besides, I don’t usually wear them EXCEPT at the computer, so you wouldn’t expect to see me in glasses.

I quickly took about 20 photos with Photo Booth – and the day’s extra energy was used up.

When I looked at them a few days later, I discovered that Apple, which usually does much better for me, had chosen the low resolution photo as the output of this app which comes with the computer AND there is no way to change that!

Aargh! After blowing my energy wad, I had 20 low resolution photos of me at all kinds of coy angles, every one of which would go straight to the garbage if I had my druthers, and not one of them was suitable as taken because of the background, the coloring, and the subject.

But I’m nothing if not game, and I will be using one of these photos (I might even dare post beginning and after versions) as the source of the dreaded Author Photo, which, unless you are beautiful may actually be better a little fuzzy. Okay – a lot.

Thus endeth Part 1.


Amazon US     and     Amazon UK

If you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.

Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!

*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Writing the Author Bio is painful


Edited 1/17/17 (see end).

I have been struggling with a stupid task I thought I’d already accomplished and would merely have to revisit for a quick update before any more ad campaigns: having an ‘Author Bio.’

I don’t know how it is in traditional publishing, whether authors are now required to write their own bio in third person and send it in, along with a ‘professionally edited’ manuscript they’ve paid to have edited, but the big attraction was always that someone would interview you, tell you you were being way too modest, extract all kinds of interesting bits from you (thus allowing you to remain officially modest), and write something up that made you sound much more interesting that you are.

Until you could replace the whole thing with the fact that you are now famous and a list of your accomplishments as long as, well, whatever.

Once OTHER people have conferred interesting-ness on you, you can act modest and even bashful, and still wow consumers into buying whatever it is you produce.

In these days when indies have dumped gatekeeping and vetting from outside, and have learned to speak of their own work in public, and say that it’s good and persuade you to read it – the other part, writing your own ad copy, is also hard – we now find ourselves in exactly the position our parents would not want us to be in: praising ourselves.

The resulting bios, from absent (coward or busy or not realizing you need to have one) to whimsical to dry to boastful, have been instructive. And the samples online, ‘How to write your author bio,’ have been equally ludicrous.

About vs. Author Bio

You are allowed, nay, expected, to be whimsical on the About page of your own blog. Mine is a mixture of things about me which might appeal to someone – but they are just a random bunch of facts and factoids, things which are individually true or illustrative.

Many of the people who read your About page become online friends.

But the Author Bio on your books’ site – and the Author page on Amazon or your Goodreads Author Profile – is a different beast. It is for strangers.

It is supposed to represent you as a SERIOUS WRITER.

It is something which could be on the back flap of your hardcover traditionally-published FICTION, written by that (possibly fictitious) publicist/copywriter.

It’s a grownup thing.

Writing the REAL Author Bio is PANIC TIME

I can’t tell you how long it’s been on the list, because I thought I had done it, so AT LEAST since October 2015, and probably longer, this task.

Here’s a note to myself from 2013: “I come from the tradition that says the author is the least relevant part of the book, once it’s out.”

I have To Do lists with ‘check Author Bio’ on them, as you’re supposed to revisit your Amazon Author Page periodically and tweak it. I have resisted that tweaking mightily for a very good reason: I’m afraid if I touch ANYTHING on the materials submitted when I posted ebook and print versions, it will lead Amazon to review my materials – and possibly decide I’ve done something wrong and cause all manner of delays in getting it back up.

I didn’t ask anyone about that fear, because it is my experience that fear doesn’t survive information, and I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT.

But I have this ad campaign coming up, and a To Do list specifically to be ready for it, and so many things causing me angst on it, that I decided this is it, the ‘write Author Bio’ was THE next task, and that I would not go on to another task on that To Do list until it was done, because bouncing around from item to item is getting me nowhere but even more confused.

The actual writing of the Author Bio took seven days

The current method – stick with one item until it’s done or the ad is past and there’s nothing you can do about it – started on June 16, 2016.

A usable (up for comments, so feel free) one was produced today by yours truly. 332 words for the long version, and a shortie of 72 words.

If you’ve gone through the process, you know. If not, I don’t think I can make you feel the pain sufficiently.

I have been facing this, putting it front and center as other things had to be dealt with, not moving on to the many other things I need to do (a handwritten list of twenty items, many with subparts), for SEVEN DAYS.

It’s been so bad that I started writing a new book – titled PAPER BRAIN for now – about how to use a damaged brain and still manage to GET SOMETHING DONE. Waiting for ‘good time’ not required if even half-functional. I kept throwing every bit of time – good, semi-good, and non-functional at the task – and getting nowhere.

Brain fog rampant. Inability to make decisions foremost. Whole worldview exposed.

Today I figured out how to break the logjam

In desperation at all the flopping about, lack of decision-making capability, and sheer angst, I found the right question.

I couldn’t write my Author Bio. Why? Because of all the stuff I started this post with.


How about writing the bio I WISH I had?

As if I WERE someone else.

As if life had gone the way I planned it to, more or less.

As if all those details had happened.

I am ashamed of being who I am instead of who I always planned to be, and have been hoping to go back to. So someone could write a bio about me and put it on the books I always planned to write.

I finally realized it has never been up to me, not the final outcome: life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Here it is, finally, shorn of angst and agita:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her life-long dedication to the sciences aided in the development of three STEM children with a love of language.

She has dedicated the past twenty some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have to slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 63.7K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has 19.7K reads.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

She is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year. Follow her on Amazon or at prideschildren.wordpress.com to be informed when her next story is available.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

With the short version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

A voracious reader, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

This is me, folks. What will go out there in public for those who don’t know me, who haven’t earned the details by knowing me personally or reading this blog.

Comments of all kind especially welcome – it’s so much easier to change things at this point.

1/17/17 Update:

As always happens with these things, I updated, and then I visited recently, and didn’t like it. The content was fine, but I realized that, as a READER, I would want to know things in a different ORDER, because I wouldn’t care about the writer’s credentials and history (because I am not a famous person), but about whether she could WRITE.

All I had to do to have it work much better for me was to rearrange so that items of interest to me as a READER came first; then, if someone wants to continue reading about the rest of my life and times, they can.

Here’s the current version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year.

Follow her on Amazon or at PridesChildren.com to be informed when her next story is available.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 66K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has over 20K reads.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

She has devoted the past twenty-some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have for slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her career-long commitment to the sciences aided in the development of three tech-oriented children with a love of language.

She is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

What say you?

Everyone needs a functioning RESET process

reset buttonThe RESET process is key to psychological stability

The concept is incredibly simple: when everything goes to hell, you have to get back to some basics that you can trust, so you can get back to the place from which you look out at the world and can handle your life:

Your writing.

Your parenting.

Whatever threw you for a loop this week. Today. Right now.

When do you press RESET?

To start a RESET process, the crisis must be over; or, the crisis must have gone from acute to chronic, and have, finally, a tiny bit of slack. RESET cannot be pressed in acute mid-crisis; there you have to rely on whatever coping mechanisms get you through crises.

It doesn’t have to be much of a break in the crisis mode, and your basic reset process has to be simple enough to take hold quickly so that you can take advantage of the tiny lull to get back to solid ground.

The instinct to USE that space to RESET is the key to getting control of whatever I need to control.

These past two weeks have thrown all manner of things at me:

  • There have been six doctor appointments, five of them mine.
  • There was a crisis in the handling of my father’s estate, a place where making the time and effort would keep the process of claiming a life insurance policy from having its file closed.
  • There is the continuing saga of launching the last child, functional enough to take charge of her own life, and with a clear understanding of the necessary pieces; seemingly on track to be resolved, it has taken a hit.
  • Writing wasn’t happening at all because my good time had to be used for the crises, and I hate being at that point, because writing seems to be the only thing which keeps me sane as an individual, and not the member of some societal group which has a larger claim on my time.

I got to where I was going in tinier and tinier loops involving tiny bad decisions which were actually making everything worse because I forgot the simple principle of going back to the bunker, going back to Kindergarten (as animal trainers call it), finding the space to get reoriented and reset.

Bad patterns are very hard to break

There is a pattern, a very clear pattern now that I have not been able to interrupt yet: the day AFTER I overdo it (which is extremely easy if you have CFS and brain fog and exhaustion), the first session of the day will be total crap. I can’t get around it – it ALWAYS happens. I tell myself it is coming. I tell myself I should prepare for it. I tell myself I should take First Nap SOONER than the 2:20 which is my session length – and yet I always end up taking far longer than 2:20 before I can force myself into stopping all those tiny distractions, and getting myself into bed for the mental dialysis that is the POINT of my naps.

And I ALWAYS get to that First Nap in an agitated mental state that goes around and around in circles without solving anything.

What do you do in the state where you can’t hit reset?

So, back to the RESET button: because it isn’t going to fix itself until I take charge, and I’m incapable of taking charge in that state. Catch-22.

The RESET button/process is whatever works for you to break the cycle and get back to basics.

For a computer, it is RESTART. The computer is stuck, cycling, or not working well. So STOP. Reload the software/dump the buffers/clear the caches. For each process that was active BEFORE the RESTART, figure out whether it should be started up again – this is critical.

RESET button on this human

For me, it means to STOP the mental cycling that is driving me crazy so I can look at what is important and what isn’t, and pick up threads only to the most critical problems.

And the way I have which works for me is the slow counted yoga breathing I have taught myself to do, and which is attached to the most BASIC PRINCIPLE: everything in the world can wait for THREE calm breaths.

At the end of those three breaths, there is a tiny decision: am I ready to proceed with figuring out what to do?

The answer ‘NO’ simply means I need three more breaths, and the Universe can wait that long.

Eventually, the answer is ‘YES,’ because I’ve given my brain the space to stop cycling and RESET. It never takes more than 30-40 slow counted breaths: slow in and fill the lungs completely; relax and hold while counting eight heartbeats; let the air out as slowly as possible.

The EIGHT HEARTBEATS are what works for me. When I finally start the process of breathing, the heart is racing, and the eight counts are too fast. My brain is totally fogged. But the very counting of the hold phase, my own heart’s eight beats, slows it down. I often have to remind myself of the BASIC PRINCIPLE during this period – after all, I’m in a loop, and a mess, and a crisis, and frantic, and usually there are all kinds of things hammering at my consciousness.

But I also know, from years of practice, that in addition to the heart slowing, a second feature is going on at the same time: the cleaning out of the debris of thinking from my mind. It can’t happen while I’m allowing more input of any kind.

Is RESET possible, and is it reliable?

The combination – slowing heartbeat + brain dialysis – ALWAYS works.

The more I do it, the more it works.

The first three breaths are hard. But I’m also out of any other options when I get to this point, and I know it.

I don’t WANT to nap, to block out the world. I want to fix the problems and WORK my way back to sanity.

Too bad. I don’t care what I want. I know what I have to do: I have to close down the computer and block the internet and turn off the phone ringer, and I have to take three slow counted breaths while the Universe of Hurt waits for me impatiently, often requiring one last pass through the circling garbage in my mind before I can start breathing.

And as many more sets of three breaths as it takes.

It is a process which takes time, usually that 35-minute period between lying down, putting in the earplugs if necessary, and putting the eye mask on to block the light.

Rarely, I do it in less time – because that’s all I have.

Occasionally, it takes a second 35-minute period.

But it always starts to work as soon as I start that preemptive rest period, start the first in-breath, hold the first eight counts.

What happens AFTER you click RESET?

The difference, which I just went though, is amazing. Instead of all those clamoring thoughts climbing right back into the saddle and demanding attention, I am at a calm place that can ask them: okay, which of you has to go first?

And the answer is often: none. Because what I need is to stop, put them all on paper, start the meta process of thinking about thinking, and ONLY then picking up one to think about.

I take my time.

A blank sheet of scratch paper serves for a quick listing of the screaming meemies, and the writing starts the thinking of what options are available on each problem, and the listing gets quietly into doing the more obvious logical steps, and we’re off.

Back in a sane land. Back to where things can wait their turn, and wait until there is energy to actually do them, and in some kind of clarity of priorities and timelines.

I can handle them again.

That’s my RESET button. What’s yours?

Why I cannot read your writing


A person who is becoming an online friend has asked me to do the impossible: she sent me a sample of her unfinished work, and asked for me to comment on it.

Worse than that, she has said nice things about my own published work.

She has no idea what she’s done.

I have been agonizing for two days over this simple request.

Why? Because there is no way to fulfill it OR turn it down.

If I didn’t value her friendship, I would merely have said, “No. Sorry. I don’t read other writer’s unpublished work unless we are in a writer’s group.” And let it go at that.

Instead, I’m going to send her back an email that says, ‘Please read THIS blog post about Why I Cannot Read Your Writing.’

With the bunch of links I have gathered (yes, I’m trying to pawn this off on the professionals), and a separate list for those which use bad language.

And the additional information about me:

  1. I have CFS and considerable brain fog: every minute when I’m coherent is fought for with blood.
  2. I am no one. I have published (self-published) one novel.
  3. I have been writing for twenty years, and just last fall got to the point where I had something publishable; it is impossible to condense that experience.
  4. I have NO editing experience beyond working on my own novels.
  5. I wouldn’t know where to start.
  6. I don’t want to. It will take/has taken me out of my safe mental writing place already.
  7. If you really, really need my commentary, my going rate is currently $1200.00 per hour (see 1., above), and we will still have to negotiate about whether I will work for you.
  8. Having to turn down a friend has already cost me those two days of agonizing over how to do this.

Google on your own the phrase, ‘I will not read your writing.’ In no particular order:

Relatively clean links:

dmattricino (Writers Digest)

Peter Clines

Gavin Pollone

Danny Manus

Links with language I don’t usually use (read at your own risk):

Chip Street

Cynthia Haven

Josh Olson

David Gerrold

What to do if you want feedback:

Create a critique group.

Join a writers’ group.

Join a professional association and request a mentor.

Put your work in public – which is automatically asking for feedback. I did this: I posted Pride’s Children, a new polished scene every Tuesday for two years.

Join Wattpad and post your work (they also have groups where you can specifically request feedback).


To be absolutely clear, I have not even read the rest of the email which incited this rant: as soon as I figured out what was being requested, I stopped reading the email. I did not read a word of the work sent to me.

And if you think I’m making a huge deal over a tiny request, then remember I take this step with the full expectation that I will lose this friendship which I value AND I will be called nasty names by others who may read this post.

Because… go read the links.

What say you: Am I being paranoid?

Being taken seriously as a writer is daunting


We went to a concert tonight, Princeton Folk Music Society.

And one of the long-time members, a wonderful woman who was active in the folk music scene when I was still in diapers, brought over a copy of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY – and asked me to autograph it.

It was a curious sensation, being treated seriously by someone I love and respect, and have known a long time. She went to the trouble of ordering the print version, and of bringing it to the concert where she expected to see me.


But then she started asking questions – about the biblical quotations, real questions about how I chose them and where they came from. I have epigraphs and chapter titles which are quotations from the Old and New Testament.

I explained that several came from the Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible (she’s Jewish). Of course we have different versions, since I obtained permission to use the words of the King James Version, and her scriptures would not have a New Testament.

I chose the quotations I did because they resonated for me, knowing that my readers might be from very different backgrounds: the words can be taken at face value, but they always have a deeper meaning, and one that may take reading further into the chapter to understand.

But she told me she had been going online to find out where the quotations came from – and I never thought about how some educated people like her might be interested in quotations enough to check them out.

The epigraphs as a whole tell part of the story: some are commentary on the worldview represented by the main character, some are a little bit of extra backstory (such as when I quote books Kary has written).

In addition, there are two ‘group characters’ represented by the media quotes I created in the spirit of what I’ve seen online – those that are supportive of a particular artist and those that tend to pick a few entertainers and find nothing but critical comments to make about them. The source attributions for these are as imaginary as the characters they refer to – but the models are ‘torn from the headlines’ of print media and TV news shows. My friend won’t find these online.


A warm fuzzy place in my heart made me happy. I am now a ‘published author’ and my book is available in the marketplace of books. It’s not that it hasn’t been true since last Oct. 28, but that these little steps on the way to FEELING like a real author happen when you least expect them.

I check out the Amazon Reports – and see that SOMEONE is reading Pride’s Children, because the graph of KENP (pages read) is non-zero. Amazon reports how many pages people read on Kindle Unlimited, in fairly real time, updated when people get near their computer – and you can SEE the numbers grow, almost see the pages turning. And I don’t know who the someone is. It could be a complete stranger. It could be someone I reached via a comment, or an ad, or a personal recommendation. All weird. Good weird.

I’m too new at this to get jaded for a LONG time.

Do you find yourself taken aback when someone treats you seriously in connection with your writing?

2015 update on megadoses of vitamin B1, CFS, and writing


Whatever they call it, CFS, ME, ME/CFS, CFIDS, SEID… they still have no answers I can believe. I can’t go to a doctor in my state (NJ), get tests which determine what I have and how severe it is, get a prescription for medicine which helps my symptoms (brain fog, pain, post-exertional collapse, swollen lymph glands, and perpetual exhaustion, among other things), and have a doctor titrate the right doses so I get better.

Or, heavens, get cured.

Grasping at the available straws

Vitamin B1 in megadoses (plus Celebrex, a cox-2 inhibitor used mostly by arthritis patients – which helps with pain) is the ONLY thing that has helped of the many things I’ve tried in 25, almost 26 years of having the disease half of all doctors (including my primary) still believe either doesn’t exist or is all in my head.

I’ve gotten used to that state of being – I can’t change it myself – and I refuse to let it take the rest of my life away from me.

For all the posts I’ve written about this over the last couple of years, type ‘B1’ into my search box. There you will find out where I got this idea, why it seems relatively safe, and how I’ve experimented with it.

How much is a megadose – and what do I actually take now?

I’ve been meaning to update the B1 information for a while, because the B1 posts (type B1 into the search box) are some of my most popular, but I was hoping to have a better report.

I tried a couple of things which I will discuss after reviewing my ‘protocol,’ but they didn’t work for me, so I have little new to report – except that I tried them and what they were.

I AM TRYING TO FINISH A BOOK – PRIDE’s CHILDREN, Book 1 is almost ready to publish – and moving slowly and relentlessly in that direction, but that’s why there haven’t been many blog posts.

And, curiously, I don’t seem to have much to blog about, except when, in the process of getting Pride’s Children, Book 1, ready to go up on Amazon, I run into a wall, and have to figure out how to get through it. AND haven’t seen anyone else solve that particular problem for me in a way I can use.

I seem not to think in blog-size chunks when buried in the minutiae of chasing plot holes and typos.

But I’ve wanted to do this update since I did the failed experiments.


Vitamin B1 Protocol I use (self-invented):

I set out five ‘doses’ of B1 every morning.

A dose consists of 500 mg. of Solgar Super Potency Vitamin B1 plus a 160 mg. capsule of Piping Rock Benfotiamine (fat-soluble B1).

Why the change in benfotiamine? Because my original pills, which came from Source Naturals, had a bad batch, and the pills (150 mg.) would crumble when I set out my five doses for the day, something which hadn’t happened before.

We went around with the company who sold them to me, and they replaced them with another set of bottles – from the same batch, and with the same problem – so that was that. I can’t be without it (I think – I haven’t tried), and I can’t in clear conscience take pills that crumble into dust.

EVEN though the capsules may have the exact same dust – they were MEANT to be capsules.

I have that as a reason – your mileage may vary. For the year and a half before that, the Source Naturals were fine – and they probably will be again. I may try them again, but right now I need at least the illusion of consistency – I’m trying to finish a book!

So how do I take my doses? Note change:

On the basis of learning that the B1 is supposed to be a co-enzyme for the metabolism of carbohydrate (of which I eat as little as possible), I take one ‘dose’ with each meal or snack.

That’s it – simple.

I often find, at the end of the day, that I’ve omitted one or two doses – the brain forgot. I don’t notice enough of a difference to know it there is one – but then the thing that does the noticing is the same brain that doesn’t work.

The REST of the Protocol:

I’m taking 3-5 naps a day. Again.(See below on what I tried to get around that.)

Some of those naps I spend doing breathing and gentle exercises, stretches, and isometrics. Other times I crash into a deep sleep. It depends on many things, including whether I got a good night’s sleep, and whether I’ve been fighting to put the nap off as long as possible. The brain fog doesn’t help.

My naps are 35 min. with a timer. Except that sometimes I go a lot longer. I let myself sleep if I need it – nighttime sleep is erratic, but doesn’t seem to depend on how many naps I take, or how long they are. So I just listen to my body if I can.

Failed experiment #1: STIMULANTS

Long story, but I was getting useful effects from taking half a Bronkaid tablet (ephedrine as a bronco-dilator, OTC). I would take only a nap or two, and even thought my peak brain efficiency didn’t seem appreciably higher, I seemed to be in my best state for longer every day.

That was good – and I loved it, and I used the extra good time to make writing progress a bit faster.

The bad part was that 1) my blood pressure started rising, and 2) the muscle pains got horrific – razor blades embedded in my flesh.

After some internet searching, I found that the first effect was not uncommon in older people like me.

And the other one ditto – except that some people suggested drinking more water, and I tried that – but ultimately it didn’t work.

Horrific pain was the killer – I stopped taking the Bronkaid that way (off label – do not use unless you are prepared to accept the consequences, or don’t get them). I could NOT get rid of the pain, and spent a lot of time doing stretches, yoga, etc., and was taking way to many extra pain pills.

But it DID work, and I miss its effect. It was nice to be a bit more coherent, take fewer naps, and get more done.

Failed experiment #1: MANGANESE

Portkelly, who commented on one of my early B1 posts, mentioned that he takes 10 mg. of manganese with the B1 – I think every time.


APPARENTLY, if your system doesn’t process the manganese (source: the internet), and if you are older this cn happen, it ACCUMULATES – and again raises your blood pressure.

This getting old is not for sissies – when I tried adding the manganese, just 10 mg. a day (not a dose), MY blood pressure started rising.

As soon as I noticed it, I cut out the Mn – BP dropped in a week or so to normal.

So now I add ONE 10 mg. capsule to my pills ONCE a WEEK, so I have a small amount available (think I), but don’t have the BP effect.


I am NOT recommending either of these experiments. I am reporting on them.

I realize I am in the older demographic – and probably have compromised everything, and so get the side effects.

But I cannot, in due conscience, recommend anything I’m not using, and that actually caused me problems.

Maybe somebody younger will be luckier.

Will I keep taking B1? YES – daily

The B1 has not had any side effects, and I still think it give me that remaining one daily period in midday where I can actually think and write.

When I’m finished with this book, I may try again to see if the effect goes away if I stop taking the B1 ‘doses’ up to 5 times a day, but right now it’s in the category of superstitious behavior needed to get me through to publication, and I’ve done al the experimenting I’m going to do for the foreseeable future – I can’t afford the side effects of my failed experiments.

So, yes, I’m taking it.

Is it working for me?

In general, comparing to before, I think it helps 15-20% part of the time.

But I also realize I’m a more mature writer, and have made the effort to be professional about it, getting to that chair every day to write.

I may be fooling myself, but it’s not as if anyone has come up with anything else that I can be sure works.

Be careful with all this stuff – pray for SOMEONE to figure this disease out. If we had medicines that worked for pain, brain fog, post-exertional collapse, swollen lymph glands, exhaustion – and all the rest of our symptoms – we wouldn’t be looking for anecdotes.

Feel free to comment – but I have no additional information, no expertise, and no medical training.

DEAR BRAIN: stop protecting me from finishing


I’m having trouble getting started after a day away, because of roofers hammering on the roof all day yesterday – and because I have to stop and think at a scene I thought was done.

It is easy to lose faith when it’s been a long slog, it seems I’m no closer to the end than I was three months ago (I honestly believed I’d be published by now), and I run into what turns out to be a minor rethinking in a scene that was hard to write.

It’s not the scene.

I think I know what to do, and it’s a minor set of corrections to make reality and fiction overlap somewhere in the middle. The rule is: if you’re going to use the real world, either do it accurately, or CHOOSE to do it differently.

I don’t know why it seems necessary to me to anchor this book in the real world and time – I think it has something to do with making the implausible seem eminently possible at the end.

It isn’t even a requirement – fiction does NOT have to make sense.

But I’ve chosen to anchor many parts in the real world (for my values of ‘real’), so it threw me when I thought I had done so, and Google Earth showed me I had not.

Why blame Google Earth?

Well, because there was a car trip in there (during which some serious thinking is going on), and it went from a slightly fuzzy place (Kary’s house) to a very real place where I’ve been myself, and which is the reason this part of the story got set in New Hampshire.

So I thought I was on solid ground and had planned this out – and that the hard part was giving a framework to the thinking going on, NOT the car trip it is inserted into.

(BTW, notice that I’m not mentioning WHICH trip I’m referring to – don’t want to spoil the magic if there is any.)

I think this is more symptomatic of FINISHING than of any small flaw in the plot or writing.

It’s the EXCUSE

The reason why this long effort can simply not be finished, ever.

And once I stop and write this, thus taking all these horrifying doubts from the inside of my brain, where I am incapable of sorting them out (CFS brain fog redux!) to the cold hard (okay, hot hard – it was over 100°F here yesterday – those poor roofers!) light of day, then I see its size (not so big) instead of its shadow (humongous), and I can think of getting back to work.

Steven Pressfield (Turning Pro and others) calls this ‘Resistance’ and reminds us that the apparent size of Resistance is related to the success possible just around the corner. As you get closer to your goal, the Resistance grows (because, I think, your self is trying to protect you from the negative consequences of success such as NOT having success or having success that is too big for your britches or whatever). So you won’t get hurt.

This is getting a little boring.

So I take all this garbage out of my head, put it on the page (thus proving I am NOT blocked, at least not in writing to you, Dear Diary), and can examine it dispassionately.

It’s just a small bump in the editing.

It is easily fixable.

When it’s fixed, the next bump will appear on the horizon, and I will deal with it.

And there will be more.

And then, just as in all the tasks before, from writing to cover to formatting to, well editing), it will be over.

The TO DO list is FINITE.

Thanks for listening, Dear Diary.



PS Stories of similar will be commiserated with, encourgament  met with great approval, and will accept chocolate (virtual if that’s all you got)

Early morning writing: becoming ME again


I have been battling early morning starts.

I got to the computer chair, but I wasn’t making the decision to block the net for several hours and get my writing done, even though that’s what I always want to do, and it’s the only time I can (before the world crashes in and demands things).

So I stopped to have a think – usually a good idea.

DATA: What is actually going on?

And I found that the first thing I was demanding of my bleary-eyed self was a huge decision: blocking out all my writing time, and getting to work.

And I couldn’t make that important a decision – yet. So I’d surf for a while, check the emails, searching for something ‘out there’ that would get me started, all the while dumping the vast garbage dump that is the internet (even when you confine yourself to a few well-known blogs) into my brain for composting.

Don’t even ask me to do yoga or go for a walk – the decision-making engine isn’t on yet, and I wake up stiff as a board.

It occurred to me I was going about it wrong: what if the answer wasn’t ‘out there,’ the trigger, the jump start, the on switch? What if reading and commenting and bookmarking – just because my brain wasn’t up to full speed – was actually physically counterproductive.

One of the most difficult jobs we do is to mine for gold nuggets from the tons of ore – because it takes brain power to mine, and the brain ends up loaded with stuff which must be cleaned out before it can think.

Copying my writing process: who am I?

I do that when I switch pov on my characters: I take some time to ‘become the character again.’ I re-read the character’s last scene, and the end of the previous scene (if the previous scene was a different character). I take the time, think it through.

What if the first thing I have to do every morning, as in every scene, is to become ME again?

Instead of looking at the early morning planning time as: check the to do list, pick the important stuff, load the brain up, whip it into action, hurry, time is running out – what if I see it as (though it doesn’t feel this way – maybe from years of assault?) time to remember who I think I am, and to let a positive attitude (preceded by smile and prayer) to creep into my brain BEFORE I subject it to the long list of things I WOULD do today (most of which won’t get done)?

Am I reinforcing my own brain fog?

What I really want: to write

I am a writer. That is a constant PLEASURE.

Regardless of how my writing time is spent, in principle I allow myself some each day – because that’s what I’d do if I had no pressures on me.

Writing is ME.

Writing is pure JOY – and I do it playing in my own mind, with only myself for company.


I don’t need those people I keep looking for on the internet, in my family, in emails which sometimes come but most often do not.

My best play time is spent alone, unless I’m too tired to enjoy it.

Writing is how I communicate with my soul, though I will confess: NOT all of what I think will ever get written. Someone may later read my words and be hurt. I can’t keep frustration – we all have it – completely out, but I try not to do it deliberately, and certainly don’t want people to be hurt by what I really think – which I do only part of the time, anyway. We ALL have relationships with other people which VARY by the minute. Relationships are the sum of what we feel and think PLUS what we let out, conscious that we are not perfect ourselves.

Now that I know what I WANT, what do I DO?

Behavior – which includes speech – IS in our control.

Even thoughts – indulge the thought or work to replace it with a more loving Christian one?

Think of a pink elephant in the room.

Now imagine painting nice blue spots on it with a big brush.

Controlling your thoughts isn’t that hard.

And not having to deal with the huge playground/temptation/bottomless pit that is the internet before I’m even human seems to help. A breather. For my soul.

Update after a week: It is working!

I block the internet for a half hour only, and use that time to just sit at the computer, wake up, start the day by becoming ME again.

I’m starting the day with a brain just a physically muddled – that has to do with the disease, and there doesn’t seem to be a way of modifying it (yet): not caffeine, not breakfast or skipping breakfast, not sleeping little or a lot.

But, the same way I become a character before I write from that pov, I’m becoming myself before I have to face the world with it.

After the half hour, I take a superquick (less than 10 minutes, with the timer on) look through the emails and ask myself if things can wait. 99% of the time they can – and it seems so much easier to re-block the net for a bunch of hours and get to work than it had been.

Lesson: keep watching yourself.

Somewhere in your own data may be the answers to your questions. You know yourself better than anyone.

Does any of this resonate with your process for getting started – and around you wasting your own time? Or is it just me?

CFS notes: surviving the dreaded relapse

Are you* having a CFS relapse?

Before you can deal with a CFS relapse, you have to become aware you are IN one.

You would think that would be obvious – staring at the wall, swollen glands, more exhaustion than usual, insomnia worse than usual, odd reactions to normal foods, a general feeling of being depressed and not being able to kick myself out of it – these are some of the symptoms.

Unfortunately, I have all those symptoms in greater or lesser degree most of the time, so I tend to try to ignore them, and soldier on. I have writing to do, and it is finishing Pride’s Children, Book 1, and I don’t let myself diverted too much by things I know I can’t do much about.

Aren’t you just undisciplined and lazy? Continue reading

My own writing advice to me

Accumulated from my notes – little things I wish I remembered all the time. Some help with brain fog – others just help.

Off the top of my head, when asked:

Real life is very limited – go into the world inside your mind and don’t come out. No limitations there.

Net surfing rarely gives you anything, but when it does, oh boy! Prepare to be blown away.

Wait until your brain kicks on. If it does, race to container the deluge.

Catch your typing mistakes as you make them, and put the fear of God into them. They are less likely to do it again.

If you can’t write something as simple as a blog post, go take a nap. Your brain isn’t capable of fiction. Continue reading

You need your brain ON to write

The title of this post is a truism: you can’t write without your brain working in creative mode.

What do you do when your brain won’t turn on?

For me, ‘creative mode’ requires an alignment of planets. There is a mental component to it – fear, or not wanting to write today, or any one of a million distractions or responsibilities – but the main component is physical: I have CFS, my brain doesn’t work very well a large part of the time (we call it ‘brain fog’), I can’t think analytically, and I can’t make decisions.

History repeats itself

I have blogged about these little problems in the past. I’ve had them – and their cousins (the ‘dog collar’ of swollen lymph nodes, mild fevers, a fair amount of a weird pain, and a long list you don’t even want to hear about) for 24 years.

In some sense you get used to it – you don’t have a choice, and spending time with a bad attitude helps nothing, improves nothing, and wastes your remaining good time. Continue reading

Problems using the daily writing time? Check your patterns

Things are rarely truly random – we are creatures of habit

I try to see patterns in my life, especially when I do inexplicable things. Things I KNOW will interfere with writing.

I know I need to get to bed by a regular hour. Then I will wake up early enough so that I KNOW there really isn’t much out there on the web of new content I MUST keep up with, and I’m in reasonably good mental shape: I use Freedom to block the web, and then get to work writing, using the early muddle-headedness in writing about writing, or in writing about why I can’t seem to get started on the writing today, and we’re off… and writing, in my safe little internet-blocked writing world.

And the system works its way reasonably quickly to actually working on the work-in-progress, and having something to say, and figuring out where to go next. Working the ‘process’ steps.

But late nights work out badly the next day.

I wake up at the same time – but without having anywhere near enough sleep, and get up and try to function anyway, sensing that sticking to a ‘usual’ time to be up is somehow beneficial, leading eventually to my brain always being up and ready at this time. Continue reading

READERS: the drug of choice

Yesterday someone left a trace on my blog: he or she read ALL of Pride’s Children posted to date, and a huge number of my other posts.

I am on top of the world. Squee!

Even though my mystery guest left no comments. Continue reading