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My discipline needs a tune-up

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

According to success guru, Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days of repetition to form a good habit–although bad ones seem to require a much shorter period! So, how does one form a habit of excellence?

Discipline! I've heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something. But continued practice requires discipline. I think my discipline needs a tune-up.

Over the years, Brian Tracy's books (try Eat That Frog!) and seminars (Try Psychology of Achievement or How to Master Your Time) have helped me increase my productivity with effective time management strategies, ideas for overcoming procrastination, and goal-setting techniques.

I applied these ideas regularly when I worked in the business world, but somehow when I started writing, I threw it all out the window. Other than a to-do list with deadlines, I haven't been as disciplined or productive as I'd like.

Why? No clue.

So, after a less-than-productive day/week/month (although I did manage to pound out 1,000 words today), I've decided to make a daily plan/productivity strategy. It looks something like this…

  1. Write 1,500+ net words/day at least 5 days/week (I track this in a file in Scrivener)
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (e.g. write query letter or synopsis, submit contest entry, critique for partner, etc.)
  3. Only check email three times/day (mid-morning, lunch, before bed) unless daily goals are met
  4. Work out early, or wait until afternoon slump
  5. Limit Facebook and blog visits to once/day unless daily goals are met
  6. No reading for fun unless daily goals are met

I'm trying to pay attention to my best times of day to tackle different tasks. For example, I know I am better at writing before 10:30 in the morning, and again in the late afternoon/evening. Other things, like educational reading, working out, or running errands, are best handled during my less productive hours.

My daily plan is a work in progress–like my manuscript–but if I keep working on it, hopefully I can move closer to excellence.

Back to Work!

Okay, celebration over. It’s time to get back to work. (Productivity guru Brian Tracy would be so proud.) Winning doesn’t mean anything except that a few people liked my writing enough to vote for it. If I want to get that writing published, there’s work to do!

With helpful feedback from my awesome critique partner, Christine, I am working on a query letter to send to several agents. Writing query letters almost ranks up there with writing synopses on the list of Things Writers Hate to Do, but I’ll muddle through. It has to be done, and it makes sense to capitalize on my recent win and get those letters out ASAP.

But then what? Well, I need to keep working on the next book, of course. Even if an agent snatched up Counting on You and sold it instantly (insert wishful thinking here), one book doesn’t make a career.

Ultimately, I’m a writer–whether I ever sell a book or not–and writers write. Huh.

So, after the painful 20,000-word cut, I’m back to plotting, character development, and writing scenes for my next story, tentatively titled Floater.

Floater is a new challenge for me because it’s romantic suspense, something I haven’t tried before. Figuring out how to create an interesting suspense plot, plus weave in the sexual tension and keep it all moving, is a fun challenge.

Ask me how I feel about it in a couple of months. 😉

And the winner is…

“I won! I won!” she yelled as she bounced around the room like a rubber ball…  Okay, seriously.  I just found out that I won the Contemporary category of the Heart-to-Heart Contest for Unpublished Authors, sponsored by the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America. Woo hoo!

Just to make sure it doesn't go to my head, I also found out today that I didn't even move to the final round of the Gateway to the Best Contest sponsored by the Missouri Romance Writers of America. And so it goes.

As nice as it is to get kudos for my writing, my main goal in entering the contests was to receive feedback from other writers in the industry. And I did. My manuscript has changed quite a bit from the original entry. The entry the editors and agent judged in the final round was six pages shorter–and hopefully more engaging–than what the first round judges had to read.

And, in the months since I entered these contests, I've been picking up more skills and ideas from my fellow Southern Magic members, my critique partner, writing seminars, and the many writing books that I've been reading. I feel confident that every book I write will be better than the last.

So, I'm one step closer to being published, even if I don't receive any requests for this manuscript. I'm pretty intrinsically motivated, and I'll keep plugging away even without the positive strokes of others.

Of course, I'm still going to enjoy the glow and have my own little celebration. After all, it never hurts to feel a little love, and everyone likes to be a winner.

My Ideal Office: Missing the SLO Life

When I was in grad school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA (or SLO, pronounced “slow” by the locals), one of the things I loved about the campus was all of the outdoor nooks and crannies where I could hole up and study while surrounded by trees and plants. The weather was spectacular year-round, and I took every opportunity to be outside.

What a great environment for writing! If I could, I'd tote my MacBook and a sack lunch to Cal Poly–or nearby Shell Beach!–every day and write for hours. Unfortunately, I'm a few thousand miles away, but, the longing got me thinking about my ideal office. I came up with a short list of things my perfect writing space would have.

  1. Lots of light, but no glare (maybe even a sky light)
  2. Plenty of greenery, both inside and out
  3. Lots of windows to let in the light, the breeze, and the view
  4. A great view, preferably with some water in it
  5. A desk at the perfect height for typing on a laptop
  6. A comfortable office chair
  7. A cozy chair for curling up to read, or taking a break from the desk (I like the one-and-a-half-sized armchairs)
  8. Large dry erase and magnet boards
  9. A tall bookshelf

I'm sure I could go on, but I really should start working on my book…

What would your ideal workspace be like?

P.S. My site's header photo is from a spot in Shell Beach (one of my favorites in the world) just below Spyglass Park.  You can tell I took the photo in winter because the mountains are green instead of yellow.