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Don’t fatigue your discipline muscle

WeightLifterI read somewhere recently that discipline is like a muscle. Not only that it gets stronger as you exercise it, but that it fatigues over the course of the day. Every time you call upon your self-control to make the right food choice or push through to the end of a mind-numbing task, your discipline muscle weakens.

With all the decisions we face daily, it’s no wonder that candy bar looks so good a few hours after lunch, or that our motivation to work out has waned by the time we clock out.

My discipline wears out just as quickly as anyone’s, but I’ve found a few things that help.

Timing. If going for a walk after work just isn’t happening, find another time that’ll be easier to stick to. Can you fit it in before your morning shower? On your lunch break?

My problem is ensuring I get my creative time. I work best before nine in the morning and after nine at night. Knowing that helps me make better choices about when to write, when to check email, and when to work out.

Routine. When you make something a habit, there’s no decision to make, no willpower required. It’s just part of your daily routine and you don’t even think about it.

It’s easier to add a new habit to your life if you can replace an old—preferably undesirable—one. Maybe instead of going out to lunch, you can bring your own. It’ll save you money, be better for your waistline, and leave you extra time for that walk.

According to time management guru Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days to form a habit. Just remember to work on only one new habit at a time, otherwise that old discipline muscle will be exhausted before noon!

Schedule. Why are we more worried about letting down other people than ourselves? Schedule your most important items on a calendar and treat them like any can’t-miss appointment. Writing time, workouts, family time, relaxation. Whatever your priority, put it down in ink (or pixels). You’re worth it.

If that’s not enough to make it happen, find a friend to schedule the activity with. We know you won’t let her down.

Remove temptation. Can’t resist the vending machine at work? Leave your cash at home and bring a snack. If the ice cream in your freezer calls to you every night before bed, do your grocery shopping early in the day (when your discipline is still strong) and don’t buy the ice cream!

I often struggle to set aside a good book even when I have other things I must get done. If I have a busy day or week coming up, I won’t even crack open a new read. Or if I'm desperate for some reading time (yes, it's an addiction), I’ll choose a short story or novella that I can start and finish during my lunch break or workout.

And lest you think I have this all figured out, I don’t. My discipline muscle still gives out and I skip the run, eat the candy, and get immersed in a book for half a day.

Sleep helps. Schedules help. Habits help.

And at the end of the day, I just have to forgive myself and keep trying to be better than I was the day before.

Photo credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #497570 / Vitaliy Saveliev / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

NaNoWriMo Is OvEr

NaNoWriMo is over! And I did it!! Some people wonder why I torture myself, ignore my family, shun the dog, let my house go to hell—well, more than it already is—and s-t-r-e-s-s for 30 days just to get some extra words down.

Why? Because the things I learn about myself are priceless.

  • I can actually write 3500 words in a day, over multiple days, and it’s not all complete doo doo. I can even write 47000 words in 21 days (I got a late start this year). Which all means that someday when I’m getting paid tens of dollars to do this, I will be able to meet my deadline.
  • I can carve out 3-5 hours a day to write if I have a reason to.
  • I have the discipline required to put off email, Twitter, blogging, reading, television, and laundry (oh wait, that I was supposed to do) in order to meet my goal. Now I just need to keep it going.
  • I like writing! Despite the plot struggles and fights with my internal editor, when I sit down and write every day, the story ideas and improvements start flowing even when I’m not writing. My change log is almost 900 words all on its own, mostly from things I thought of while driving, or coming off a nap.
  • I’m competitive. I like to win. So putting the goal out there taps into my sense of pride and helps me make the push to meet it. With that in mind, my new goal is to finish the first draft of the manuscript by January 15th. I expect you to hold me to it.

And, of course, there’s nothing better than finishing out a month with 50,000 new words—half a book—done!

What have you learned about yourself from a tough goal that you met? Or didn’t.

 

The check phase

After only getting in about 9000 words during the first half of November (way off the 25K needed to stay on track for NaNoWriMo), I decided to reevaluate my writing habits. The check phase of my own personal Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle for continuous improvement.

Sure, I have excuses. I scheduled too many things, got thrown off—and helped—by the Michael Hauge workshop, was struggling with my storyline, couldn’t deal with the early mornings forced by my kids’ swim schedule.

But in the end, regardless of all my reasons, I wasn’t putting in the required amount of time needed to get down the words.

So what was really getting in my way? The usual suspects: email, Facebook, blog reading, Twitter.

I have this desire to start my day by clearing my Inbox and getting all distractions “out of the way”. But you know what happens when I do that? By the time I’m done—often hours later, despite thinking it’ll be much less—I don’t have the productive energy left to write.

After spending half the morning online, I’ve used up all my mental enthusiasm on activities that don’t produce words.

This wasn’t really news to me. Or probably to you for that matter. I reassess every few months, and it’s always the same thing. The hard part is getting over that feeling that I need to respond to emails right away. That blog comments should be acknowledged as soon as I see them. That if I don’t answer Twitter mentions or respond to Facebook comments someone will actually care.

But, wow, I’m just not that important in the scheme of other people’s lives. That’s not a statement of low self-esteem, it’s an affirmation that my priorities should come first.

So, this week I changed things. I now start the morning with writing.

I let my gym membership expire since I have equipment at home, so now while my boys swim, I write. I can get in 600-1000 words before 6:15 in the morning! That’s a good feeling, and gets me in the mood to keep going.

Then I keep writing through the morning until I meet my word count goal. If I hit lunch before my word count, I let myself take a break, just like I did when I worked full time. Eat, read a good book, maybe watch a quick TV show, but most important, stay off the computer.

And then, go back to work.

Only when I’ve met my goal do I get online, write my blog, or work on other responsibilities. Just like if I were still working outside the house. I need to remember that paid or not, writing is now my job. I have to treat it as such. Only I can make it happen.

Simple, but not always easy.

So, is it working?

On Tuesday I wrote for almost five hours and got in 3500 words. Yesterday in just over three hours I did about 2700. Hard to argue with numbers like that.

Will it work every day? Probably not, but it’s a good start.

How about you? How are you doing with your goals?

My mission

I have a mission. It’s to make a living writing. Sure, I want to get published with a major house with a nice publicity budget, a super editor, and a superb cover with a hot guy on it. And I want a three- or four-book deal that leads to more deals.

But that’s all bonus stuff.

Bottom line, I want to make as much (or more) as I could if I went back to my old full-time job. I want the work I do every day to contribute to my household’s bottom line. I want to get paid to do what I love.

That’s my mission.

Great, but if the things I do each day don’t support making that happen, it’s not a mission, it’s a pipe dream.

I’ve been tracking my daily activities on a calendar for over a year now, and it’s illuminating. Even on days when I’m in front of the computer for over eight hours, I might be lucky to get in three or four hours of activity that directly supports my mission. By that I mean writing, editing, brainstorming, or research.

If an activity doesn't fall into one of those four categories, it’s extraneous. Things like reading/responding to email. Keeping up with Twitter and Facebook. Work for my volunteer roles within my writing chapters. Blogging.

All may be useful or necessary. Building a network of writing friends, getting my name out there, developing a reputation. It’s hard to put a value on those tasks. But they cut into my mission-supporting work and I’m trying to be more efficient in how I approach them.

Of course, then my values come into play. I strive to put my health and my family first. That means working out and eating right. That meant quitting my stressful job with long hours so I could be more available for my boys. It means taking a break from my writing and non-writing tasks to spend time with my family when they're around.

Gurus like Stephen R. Covey and Brian Tracy have written books chock full of excellent advice on how to balance your goals, write a mission statement for who and what you want to be, better manage your time, and stay motivated.

If you're interested, maybe check one out.

What got me thinking about my mission was a brief presentation from the Deputy Chief of Police for Patrol. When he evaluates whether the department is doing its job well, and tries to determine what they should be focusing on, he asks one question: Does it support the mission?

What’s Patrol’s mission? To prevent crime.

That’s it. Simple, obvious, and to the point.

What’s your mission?

Do the things you focus your time and energy on support your mission?

——

If you're looking for my Citizens Police Academy post, check back on Sunday. 🙂

This is a drill

There are no prizes for NaNoWriMo winners, so what do writers get out of it? Bragging rights, a 50,000-word novel that may or may not suck eggs, and a month of pulling out our hair, to start.

It's the drill–basic training for published life–because I'm sure NaNo is nothing compared to the pressure of fulfilling a contract. And arguments about quantity versus quality aside, for me, the benefit of NaNoWriMo is the forced discipline. Oh yeah, and the total recalibration of my sense of what I can do. It used to be a push to write 1000 words per day, and I’m a stay-at-home mom. Now I’m getting daily counts like 2800 and 3600.

But those numbers are a byproduct of the discipline required to make 50K in one 30-day month happen. It’s so, so easy to take all that “free” time while my kids are at school and waste it. Sleep, laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping all call to me. Okay, that’s a big fat lie, only sleep calls to me. The rest scream at me that they’ve been ignored far too long. I can tank a whole day reading email, Twitter, blog posts, craft books, and delicious new novels by my favorite authors.

All the fun things and all the the little things I must do, like work out, cook, eat, talk to my family, and walk the dog, compete with writing.

So, back to NaNo. If I want to make it, and have my Golden Heart entry ready to submit on time, I MUST sit down and write every day. And because of Thanksgiving and guests and swim meets on the weekends, I’m shooting for at least 2700 words on weekdays.

And because I removed 4400 words over the weekend (in spite of my outline, I took a wrong turn and it had to be undone), I must now write 3100 words every weekday this week. Yesterday I did it without too much trouble. A few writing sessions with my tea timer on, a quick review of my outline to keep me on track, and an understanding of how I went wrong on Friday, and I was cooking with gas.

That’s a good day. On bad days, that NaNo deadline is the drill instructor in my face. The little push I need to go further.

If I take nothing else away from NaNoWriMo, I hope I can keep this newfound discipline and sense that I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. Until we have a contract and a publisher setting the deadlines for us, there’s no reason we can’t set our own. Tell your spouse, your CP, or everyone on Facebook. Then let that be the drill instructor for you. Or reward yourself with chocolate.

Either way, you can probably do a lot more than you ever dreamed.

___

P.S. Happy birthday to my awesome mother who would have been 62 today. She inspired me to live life based on what really matters, and I miss her every day.

Feelin’ groovy

For the last two weeks, I've been so focused on moving out of the house in Alabama, moving into the apartment in Virginia, and searching for a new house, that I've done very little writing.

I have all of my excuses at the ready. How hard it is to focus when crammed into a hotel room or small apartment with a husband, two kids and a dog. How exhausting house hunting is. How we had so many errands to run that I couldn't find a decent block of time to sit down and really focus. And so on, ad nauseam.

Most of my excuses are valid, but if I were on a deadline (I can hope right?), I'd still have to sit down and write. So yesterday, I finally locked myself in the bedroom with my MacBook and headphones and got to work. And I did it again today.

It felt great. I love writing, and every time I take a break–even when I don't have much choice–I always wonder how I stayed away from it for so long.

So I'm in a new writing groove (not a rut!) and I'm ready to finish up the revisions on Slow Burn in time for Nationals at the end of July. When I move into my new house in late July or early August I want to be ready to submit Slow Burn, and start outlining my next book.

I'm ready to get groovy!

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Just keep swimming

I love watching my boys swim. After a two-year hiatus, they started training with a team five days a week in January, and today was their second swim meet. They've worked hard and we saw significant improvement over their first meet. The excitement on their faces when they realize that their discipline and hard work are paying off is worth the lost weekends. (And the exorbitant fees–yeesh swimming is expensive.)

It's kind of like writing. When I look back at the first book I attempted just over a year ago, the mistakes make me cringe. I didn't know anything about writing fiction, and it's amazing how much I didn't learn from all the novels I'd been reading. I head-hopped like crazy and did a lot of telling.

I may not be publication-ready yet, but that year spent reading craft books, attending RWA meetings, reading blogs, working with a critique partner, and writing, is paying off.

Similarly, the daily practice my boys put in is being rewarded with improvements in time and technique. In the competition with the other swimmers, their hard work doesn't always mean they will win the race, but they can still meet their personal goals.

Writing is the same way. All the time spent doesn't guarantee publication, but I can measure my progress against my own goals and be proud of my accomplishments.

I'm glad my boys are learning that no matter what you want to achieve in life, the key is to follow Dory's advice in Finding Nemo: just keep swimming.

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