Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Know More than You Think You Do

As you may or may not already know, I'm a freelance writer, editor, and web coder. I even do some document formatting and HTML conversion over on Fiverr. I actually enjoy being handed a PDF and making a website that matches, insofar as matching is possible.

Although I can build things from scratch—my website is a case in point, and this blog is likely going to get an at-its-roots overhaul, itself, one of the next times I'm sick—I'm generally a fixer. A tweaker.

You hand me this thing that doesn't work quite how you wanted—some writing, a website, a document. I hand you back something that's working as close as possible to what you wanted.

Tweaking's how I learn.

For instance, I recently had reason to want to take all hyperlinks in a document and convert the URLs to footnotes. I found a macro that converted them to endnotes. I took the macro, copied it, and changed the "Endnote" in the script code to "Footnote". Worked like a charm. Then I found another macro to deactivate all live hyperlinks. (These two steps are useful for converting an e-book ready file into a p-book ready one.) Considering how long my macro lists are getting, I'm likely going to end up combining the two into a single macro…which could eventually grow into automatically setting page size and margins and such, too, but I'm out of practice with that side of VBA.

Programming = code that does stuff. Coding = HTML and CSS, which describe stuff. I'm good at coding. But I'm not an expert writer of macros or user of any other programming.

I've had some people assume I'm better with programming than I am, because I have a solid foundation in the Find & Replace functions for 2 different programs (MS Word and TextWrangler) + how those functions work with 3 different automation languages/programs (VBA, AppleScript, Automator). I'll even use some simple Terminal codes (namely ones that convert file types and sizes).

Analogy for you readers who don't know what I'm talking about: I essentially have people who think I'm a FANTASTIC baker because I can make chocolate chip cookies. But don't ask me to make cake.*

*Actually, seriously: don't ask me to make cake. Egg yolks make me unwell, so I'd have to use an egg replacer, which makes the texture difficult to get right. I also don't particularly like cake, so I'm disinclined to figure out what to do instead. (Though I have been craving the traditionally dense and rich pound cake. Is it worth the two-day ache? Hmm.)

I tend to think of myself as so far from expert that it's not funny, but…

I know more than I think I do.

I've been pounded over the head with proof of this, lately. (It can take me a while to accept a hint.)

For example, I know far more than the average person about MS Word alone. I didn't fully realize that when I set up my Fiverr gig to help with formatting cleanup. I was expecting to get more folks who had some idea of what they were doing but didn't want to be bothered with the details, or maybe who had an idea but who had a few details that they didn't know yet.

I have gotten a few clients of the type I expected. At least once, someone has asked me, "Can you fix this?" and my answer was, "Right-click on it and select X." Which made them not need me at all, but I'd rather garner goodwill than money now + annoyance later once they learn how simple it is. At least once, I've delivered screenshot instructions of how I fixed something.

But far more often?

I'm getting "Is this possible?" queries about things that I thought were basic.

When I respond to such queries, I try to use enough of a description of how it's done so the person can look it up and do it themselves, if they're so inclined. I'm not sure anyone has, so far.

That's not to say that those people are stupid. They aren't. They must know plenty of things that I don't.

It's just been awkward and blindsiding to realize just how little many people know about those things I can function with. I'm no expert in macro code, but I can comprehend the logic of how to piece one together and even adjust one that's comparable to what I want. It's like being able to understand someone's Spanish and answer them, while your ability to monologue on a topic of your own choosing is limited to specific things.

There are several things I think of myself as able to "get by" in or with—with "get by" sometimes meaning that I can do X, Y, and maybe Z—but don't ask me to do more. Things like macros. PHP. Unix shell codes. Cover design. Cooking. Understanding Spanish. Knitting.

Am I actually an expert in those things? No.

But there's a huge spectrum of ability between "inability" and "expert". There are "beginner" and "passable" and "adequate" and "moderate" and…

When we think about skills, we so often consider ourselves no more than "average" at best, until or unless we hit "expert" level. But here's the thing.

Moderate ≠ average.

In fact, the average person? Doesn't have your skill at all.

So sit down and consider what skills you have. Not the ones where you think yourself an expert (if there are any of those). But the ones where you're middling or passable, somewhere between beginner and expert. What can you do with them?

I've intentionally started working more with macros, myself. It's helping all sorts of things. And after I recently was able to untangle some PHP and comprehend what I was looking at (more or less), I might intentionally work on that, too, but I think studying Spanish is gonna take precedence, there. (I have plans in place that mean I'll need the language—and I want to get stable in it and study something else.)

Your skills might not be as easily applicable as mine.

Or maybe they'll be even easier to implement.

Or maybe you're just too busy, right now, to want to do that or even care.

That's all okay.

But next time someone asks you what you're good at? Don't insist you aren't good at anything (which I know some of you reading this do).

Remember that "good" doesn't mean "expert", and those things you're middling at or with count, too.

What skills do you have that you're "adequate" or "passable" or "moderate" in?

—Misti

Thursday, September 18, 2014

…Annnnnnd it's out! (A Fistful of Water, + some other notes)

It's out! It's out! It's finally out!

"A Fistful of Water (Chronicles of Marsdenfel: Book 3)" by Misti Wolanski on Ganxy

A Fistful of Water is available now, for $2.99—and that price is going to change back to $4.99 any day, now, so if you want to get the e-book, now's the time. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, elsewhere

Not in print, though. I've been, um, slacking a bit on that. (I have reason! I've been having a formatting detail that I can't quite get right.)

The first draft of the sequel, A Fistful of Life, is hitting the climax on Wattpad, too. That means I'm likely to have the first draft done this month, and it's possible that I'll have the book out by New Year's. Possible. Don't know if I'll make that deadline, though.

…And I really do intend to post things other than release announcements. I even have another lengthy, thought-provoking post (with definitions!) all drafted up, which likely won't get posted until December. (The reason will make sense when you see it.)

But anyway, the first note I really have to address is that I may not be able to post much until December, even if I manage to keep on target with my goal of releasing something every 2 weeks. I pretty much have some major things I'm working on, which mean I need time and energy, which means I have to give something up. (Having said that, watch me post somewhat regularly over the next few months…)

Second note: As I type this, I am feeling better than I have in weeks or months. I pretty much have realized a few details were leaving me vulnerable to infection, so I'm working on correcting those things. I have energy. I was able to do some cleaning and not feel as if I needed a nap afterwards. (I actually stopped yesterday before I started feeling worn by it, for fear that I'd drive myself into a relapse. I'll be doing more today.)

This comes after discovering a really weird remedy for a cold, which I'm going to try using as a general preventative: onion. Specifically, onion against my feet, in a pair of socks.

Erm, Huh?, right? That's what I was thinking when I first heard it. But I'd tested just having pieces of onion out by me when I was sick, and that had resulted in palpable improvement, so I figured I might as well try a piece of onion in my sock. I was peeling a new one, anyway, right? So I broke two palm-size pieces off the outer layer of onion, stuck one on each foot, put socks on to keep them there, and…

I was feeling noticeably better within the hour.

How/why does it work? I've seen various explanations, but one is something to do with the sulfur. Maybe it's aromatherapy, or maybe the released vapors have an immune-boosting effect, or maybe folks are right when they say onion absorbs bacteria. I don't know, and I don't care. It works (for me, so far—I haven't tested it thoroughly, nor had enough other folks try it to get a sense for its general efficacy and limitations).

Presumably, white onion works better than yellow onion works better than red onion at this. Which is interesting. Red onion is best for allergies.

And then if the effective agent is the sulfur, the root should be more efficacious than the main part of the onion. I plan to test that.

Now, to jump back into a publishing topic… I've completely changed the covers on my Overhill stories again. They look a lot more professional now.

See? So much more professional.

But even with "For Want of Cruelty" being free, the stories essentially don't sell. (Small surprise, considering the old covers really sucked.) Hugh Howey's recent post on exclusivity presents the data on going exclusive with Amazon vs. being on all vendors, and per his math, being on all vendors costs him readers.

I do not plan to go exclusive on Amazon with my Aleyi or Darkworld writing, but it occurs to me that if I'm going to unpublish anything from all other vendors and make it exclusive on Amazon—and I really cringe at the thought of doing that—then those stories are a fantastic choice for doing so.

I'm currently reformatting the innards of the stories to use the new covers. Once that's done, I'm thinking I very likely will pull them from other vendors and put them in Amazon's KDP Select program (and in the Kindle Unlimited program), unless you readers convince me otherwise.

So… Do you think I should make the stories exclusive to Amazon (for the time being)? Why or why not?

But if you don't want to influence my decision, here are some other questions:

Have you tried (or will you try) the onion remedy? Are you staying healthy? Are you looking forward to the finishing of A Fistful of Life?

—Misti

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