Emotional Impact Can Cut Off Options

I have had an epiphany. It concerns a bad decision I didn’t even know I was making. The reason I made this bad decision was because someone else made a decision. Namely, Amazon.com.

A couple of years ago I started making coloring books for grown-ups. It was a lot of fun. I wanted to get into the market in the easiest way, so I did what I saw several other authors do, I put the books up initially as Kindle eBooks with download links for PDF files so people could print the images to color at their leisure. Things went great for a couple of months, I got a good mix of reviews, mostly positive, and got several messages from fans who appreciated my work. Good times. I then created a couple of print-on-demand versions using Amazon’s PoD arm, CreateSpace.

Then Amazon made a policy change for their Kindle product. They launched an interactive platform within the Kindle application and started dumping titles that were interactive from their Kindle library. The adult coloring book market was hit hard. My books were blocked, one after the other, and all my good reviews vanished. I tried to comply by removing the links from the ebooks, and instead framing them as preview offerings, but that was a no go. Amazon informed me that coloring books were inherently interactive (even if you can’t actually interact with the images) and my books were not reinstated. That left me with one review on my PoD version, and it was one star from a person who didn’t care for my work. (Amusingly enough the specific image he mentioned in his review as being boring is one that other people have told me is the most frightening piece in the book. So it goes.)

I took this turn of events pretty hard and basically gave up on the idea of coloring books. That was a huge mistake. I realized what a huge mistake it was when I happened to check my CreateSpace account the other day. I had earned some royalties while I hadn’t been looking. (They were sent to an old address, but a quick email to the CreateSpace customer service department and some edits to my payment details got things sorted. The check was canceled, and the royalties were deposited directly into my bank.) While I wasn’t looking I had sold a few dozen copies online, without any support on my end. I recalled my encounter with someone at the one location that carries my books on their shelf, and how he insisted on shaking my hand to thank me for the hours he, and his partner, had spent with my images. I remembered the positive reviews, now hidden. I saw that I had made a very bad decision unconsciously, and it was time to reverse it.

I had failed to remember one of the single most important distinctions for creative people in the Internet age. Options. Since what I produce is mine to do with as I will, there are always options. Kindle isn’t the only eBook vendor out there, and besides there are plenty of other ways to get my images out to the public.

So, stay tuned for some more Color Your Nightmares books, folks! Be on the lookout for a Patreon effort as well. I have plans roiling in my head again, and the hours I spent today gathering images to work with reminded me of how much I enjoy this process.

Watch for what your brain decides while you’re not paying attention. It doesn’t always serve your best interests.

Communication vs Writing

I’ve been thinking about language a lot lately. Language and mind. I read the wonderful book, “I am a Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter recently. I dug his notions so much, I went on a binge on YouTube watching his lectures. The man’s ideas are fascinating. You should check him out. (Especially if you like philosophizing about how our brains and minds work.)

One of the things Professor Hofstadter spends a lot of time thinking deeply about is language. What it is. How it works, and what how it works means for us. One of the things he has noticed is that our use of language is not a precise thing. Language doesn’t function in a mechanistic way. It’s not like we think of an idea we want to put across, and all of the words line up perfectly to communicate that idea. Instead, it’s more like when we have an idea we want to get across (even when speaking to ourselves in our heads), all the words that might work surge forward, and a sort of contest for appropriateness takes place. Douglas says you can notice that when people use words that don’t quite work for what they are trying to say. It also shows up when people combine words as they speak. Lastly, you can glimpse it in all the techniques we use for delaying as we try to get out point out. Things like, “ummm…”, “you know….”, and (my personal favorite) “so….”. Douglas has trained himself to notice when these verbal stumbles happen, and he claims that he makes a few hundred every day which seems to be an average for the people he has informally studied. This changed my mental picture of language working as a sort of series of gears and pistons, to one of a roiling surface of water, with the bubbles that manage to burst being the ones that we get out.

Once Professor Hofstadter pointed this out in a talk, I began to notice it more and more in my speech as well as that of others. I am not as attentive as Douglas is in these matters, but I will say that I think he is right about the frequency of these little cognitive battles bubbling to the surface. Since I watched that talk I have been paying special attention to my speech and that of my friends (and whomever else comes under the cover of my limited awareness.) Not only does this cognitive dance for the words we want to use to express our ideas make all of our communications a semi-bumbling affair, it also serves an important purpose in how we stitch ourselves together as a human community. Or, so it seems to me. It’s in face-to-face encounters where we get the full nuance of our conversations.

Experts on such matters say that only around 10% of all communication is in the words used. Another 15% comes from the tone employed. The remaining 75% is down to our body language. In other words, in the carefully selected, edited, and polished written word we are only getting around 10% of our meaning across. All of this suggests that writing, while a noble art form, lacks the ‘bandwidth’ of personal communication.

I think that the stumbles we make when our words compete with each other to bubble to the surface indicate another lack in the written form. Words on a page are too refined, too polished, to exact. They are too perfect. With this format, we can’t ride along with the ‘speaker’ as they go through the very human motions of figuring out what to say. I’ve been doing some work for a freelance transcription company recently, and the “bubbling up” as people speak has never been clearer to me. I recognize the value of presenting cleaned up versions, of course, but the amount of context gained from listening to people process is kind of amazing.

Language is less like a set of Lego blocks to be put in proper order to present an image, and more like trying to use a garden hose spraying on a pond to write words with the ripples. Perhaps this is part of why poetry can have such a powerful impact. Freed from the rules of sentence and paragraph, the poet can get their message across in a more intimate form.

Language. It’s a funny little thing.

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Do It Until You Know What’s Next

Today I’ve been poking away at a fiction story about an accidental guru, and blog posts about not second guessing your happiness, realizations versus answers, some possible trajectories about self-inquiry, and an intro to a series about the Integral Model. While doing all that, I realized why I write several posts simultaneously.

One of my favorite pieces of advice to writers comes from Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway recommended that you should, “write until you… know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” I have found this a supremely effective tool for writing at a good clip and avoiding writer’s block. If you sit down knowing what will happen next, you have no pause to doubt yourself.

What I have recently seen is this advice is just as good for writing non-fiction pieces. You write until you know what you are going to say next, and stop. Since non-fiction writing involves a lot of saying specific points, you can get to this point rather quickly. That is why I work on several pieces at once. I can plunk away at a post, get to the point where I have a clear notion of my next point, and skip to a different post. It’s a little bit like cooking a meal with several dishes all at once. (Without the pressure of needing them to get done fairly close to each other so the dishes don’t get to room temperature before they are eaten.)

Not every suggestion works well for everyone. However, if you are a writer, and find yourself frequently hitting “dry spells” you might try Hemingway’s little gem out. Let me know how it goes if you do.

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