Don't miss a freebie, deal, or new release.Join Now!
banner with headshot and name

High Resolution

Happy 2010! I hope you all had a great holiday. My household is catching up on laundry and email as we recover from a great trip to visit family in Phoenix. And, like many of you, I'm thinking about goals.

Even though resolutions for the new year have become cliché, I find it helpful to evaluate past goals and set a new course for the year to follow. Goals help me see more clearly how productive I've been, as well as where I want to go.

In a November post, I listed a daily plan that I'm using to be more productive. It includes micro goals that get me through each day and help me take advantage of my most productive/creative hours for writing, while saving my “slump” hours for other tasks.

Based on the last two months, I've tweaked the daily plan to be more realistic, but still challenging.

2010 Daily Writing Plan

  1. Write 1000 net words/day, at least 6 days/week, and track in Scrivener
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (judging, query letters, synopsis, CP readings, etc.)
  3. Post blog entry including Daily Squirrel, at least 6 days/week
  4. Limit email to three times/day unless daily goals are met
  5. Work out before 7:30 am, or during afternoon/evening
  6. Limit FB and blog reading to 30 minutes/day, unless daily goals are met
  7. No fiction reading unless daily goals are met

Writing Goals for 2010

  • read one writing craft book/month
  • enter Floater and possibly Diego's story in GH and Maggie's
  • attend RWA National Conference (pitch Floater and series?)
  • complete and polish three single title MSs

1/31 – Finish rough draft of Floater (and come up with better title)
2/28 – Finish first major revision of Floater (using Maass & other books)
2/28 – enter Floater in Great Beginnings Contest (finish and apply Hooked)
3/01 – Start next book for DEA series (Diego's story)
4/01-4/15 – Touch up Floater after CP feedback
5/31 – Finish rough draft of Diego's story (before we move in early June)
6/XX – Move to ???, trip to Europe (try to write/revise/brainstorm at least 30 minutes, 6 dpw)
7/15 – query at least five agents with Floater
7/31 – create pleasant and creativity-inducing writing space in new home
7/31 – Finish major revisions on Diego's story, get CP feedback
8/01 – start another book (TBD, part of series, or other idea)
9/01-9/15 – Touch up Diego's story with CP feedback
10/31 – finish rough draft of 3rd book
11/30 – Finish major revisions on 3rd book

What are some of your goals for the new year?

The Daily Squirrel: interview

John forced himself to sit still even though he wanted to adjust his tie, wipe his brow, and fiddle with his gold pen. With a baby on the way, he needed this promotion more than ever. And, dammit, he was the right person for the job. At least his wife kept telling him so.

“What makes you think you're the best candidate for plant manager?” Helen, his long-time boss and good friend, asked in a cool, professional tone. He knew she'd be impartial, but damn, couldn't she at least smile to put him at ease?

“Well, I've decreased the operating costs and increased productivity in my area at least ten percent annually for the last five years. I also spearheaded the new product line roll out, which was on-time and under budget. And my department has the lowest turnover rate in the entire company. I'd like the opportunity to do the same for the entire plant.”

Amazingly, his voice sounded confident, even as his hands trembled in his lap, hidden from view by the conference table.

Helen glanced at the two men sitting to either side of her. “And we'd like to give it to you,” Helen said, finally giving him a smile. “You've got the job.”

A manufactured life

Until I started writing, the absolute best job I ever had was working as a manufacturing engineer. While I don't miss the hours, I miss the great people, and being surrounded by really cool machines that turn raw materials into something (usually) useful. In fact, my favorite part of grad school was the factory tours and working with local manufacturing companies on class projects.

So when our family took a tour of the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama on Monday, I was back in my element. I don't honestly know much about Hyundai, but the three year-old factory is impressive. It's clean, highly automated, uses Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery of parts, and spits out a new car every 50 seconds.

No, this is not a sales pitch for Hyundai…

While I was on the tour I kept thinking how much I miss being part of the manufacturing world. Maybe after we move this summer I should consider working again, I thought. But then, by the end of the visit, I realized that as much as I miss parts of my old job, I'm happiest writing.

I'll always have a soft spot for lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, Six Sigma, and the like. Heck, I may even find some way to get involved in it again. But not at the expense of writing or time with family.

It's good to go back and visit that world, but I no longer want to stay.

The Daily Squirrel: soda

Maris looked down at her white shirt, now covered in diet soda. It just figured. If she'd been wearing red, she wouldn't have spilled anything. She should have known better on her first date with Josh.

She felt her cheeks heat as she looked at him, and choked back her tears. He was so handsome and nice. Now she looked like a spastic twelve year-old. All she needed were pigtails and braces and the image would be complete.

“Hey,” Josh said playfully. “Didn't your mom teach you to share?”

What was he talking about? Her jaw dropped as he picked up her half-empty glass and poured it down the front of his own shirt. Then he winked and gave her a smile that made her head spin. At that moment Maris knew.

She was in love.

Never give up

I was sad yesterday when a woman I've never met gave up her dream. She's a member of an online writing class that I've been taking, and she received another rejection. It was the last straw. She's apparently been writing for twenty years without publication and has decided to “face facts”.

Okay, granted, if I am still doing this in 2029 and I haven't been published, maybe I'll be considering giving up, too. But, I hope not. Because at the end of the day, I write because I've finally found the one piece in my life that was missing.

Yes, I want to be published. I really, really want to be published. I can't imagine the joy of seeing my name on a book at Barnes & Noble, or better yet, receiving a check in the mail for it. But ultimately, I'm writing for me.

I hope that after a few days this woman will get beyond the pain and change her mind, but she might not. And, maybe writing romance isn't what she's meant to do, but I have to think that if she's stuck with it this long, there must be something in it for her besides the desire for publication.

She may find that her characters won't shut up until she writes their story. Or after a few weeks, the itch to write may overtake her when she least expects it. If writing (or anything else) is what you love, then it's never a waste of time. For me, it has to be for me first, publication second.

The Daily Squirrel: airplance

Simon gripped the armrest, ignoring the overstuffed sausage of a man squeezed into the seat next to him. Why had he ever thought he could strap himself into a tiny, metal tube and leave the ground without having a panic attack? His chest contracted as if it was being crushed by a vise.

He fumbled with the seatbelt latch, unable to get it undone, trying desperately to catch his breath. If he didn't get off this plane, he was going to die.

But then a baby's cries pierced his consciousness, and he remembered why he was on the flight in the first place. Gloria. His beautiful, amazing Gloria was about to have his baby, and he wanted to be there.

He pulled a worn photo of his wife out of his shirt pocket and rubbed it gently with his thumb, as a flight attendant gave the safety briefing. No panic attack, no mere phobia would stop him. He might be half dead from fright when he arrived, but God dammit, he'd get through this flight.

Looking for worms

Are you a lark or a night owl? Me? I'm a night owl who really wants to be a lark. As much as I'd like to rise with the sun and get working, I just can't do it. I love being up early, but I hate getting up early.

The funny thing is, once I'm up, I'm very productive before lunch. Then my brain usually crashes in the afternoon and starts working again after dinner. Even if I'm tired at eight o'clock, I get a second wind and get some of my best work done before midnight.

My body's natural schedule wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't conflict with the rest of the world. I have to get up early to make sure the kids are getting ready for school, or drive them if they're not riding the bus. My husband is up early for work. In the evening when we could all be hanging out, I'm just getting into the swing of writing again.

I'm starting to learn the best times of day to focus on writing, working out, running errands, and reading emails, so that I can be the most productive. But, I'm struggling with it because it doesn't match up well with the rest of my family's schedule.

What kind of schedule are you on. Are you fighting it, or does it work with the rest of your life?

The Daily Squirrel: rejection

Madison held the crisp paper in her hands, and blinked back tears. Another rejection. With a fat red marker, she scrawled “#159” in large numbers across the paper. Each letter chipped away at her heart, and yet every denial only made her more determined to prove that she could make it as a writer.

If she wasn't good enough now, she'd keep on working at it. Her dad's mocking face flashed across her mind. She'd show him. Her brother invaded with his own taunts. She'd show him too.

She'd met published authors with suitcases full of rejections. They'd earned their success, and she would too. As long as she didn't give up. With firm resolve she sat back in front of her computer. If it took her fifty years, she'd show them all, show the world, show herself, that she could do this.

Treading water

I love to read my favorite authors, but it's a double-edged sword. I alternate between being inspired by their greatness, and wallowing in the certainty that I'll never be as good as any of them.

The only way to get through this is to remind myself that each of those great writers started out as a beginner, just like me. They wrote books that have never been published, received rejections from agents and editors, and sometimes still struggle with self-doubt.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Just like a swimmer doesn't make the Olympics without years of training, practice, technique refinement, and discipline, a writer must continue to improve her craft, write every day, query agents/editors, and never give up.

A swimmer has a coach, I have a critique partner. A swimmer has teammates, I have chapter mates. A swimmer–if she's lucky–has a supportive family, I have mine. A swimmer has a swimsuit…well, moving along…

UPDATE 12/21/09: I was reminded by a faithful fan, that like a swimmer, I have fans who support me along the way, too. I'm so lucky to be surrounded by supportive people!

How do you get past your self-doubt and keep writing?

The Daily Squirrel: snow

Kelly jogged along the trail adjoining the road and watched the pine trees rustle in the bitter wind as snow fell in wet clumps all around her. Every last inch of her body was covered except for her cheeks and nose. Sunglasses cut the glare and blocked the wind that seeped in through every seam of her clothes.

Still, she loved the serene stillness of a snowy day. The white blanket cleaned the normally foul-smelling air and muted the usual din. Her lungs burned with each frosty breath, even as her body heated and relaxed into the rhythm of her run.

Inhale, step, exhale, step. The meditative movement soothed her mind as the exertion cleansed her soul. These stolen moments of time alone were worth more than the wealth her mother sought in men's arms, more than anything someone could give to her.

For those few moments, surrounded by the frozen landscape, she could taste freedom. One day soon, she vowed, she'd keep right on running.

Inventions to make Q proud

I always thought Q stole the show in the James Bond movies. Bond might be more like the hero in one of my novels, but Q was the real hero coming up with gadgets to save Bond's ass in any situation. He had a prescient knack for inventing the perfect toy for whatever predicament Bond was going to face.

December's issue of Popular Science had a list of their 100 Best Innovations of the Year, and there are some gadgets that would make Q proud. While I found cool items in every category, especially Health, the products that really caught my eye were in the Security category. Since I'm focusing on military and law enforcement in my writing these days, here are some of the gizmos that would be fun to incorporate into a story.

  • X-flex wallpaper: super-flexible wallpaper keeps walls from collapsing–and contains flying debris–when hit by a bomb blast. This one fed right into my love of plastics and textiles.
  • XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System: Huh? This mouthful allows a soldier to program where a bullet should explode, so if the target is around a corner, the bullet will fly just past the end of the building and then blow up, sending shrapnel everywhere.
  • Ears gunshot detector: the Ears system can pinpoint the origin of a gunshot in less than a tenth of a second, allowing troops on the ground to find snipers more easily.

These may not be as fun for a book, but I also want to give a shout out to the following:

  • In the Automotive category, Ford Active Park Assist enables the car to parallel-park itself. If I ever move back to the big city, I need this!
  • In Health, the Lung Flute makes it easier and cheaper for people with chronic lung congestion to break up the mucus that plagues them. Gross, but so simple it's amazing.
  • Also in Health, the Hygreen system ensures that medical workers have sanitized their hands before handling patients. In a field test, it brought infection rates to zero! I'm all for that.

The Daily Squirrel: complaint

Lucy glanced at the clock and stifled a groan. Two more hours and an endless line of customers with complaints about the new operating system.

The stifling hot air was tinged with sweat and anger, but her temperature shot up several degrees when she spied Kurt Lloyd in her line. She had talked to him briefly at a party thrown by her roommate's ex-boyfriend, but he probably didn't even remember meeting her. Her dreams, however, had been about nothing but him for months now.

As the customer before Kurt turned to leave, Lucy pushed the damp hair off her face and took a deep breath. She'd give anything for a quick shower right then. How embarrassing to be seen in her dumpy polyester knit polo shirt with the big orange logo. She blew out a frustrated breath. At least he wouldn't know who she was.

Putting on her best smile, she asked, “How can I help you, sir?”

“Well,” he glanced at her nametag, “Lucy. I have a complaint.”

Of course. She pulled up a new form on the computer. “Yes, sir. What's the problem?”

He flashed her a movie-star smile complete with dimples and fixed his blazing green eyes on her. “The problem is that you haven't been back to any of Rick's parties, and I've been waiting to ask you out to dinner. Is that something you can help me with?”

Lucy's mind reeled with shock and her stomach dipped, but she managed to stay upright. He remembered her? And he was asking her out? With all the poise she could muster, Lucy said, “Yes, sir. I believe I can.” She wrote down her phone number and slid it across the counter, then turned to the next customer with a grin. “May I help you, ma'am?”