Feb 28

Semi-annual Customer Service Rant

There’s this one commercial on TV. You’ve probably seen it. At one point a girl promises that “when you call Customer Support, I will treat your problem like my problem”.

No. When I call Customer Support, my problem IS your problem. THAT’s what Customer Service is. There is no “like”.

A whole lot of businesses these days have lost sight of one basic fact of business: your customer is your sole means of support. Lose customers; lose money. It’s that simple.

When a customer has a problem, the business must take that seriously and try to resolve it in a reasonable manner. This is not to say that you should put the customer’s demands ahead of the needs of the business. Anybody who has spent time in any Customer Service job knows just how unreasonable people can be. Sometimes, a customer just will not be satisfied. That is an unfortunate reality. However, the vast majority of customer issues can be resolved simply by listening to the customer, making sure that both sides understand the other’s position, and then acting positively to remedy the situation.

“Going the extra mile” has become a meaningless cliche over the years. It sounds fine, but is very seldom put into practice. Going out of your way to help a customer is not “going the extra mile”, it’s normal, acceptable practice. “Going the extra mile” means taking initiative, being creative in your problem solving, and leaving the customer feeling like he or she is the most important person in your life at that moment.

One of the more unfortunate outgrowths of the whole self-esteem movement is that people are less willing to subordinate their desires to the needs of their customers. This is not in the least debasing or disrespectful. I can tell you from my own personal experience that providing top quality customer service will drive your customers to respect you more.

A key facet for a quality Customer Service Rep is the ability and willingness to give without expectations of reward. Helping others gives rewards beyond the monetary. Helping others helps you feel good about yourself and builds REAL self-esteem.

Quality service is every customer’s right and every employee’s resonsibility. If you’re not getting it, let your wallet do the talking.

Feb 27

“He chose…poorly”

In writing–and in life in general–I struggle to do things poorly. This is very important to me, because I expect myself to be perfect in all ways all the time. That is, of cource, a totally preposterous and impossible standard, which means I have ample opportunities to kick myself for not measuring up. It also gives me an excuse to stop in mid-project and give up, or else to not even start. The reasoning goes: if I can’t do it perfectly, then why bother trying at all?

This is definitley not a good mental state for a writer who aspires to be a novelist. Shitty first drafts and multiple revisions are de rigeur for novel writing. Writing a novel is a complex and demanding task. Expecting perfection the first time is just insane.

These thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for a long time, now. Yesterday afternoon, I finally broke through a roadblock on Washed in the Blood that has been hanging me up for weeks. There is information that John must have in order to survive as a vampire, but I have been unable to get that information into his hands in a way that conforms to good writing practice. My solution: I purposefully wrote an infodump, marked it as a Fix This and forged ahead. Not elegant, not perfect, not even good writing, but at least it was a temporary solution that gives me permission to move onward, while also giving me time to consider this problem some more. Possible it will resolve itself in another way as the story unfolds.

My choices, both conscious and unconscious, put barricades in my way. By the same tokens, I can choose to climb over, tunnel under, go around, or break through those barricades. Once I’m on the other side, I look back and see only tattered tissue paper drifting away in the breeze. Self-made barricades are never as formidable as they appear.

Feb 23

We Interrupt Our Broadcast…

Melly, I’m afraid you’re going to have to take a number and stand in line. I will write a post on POD and self-publishing Real Soon, but Arthur A. Levine pre-empts you. Sorry.

I also owe Stationery Queen a rant on Customer Service and everybody a post on The Evils of Present Tense, or I’m a Grumpy, Old-fashioned Bastard. All in good time, folks. But first, this word…

Miss Snark refers us to a post by Arthur A. Levine that contains the text (more or less) of a talk he recently gave to a writer’s group in Florida. This is required reading for writers of any and all levels. Herewith, some thoughts inspired by those sage words.

Two of the very biggest considerations for any writer are “Is it true to my vision?” and “Will it sell?”. In the best of all possible worlds, there would never be a conflict between these two. In the Real World, however, they often butt heads. Then you face some serious questions:

  • Which is the more important?
  • How much can I compromise one to satisfy the other?
  • Should I compromise at all?
  • How far am I willing to go to make a sale?

Serious questions, indeed, and questions that any writer with hopes of publication has to face and try to answer.

There is a delicate balance between integrity of vision and saleability that is different for every writer. For me, vision and remaining true to myself outweighs sales potential. As I have said before, I am used to being poor. That doesn’t mean I particularly like it, but I have discovered that, for me at least, there are other issues in life that are much more important than money. Remaining true to myself is one of those, and I am willing to sacrifice sales to maintain the feeling that I am writing what I need to write and saying what I need to say in a way that I think it needs to be said.

The best writing is the writing that comes from the heart, that expresses your truth, that shows your vision of life and our place in the Universe. Lofty goals? Absolutely. “Ah, but a man s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what s a heaven for?” (Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto“). I couldn’t say it better.

The striving for improvement, the dream of the perfect words, the hope that, one day, my story will resonate in someone’s heart, that’s what I think the life of a writer should be. Perfection is, of course, unattainable, but glory lies in the reaching.

Feb 20

BWAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!

You Are The Emperor

You are an authority figure, and other people look to you for what to do.
You are strong and powerful. Crossing you is not a good idea.
You have worked hard to get to your position, and you’re not about to give it up to anyone.
Though you have a warrior heart, you are gentle to those who treat you well.

Feb 20

Fish or Cut Bait?

It’s just more of the same old stuff. Write well, or just get it done? I fight this battle every single day. Part of me wants to get the first draft done, then fix it up. Another part asks “why not do it right the first time?” They’re both hardheaded, obstinate bastards (I wonder where they got that from?) who won’t give even a little bit. The end result is poor production and frequent blockages.

“Git ‘r done!” Larry the Cable Guy and Anne Lamott agree on this. A weird pair, food for thought, there. Just put the words down, get the thoughts out, and fix the prose quality later. This is a very popular outlook, and I can sure see the advantages. Full-time writers don’t have the luxury of sweating the petty stuff. Whether they pet the sweaty stuff is their own business. Can you see that I’m easily distracted tonight?

Anyway, back at the ranch…productivity depends on getting words down, work finished, and editing efficiently. That is one of the biggest points in Lynn Viehl‘s Way of the Cheetah. Let go of the quest for perfection and settle for “as good as I can do it”. That’s really tough for me to do. That requires an ability to relax that I don’t yet have, and a belief in my ability to stay with it that is shaky at best.

I have spent my whole life working on getting it right the first time. Most of the jobs I have worked have had enormous time pressures that required good work immediately with no “do-overs”. Those paths are now virtually hard-wired into my brain. When I approach writing, a craft that I am still learning, I have a very hard time allowing myself to make mistakes, to do things badly and fix them later. When I do that, I begin to doubt my ability to write my way out of a brightly-lit room.

Slogging through the crap is one of the hallmarks of a true professional. Obviously, I am not up to that level yet. I climb up, and I slide back. I bitch and moan about my skinned knees and broken fingernails for a while, then start up again. Most of the time, I make a net gain, but it’s not very much. Patience is a virtue, but vices are so much more attractive and so addictive.

Well, I have to work on something tonight. Let me see which one of my scabs I can pick at.

Feb 16

Emotional Distance

“What’s wrong with First Person POV?” I see this question all over the place. Go online, pick any two of your favorite e-zones, read a couple of stories in first person with a critical eye, and you will soon see what’s wrong. The way I see it, the problem is two-fold:

  1. First-person narrators more often than not tell the story, rather than showing it. They describe their surroundings, summarize their conversations, and narrate any action that takes place. Ho hum. If I want Story Time, I’ll go to the public library. It’s very difficult for a first-person narrator to get so involved in the story that he actually shows what happens. Everything is filtered through the narrator’s perception, and the reader gets it second-hand. Just like second-hand smoke, second-hand stories are not good.
  2. First-person narrators maintain this deistance from the reader because the writer has maintained his distance from the narrator. The writer is looking out through this person’s eyes, but never getting down into the person deep enough to actually feel what this person is feeling. If you can’t feel what your character feels, how do you expect to communicate that to the reader? By describing it, of course, which, again, puts that distance in.

In horror, first person is especially unfotunate, because you give the game away up front. Of course the narrator survived, else, how would he be able to tell the story. Unless, of course, he’s a ghost, or it’s all a dream. Spare me.

To write frist person effectively, the writer must be immersed so deeply into the narrator that he becomes that person. He doesn’t tell what he sees, he shows it. He doesn’t describe his feelings, he shows them through his actions and reactions. People don’t stop and analyze their feelings on a regular basis and tell themselves “this is what I’m feeling right now”. No, we just feel it, and we show other people what we’re feeling through our body langauge and speech.

First person can be done effectively, and the effect is powerful. In order to do that, though, the writer has to invest a lot of himself in the story. You can’t lay another person’s sould bare unless you’re actually in there. I’ve written before about how painful that can be, but that’s the price of good fiction. Good stories are written in blood from the wounds you open to get at what’s inside. There’s no easy way. There’s no other way.

I have some thoughts about present tense, as well, but I’m saving them for another day.

Feb 13

Quick Update

As best I can figure it, I’m suffering a delayed reaction to my mother’s death. I’ve never been very good at grief; I’ve always been successful at suppressing it. This is too much, though, and it’s overwhelming me. I’m getting counseling, but I may be a few days getting back out into the world.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a literary agency that I stumbled on over the weekend. If you need a good laugh, check out their “Markets” page where they brag about some of their “sales”. You’ll see 3 books by Larry Parr listed there with lnks to Amazon.com. Look him up and check out the publisher on those books. Then, answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you need an agent to sell to this publisher?
  2. Who pays the agent in this case?
  3. 15% of what?
  4. Who in the Hell would be stupid enough to sign with these turds?

Cya later.

Feb 11

Back in a Few

Having some inclement mental weather. Heavy overcast with occasional showers. I plan to spend the next 48 hours doing some journaling and heavy thinking and see if I can come to some decisions.

I also have to work on my income taxes. That’s always good for 2 or 3 months of bitching, moaning, and cussing. This time of year also brings to mind the old saying: “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” Yeah, I know we supposedly have a represntative government, but those bozos are only representing themselves and whoever writers the biggest check.

Back next week. With a sunnier disposition, I hope.

Feb 08

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

We must go and tell the King!

The weather forecast calls for light snow flurries tonight and tomorrow. Here in Central Georgia, just the mention of snow is enough to send everyone into Looney-Land. We’re easily amused down here.

Actually, I’m more worried about Saturday. We’re looking at mixed precipitation and highs that may not reach 40F. Since al-Qaeda couldn’t destroy us with fire, the Canadians are going to try with ice. Damn Northern terrorists! Hi Melly! Thanks bunches.

A fun time will be had by all. That’s an order.

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