Title: Chanctonbury Ring (Part of the Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology)
Author: Sarah Madison
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Making “Act as If” Work for You as a Writer:
The funny thing is, as a writer, I’m always playing the ‘what if?’ game. What if a vampire wanted to live a normal life? What if touching a mysterious artifact bestowed strange powers on you? What if gargoyles came to life every evening after sundown? This kind of thing is meat and drink to me. I can take a single ‘what if?’ question and turn it into a novel. It’s my idea of fun.
When I was in high school, I did a lot of theater. My favorite part of the process was the first time we put on makeup and costume for a full dress rehearsal—and became the characters we’d been rehearsing for so long. You’d think the ‘act as if’ idea would be easy for someone who was Emily in Our Town or Martha Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace. The truth is, I revel in costuming, and if I had the time and money, I’d cosplay at all the major sci-fi conventions. But on a daily basis? No. I am too apt to be ‘practical’ and ‘reasonable.’
So I found this article on Sex and the Plus-Sized Gal extremely enlightening because a lot of it was about owning your sexuality no matter what your weight, that it was all about how *you* felt about yourself. Well, back to the old catch-22, right? How do you convince yourself that you are attractive if you don’t think you are?
The key is in not making such a huge leap that your bullshit meter goes off. Astonishingly simple and yet deceptively difficult at the same time, but this is how it works: you pick something about yourself that is both true and positive and you start there. No, you don’t look like Angelina Jolie. You know what? Most of the time, she doesn’t either. Without a full time stylist, makeup artist, and someone working miracles with Photoshop, most of the celebrities we see in photographs bear little resemblance to their real life selves. Also, universally, they all have some body part or feature they wish they could change. Can you imagine what is like to be a celebrity? Seriously, if we loathe and hate ourselves based on what the media tells us is an unobtainable standard of beauty and attractiveness, can you image the pressure the actual celebrities feel? It makes me glad I decided against acting as a career.
No, what you reach for is something true about yourself. You have amazing eyes. You have a nice smile. You’re having a good hair day. Whatever. You latch onto that thing about yourself that you know to be true and work it, baby. Because it doesn’t matter if you have cellulite if you’re rocking that pair of skinny jeans. And you might be going gray, but you know what? You’re not half bad for a foxy old broad.
When we’re teaching young horses to jump, it’s important we don’t ‘overface’ them. We start out with poles on the ground, then raise them to a small cross rail (where the center of the jump is the lowest point), and then we build a small vertical rail. As the horse traverses each jump successfully, the confidence of the horse (and rider) grows, and you can increase the height and width of the jump. You can add flower boxes, or water obstacles, or increase the complexity by adding more jumps in combination with each other, or varying the spacing between obstacles. If you’ve done your groundwork properly, your horse might look askance at some loudly painted panel or some box filled with greenery, but he will canter nicely down to the line you’ve chosen and jump over it because you have prepared him for success.
That’s what we need to do when we are reprogramming years of negative self-chatter about our attractiveness, or our ability to succeed at something, or our skill and talent at writing.
So when it comes to our writing, we need to lay the groundwork. We don’t start out telling ourselves we’re going to be major best-sellers, or that we’re going to write 5 K a day, or we’re going to be able to quit our day job in six months or pay off the mortgage. We set our goals small at first: we’re going to put in the ‘training’, the practice that makes you a successful competitor. We write. We write a LOT. We learn the mechanics of storytelling before we release that story into the world. Next we’re going to successfully jump the cross rail of sharing our stories and getting feedback. Once we’re negotiating small fences like that, we build courses, we make the fences higher. We get a book written and published. After that, we must write daily whether we feel like it or not, publish on a regular basis, and build our backlist. What we’re not going to do is compare ourselves to others further along in the training process, for that will cause many of us to give up before we’ve even started.
When I was in college, I bought my first horse for 89 cents a pound. I’m not kidding; he was being sold for slaughter and that was the going price for horsemeat. He was the ugliest animal you could imagine: he had a cinderblock head on a swan neck. His papers said he was a purebred Saddlebred, but the stripes on his hooves and his scrubby tail spoke of some Appaloosa in there somewhere. I competed in the sport known as eventing—and when I showed up at the horse trials with him, people scratched their heads and whispered behind their hands. I jokingly considered making his show name Destination Ken-L Ration, as dog food was what he’d been destined for.
But I loved him, and I loved riding. I didn’t have a lot of natural ability; in fact, I once had an instructor tell me I had no business on a horse and I should never bother getting on one again. If I’d had more backbone at the time, I would have told her that if she was any kind of instructor she could teach even someone as bad as me. Regardless, I didn’t listen to her because I wanted to ride that much. I kept at it, despite having no talent and a worthless horse.
Many years later, I had entered a competition at a local women’s college. I’d trailered in the night before and after I got settled in, went to watch the students in the riding program school their horses in the main arena. As I watched these young women ride their beautiful horses, I was struck by how out of place I felt with my ‘Taco Bell’ equine. These girls rode daily, whereas I rode after work or on my days off. They had horses that were easily worth thirty thousand dollars; my boy cost me about $800. I was overwhelmed with how out of place I was with my battered horse trailer, and my shabby riding clothes, and my Glue Factory Special. If it hadn’t been so late, and if it weren’t for the fact that my friends were arriving with their own horses in the morning, I think I would have packed up and left.
It would have been a mistake.
As nervous as I was, as out of place as I felt, I stuck it out and entered my tests the next day anyway. And despite my show-ring jitters, we won the high point championship of the day. Not because my horse had gorgeous natural movement, or because I was a talented rider, but because we’d done our homework. And when push came to shove, the Meat Market horse knew his job better than the more naturally gifted horses because we’d put our time in with hours and hours of training.
My favorite quote is from Calvin Coolidge: Nothing in this world takes the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
If you ask me, the reason for this is simple: sometimes things come too easily for people with talent and genius, and they forget that to truly be good at anything, it takes a lot of bloody hard work.
A lot of people believe they have a book in them. Not many people actually write one. If you’ve made it that far, congratulations, you are way ahead of everyone else. But all that really means is that you got on the horse and got it over the cross rail. One of the things I’ve learned about mastering a skill set is that once you do, you have to step it up to the next level. Once you win the blue ribbons in your division, it’s time to move up. Guess what? When you do, you’re at the bottom of the pack again, until you master this new, harder skill set. Believe it or not, no matter how good you think you are, most of the time people aren’t going to fall all over themselves to hand you their money.
That’s just the way it is. There will always be people both better and worse than you at any given stage of this journey. Some started on the path with a better horse, or more time to practice. Others are working with the best horse that they’ve got but are doing it with more dedication. Still others are just getting started, or overcoming major setbacks. This is not about them. It’s about you. What do you want? Are you a hobbyist, satisfied with a publication every couple of years and rave reviews? Is writing a second career for you? Are you hoping to make enough money writing to quit the day job? These are very different goals and need to be treated as such.
Stop whining. If you are counting on writing to pay the bills, then shut up and write. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write every day. The more you write, the better you get, so that even on your worst days, your ‘crap’ is better than most people’s ‘not half bad’.
Stop comparing yourself to others. The only comparison you should make is to where you were when you first started writing, or when you finished your last story. Each story you write should be better than the one you wrote before. Just don’t lay claim to a goal so ludicrous, your bullshit meter explodes. You have to build your way to success, laying the foundation through training, practice, and perseverance. And when that little voice pipes up and says you don’t belong here, that you should just pack up and go home, well, if you listen to it, then it was right. If you don’t listen to it, however, it has no power over you.
Tarq’s hair was as wild as ever, but some London barber had cut it in such a way as to free it from its heavy weight so that it stood up in spiky disarray. The most fashionable New York metrosexual would give up his club memberships up if his hair would do what Tarq’s did naturally, the bastard. So. Not. Fair.
“So why wouldn’t you sell?”
Why wouldn’t he sell? What would Tarq do if he answered with the truth? I want to live where you are.
Instead, Denny shrugged. “I still have dual citizenship. I don’t have any family back in the U.S. anymore. Besides, I can write from anywhere, as long as there’s internet.”
“The taxes will eat you here, but then you probably know that. I thought you were getting married.”
It was tempting to point out that Tarq was well-informed for someone who professed not to have kept tabs on his life.
“It didn’t work out.” The abruptness of his reply startled him. He heard the anger and resentment there and it surprised him that he still felt so strongly. Breaking off the engagement had been the right thing to do—getting engaged in the first place had been the mistake. But he could still recall Angela’s stinging verbal backhand as she ended their relationship.
I refuse to be the Alma to your Ennis.
The sad thing is, she’d been right.
Take a ride to Northern Scotland on the famous train, the Jacobite, and rediscover desire. Get lost in the Peace Maze in Northern Ireland during a downpour and let a handsome young redhead come to the rescue. Take a tour of historical Blackpool on the English coast and set the stage for the perfect romance. From England to the outer isles, the UK holds treasure troves of romance, history, intrigue, and—naturally—quirky British humor. Not Quite Shakespeare samples it all in fifteen stories.
A man in London makes an accident confession of sexual need to a virtual stranger who happens to be his boss. An American revisits West Sussex and rekindles an old flame with a romp in the stables. A couple finds their perfect third while vacationing on a pig farm in Yorkshire. In the office, on the race track, or in the kitchen baking bread—romance in the UK is alive and well, and full of sweet surprise.
About the Author:
Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.
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Sarah Madison has kindly offered a backlist title to 1 lucky commenter.
Contest will end 5 days from original posting date at 8pm CDT. Must be 18 or older to enter, void where prohibited.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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