Becoming the Person I Want to Be

(Instead of the one I was afraid I would become) *

 
By my late twenties, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be a writer. Not only did I love to read and write, I also loved the whole idea of being a writer. I imagined myself in the future, living a writer’s life – long days of creating fiction interspersed with occasional public readings from my newest book to audiences who hung on my every word.

I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but no matter how long it took, I was determined that I would get there. I would become that woman.

Ten years later, I’d published a novel, some short stories and some essays, even a radio drama. Reviewers for the most part seemed to like my work, and small groups of people came out to hear me read: sometimes they even seemed to hang on my every word. That part of my life was all I had imagined, and I loved it.

But writing is no way to make a living, so when I wasn’t writing, I was stressed. I was stressed about everything – my teenaged kids, my relationships, my work deadlines, my lack of money: you name it. And while I was stressing about everything, a few bad habits were turning into serious addictions. I was smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much… sometimes all at the same time. Which added to my stress: now I also worried that my addictions were going to kill me – later if not sooner. My doctors’ advice just reinforced my fears, and a brush with breast cancer didn’t help.

By now I had a totally different image of my future self than I’d had when I was younger. Now what I saw was an enormous grey-haired woman rolling home from the liquor store, several bottles of fortified something tucked between her immense hips and the seat of the motorized wheelchair she now needed because her arthritic knees could no longer support her weight. An oxygen tank was strapped to the back of her wheelchair; tubes snaked into her nostrils.

In short, my image of the future was now fashioned out of fear, rather than from hope.

Gotta quit. Gotta quit.

For the next ten years, I was always trying to quit smoking. I was always trying to quit drinking. I was always trying to lose weight. Every day I made a new resolution and every day I broke it. I am pretty sure that I tried every single smoking cessation, drinking cessation and eating cessation program known to humankind – and I failed with every one of them.

Somehow I also managed to write and publish a few more books, but not as many as I would have if I hadn’t been so obsessed with my lack of money and my bad habits. (And, to make things worse, the price of cigarettes and booze kept going up and up, and the publishing industry fell to pieces!)

Finally, I hit bottom. And finally – with the help of a therapist I had gone to in despair – I began to realize that I had been taking the wrong approach. I began to understand that I could never quit anything when I was focussed only on the quitting. What I had to do was stop thinking about what I was afraid of, and start remembering what I wanted to become.

What I Did Next

At age 50, I took that image of myself as a failure and I essentially shoved her off a cliff. When I saw her trying to claw her way back up toward me, I shook my head at her. That wasn’t me. No more. After a long time, she grew weaker and stopped trying to return. Now I almost never see her.

In the meantime, I took that other image, the one which had become lost in all the stresses of the years, dusted her off, and put her back in front of me where I wouldn’t lose sight of her again. I did some fine-tuning while I was at it: imagining every aspect of what I wanted to become. I was getting to the age where if I didn’t do it now, I’d never get another chance.

The woman I wanted to become was strong and healthy. She was aging powerfully and well. She was a woman whose children and grandchildren would see her as a role model – and (this part hadn’t changed!) she was a writer whose books (and blog posts! And Tweets!) made people sit up and pay attention: hang off her every word.

First, I quit drinking… one day at a time. That turned out to be much harder and to take much longer than I thought it would, but it was nothing compared to quitting smoking. That I had to do one hour at a time. Both of those recoveries caused me to gain even more weight than I was already carrying around, but I couldn’t let myself worry about that. Finally I turned to the challenge of getting healthy, and a few years later, I was able to get serious about actually losing weight.

I didn’t do any of these things out of fear of what might happen if I didn’t do them, or because I wanted to fit into some outfit for a certain event. I didn’t do them because the doctors told me I had to, or because my loved ones said I should. I did these things for me – because I know who I am, and because the person that I am has goals. I did them because I want to live long enough to enjoy my life and the people I love for as long as I can – without sickness, without shame, and especially without fear.

I Am Getting There

I have not fulfilled my vision yet, but today I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I get out and exercise regularly, and I weigh 35 pounds less than I did four years ago (I still have 10 pounds to go).

And I write. My latest book – a novel called Rita Just Wants to Be Thin – is the story of a woman who, at 29, learns the lessons that it has taken me a lifetime to figure out.

Who knows? Maybe some day Rita (or one of my other books) will put me on that stage I’ve been imagining for so many years, in front of a room full of readers who are hanging off my every word. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s okay. Because what really matters is what happens offstage, where most of my life is lived. And there, at last, I am finally getting closer and closer to becoming the person I have always wanted to be.

* This article was written at the invitation of Jan Graham and originally published on her great blog site, Cranky Fitness. Check it out. Thanks, Jan!

I Create my First Video Book Trailer (and Other Book Promo News)

Rita TrailerFirst, an update for those who have been wondering what happened to my call in July for a book “publicist, but not just any publicist.” I am very happy to report that I have found a person who perfectly fits the bill. Her name is Chelsea. In a future post I will explain how we connected, how we are working together, and what we are doing to promote my books.

In the meantime, I have already started to enjoy the benefits of having someone else on board who also has an interest in testing some of the book promotion ideas I’ve been accumulating. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I find it difficult to do direct self-promotion and, as as a result, I’d been avoiding doing the groundwork that was necessary for any real promotion to happen. Once I’d started talking with Chelsea about what we should do first, I needed to get moving on that groundwork… and I did.

The Website

The first thing I needed to do was to revisit my website. Previously, I had different websites for different books, each containing the kinds of materials that would have gone out in a “media package” in a previous era: a profile of the author, an introduction to the book, reviews of the book and of my previous books, photos, etc. Having so many websites was expensive so, when two of the sites came up for renewal, I didn’t renew them. Instead, I amalgamated them into my main website at marywwalters.com. Now, the background info about Rita Just Wants to Be Thin and The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid are sub-pages on my main site that are clickable from the Fiction/Books page.

While I was at it, I asked Chelsea’s opinion of my existing website and, using her input and my own thoughts, I revised and re-energized the entire site. There are still a few pages I want to add or reactivate, but for now I’m happy with what I have.

I think it’s worthwhile to revisit websites every year or so, not just to update them but to rethink them and to re-examine what purposes they serve. The previous incarnation of my website was directed at, among others, prospective clients who might need my editorial services. I am now focusing on my writing, and on getting my books to pay the bills at least in part, so the new version of the website has a different slant.

The Book Trailer

The other thing I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while is to make video trailers to promote my books. I’ve been talking about my options with several experienced video people for several years, and I had the names of some who I thought could do a good job. But then I also needed a video for another initiative I am working on — it’s called Success After 60 — and for that venture, I’m going to be making videos every week or so. I wasn’t going to be able to afford the money – or, even more importantly, the time – to deal with a professional for what were essentially going to be regular video blog posts, or “vlog posts”— most just a few minutes long on a single topic. Besides, I wanted both the trailer and the vlogs to to look amateurish rather than highly professional, because I think they’re more intimate that way.

So since I was making my “Success After 60” video myself, I decided to try making one for Rita Just Wants to be Thin at the same time.

It took me two months to make those two videos. I learned a lot. I hope to be able to make the next one in a day or two, but the whole experience was not only educational. It was also a pain in the ass.

From the faint hope that it may benefit someone else who decides to attempt what I have done, here’s what I learned. (Note: If you find yourself tempted to watch either the Success After 60 video OR the Rita trailer,  and if you find them at all interesting, or learn anything from this blog post, I would be most grateful if you’d “like” them):

The script is key. You want to develop something short and interesting.

My first several attempts at the Rita trailer consisted of my introducing the novel, then reading a passage from it, then encouraging readers to check it out online or buy it from their independent bookseller. The trailer ended up being about 7 to 8 minutes long, and even while I was creating it, I realized that it was boring.

Listening to an author reading from her novel is one thing — I enjoy going to literary readings (I especially enjoy them if the material is interesting and the writer reads well, which isn’t always the case). But unless you are a performance poet, and you have a self-contained passage that only takes a minute to read and doesn’t need to be set up first, save it for those who are already committed to you and your writing.

For most of us, reading from our books is not a good way to promote them on video.

I sent the (boring) video I’d made to Chelsea for her input, and she said a brilliant thing. She said, “Maybe you could make it more like a movie trailer.” At first I was flummoxed. How do you make a book trailer like a movie trailer? – short of filming a scene from the novel, which I was not prepared to do. (Some authors, with deeper pockets than I, have done that — some to great effect.) I also wasn’t about to hire an artist to turn my trailer into a self-contained work of art by manipulating text and images, although I’ve seen some outstanding book trailers where that has been done, such as this one.*

So I thought, What is the underlying principle of movie trailers? I looked at a lot of them, and I realized that what they do is to run snippets of the movie together so you get a sense of the story from the trailer… and that is all they do. Look at any trailer on Rotten Tomatoes, such as this one, and you will see what I mean.

After several days of mulling over how in the world this could be applied to a novel, I finally had an idea while I was working out on the rowing machine (I get my best ideas while exercising). I would read only a sentence or two from various parts of the book, and that way I would give the reader a sense of what the book was like. And the structure I would use would be to introduce the characters and the central conflict of the novel. I’d explain that Rita has a lot of problems, and then tell readers what some of those problems are.

So I threw out the previous scripts and started over. And what you see is the result.

Attitude is also key.

During my first attempts at the book trailer, I looked apologetic. All of my reluctance to shill my own work was obvious in my face and in my voice and in my posture. Since I was feeling like the script I had developed was boring (introducing the book, reading from the book, asking viewers to check out the book), I also felt like viewers were doing me a favour by sticking with me through to the bitter end of the video: and that showed, too.

Once I had developed a script I liked, I was enthusiastic about it, and all of my insecurity disappeared. The new script reminded me that I loved the novel and its characters, and that I thought readers would love them as well. Instead of trying to persuade viewers to hang in there for the video so that they would eventually see why they should buy the book, I was simply sharing my enthusiasm for the book itself. Instead of impersonating a used-car salesman, I was speaking from my heart.

Brevity is Key

The new video is 3.5 minutes long. That length made it easy to record again and again until I was happy with it. The first version had been 7 to 8 minutes. When I didn’t like the ending and the light in the house had changed, I had to start all over again: redo every single clip. Sometimes I had to wait until the next day because I didn’t have another hour to devote to it — which meant starting all over from scratch the next day or whenever I had enough time: showering and blowing my hair dry and putting on makeup and getting into half-decent clothes (rather than my usual “writing clothes”) before I could even start to record the video.

That is one main reason why it took me two months to create a video I liked: I kept having to do it over and over again. When you’re redoing a video, you want it to be short.

Recording the same video over and over again is ultimately a good thing

Despite how I whine about how often I had to re-record the Rita book trailer (and you cannot imagine how many clips I threw out that ended with swear words) due to bloopers, poor timing, the battery in the camera suddenly running out, etc., there were real benefits to being so particular about getting the video to the point where it was as good as I could make it. By the time I did the version you see posted online, I was totally relaxed in front of the camera. All of my apprehension, camera shyness and lack of confidence had gone away. I was me.

The “Technicalities” (for those who are interested)

I used the following apps and objects found around my house to make the video:

Recording the Video Clips

I did my first few attempts at the video just talking to the camera that is built into my MacBook Air (using OS X Yosemite), with the help of an app called Photo Booth. Using that program was fairly easy, but there were disadvantages: I couldn’t get my eyes to look directly at the viewer, which was what I wanted to do in order to make “eye contact.”  No matter what I tried, I appeared to be either looking down or up. Reading from a script made this problem worse, of course, because I had to look at the script and then back at the camera. Another program on my computer, iMovie, offers a teleprompter function, but that didn’t help either because I still had to look down at my computer.

Furthermore, the recording came out reversed even after I processed it (more on the processing below), which meant that when I held the book up, the title was backwards.

So for the next attempts to make the video, I used Arnie’s Canon camera on a tripod. He helped me set it up so that when I sat down in my armchair I was seated in the right place  — my face close enough to the lens to feel personal, but not too close. Then we left the camera and the armchair in the same place for a few days, and I kept making different recordings until I had the ones I was happy with. I would sit in the chair, gather my thoughts, then get up and push “record” on the camera. Then I would sit down and start talking. When I flubbed it, I would get up and stop the recording. Then I’d take a deep breath. Then I would start at the beginning of the sentence or the paragraph before the flub, where it seemed like there would be a good pause that would allow me to cut and patch the clips together later. I gradually learned to pause at the end of paragraphs  every time, and in other places, so that if I had to do a patch, I’d have some elbow room.

Again I had to keep an eye on the lighting and make sure it was consistent. If I needed six clips, and I made Clip 1 at 2 p.m. and Clip 2 at 2:15 p.m. and so on, and then after I finished Clip 6 and started working on them, I discovered I didn’t like Clip 2 and had to redo it,  by then it would be 4 p.m. or later. The sun would have moved across the sky or disappeared behind a cloud, and I’d have a continuity problem. (I preferred natural light to artificial, so I didn’t tape at night. Also, I have a shorter fuse at night, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.) The longer the video is, the worse this clip-matching problem can become.

To hold the script, which I tried not to simply read but only to refer to, we put up a music stand behind the camera, printed out the script in large type, and clipped two pages to the stand at at a time. If you refer to the Success After 60 video, you will see me reading the script more than I do in the Rita video. I’ve decided there is no way around this — short of buying a real-live tv camera like my son Dan uses on Daily Planet, which has a teleprompter built right into it. Life is too short for some things, and memorizing scripts is one, so I’m living with the fact that you can see me reading the script in my videos. I did, however, read the scripts over many, many times before I felt and sounded natural reading them.

Assembling the Video

After the recording was done, I imported the clips from the camera into PhotoShop on my MacBook Air, and then exported the ones I wanted to work with to a folder on my Desktop. I then opened them in QuickTime (it’s the default on my computer) and started trimming them, using the “View Clips” option and then “Split Clip” command. That way I eliminated the parts at the beginnings and ends of the clips where I had recorded myself sitting down (after starting the recording), and then standing up (to stop the recording). Where there was a flub, I cut that out too and then started the next clip in the appropriate place so that they would match. I didn’t worry about whether they matched exactly.

I didn’t do much editing in the middle of clips at this stage, either (taking out phrases or hesitations), because I found out the hard way that I could throw off the synchronization of sound and video if I did too much editing within clips. Cleaning up places where the sound doesn’t match the video is harder to do after the fact than it is to avoid it in the first place.

Then I uploaded the rough-cut clips to iMovie and followed the instructions (I watched several YouTube videos on how to use iMovie before I did it, and several more during the production process). I lined the clips up, did a bit more editing, added titles, and watched the whole thing in the iMovie library. When I was satisfied (several days after I had started), I uploaded the video from the iMovie Library to the iMovie Theater (this takes an hour or so). Then I uploaded it to YouTube (again, this takes a while. And btw, there is lots of info online about how to do this.) Then I watched it a few times, showed it to a few people, decided it wasn’t right, and started all over again: right from the getting-in-the-shower-and-blowing-my-hair-dry stage.

In all, for the two videos I ultimately created – the Rita book trailer, and the introduction video for Success After 60 – I probably recorded 50 to 75 clips. I threw out most of them. I made about five complete projects in iMovie before I had two I could live with.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two months, and I’m fairly proud of the results. I hope that it will go much faster next time, from scriptwriting to posting.

Going Public: YouTube and Facebook

I have now got two channels on YouTube in addition to my own: one for Mary W. Walters, Author, and one for Success After 60.  (Subscribe to one or both of these channels if you are interested in seeing other videos I’ll be creating in future.) Figuring out how to create channels, upload videos and manage the metadata on YouTube is fairly straightforward. The site is very user friendly. You can also edit the video some more from right inside YouTube.

I have learned that it is much better from a quality point of view to actually upload the videos to your Facebook pages than it is to just post the link to YouTube. (I found this article on the subject interesting.) But aside from Facebook, you don’t need to upload your video anywhere besides YouTube. YouTube gives you all kinds of link codes and one-click options for social media, as well as html text that allows you to embed a direct link to YouTube in your website.

So there you go. More than you wanted to know, I am sure. But maybe it will inspire you to get a video up as well. If I can do it, so can you. Just set aside six weeks.

If you have your own approach to creating and posting videos, please let us know below.

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* I found the examples of great (but expensive-looking) book trailers here.