Friday, October 21, 2016

Seeking Creativity? Try Walking.

Many famous writers turn to alcohol or drugs, either for motivation or escape: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.  I’m not sure the total number of renowned alcoholic authors is sufficient to claim a high correlation between destructive compulsive behavior and writing genius, but there’s enough to make you wonder.  
A mysterious romance is often associated with troubled writers toiling over their unfinished novels in smoky studies with their favorite libations nearby. One might question if their coarse lifestyle infused their creative genius, or if their genius came first and was a burden too heavy for them to carry.  I suspect it’s the latter.
Let me suggest there’s a better way to stoke your creative writing juices than drinking: walking. 
Walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day has been shown to stimulate your brain. Walkers are 50% less likely to develop dementia than non-walkers.   Higher fitness levels are correlated with continued development of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, both vital to memory and complex thinking.  Those who remain physically active late in life are also more likely to demonstrate continued mental growth.    
It also has been proven that those who walk regularly are happier and exhibit higher levels of energy.  Regular physical exercise releases uplifting endorphins that improve your mood, as well as reduce stress and anxiety.  You may have heard of a “runner’s high.”  The release of endorphins is responsible for that buzz.  
I start each day by taking a 45-minute walk with my dog along mountain trails. I’m not so sure if the walking has made me a more polished writer, but I can attest to feeling refreshed and in a much better mood on the days I walk.  I am clearly more productive after my hike in the woods and able to focus at a higher level.  Walking alone also gives me time to think, time for my mind to wander.  I’ve come up with many new ideas for stories, plot twists, and character developments while sauntering through the woods.  
While walking may not be as mysteriously romantic as Hemingway passing out at his writing desk after a night at a Key West saloon, it will definitely improve a writer’s energy and longevity.  At age 64, I’d like to write many more years, so I’ll do anything to keep my body healthy and my mind sharp. 
Although, I must admit, if I thought going on a weeklong bender would elevate my next Miles Stevens novel to best seller status, I’d be downing double shots right now.              

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Reviews: They're Hard To Come By

Authors crave book reviews.  Most reviews of my books are well-thought and favorable, but I’ve also received not-so-positive critiques.   I appreciate them all.
As a self-published author, it’s difficult to accumulate reviews of my work, and it’s getting even harder.  I estimate fewer than 5% of my readers post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  It’s difficult to calculate exactly.  I know how many books I’ve sold and how many I’ve given away in promotions, but I don’t know how many of my books have actually been read.      
Successful authors receive plenty of reviews, and getting reviews builds success.  It makes you wonder what comes first, success or reviews? Many factors contribute to becoming a recognized writer, but without favorable reviews, aspiring will forever precede author in your title.
I’ve tried most of the typical approaches used by self-published writers to obtain more reviews:  book signings, author interviews, promotional giveaways, advance reader copies (ARC), and review swap groups.  I promote my work on my blog and via Twitter @drshoultz .   I even ask for reviews at the end of each of my books (a practice frowned upon by established authors).  I, and most new authors, work very hard for each review.     
The pursuit of reviews has become controversial in recent years, the controversy escalating with the explosive growth of self-publishing. The ethical, and even legal, dilemma surrounding solicitation of reviews gives all authors cause for concern.  Personally, I see no harm in offering free copies of my books to readers in exchange for honest reviews, provided the reader acknowledges the gift in their review.  On the other hand, I would never pay anyone for a review.  
Amazon has recently published book reviewer guidelines.  It no longer considers reviews by friends of an author as valid and goes so far as to remove these reviews.  I’ve had a couple taken down.  I told Amazon I couldn’t control whether or not my mom posted reviews, but her review disappeared nevertheless.
One might ask where and how Amazon draws the line on its definition of “friend”.  I know authors with thousands of Facebook and Goodreads friends.  They’ve cultivated their list of internet friends for the primary purpose of expanding their readership.  My advice to these authors is be careful how "friendly" you become with your readers.   
One criteria of success for an author is reaching the point where you have so many reviews you (and Amazon) can’t read them all.  I’m clearly not there yet.  I read each one, some several times--especially the reviews from my mom.