Therapy or Obsession?

Everything in moderation. Even the Bible says so (well, not quite). Common sense (and maybe our mothers) tells us that a fine line exists between when something helpful becomes hurtful.

Dark chocolate has health benefits. What astonishing news this was to me! So of course I added a small serving to my diet.

Too much dark chocolate will pack the pounds on my mid-section. But what is too much? Who decides that?

As Therapy

Half-a -year ago, I picked up the crochet hook after a long hiatus. My mother and grandmother practiced old school child-rearing. They introduced my sister and me to all sorts of home crafting: embroidery, machine sewing, knitting, crocheting.
All those things were offered to me. I even tried three off the four options. But the only one I ever enjoyed was crocheting, and even that didn’t inspire my imagination the way writing stories did.

I picked up the crochet hook because the women in my church determined to make hats and scarfs for homeless families in our community. Such an awesome cause. I couldn’t exactly promote the activity if I didn’t participate.

One of the women gave me an extra set of crochet hooks and reminded me how to make a chain. My first scarf was hideously malformed.
Her items were smooth and appealing. I wanted to conquer this crochet thing so I could make scarves like that.

Something so pretty couldn’t be bad.

Once the scarves weren’t much of a challenge, she taught me about the magic ring. And I used the skill as a foundation for making hats for all the women on my Christmas list. Who doesn’t want a handmade gift?

I found crocheting in the evenings was a perfect way to unwind after work. Whether the work involved teaching students or writing stories, I’m not as young as I was last month. So, I get tired in the evening.

While my husband watches his silly sitcoms, I keep my hands busy with hook and yarn. Sometimes, I put my earbuds in and listen to an audiobook (since reading was my evening activity of choice before this crocheting craze).

It was sheer therapy. And I made slippers, headbands, cup warmers and more hats.

An Obsession

One day while I was struggling with a stitch, my church friend fired up her tablet. She logged onto her Pinterest boards and clicked through to a YouTube instructional video. It was amazing.

Pinterest dazzles me. If I start scrolling through kitten pictures, I can lose an hour without blinking.

There were so many crochet projects pictured. Sweaters, shrugs, blankets, baby booties, flip-flops, handbags and you name it.

Tons of the pins claimed to link to FREE patterns. Patterns that I could read and understand for stitches I knew how to do.

And you know what a sucker I am for anything free. Who isn’t?

In no time, the biggest board on my Pinterest page was the one I’d called “Crochet Project Ideas.” I found the easiest crochet heart pattern and whipped out half a dozen in various colors. I’ll glue those to a ribbon and make a bookmark.

Next, I saw these pretty coasters. Hadn’t I purchased coasters as a Christmas gift? Wouldn’t it be more fun and personalized if I made them instead? *nods head vigorously*

All remained therapeutic until I found a lovely granny square afghan. I whipped out some red, white and blue granny squares.

Then Pinterest showed me a different pattern for the crochet staple. And another. One with a daisy in the center got pinned to my project board. Once I found the starburst pattern, my evenings morphed into a granny square manufacturing line where I was the sole worker.
Soon enough, I was making one square before I did my morning chores. Another square on the back end of my lunch break.
Yes, my crochet habit began to affect my ability to concentrate on writerly pursuits, especially when they were tedious ones like line editing.
I surrounded my arm chair with the different starburst centers and the four skeins of yarn I was using. I surfed the web for the perfect way to join my granny squares into an afghan. You might be surprised at the number of YouTube videos on the subject.
Hours later, I’d found the winner.
Writing? What’s that? I’ve got to get these squares connected.
I dropped off the cliff into obsession.
But aren’t the fruits lovely?

A byproduct of my granny square obsession.

Do you struggle with hobbies turning into obsessions? What’s your Kryptonite?

If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Getting a Style Fix in the Mail

I love getting packages. This is one of the reasons I adore shopping online.

But some things shouldn’t be bought via mail.

This is what I used to think about clothing.

The Down Side of Clothes-by-Mail

Sometimes a shopping excursion to the mall is fun. Other times, the crowds and pushy people don’t make the measly sales worth the trouble.

Or the gas. Even if the prices aren’t skyrocketing these days.

And there are all those glossy catalogs you get in the mail. Or maybe the advertisements in the sidebar on Facebook or some other website.

Sometimes the idea of squeezing yourself into another pair of jeans that who-knows-how-many other people have tried on before you in a claustrophobic dressing room is about as appealing as a root canal.

Maybe the confusion of sizing makes your head spin.

Should I take a 6 or 8 into the dressing room? I need a 12! I’m never shopping in this store again.

Let’s face it, mail order makes things simpler.

Except for one thing: shipping charges.

They charge you a bunch to ship it to you. They send a pre-paid label for your returns. Somewhere on it in ultra-fine print is the warning “$7.99 will be deducted from your refund when you use this label.”

But sometimes UPS will charge you $10. And the post office used to be cheaper. But not these days.

So you can take a chance that you might love the clothes you’re buying unseen. And pay the fine in shipping fees.

Or you can try a service called Stitch Fix.

The Up Side of Stitch Fix

All the things you like about mail-order clothing comes in that box from your own personal stylist. (And doesn’t it feel awesome to think you have a personal stylist?)

And all the things biggest drawback is solved.

Stitch Fix includes an actual pre-paid envelope for your returns.

You don’t have to figure out how to repair the one you ripped open with abandon. You know when you were so excited to see your new clothes.

Nor do you have to wrestle with packaging tape. You can even put the thing in your mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up (provided you don’t have that bank of tiny boxes at the end of your block that has only a slim letter slot for outgoing mail).

It also has a special feel to it. There was a card with all the instructions in a nice envelope. There were style option cards with pictures of what to wear the individual pieces with.

And of course a note from Kristen explaining why she chose the way she did.

My First Fix

I recently received my first box from my personal stylist. Her name is Kristen.

Now I didn’t really give Kristen much to go on when I filled out my style profile on their site. None of the groupings they showed truly appealed to me. I liked a piece or two from some of them, but not everything. How do I know they won’t imagine I liked those hideous zebra-print shoes?

I asked for jeans and casual tops. And shoes I could wear if I was on my feet all day.

Kristen sent me five items:

This is the Loveappella knit top. So soft, but seemed tight in the arms.
This is the Loveappella knit top. So soft, but seemed tight in the arms.
  • DV8 Penny Loafers in Teal
  • Papermoom Melcon Lace-Up Back Blouse
  • Loveappella knit top
  • Kut from the Kloth Maribel straight leg jeans
  • Market & Spruce button-down top – plaid

I will say that straight out of the box I didn’t love any of these items. But I liked all of them. I would have tried on any of them at the store.

The best thing about trying them on at home?

“These shoes would go with my jeans.” You know how you think that when you’re trying stuff on at the mall? And use that to convince yourself to buy whatever it is?

Then you get home, and it doesn’t match.

I walked right into my closet and pulled out my teal jeans. Yep. Exact match with the shoes.

But I didn’t love the shoes. And they were $70. I don’t spend over $50 on shoes. Ever. If they’re more than that, I wait for a sale.

So maybe I’m too cheap for this service. Time will tell.

I liked the way the jeans felt. I saw some black ones while perusing the Stitch Fix Pinterest boards (because that’s the way to really inform your sylist). And I really would have preferred those because they are a tad dressier. But I did ask for casual.

And straight leg isn’t my favorite. It usually feels to snug on my thighs.

The blouse was pretty but not really my colors. I liked the flowy fit, but did it make me look fat? (The question for the ages, right?)

The button down shirt would look great with my gray and black slacks. But as often happens with button-up shirts, it pulled slightly across the bust. Not a big gap like so many blouses do, but enough that I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it without a cami underneath.

Notice the gap across the chest? My husband didn't either.
Notice the gap across the chest? My husband didn’t either.

And for $58? Well, I could pass that up.

If it wasn’t for my husband, I probably would have sent the whole shipment back (although I drooled on the shoes for a good long while before talking myself out of them).

This is the outfit I kept:

Outfit cost: $122. More than I would pay at the mall
Outfit cost: $122. More than I would pay at the mall

I could have added all five items for $218.50. (They give you a 25% discount if you buy everything in the shipment.) That’s a little lot over my usual shopping budget.

Once I slipped my returns into the pre-paid envelope and dropped it at the post office, I promptly updated my style profile online. To help Kristen, I created a Pinterest board dedicated to my style and pasted the link in my Stitch Fix account.

Now I have to wait until December 13 for my next “Fix.”

I will be newly back from my birthday trip to Hawaii. My tanned skin will be ready for whatever my stylist sends me next.

Have you ever used a service like this? What was your experience? Do you prefer shopping at home, online or in person?

Like what you read here? Would you like a Hero Delivery directly to your email inbox? It can be on the way in a few clicks.

Check out Poet Inspired and my other books. Already read one or more? Your honest review is a golden nugget in this writer’s world.

When even begging fails

 

Begging Meme

I begged. Three people felt compelled listened. And I love each one of you with all my heart. Truly.

Maybe begging was the wrong tactic. You know I’m opposed to bullying. How do I get folks to sign up for my newsletter then.

Here are some ideas I’ve seen others use:

  • Contests: The only contests I’ve run on my blog have FAILED to get entries. I either give crummy prizes, or no one sees the contests.
  • Pop-Ups: This feels like bamboozling to me. I don’t appreciate pop-ups when I visit sites, so why would I force my visitors to suffer through them?
  • E-mails: Uh, I don’t have any email addresses on my list. That’s why I’m in this situation.
  • Twitter: There’s a way to see if people ever come to my blog because of Tweets, but I’m guessing since I don’t have much of a following over there, it’s as ineffective as begging on my blog.
  • Facebook: Yeah. My posts show up on Facebook. A few of my friends click through if the topic looks interesting. That’s a place to build relationships, not try to coerce people into something.

Experts Say

Experts say if I have offer my readers something of value to sign up, that will motivate them.

Question: What do I have of value to offer other than my writing?

Experts say that I need to write compelling content. Duh.

Experts say once I write something compelling, I need to make it easy to share.

Question: I have all the share buttons on my posts. How can I make it any easier?

Experts say if I visit other blogs with a similar topic to mine and comment regularly, other readers will see my comment and hop over to check me out.

Question: How many hours do these folks have? (FYI, I did this for the first year that I blogged and it netted me nearly nothing.)

My Thoughts

  • My content isn’t compelling.
  • The topics I address aren’t interesting to my readers.
  • I write about too many different subjects on this blog. I need to find my niche.
  • I’d rather be writing my fiction or Bible studies than thinking up things to write about on this blog.
  • The posts that I feel will have the greatest reach fall flat.
  • When I visited a Facebook party, I had the most hits on my blog. So, people were checking me out based on how I commented there. Since that time, I’ve tried to repeat those results – no success.
  • I’m floundering. I’m in over my head. I need to face the fact that I’m not going to build an email list (thus, publishers are going to reject me for having no platform).

Why does this writing thing have to have more legs than an octapi family reunion?

Your Thoughts

I NEED YOU.

Your thoughts could help me with this dilemma.

If you are reading this post, please help me.

What can I do to interest people in signing up for my newsletter?

What made you sign up? (I know, you’re related to me. Thanks for that.)

Road to Self- Published – Promoting your Release Date

release date

This whole “promoting” thing just isn’t my thing. It feels like tooting my own horn. Or going door-to-door with a case of encyclopedias.

Sure, I mentioned every stage of writing this book on my Facebook page. I posted about my release date on social media forums, but it felt superficial.

How do you promote your release date? What do the pros have to say about it?

The most important thing to do, they say, is build up an email address list. When they time is right, blast these people with information about your new work in well-timed increments. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

Or not.

As of this writing, I have seventeen addresses on my email list. Yes, as in NOT EVEN TWENTY.

And I’ve done everything the experts recommend except create a pop-up for every visit to my site. (I hate pop-ups. Don’t you? I don’t want to be that person.)

Creating an Email List

Every page of your website should have a prominent display for signing up for a newsletter.

I can check that off. Except…I fear I may have confused people because I have a space to follow my blog posts (and 200 people do follow it) right above the newsletter sign-up.

Whoops!

The newsletter sign-up is a relatively new addition to the site. I’m getting ready to mail out only my second newsletter this Friday. It announces – you guessed it – the upcoming release. And offers links to my site and the purchase pages.

The logic behind collecting email addresses is that people are asking YOU for something. They WANT to hear about your upcoming books and events. You aren’t spamming them with information they never asked for in the first place.

Social Media

I hear mixed things about using social media to promote your book’s release date.

First of all, you should have a presence on your media sites of choice BEFORE you start slamming everyone with requests to purchase your book. Show up and talk to people about things that interest you.

Share their Tweets. Like their posts and pages. Be authentic.

When you’re ready to release your book, don’t hammer your feed with the same link over and over again. I’m aiming for once per day for ten days leading up to the release. Then once per day for the first week.

After that, I hope people will be Tweeting or posting reviews about my book. Then I can share their comments, keeping the subject alive without looking like all I ever do is shove my book in people’s faces.

There might be a science to this, but I don’t know it.

Street Team

Okay, I failed at this.

I tried to find some people – even friends and family – who would willingly read an advanced copy of my book and post a review of it.

My sister and three of my writing friends signed up. I don’t know if any of them will actually finish the book (well, my sister did), or write a review once the book is up on Amazon and Goodreads (which it should be tomorrow or Monday, April 27).

I sent them an email offering a link to a private page on my website that listed simple things they could post each day on the social media venue of their choice. I tried to keep these blurb-ish statements short enough for Twitter. Most of them include links to the order page or my website.

Image by Tim Grahl timgrahl.com

The truth is – I don’t want to promote Reflections from a Pondering Heart. It doesn’t feel like the story belongs to me.

It is an important story, though. I want people to read it. I pray it helps them gain a better perspective of people from the Bible we often ideal-ize.

They can’t read it if they don’t know it exists. They won’t know it exists unless the word gets out. Somehow.

Aren’t there some Book Promo Brownies who take care of this sort of thing?

What would you add to this discussion? What do you feel is the best way to promote your book’s release date?

Additional Resource: Book Publishing Guide

Six Sicknesses Perpetuated by Social Media

Social media enables people in different countries to interact and share news. It’s a great way to keep in touch with family who live far away. Its positive uses are many and varied. Unfortunately, with every positive comes a negative.

The negative uses of social media are many and varied. This truth smacked me in the face during a recent conversation with my youngest son. He is away at college and we were using Skype (yes, technology provides many conveniences we love).

I informed him that a relative was engaged to be married. His response?

“No way! I didn’t read about that on Facebook.”

I’m sure you’ve heard similar statements from people in a variety of generations. My son was only partly serious. This initial response loosed the analytical side of my mind. Thoughts about the problems various forms of social media can and do cause churned and roiled.

My short-list looks like this:

  1. Sterile Relationships: My initial response when my son made his comment: “Some things should be conveyed face-to-face.” Social media sterilizes  and cheapens personal relationships. Debates rage about whether too much socializing on social media affects a teenagers desire and ability to interact personally. An informal poll shows that 67 percent of people feel this is a viable problem.
  2. Miscommunication: The news is quick to tout the Tweets that went out at inappropriate moments (the Boston Marathon bombing a year ago comes to mind). I’ve seen reports of Jackie Chan’s death on Facebook. These are big name items but the likelihood that any post can be misinterpreted is high. Someone stops talking to you. When you track them down for the cause, it turns out they misread a status update on your Facebook timeline.
  3. Negativity: Do I even need to embellish this point? We’ve all seen the negative memes featuring President Obama. Cute pictures provide backdrops for hateful words degrading anything from marriage to religion. Yes, I’m thankful for free speech but have you ever Mymottonoticed how much faster those negative posts spread? People are too happy to jump aboard.  All the negative vibes on social media reinforce my original reluctance to join it.
  4. Loss of Privacy: For most people, this one ranks much higher on the list of problems. We can choose how much information to share, so I don’t get all up in arms about loss of privacy. When people share my business that I wanted to keep private? A problem arises, but I can take down the post or kindly ask them to do it. For the gossips of the world, social media expands their network of listening ears exponentially. No thanks.
  5. Is Everyone a busybody? Suddenly, people think they need to know every little thing about everyone. Instant news – we want it. Updates about health problems – why aren’t they posting on Facebook? Fodder for gossip mills – yep, people expect to see it all on social media. It’s harder than ever to convince people to give you space when people post pictures of all the food they eat, detail doctor visits and spill venom from a fight with their sister for everyone to see. This last is the worst. Since they don’t have to face a real person, many people feel entitled to say things in a disrespectful manner they would never use in a personal confrontation.
  6. Distance: Ironically, most social media exists to help us stay in touch and bring us closer to other people. Instead, too many people substitute kind words on Facebook for genuine caring outreach to people in need. This creates emotional distance. We need each other. We need hugs and someone typing *hugs* in my comments doesn’t offer the same endorphin release as actual skin to skin contact. (Although for those who live far away, I appreciate the sentiment behind this.)

I signed up for Facebook under duress because I need to build a platform for my writing. Since those early grudging posts, I’ve met quite a few incredible people from all over the world who I would never have otherwise encountered. Social media paved the way.

I’ve also had to block some strangers, remove myself from groups to which I didn’t ask to be added and hide posts from people I know from showing in my newsfeed. Minor inconveniences, sure, but infringements on my personal space that I would never have encountered if I hadn’t taken the social media plunge.

What are your thoughts? Are there other problems with social media that bother you? Maybe you think I’m over-reacting. Tell me about it in the comments.