Does Your Life Trump Your Brand?

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Hello, dear readers, and welcome!

Recently, something occurred to me — or, more accurately, it hit me in the face, as revelations have a tendency to do. Not too long ago I had a day where I woke up and…I could tell that my depression was hitting me hard.

Everyone who has depression (or any disorder/disease) has different difficulties. Though diseases and disorders have symptoms, they don’t manifest the same for everyone; we are all unique, even in the things we might not want to be unique in.

That day looked for me like a day where I felt worthless, unsuccessful, like I was never going to get anywhere, like I shouldn’t even get out of bed — I was tired, irritable, among other things. It’s hard accurately describe these feelings on a scale that fits the reality of them, but let’s just say I couldn’t wait until things were bright again.

It wasn’t the best day, but I try to look at the positive in every negative situation, and adapt or learn from there; I also try to make the best of those bad days when I have them, doing things I know will help, even if only a little bit. In this situation, the positive was that I noticed something had been covertly bothering me.

Several days before this episode, I had finished (“finished”) setting up my blog, purchasing one of the WordPress plans. Afterwards I was assaulted by a slew of emails: ways to make money with your site; ways to drive traffic to your site; ways to improve your brand–

Ugh.

…”Brand”.

I hate the term “brand”. But before you roll your eyes and tell me I was born in the wrong century, please let me explain why.

What does “brand” actually mean? Thanks to the handy Merriam-Webster dictionary, I can tell you just that. Leaving out the connotations linked to swords and charred wood — and the verb, which is similar to the below — we have:


brand

noun

a(1): a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership(2): a printed mark made for similar purposes : TRADEMARK
b(1): a mark put on criminals with a hot iron(2): a mark of disgrace : STIGMA the brand of poverty
4a: a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer : MAKEb: a characteristic or distinctive kind a lively brand of theaterc: BRAND NAME sense 2

5: a tool used to produce a brand


So, what does this tell us? I’m one of those people who believe the meanings of words both do and don’t change over time. You could say that, even when the meaning changes, a part of the word’s power doesn’t. So, even if the meaning shifts, part of the old power is still there, linking to the new.

Brand. Our first definition of the word (above) tells us about a mark to designate ownership — such as a cattle brand. This can be the mark of a criminal, too, and in the past it was common to mark slaves (unfortunately, I’m sure it still is). This can also translate to a mark of disgrace.

What about the other definition: “goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer“?

Businesses sell goods. Businesses have brands. So, if a person has a “brand”, does that mean they have a business? Is that all it means?

It would be nice if that was the only connotation, but so often anymore “brand” refers to the person themselves.

JK Rowling is a “brand”. James Patterson is a “brand”. Stephen King is a “brand”. Etcetera, and so on and so forth…

But if a person is a brand, instead of a business being a brand, then how does that change other people’s view of the person — and their view of themselves? Surely they are no longer a human being with a life, if they are being likened to a business producing products — and therefore everything they do is considered a product.

The person no longer has a life of their own, but something for others to consume…and eventually transform as they like, whether online or in person.

My recent grapple with depression was no coincidence, I think, though I don’t believe my frustration was the only cause for it. Still, the more emails piled in, the more I worried if I was doing enough — or if I was doing everything right.When the slightest decision you make for yourself, for your own life, can affect your “brand”, you begin to feel as though you can’t make any right decisions at all.

Why does it feel like when I focus on my “brand” — on myself as a company producing products or services — that I feel more like a slave to the whims and expectations of (unseen) others?

Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m not saying wanting to build a good business is bad, or that wanting to reach out to others is bad. I like writing blog posts and sharing with other people, and I hope these posts inspire you. But I do think we have the tendency to stretch ourselves too thin, and to try and make ourselves into something we are not.

I recently posted the prologue of Shadows of Past Pages, book 1 in the Kieros Chronicle, which I will be sharing here on my blog. This was right after I received all of these emails about promotion and numbers and — brand, brand, brand, brand!

Here too I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, like I would never be doing enough.

Was one chapter every two weeks satisfactory? Could I keep up with that? Did I need to post every week instead? What if I needed a break? Would my readers be angry with me? Would they come back? Was I going to put all this work into posting and have it be all for naught?

I begun to lose sight of why I decided to post chapters in the first place: to challenge myself to finish the story.

I enjoyed putting together the chapter and illustration and posting it, but I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Not only is NaNoWriMo around the corner, but I have been experiencing difficulties with my migraines more than normal lately. I’d posted about InkTober, and hadn’t shared any drawings — hadn’t even been able to draw as much as I would like. It all seemed like too much, and I was just ready to call it quits.

I told my mother as much, and she said: “Well, just get your chapters posted when you can.”

I replied that she didn’t understand — that I had to keep a schedule if I wanted to get anywhere, that I needed new content regularly, that I had to engage.

You know, brand stuff.

She looked at me, a bit miffed, and said: “You’re too hard on yourself. I don’t think anyone has that high of expectations for you — and if they do, they have a problem.”

She’s right. I am too hard on myself. I have ridiculous expectations.

But she was also right about something else.

Her words were wonderful thing to hear, because she was giving me permission — not an excuse, not an admission of defeat, but permission — to have a life rather than a brand. To take my time. To do what I can, when I can do it. To be my best self, in all of the special ways that make me me–

To make decisions for my life, rather than trying to make myself into some sort of production machine.

They say humans can only focus on a few things at once, and do them well.So, if you focus so much on that “brand” you’re trying to build, what is going to fall to the wayside? Your family? Your friends? Your dreams? As much as we would like to be able to have it all, I’m not sure it’s possible — and even if it is, I’m not sure the sliver of “everything” you can have is even worth it.

I like to take a walk in the mornings, if I’m feeling up to it. The photo above is of leaves I noticed on the side of the road when walking the other day — one of the first cool mornings of autumn! If I had been focusing so much on my “brand”, would I only have taken that photo to put in this post? Would I have been plotting out ideas for posts, sharing, marketing, etc. during my walk, instead of just enjoying it? What would I have missed out on?

What have I learned?

I think I would rather have a life than a brand, to echo Tim Tebow in his new book “This Is The Day” (which is actually quite good, if you’re looking for a read).

I can’t keep up with the demands required to be “successful” in these terms, and I don’t want to try. I spent years self-publishing, overworking, and though I’m proud of the books I produced, I also look back and realize how much I killed myself in that time — I even reached a point where I couldn’t write for over a year. I want to do things on my own terms.

If having a life instead of a brand means sharing posts less often, or taking my time, or having to try and fail and try again, then I’m up for it. If I blog for a year and nothing comes of it, then so be it. I’d rather be building a life, even if it’s not what others think it should look like. I’d rather be doing my best to help others, as well as taking care of myself, than worrying about what a successful blog is supposed to look like.

So what if I’m not “successful” (whatever that is)? If it’s not my own definition of success, which looks like chasing what is really important to me, then I don’t want it. Those numbers and likes and shares and whatever else are great, but not if they make me into a person-company or glorified slave to some overbearing expectations of what is “supposed to be”.

So, I’m going to try and do this the right way: one post at a time, one moment at a time. I’ve decided I won’t be blogging in November because I want to put all of my effort into NaNo. I plan to continue posting Kieros Chronicle, but without a schedule.

I’m going to do the best I can to build a life instead of a brand.


What things about modern business or social sharing frustrate you? How do you balance life and business?


To anyone doing NaNoWriMo, I hope you have a great month! I’ll be cheering you on as I type out my own story. If you’re looking for some tips and haven’t checked out my NaNo post, you can link to it here.

Best of luck! 

Alexandra~


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An Introduction To Kieros Chronicle

Hello, dear readers, and welcome!

Saturday is fast approaching (as is the middle of this month!), and I will admit I am very excited to be posting the first chapter of Kieros Chronicle Book 1, also known as “Shadows of Past Pages” (cover coming soon!).

But before we get to the actual posting, I wanted to tell you a little bit about this series, and what it means to me…

It’s been over ten years since I sat down and wrote the first chapter of (what was then) Shadows of Past Memories, the title the first book had when it was originally published back in 2013. It was only a few days after my older brother was involved in a very severe motorcycle accident, which almost killed him and left him with plenty of recovering to do, not to mention turned our lives upside-down.

I remember clearly the morning I woke up from a strange dream, the story that would eventually become SOPM in my mind. I was finally in a real bed and not at the hospital, waiting and praying. I had actually managed to sleep a little bit since my brother was out of his initial surgeries. At the time, that dream was my lifeline, because it was a story I could cling to and work on — and for me, stories have always made sense when everything else has not, no matter how strange those stories may be. Writing is my way to understand the world.

So I got to typing. And I kept typing — through those months at the hospital, through the time my brother had therapy, for the year+ that he couldn’t walk properly. And somewhere in typing I realized something: I could be a writer after all.

I’ve shared the story of how I decided to become a writer on my former blog several times (here and here), but I’ll give you the short version: I read a book that inspired me to create a world of my own (Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, if you’re wondering). That’s probably not a unique thing for a writer, but after I finished SOPM I felt, for the first time in a while, like I could be that writer for someone else down the road.

So I kept writing, and I vowed that SOPM would be one of my first books published. And finally, after several years of writing and editing, I released it in 2013 as my second published book (Clara Claus, a bestselling Christmas story, was the first). I was over the moon, and I dedicated the tome to my brother.

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But, like so many things in life, this story did not go as I expected…

I self-published for 7 years before closing up shop, so there’s way too much ground to cover in detail, but basically: I doubted myself. Over and over again.

I released the book in 2013, then I felt that it was missing something, and I did an edit, adding quite a few pages of new content and published a new edition (shown above). Some time later I unpublished the story for various reasons. But I could never seem to let the story go, even when I was advised to do just that.

So I kept writing, over and over again. I hashed out SOPM — giving it different names and somewhat different settings — fourteen times. Meaning, I wrote fourteen drafts of this story, from scratch. I wrote a prequel and posted it on Wattpad. I posted the novel to my website for free reading. I gave away ebooks. But nothing seemed to work, and still I doubted myself.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in this case, that is very true, because it wasn’t until easier this year that I realized something:

I needed to let it go. 

*Cue bad Frozen karaoke*

But seriously, the time had come. I had been working on this story for so long, pushing it so hard, that I had failed to realize something: I was trying to make it into a “success” — something I could query despite the fact that I had already published it, something that was as good as the stories from my idols — instead of loving the story for what it was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this story. I love it to pieces. It knows me better than I know myself. This is part of why I simply couldn’t let it go for so long. I even wrote a post a few years ago titled “Story, I’m Not Giving Up On You”. I have a definite belief that no one can love a story more than the creator, no matter how great fans are or how invested they are in a world.

But still, I felt something in my soul telling me to step back, to let it go; God was being insistent. It sounded crazy, and I didn’t want to do it. This was in March, after I attended a webinar on querying. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I decided to listen…and I started working on another story–

The story I am currently working on, which I will hopefully query next year. We will call it RM. It’s a never-before-published work, and I am very proud of it. I’m sure it would have been years before I finished it if I hadn’t set what is now Kieros Chronicle aside.

But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t done all those rewrites for Kieros — thousands upon thousands of words, because I am many things but brief is not one of them — then I never would have been prepared to write RM, not just when it comes to prose, but in every aspect: plot, character development, theme, not to mention the writing of challenging topics.

If I had given up on Kieros, then I wouldn’t have had the tools necessary to write RM, or the confidence that, even though it’s not one draft and done, I can do this. I can write as much as I need to to find the story lurking underneath — not just a shadow of it, but the real, whole thing.

I say all this to say: I am really grateful for Kieros. And no, I am not ready to give up on it.

Back in March, I thought I would set it aside for good, but my wise friend, whom I call Neko (“cat” in Japanese), looked at me knowingly and said: “Never say never.”

She knows me too well. And, it turns out, so does God (no surprise there).

Because one day, as I was thinking about where I wanted to go writing-wise, it occurred to me that I had never really gotten past book one of Foxfire Chronicles (Kieros — whatever). I had started book two way back when, after publishing SOPM originally, but I hadn’t finished it because I was caught in doubting myself. And then I realized another thing: there was a reason for this.

I’m sure I’ll rant about this some other time, but to summarize: learning to be a good writer takes time and ridiculous amounts of effort. If you’re not up for that, then you need to quit pursuing publishing (not to be mean, just to be realistic…although if you never intend to publish, that’s another story entirely, and write on). The slogan in the publishing industry is: “Hurry up and wait.”

Writing is not an easy job, my lovelies. I’ve been writing novels for over fifteen years, and I still learn new things every day — after publishing for years. I do believe you can become a Writing Master, but I don’t believe you can ever stop learning new things about writing.

So here’s the truth: my younger self was not capable of finishing the series, or writing what needed to be written. The ideas were there, but the tools and the experience were not, because I simply hadn’t learned enough yet. And I don’t claim to be the best writer there ever was, but I feel I’ve learned enough to at least be capable now.

And so a few months ago, God gave my story back to me and said: “Here, Alexandra. Go right ahead.” 

That’s when I decided to start this blog, something I’d been thinking about for a while. And while RM is currently my priority, as it’s always been my dream to be traditionally published — and I just know this is the story — I also would genuinely like to finish Kieros in my own way, on my own time.

So I decided to include it in this blog, to release one chapter at a time and write more. The first book is nearly complete, but I feel posting will spur me onwards to finish the series. It will take a while, of course, but I’m excited about it. I plan to post a chapter every two weeks.

I’d be most grateful if you’d join me on the journey.

And to all those writers out there: don’t be in such a rush to be great. There’s something to be said for hard work and time. Our society makes it seem like greatness is built overnight, but I think the real success is in continuing forward when your dreams seem like they’re taking forever to manifest. It’s not enough to be a bestseller, or a published author, or to have films and fame…because at the end of the day when it’s just you and your story, you have to be able to be content with finding your own answers.

The first chapter of Kieros Chronicle: Shadows of Past Pages will be published here Saturday, October 13th, 2018! See you then.

Best Wishes,

Alexandra ~


What have you learned about writing from your passion project? Is there a time when you had to set a story aside, and did it return to you? What did you learn from the experience? 


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Thank you very much! ありがとうございます! 

Hello, World!

Before I get this blog fully underway, I want to share a little bit about myself and why I’m here. You can read further about me on the — gasp!About Me page, but here’s a little introduction…

Hi, my name is Alexandra, and I am a writer.

That is the short version.

But longer version is: hello, my name is Alexandra, and I am a writer and so, so many other things. I am an artist. I love reading. I am a student of Japanese. I love anime and manga and a good film. I suffer from chronic migraines. I like helping people, though people can easily get on my nerves.

I love Fantasy novels and shows and films and comics, etc. I love to take walks. I love to stare at the sky. I love a good cartoon. I love Disney. And I certainly don’t plan on “growing up” anytime soon (growing older, sure…growing responsible, sure…but not growing up and forgetting, thank you).

(In case you’re wondering, I am also a major fan of Peter Pan.)

Seven years ago I begun self-publishing, and I closed up shop in early 2018 — after bestsellers, a few full series, and years of work. Right now I’m transitioning and working towards my ultimate goal of being traditionally published (and then some). But in the meantime…

I started this blog as a way for me to share my thoughts, and as a challenge for me to finish my Fantasy novel series, Kieros Chronicle — an updated version of a previously published series — which I will be posting here while I work on other projects for traditional publishing. (The first chapter is live October 13th!)

Here I’ll be writing about my writing journey, sharing artwork and chapters, and writing about language learning (やった! ((Yay!)).

I’d love if if you’d come on this journey with me.

Thank you so much for reading.

Alexandra~