What is creativity, you ask? Here’s the best description I’ve heard:
“Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.”Gail Sheehy
Enough said. Back to the keyboard…
Call me a killjoy, everyone else does. But first, listen to the reasons why I hate Halloween:
Candy. I’m not a fan.
Especially once I saw the little crispy rice thingies in the Nestles crunch bar moving. Talk about disgusting. I’ll bet a cheapskate had some leftover candy the previous Halloween and “forgot” to look at the expiration date.
The dark. It scares me.
Probably because of the creepy-crawlies that populate the night, like the ones my brothers told me about when we were kids. The snake that lives under the bed and wraps itself around your arms and legs if you let them hang off the mattress. The gnome who lives in the crawlspace and comes out after you go to sleep. Unless you make sure the case your parents’ 78 records are in is sitting right on top of the hatch to the crawlspace.
Costumes. They never come with good shoes.
The one and only costume I ever enjoyed was the princess dress in … second grade, I think. It came accessorized with a genuine tiara and glass shoes! Okay, so the diamonds were really rhinestones, and the glass heels were really made of clear plastic. Seriously, though, I’ve never found another costume like that one. Never.
Trick-or-treating. Refer to Reason #2.
If this foolish activity were conducted at dawn instead of dusk (I’m a morning person), I might have a completely different take on Halloween. But it doesn’t. Because I don’t do the candy-begging thing, I stay home when Michael takes the grandkids around. This year, my sidekick for the past ten Halloweens (a big black cat named Murphy) is doing his thing in heaven, so I’ll be working solo answering the ringing doorbell. It’s tough to read a good book when you’re interrupted every four-and-a-half minutes by squealing goblins.
I don’t care what anyone else says, these two colors simply do NOT go together.
The longer I work in the insurance industry (and the older I get), the more I receive requests for Medicare tips. I’ve written dozens of courses on the topic and regularly teach insurance courses on the subject. Therefore, I’m happy to offer my list of SOME of the must-know information you should have before enrolling in Medicare.
A person must earn a minimum amount of wages to be eligible for Medicare (and all Social Security Benefits). In addition, the wages earned have been paid in a job/occupation for which payroll taxes were paid under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). The time period for full Social Security benefit eligibility is 10 years of full-time employment. This is also referred to as 40 credits by the Social Security Administration. (Click here to learn more about earning SS credits.)
The only people who are automatically enrolled in Medicare–meaning they don’t need to sign themselves up personally–are individuals who have already applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits because they:
If you don’t meet the criteria above, you need to enroll yourself. You can do that online at SSA.gov, in person at a Social Security office, or by telephone. The quickest way to enroll is online–after creating that online account with Social Security.
This is probably one of the most important Medicare tips you’ll receive: The best time to enroll in Medicare is during Initial Enrollment Period, which revolves around each person’s 65th birthday. It begins 3 months before the birthday month and ends three months after it. For instance, if your birth is August 4, your initial enrollment period begins on May 1 and ends on November 30.
If you enroll during your initial enrollment period, you will NOT pay a late enrollment penalty. However, if you do NOT enroll during your initial enrollment period, you MAY pay a late enrollment penalty when you do enroll.
The annual Open Enrollment Period runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. Anyone can enroll in Medicare during this time. In addition, those already enrolled in Medicare can change plans during this time. New coverage, as well as any changes, become effective on January 1.
The annual General Enrollment Period runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. Anyone can enroll in Medicare during this period. However, coverage begins on July 1 and enrollment may be subject to a late enrollment penalty.
Click here for more information about initial, open, and general enrollment periods. Several Special Enrollment Periods are available for people who lose existing insurance coverage (such as employer- or group-sponsored health insurance) or who move.
Many people mistakenly believe that because they contributed to the Medicare program through their payroll taxes (FICA), they won’t have to pay a premium for their coverage. Here’s the financial part of my Medicare tips: the scoop about the premiums charged for the various coverage parts:
Medicare Part A/Hospital Insurance: Those who are fully eligible for Social Security benefits (i.e., they have 40 credits) do NOT pay a premium for Part A. Those who are only partially eligible or not eligible at all, may enroll in Medicare and pay a premium. Here’s the monthly premium breakdown:
Medicare Part B/Medical Insurance: Unless they are eligible for Extra Help or also have Medicaid and are eligible for a premium assistance plan, everyone pays a premium for Part B. This applies even if they are also enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). In 2022, the monthly premium is $170.10. In 2023, the monthly premium will be $164.90.
Medicare Part D/Prescription Drug Coverage: Everyone pays a premium for Part D–unless they are eligible for Extra Help or also have Medicaid and are eligible for a premium assistance plan. The cost for each plan varies, because each plan is sold by a private insurer. Each plan and its premiums are subject to CMS/Medicare rules and state insurance regulations.
Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage Plans: Like Part D plans, Part C plans are issued by private insurance companies and each plan’s premiums are different. They are also subject to CMS/Medicare rules and state insurance regulations.
Medicare’s website, medicare.gov, contains the majority of information anyone needs to learn about Medicare eligibility, enrollment, coverages, and how everyone works. Admittedly, not everyone is a computer whiz or equipped with the patience to read through Medicare’s website. That’s why talking to a trusted, professional agent is essential.
Federal law has established guidelines for the sales and marketing of all Medicare plans, and for how people can engage in sales and marketing activities. Click here to review Medicare’s marketing rules and the rules that apply for meeting with an agent.
If any agent, or anyone claiming to be an agent, fails to comply with these rules, find yourself a new agent. And report the person taking advantage of you!
Feel free to ask any questions you might have. I’ll be happy to provide you with more Medicare tips, answer questions, and/or provide you with additional resources. You can reach out to me here.
Every writer struggles with creating conflict and strong characters–stories and protagonists our readers can identify with and root for. In fiction, perfection is boring and Trouble is king.
Newbie writers are always told to ensure their stories contain conflict. But what is conflict and how does one create it?
According to the dictionary, conflict is incompatibility. It’s disagreement or disharmony. The best explanation I’ve heard about how to write conflict is contained in Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.
… you have to be your lead character’s best friend and worst enemy all at the same time. You need to send your hero on a walk through the woods. Then you have a bear chase him. You let him climb a tree. You chop the tree down. The bear chases him into the river. He grabs onto a log. It turns out to be an alligator. He grabs a floating stick and uses it to jam the beast’s jaws open. You give the bear a canoe and teach it how to paddle–
Block also says, “Fiction is just one damned thing after another” and, boy, does he have that right.
Who wants to read about a perfect character living a perfect life without the imperfection of interference? Not me. First of all, it’s not realistic. Second of all, although it’s what we say we want, I suspect living a perfect life is one of those things my mother was referring to when she said Be careful what you ask for.
What makes a book or story interesting is how characters navigate trouble, solve their problems, cope in the midst of chaos, stay cool under pressure, and smile with gritted teeth through the biggest failures of their lives. The aftermath of the trouble, problems, chaos, stress, and challenges is what really matters: how they changed and shaped the character.
Conflict wears many faces: Danger. Disturbance. Grief. Misfortune. Suffering. Heartache. Torment. Battles. Contests. Clashes.
Transport a city girl wearing a silk suit and four-inch heels to a dirt road in a rural setting. Immediate conflict. Then let the thunder and lightning begin…
Make the heroine an insurance adjuster and the hero the head of a stolen car ring. Instant conflict. Especially when the hero’s occupation is revealed right after they first make love.
Let’s say your main character just made partner at his architectural firm and beat out his competition because he’s a family man. Three weeks later his wife files for divorce and leaves town with their children. Talk about conflict.
Not only do the preceding examples contain conflict, they raise questions. Lots of questions. Unanswered questions create tension and suspense–which compounds the conflict.
To escalate matters, you can toss in a ticking time bomb–that deadline each protagonist faces before the excrement hits the fan. You can reveal that secret, the one that represents the protagonist’s biggest fear, the one the character must face before the ticking time bomb explodes. My personal favorite involves dialogue: the words that can’t be unsaid or the unsaid words that should have been spoken.
Character flaws are also a good tool to use. Doesn’t matter if characters are unaware of their flaws or if they know full well what flaws they have and simply can’t help themselves from messing up. Over and over again. The reader wonders: Will the character ever figure things out? If so, how? When?
Unanswered questions equal tension and suspense. Postpone giving answers. Or only provide partial answers. Or ask more questions before answering previous questions. Layer the tension and suspense with conflict, and you’re on the right track.
People come in all shapes and sizes, and with an endless variety of opinions. What good, from the perspective of conflict, is a character who keeps her opinions to herself? You guessed it: none.
But toss in a character with strong opinions, one who doesn’t hesitate to share them. Often. And loudly. No matter where she is.
This character doesn’t have to be the protagonist. In fact, this character has the potential to cause endless trouble and chaos if she isn’t the protagonist.
A power imbalance creates instant conflict. There’s little in life that’s more satisfying than the longshot beating the favorite in a competition. Davey and Goliath. Jack and the Beanstalk. Underdog and Simon Bar Sinister.
We all have secrets, past actions or words we fear will reflect poorly on us when the old spotlight shines down. Infidelity, embezzlement, and assault can have serious repercussions if they’re uncovered. But then again, so can undisclosed pregnancies, thoughtless comments, and poor decision-making.
What makes secrets such a great element of a good story is that we can use them in a variety of ways. Readers can know a secret the protagonist doesn’t know. Protagonists can know secrets that, if revealed, will result in death–either physically or emotionally. Multiple characters can share a secret, one that simply can’t be exposed without dire consequences.
The most important thing about using secrets is to reveal them at the worst possible time.
One final tool that helps create conflict and strong characters is giving the protagonist two options–one just as bad as the other. What a terrific way to force the protagonist to grow and develop. Option A is lousy. Option B downright sucks. Which forces the protagonist to dream up Option C.
For example, the protagonist receives a call from his brother, who just crashed his car into a tree. The protagonist arrives at the scene and realizes his brother is intoxicated. If the brother is arrested for another DUI, he’ll go to jail, so he begs the protagonist to tell the police he was driving. Clearly, neither option is ideal. Which option will the protagonist choose? Or will you, the director of the scene, be clever enough to come up with another option … one that startles your readers after drawing the tension out unbearably?
Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about creating conflict and strong characters.
Everyone wants to be successful–that’s why marketing yourself is so important. We also want to make money, be recognized and liked, and sell a lot of whatever it is we’re selling–even if it’s just our good reputation.
Unfortunately, some of us jump right into marketing without doing our homework. That can lead us to achieve results that are 180 degrees from where we want them to be. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years as an insurance agent, public speaker, and professional writer.
Marketing is selling and promoting products and services in a market. It’s a process that includes a number of different functions, including but not limited to conducting research, networking, and advertising.
Social media has made the advertising piece of the puzzle [seemingly] easy. We post on our Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, and Instagram stories frequently because doing so is easy and fast. Some people, though, overdo it.
I know that. And so do you.
Remember, social media is only a very small piece of the marketing pie. If you turn people off with the first bite, they’re not coming back for seconds.
Example: I’ll bet you’ve hidden people for 30 days from your own Facebook timeline or unfollowed people because they’re constantly bombarding you with their messages. Messages that don’t change–unless you’re counting the modifications to the color scheme or swapping of images in the Canva design. Ever wonder how many people have hidden YOU from their timelines for 30 days?
Take it from me, people don’t want to be sold. They want to buy. They don’t want to be told what’s good, they want to figure it out for themselves. They especially want to matter to the person who attempts to persuade them what’s good and why they should buy it.
When you’re marketing yourself, your mission isn’t selling. Your mission is appealing to your audience. It’s matchmaking. Specifically, matching your product or service to an audience member who needs or wants what you’re offering.
Don’t advertise how great your insurance product is or what a satisfying read your book is. Why? Because that’s what everyone else is doing. Everyone else is talking and people are sick of hearing blah, blah, blah.
Conduct your research, figure out who wants what you’re selling, and then show those people they matter to you, you care about them, and whatever it is you do will benefit them. Behave in a way that SHOWS them you care. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder. (Pardon the cliches, but they’re true!)
Sales and marketing is NOT about you. Sales and marketing is about them. And until you put your audience first, you’re going to lose more of those potential clients/customers than you’ll gain.
I read this book at least once a year.
Why? you might be wondering. That book was written in the 1930s and is outdated, you might be thinking.
People are the same now as they were then. They might dress differently and have more electronic devices now, but inside they have the same needs and yearnings. Carnegie says there are six ways we can make people like us instantly–and he explains what they are in his book.
One of those ways is to Always make the other person feel important.
Why do you think that is? Because feeling important to other people is believed to be the most primal urge in human nature.
People won’t like you, trust you, buy from you, or pay any attention to you if they aren’t convinced you think they’re important. And don’t kid yourself, people’s instincts are often spot on when it comes to recognizing authenticity, or its lack.
Generosity is giving, and giving in a large way. It’s giving with kindness, for the pure joy of making the gift and not expecting or asking for anything in return. Generosity is unselfish and seeks to provide a benefit for someone else and not oneself.
If, in your marketing, you focus on how you can benefit personally from speaking publicly, or sitting on a panel, or volunteering your time–you’re not really being generous. The focus on you offsets the generosity.
Instead, if you realize that by being generous and freely offering your time, expertise, or advice without asking for a direct, one-on-one return, that generosity will communicate its true authenticity. Generosity also focuses on the other person.
I’m not saying to give away the store for free. But I am suggesting you give away pieces of it, judiciously, knowing that by doing so you will (in the long run) benefit tremendously from that generosity. This is the best way to accomplish your goals.
Do your research. Understand your audience. And provide what your audience wants–not what you decide your audience needs.
For more information about marketing yourself and other similar subjects, check out How to Win Friends and Influence People, or any of the many books written by Jeffrey Gitomer, or my book, Taking the Mystery out of Business. You can also watch a recording of my live web class, Marketing Tips for Beginners, on my YouTube channel.