Archive for the ‘General’ Category

On the importance of delegating

Posted: January 23, 2014 in General
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I’d venture a guess that most people — particularly creative people — have a hard time giving up control. You want everything to be perfect. You want everything done right. You want everything done your way.

Trust me when I say I know exactly how this feels. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a control freak. Part of that stems from enjoying planning and organizing, and the other part stems from wanting things done quickly. And, okay, yes, wanting things done right.

Aside from the fact that your way (or my way) isn’t necessarily the best plan of action (hate to break it to you, but it’s true), you can’t always do things yourself. You’ll run yourself ragged, and I know this from experience. You may think you can take it all on, and maybe you can for a while, but eventually it’ll catch up to you. Doing everything yourself is exhausting, and the more exhausted you get, the more the quality of your work decreases.

The solution, then, is to delegate.

Delegating is the act of entrusting a job, or part of a job, to another person. In other words, giving up control.

Does it make your skin crawl like it does mine? Sometimes I just want to do everything myself, consequences be damned. I hate waiting on other people when something need to be done RIGHT NOW. I hate knowing that they might only put forth 50% of their best effort when I’d put in 110%.

It’s hard relying on other people, especially if they have their own responsibilities that must contend with their attention. This is especially difficult for creative projects because what’s in your head might not necessarily be in their head.

But it can also be a wonderful thing. I’ve worked on a hundred projects for Hypable in which I have to relinquish creative control to our graphics team. I’m a writer, not a designer. So even though I have an idea of what I want to see my article turned into, I can’t create that image. The fact of the matter is that I’m just not that skilled.

But they are. And oftentimes they come up with something a lot better than what I originally had in mind. And I’m so grateful for that. It’s taught me that delegating doesn’t always mean you’ll be disappointed; sometimes it means you’ll be impressed.

Even if you have the skill set to do something, it doesn’t mean you should. If it’s a labor- or time-intensive job and you don’t have enough hours in the day, delegate the task to someone else. If they’re willing and you trust them, why not? It allows you to focus on the more important tasks, and in most cases you’ll be able to check over their work to see if it meets your standards. Even if they don’t get it right the first time around, usually people are willing to do it until it’s right, especially if you’re a good boss or a good friend!

So, while I think trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman is a novel idea, it just isn’t possible. Reaching for the stars is great, but having someone help you get there is even better. Delegating is hard, but the more you do it, the more natural it’ll feel. And as that happens, you’ll become a more efficient person, whatever your aspirations are.

It’s something I continue to struggle with, but aspire to get better at. It’ll never be easy for me, but at least I’ll get more used to it.

Do you have trouble relinquishing control? What helps to get over that hurdle? Do you have any good stories about how delegating a task to someone else became a positive experience?

Professionalism with personality

Posted: January 16, 2014 in General
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twitter-featured1Social media is a scary place for a lot of people. Or it can be a comforting place — maybe too comforting.

On the one hand, what you say will be seen by hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people. And it’s out there forever. You might be able to delete it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. A good rule of thumb is that everything you put out on the internet will exist there for all of eternity, whether you realize it or not.

But on the other hand, it is a place to gather with friends, co-workers, and people who you may not know but share a common passion with. It’s a community represented by avatars, where everyone can be exactly who they are, and damn the consequences. You have opinions, after all, and they need to be heard.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Do you be professional or do you be personable? Do you spend all day promoting yourself, or do you sit around and tweet about how flipping adorable your cat is?

The answer is both. As with anything else, you need balance. You need to be professional because, yes, everything on the internet stays on the internet. But you also don’t want to assault your family, friends, and fans with links about your next book every day, all day.

You need to have spunk because people fall in love with the person, not the product. They want to get to know YOU, not become familiar with your Amazon links. They want those pictures of your cat, but maybe not every day, all day.

See the pattern yet?

I represent a lot of facets of myself. On the one hand, I’m a blogger. On the other, I’m a huge nerd. I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. I’m a journalist and an editor, but I’m also just a person. So I need balance to show off each one of those aspects of myself without overwhelming people with one or the other.

I’m not saying I do it right all the time (God knows I talk about Teen Wolf more than any single person should), but I do have some general guidelines:

1. Don’t say anything you’d be embarrassed to say to your parents (or your grandparents or your children, etc.). One day they’ll find it, and that’ll be awkward. This is just a general rule of thumb for life anyway. Don’t be rude and obnoxious. You wouldn’t act that way in front of your grandmother, so don’t act that way when she’s not around.

2. Keep the links to a minimum. Sharing is caring, but don’t spam. People will eventually learn to ignore you, and that’s counterproductive.

3. Talk about your day. People actually want to know, believe it or not. They’re on social media to — get this — be sociable. If you talk about how you spent three hours chasing a chipmunk out of your house and back into the wild, someone will come along and share a similar story. Or at the very least laugh at your misery.

4. Interact with your peeps. Ask questions and you’ll get answers. Ask for tips and you’ll get suggestions. People are friendly (for the most part) and, like I said in the previous point, they’re there to talk to those who have interests similar to their own.

5. Have a filter. Sometimes I really want to rail on something I’m mad about. But is Twitter really the place for that? Is Facebook? Sometimes it is. Sometimes you just need it off of your chest. But other times no one cares. They don’t want to be dragged down by your daily reminders of how depressing your life is. (Harsh, but true.) Social media is a tool to use to your advantage. Whether you’re a writer or you’re just on there for fun, save the private conversations for private. You’ll thank me later.

6. Have fun. Be professional, but have a personality. Don’t think of social media like a chore and it won’t become one. But don’t let it run your life either. It’s addictive, and it will take over if you allow it. Set yourself limits if you have to, but remember that people want to get to know the real you. So loosen up and enjoy.

The correct definitions of introvert and extrovert are becoming more widely known these days, but there are still a lot of misconceptions.

Introverts, for example, recharge their energy when they’re alone. Being around a lot of people drains them, and so they need to have a quiet place where they can just do what they want to do at their own pace without having to meet the exhausting demands of others.

I am an introvert. And I like being left alone.

I relish in the time I spend by myself. To an extrovert, it may seem like a lonely existence, but I assure you it’s not.

For introverts, we can be left alone with our thoughts. We can plan our projects and let our ideas roam free in our imaginations. When we’re with people, our heads become cluttered with the thoughts of others, and our voices get quieter and quieter. Our heads empty out, and we feel more alone than if we weren’t surrounded by a group of people.

It seems strange, but — for me, at least — it’s true.

So, you see, we’re not hermits. We’re not recluses. We just like being left alone. We’re not weird social pariahs (well, not all of us). We’re actually perfectly normal. And it’s not that we don’t like people — we just like people in small groups for short periods of time. Think of us as cheetahs: We do really well for a really short amount of time, and then we need to rest.

We can’t help it. It’s just how we’re built. So, if you have an introvert in your life, don’t think of them as outcasts who like to stay in their bedrooms all day doing god-knows-what. Just realize that when they want to socialize, they’ll come to you. And when they want to have time to recharge, your understanding of that will be more appreciated than you can imagine.

Confession time: I’ve been struggling with the blog a little lately. For some reason, I haven’t been quite connecting to it like I have in the past. I took two weeks off, and have gotten my thoughts in order. I feel a bit better, and I think I know what direction I want to go in now. Not much will change on the surface, but…

I’ll now be blogging twice a week instead of three times. This is partly to save me some time, and partly because I want the quality of the posts to be higher. Cutting out a blog post each week will allow me to do that, so you can expect me on Tuesdays and Thursdays now!

The content will (hopefully) be a bit more varied. Writers are often told to stick with one or two things — something that relates to their writing and to them as people. I totally agree with that, and I think for some people it really works. (For instance, check out Stacy Green’s awesomely creepy blog where she talks about both fictional and real-life thrillers. If that’s your jam, it’s the perfect place to visit.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. I haven’t settled on exactly who I am as a writer just yet, and my interests are so strange and varied that even if I had, it would be hard to stick to certain topics. There are already a lot of awesome blogs about writing out there, ones that are much better than mine, and I want this place to reflect the actual me, not what I think it should reflect based on what has been “proven” to work for other people.

This also means that I’d like to get back into some of my old series, especially the Wandering Bard one. If there’s anything you’d like me to discuss, let me know! I’d really like this to be a place of conversation, not just a place where I talk at you. :)

For the second time, I went to see Gabriel Iglesias perform in my hometown. And once again I was blown away by not only his comedy, but by his generosity.

The first show had me in tears from laughing so hard. This show didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. And it certainly doesn’t mean I won’t go see him again.

The great thing about Fluffy is that he’s genuine — more so than a lot of other comedians, I think. Everyone goes for the punch line, but Gabe goes for the story. If it happens to be funny along the way (and let’s face it, it’s always funny along the way), then great. That’s a success.

He doesn’t need to resort to the dirty jokes. He doesn’t have to yell to be funny. He doesn’t have to swear up a storm. Does it happen sometimes? Yeah, of course. But that’s not what his act is centered around, and it makes him a refreshing comedian to go see.

At this show, Gabriel talked a lot about his family — particularly his father and his son. Was it funny? No, not really. It was actually a really sad story, and sometimes it felt like he was being a motivational speaker instead of a stand up comedian. Not that I cared. I was there for him; the jokes were just a bonus.

But above and beyond that, it was what he did more than what he said. When he came out on stage, someone yelled that they wanted to have his babies (yes, they were allowed to drink there — sigh). He immediately responded to it. It wasn’t mean or disrespectful, but he took charge of the situation. Something similar happened with someone else who was being indifferent to his performance, and he made sure that they didn’t control the show. But he always did it in a way that made us laugh, and not in a way that crushed the mood of the room.

But the best part of the night was when he performed 45 minutes longer than he was meant to. He said he’d keep going as long as we kept laughing, and we held him to that. He performed all his new material, and then started doing his classic jokes. He got a kick out of it when we started saying the punch lines with him, and you could tell that the whole room was excited just to have him there. And he was just as excited as we were.

Gabriel Iglesias is an outstanding performer. Better yet, he’s an outstanding person. And that’s why I’ll always go see him live whenever I can.

If you’re unfamiliar with Gabriel’s comedy, I want to applaud you for making it this far. But I also want you to check out this joke, which is my all-time favorite:

This won’t come as a surprise for most of you, but there are people out there who actually look down on those who are smarter than them. It’s a sad fact of life that other human beings think negatively about a quality such as this that, frankly, should be celebrated.

But the truth is that a lot of people are intimidated by intelligence. They’re intimidated by people that are smarter than them, and the only way they can bring those people down to their level is by shaming them. They bully and mistreat those people until they believe that their intelligence is a curse rather than a gift.

This is why so many “nerds” end up on the bottom of the social ladder in high school. It’s definitely one of the reasons why I was.

But I refuse to be ashamed by my intelligence. I may not be a genius, but I’ve always been above average. I’m the lucky benefactor of good genes, excellent parents, and an inexplicable determination to do my best. Not to mention that I’ve just always liked learning.

It amazes me that there are still people out there — people that I know (and some that I’m related to) — who think of this as a bad thing. Of course, they’ve brainwashed themselves. It’s not a bad thing, no matter how you spin it (okay, I guess it’s a bad thing if you use your intelligence for evil and try to take over the world or something, but you know what I mean). But because these people don’t have what we have, they feel as if they need to make fun of us for it.

Nerd culture is growing in strength every single day, and I think more and more people are realizing that intelligence shouldn’t be covered up, and it isn’t something that you should be intimidated by. There are a lot of problems in this world, and although the shaming of intelligent people might not rank as high as others, it’s something that should be pointed out and corrected.

It’s unfortunate that bullying, even indirect, passive-aggressive bullying, never goes away, even when you get out of high school. But hopefully those who are on the receiving end of that gesture know to ignore it. Because intelligence is never something to be ashamed of.

Have you ever had to deal with this phenomenon? What did you do?

We’re inundated with advertisements every single day. Between television, the internet, and billboards, on average I’d say most of us see hundreds of different ads daily.

Or do we?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to block out most advertisements. I don’t see them on the computer anymore, unless they pop up and take over my screen. (I hate when they do that!) I walk away from the television during commercial breaks, and billboards along the road become background noise.

I feel like I’m becoming blind to advertising unless the ad is about something I’m already interested in, or it’s so over the top I can’t help but notice it. (And that’s a completely different discussion. Ads these days are cray-zay.)

It got me thinking about advertising in general. How much do companies spend on ads and how much do they actually profit from them? Advertising is one of those things that’s sort of built into the game. Companies are expected to advertise and we expect to be advertised to. Nobody questions that, and nobody seems to question the process, either.

It seems woefully inefficient to me. Maybe someone should question the process because it seems as if something gets lost in the middle. I don’t know about you, but I oftentimes remember commercials for their ridiculousness, but I can’t for the life of me recall what the product actually was. Or even if I do, just because the ad was funny or eye-catching doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and buy that product.

I realize that advertising is about spreading the name of a certain brand or a certain product. Maybe the commercial or billboard won’t make you race to the nearest Wal-Mart to pick up that item, but if the name is in your head, then more than likely you’ll pick up that particular one when you find yourself in the market for that product.

And, yeah, I guess that works. But I still feel like something is missing. I’d sooner take the word of a friend than the word of a really well done commercial.

Naturally, this makes me think about writers and trying to spread the word about our books. Word of mouth is an excellent way to do just that, but it’s a slower process than paying for Facebook or Google to do your marketing for you. But does that mean it’s a less productive way of advertising?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. In the end, I think advertising helps to generate the word-of-mouth phenomenon. It gets the ball rolling, and that’s usually what we need as writers. But what about big companies? Why does Coca-Cola still advertise as heavily as they do? Everyone knows who Coca-Cola is (yes, I’m generalizing, and yes, I’m coming at this as an American), so why do they need to have Super Bowl advertisements that cost millions of dollars?

The system seems archaic to me, and I’d love to know what you think and if you have any solutions. This feels like a topic that needs to be discussed, not just for the bigger companies, but for us as writers as well.

A lot of writers talk about the importance of taking a break once in a while. As a collective group, we tend to overwork ourselves. Writers have a lot of irons in the fire between blogging, writing, editing, families, and other hobbies. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So taking a break is important. And I’ve been doing that these past few weekends. It’s been glorious just hanging out with friends, watching movies and reminiscing about our childhood together. (Because apparently I’m at that point in time when this is now a thing. When did that happen?)

But as most people know, coming back from taking a break is hard. What do you mean I can’t just sit around and watch Netflix all day? I have to put on real pants? Wait, where did the weekend go?

Bouncing back from some much-needed R&R can be even harder than putting down your pen or laptop and taking that initial step to start relaxing in the first place.

So here’s my question to you — what do you do? Once you’ve decided that you’re properly rested (or at least as rested as you’re ever going to be in this day and age), how do you get back into the swing of things? I find myself wanting to gravitate toward the couch and just watch Fringe for ten hours straight. But something tells me that’s not going to pay the bills. Bummer.

I’ve always loved going antiquing. It’s the main reason why I decided to get a degree in art history. And while I have found other loves in that subject besides antiques, I continue to visit antique stores to ogle the weird and wonderful things the shops keep hidden on their shelves.

This is also fun to do when you’re looking for story ideas or want to pick out strange, real life objects to insert into your novel. Antique stores are usually packed with the weird and wonderful, and there’s no limit to what could be in there. Antiques from the 1800s to vintage items from the 1970s all make their way into the dark and dusty corners of these places.

Here are some of the strange things I found on my latest excursion to a barn that was full to the brim of antiques which measured three floors high. This place was massive.

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This little beauty is a german stoneware flask. Can you imagine carrying this puppy in your coat pocket? The good news is that if a fellow drunk decided to get a little out of control, it would make an awfully good weapon

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Next up was this guy who, admittedly, is not an antique. But this is possibly the most chill dog I’ve ever seen in my life. He was just lying on the path to the antique store all day long, not even bothering to look up at anyone coming or going unless they stopped to pet him. Which everyone did.

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My mom and I decided this was a dragon’s skull because it was so big and because we have no idea what it really is. But dragon just seems much cooler, doesn’t it?

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There were a couple of these floating around the shop, but this one was my favorite. It recalls stories of ships and mermaids, and a naval adventure full of pirates and magic.

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There were a lot of dead things in this place. And definitely more than just a couple of these suckers.

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I took this picture for Jenny Hansen because you always need More Cowbell.

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This cat did not want to be bothered while she was cleaning herself, but she was more than happy to give me a bath nonetheless.

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Not only was this place full of antiques on the inside, but you could drive around the property and look at this veritable graveyard/outdoor museum of antiques scattered all around the yard. So much to see!

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Then we went and got chocolate pizza. YES, THAT IS ACTUAL CHOCOLATE GOODNESS ON PIZZA CRUST. And that day was a good day.

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And, finally, we stopped off in a massively packed used bookstore that was absolutely brimming with any kind of book you could possibly want. I didn’t end up getting anything, but I scouted the science fiction shelves and I’m definitely going to try to pick up some novels by the greats. Gotta start somewhere, so it might as well be with the best, right?

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What’s some of the coolest things you’ve found while out antique shopping?

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This was just one entrance-way on one of the slower days. Look at all those people!!

As some of you may already know, I recently went to New York Comic-Con. It’s a bit smaller than the San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s full of nerds and nerdy things, and therefore it felt like home.

Comic-Con is a great place for people who are passionate about nearly any kind of entertainment. Comic-Con covers books and comics, movies, television shows, video games, and art. There is quite literally something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of the biggies — like Harry Potter, Doctor Who, or the Avengers — or if you like the the strange and obscure — like Homestuck, Adventure Time, or just about any type of manga.

It’s a place where nerds can feel welcome no matter their preferences or level of fangirl. Funny t-shirts and ornate cosplays are around every corner, and the bigger, nerdier, and more detailed you are, the more impressive you’ll be.

New York Comic-Con was smaller than San Diego, so it was a little easier for me to see the phenomenon of strangers-becoming-friends this time, more so than I did back in July.

It began with a group of girls who were sitting down next to me, resting or waiting until the next activity started (I was frantically typing up an article for Hypable and trying to decide if sawing off my own feet would actually be less painful than wearing the boots I had chosen that day). Another girl, someone this group didn’t know, approached them and asked for a picture. The girls jumped up and posed without question, and then the six or so of them began talking.

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The best Kaylee cosplay I’ve ever seen in my life. Whoawhoawhoawhoa.

It was fascinating to see something like this happen, especially somewhere like New York. But people have such strong identities with their fandoms that strangers no longer feel like strangers. A cosplay costume or a snarky shirt is like a neon sign hanging over your head that says I GET YOU in a language only certain people can read. If you come across a person who can read that language, you’re no longer strangers but people who have a special kind of connection.

While I won’t deny that computers and phones have vastly decreased the amount of face-to-face communication that exists in the world, I have to laugh at those people that feel like it destroys our (i.e. my generation’s) ability to talk to other people. Quite the opposite, actually. I can pick a Teen Wolf fan out of a crowd and instantly have something to talk to them about. And I did just that at Comic-Con. Friends are instant when you share a passion for something as strongly as those do who go to conventions.

In fact, I met up with a couple of people I met through various television shows, and they felt like friends I had known for years. We had so much to talk about even though it was our first time actually seeing each other. In a city where I feel uncomfortable walking up to just any old person and striking up a conversation, something like that is such a comfort amongst the hoards of people crawling through the Javitz center.

Relationships are kindled when you’re waiting in line for hours, hoping you’ll get into a panel. Or when you see someone whose work you appreciate. Or when you meet a person you listen to on a podcast every week. The connections you form with people over the internet are no less important and strong than those you may meet “in real life.” And I think you, blog readers and writers, can understand that more than most.

The moral of the story is that conventions may serve to bring you exclusive information and cool souvenirs and awesome memories, but they can also bring you genuine friendship and a camaraderie with people you may never meet again. And to me, that’s just one more reason to go to nerdtastic conventions like Comic-Con.