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Fail big

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Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln knew how to fail big. He also knew how to win.

The path to success in anything will always be riddled with potholes and treacherous drop-offs. Slipping and stumbling along the way at least means you’re on the road. It also means that you’re learning what not to do, so as you progress down the path you keep a sharper eye out for anything that could trip you up.

You learn the warning signs and you arm yourself with the tools you need to make it to the top.

But it’s not easy.

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Very little worth having comes easy—if it does, I’d start looking for the scam or the Candid Camera crew—and when things are tough, we get tired. We start to doubt ourselves and our resolve and wonder why we’re putting ourselves through this punishment. Who wants to trip and fall and stumble all the time?

We start to wonder if the end goal is really worth it. Is it worth all of the time, energy, frustration, money, missed [insert whatever you have to give up here], late nights, early mornings, and pain?

Maybe.

Ask yourself how you’ll feel a year from now—two years, ten years, when you’re ninety—if you don’t stick with it. How will you feel if you give up on this dream?

If the answer is, “Thank God I didn’t waste any more time on that crazy idea.” Then go forth and be happy and do something else.

If your future self is more likely to curse you out for not sticking with it, to berate you for failing to believe in yourself, to pester one and all with your stories of regret for the dream you gave up, then go forth and be happy knowing that you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

Setbacks will happen. Pain will happen. Failures. Will. Happen.

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But you will—most likely, assuming we’re not talking about death-defying acts of acrobatics and the like—survive. And you will come out on the other side stronger and wiser and closer than ever to your goal.

I thought that today, on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it might be relevant and helpful to remind you of the many failures and setbacks of the famous U.S. president.

[Click here for a list.]

Lincoln was met with disaster and defeat repeatedly. Interestingly, these often came just before success.

I think the only difference between him and other people who face setbacks is that he kept moving forward toward his goal, in spite of the obstacles. He knew what he wanted and he kept going after it like a K-9 on the scent. Unwavering, single-minded, focused. (Or so I’ve read. It’s not like I knew the guy.)

Even if it’s all a myth, let’s use it as a model, shall we?

Go forth and fail madly and happily on your way to your dream.

I dare you.

Image credits: (1) Brocken Inaglory [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

(2) Mick Garratt [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(3) By Sister72 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sis/514293861/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From big, scary goal to big news

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I’m ready to jump off a metaphorical cliff here because…

I’m excited to announce that my first romantic suspense novel BLIND FURY will release at the end of the month!

A risk-averse programmer must rely on a thrill-seeking mercenary to keep her safe when her quest for the truth about her brother's death makes her a target.

Last year I shared a big, scary goal with you: to independently publish my romantic suspense series, starting with my 2011 Golden Heart® finalist, BLIND FURY. Well, friends, I’m doing it. My little book baby has been edited and polished and is in the process of being proofread and dressed with a hot cover.

The process so far has been exciting, exhausting, and a bit overwhelming. And it’s only going to get worse. But also better. 😉 Sure, I self-pubbed that little booklet on productivity tools, but this is a whole other ballgame.

I’ll have more news—as well as a post about the process—in the coming weeks. So, stay tuned.

Want a chance to win a free copy of BLIND FURY? Click here and be among the first to join my mailing list to keep up with my romance-related news (existing Scrivener newsletter subscribers can update their current preferences to include romance news). List members are automatically entered to win books and other prizes.

My first newsletter—with the winner announcement—will go out on release day (hopefully February 25th). Good luck! 🙂

Anyone else here in the process of self-pubbing, or already a veteran? Any tips or thoughts?

Photo from Unsplash.com.

Getting what you want

ap15-S71-41810HRWhen NASA engineers were tasked with putting a man on the moon, they knew they couldn’t do it with the existing technology. But rather than admit defeat, they made a list of the technologies they’d need to invent to make it happen. Then they set about inventing them!

I love this approach. They didn’t say it couldn’t be done. They just found a way to make it happen.

I’m always trying to maintain this get-it-done attitude in my own life. Rather than giving up on something because I don’t have the requisite tools or skill set, I try to figure out what I need and then go about getting it.

A year ago I knew almost nothing about self-publishing. But I plan to publish a romantic suspense series this year, so I had to figure it out. There are so many resources out there on how to format (Scrivener makes it easy, BTW), upload, market, and price your book. I don’t have to invent anything new, just get up to speed on how it works.

The same goes for almost anything. What do you want to do? What would you need to make it happen? How can you get what you need?

Once you know what you need the goal doesn’t look so daunting. A list is something you can take a little bite out of every day. You don’t have to rush. Just keep plugging away at it and you’ll get there.

My first lesson in this came about 15 years ago. My programming job was mind-numbing and constantly under threat of being downsized, with no potential for upward mobility. After some soul searching, I decided I really wanted to teach software classes. Preferably part time so I could be home more with my son and the baby on the way.

The problem was that I had no Ph.D.—no Master’s yet either—and no teaching experience. I wasn’t even really an expert in anything, but I had a strong background with Microsoft Office and I learned software quickly.

I applied for jobs at local training centers or junior colleges, but finally gave up and decided to work for myself providing one-on-one/customized computer help. Not a quick, nor lightly made decision. Maybe not even a good one, but that’s what I did (with my awesome husband’s support).

So, I took some training to beef up my knowledge of the Microsoft Office programs, quit my job, joined the local chamber of commerce to meet potential clients, and paid for a small graphic ad in the local business newspaper. And I started getting work. I might even have broken even over the long run. 😉

But it paid off in other ways (besides some money and lots of time with my boys). One of my clients wanted a custom database that could create reports for her property appraisal business. I spent over a year working on it—a lesson in project creep and the downsides of a poorly written contract—and in the process I became an expert at creating Access databases.

And guess what? Within two weeks of moving to Ohio, I found a job at a business college that needed an Access instructor, but hadn’t found anyone who could pass the certification exam. I could. So I got a good-paying, part-time job teaching software and business communications classes.

My route to teaching didn’t happen on a normal path, but knowing what I wanted, and finding a way to get started in the right direction, eventually paved the way for exactly the job I had been looking for.

Patience and effort are the keys.

What do you want? What’s holding you back? Is there one step you can take today that will get you closer to your dream, even if it’s just making a list of what you would need to make it happen?

Go for it!

Image credit: NASA (via http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/alsj/a15/ap15-S71-41810HR.jpg)

My 2013 hits and misses

512px-Emoticon_Face_Smiley_GE512px-Emoticon_Face_Frown_GEI’m not big on waiting until January to make resolutions. If there’s something I want to start—or stop—I don’t see a need to wait. But I do like using the new year as a time to reflect on my accomplishments and missteps so I can set better goals and determine what I need to work on going forward.

What I noticed this year is that my productivity plummets during the summer, especially in terms of writing. You can see in the charts below that my word counts and writing hours dropped significantly in the middle of the year.

Some of this is due to conferences and personal travel, some due to my kids being home and visitors (good distractions), and some probably due to me getting out of my good habits (bad distractions). I did start to pick up my good habits again in the fall, but I need to be better about this in 2014.

I wrote more words and worked more hours in 2013, and it paid off with a fully edited, ready-to-go manuscript, and half of the second book in the series. My increased hours also reflect that I’m doing more online courses, in-person workshops, and individual training.

2013 Stats

I wrote 164,592 total words, including blog posts (new to this year's stats). 131,486 of those were fiction words, almost 20K more than 2012. Travel, visitors, conferences, and online courses really messed with my summer writing habits.

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I worked 930 hours, not including reading craft blogs, small snippets of research reading, volunteer hours for my writing chapters, or travel time (I did include blogging and author-related social media for 2013). That works out to about 18 hours/week.

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Hits

– Taught two Scrivener online courses (actually four).
– (Partial hit) I was definitely better about putting off email and social networking until after writing on many days, but still totally failed on others. Need to keep working on it.
– I did better this year confining my work to weekdays between 7am-6pm. I wasn’t 100% successful, but I’d say I managed it about 90% of the time. Weekends are hardest.
– Blogged weekly. Thanks for reading! 🙂
– Completed revisions on BLIND FURY with a professional editor, which means I have the first book in my series ready to go.
– Published PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS FOR WRITERS, which wasn’t on my original goal list, but is a definite “hit” for me. 🙂

Misses

– I did not get 60-90 minutes of writing or editing in every weekday, nor did I always hit 1000 words during writing sessions. But I’m not too disappointed. You can see from my chart that I still wrote a lot of words this year.
– I didn't complete two new manuscripts, but I figured out my real goal (self-published series in 2014), which caused me to stop a book halfway through. As a result, I only wrote half of the second book in the series, and half of another that might be part of another series someday, and spent a lot of time revising book one.

Goals for 2014

– Self-publish a three-book series and novella. (I talked about why here.)
– Teach two Scrivener full-length online courses.
– Create and deliver at least one short, specialty Scrivener course.

Seriously, I think that may be enough to keep me busy night and day. 😉 Throw in my travel for fun, conferences and workshops, and the fact that we’re due for a move this summer, and I think that’s plenty.

How’d you do in 2013? What’s on your list for this year?

Image credits: By Granny Enchanted (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you aim at nothing

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
~ Zig Ziglar

Aims.I didn’t win NaNoWriMo (again) this year.

I’m okay with that.

The first two years I participated in National Novel Writing Month—2010 and 2011—I won. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but I managed it.

The last two times I attempted NaNo were a different story. In both cases, I was in the middle of editing another manuscript while trying to work on my 50K. It was probably unrealistic of me to expect that I even had a chance when I wasn’t going to be able to devote myself more fully to writing. So why bother?

Because it’s not really about the 50K for me, it’s about the push.

Sure, I didn’t make my goal, but I still wrote 37,735 words! I accomplished that even though I only wrote on 20 of the available 30 days, which gives me an average of about 1887 words per day. For me, that's a really good average. If I’d done that every day, I would have hit 50K three days ahead of schedule.

The main thing is that I now have almost 38,000 words that I didn’t have on November first.

Score! If I got nothing else out of NaNo, that would be plenty. But I always get more out of it.

Michael-Jordan-Picture-QuoteI’ve reminded myself that I can keep writing even when I think I can’t. Those times when I thought I didn’t have any words left, but I still needed to squeeze out 200 more (or ten more minutes), I somehow found a way to keep writing. Several times I got on a roll and kept going for significantly longer.

In fact, some of my best work came after I pushed through a block.

My most productive day was 4.5 hours of writing that yielded almost 3200 words. It’s easy to forget that I have the ability to tune everything else out and do that, then repeat the feat again the next day. It’s a capability I have to keep in mind if I’m going to be as prolific as I’d like.

Participating in NaNo is the annual adjustment I need to remember what’s really important (the writing), and how to make sure I get it done (turn off and tune out distractions, keep putting my rear in the chair until I’ve met my daily goal, push through the hard times, write even when I don’t think I have nothing to say).

The more I write, the more the ideas flow. Somehow I always forget that. I tend to get stuck in a story and want to dwell on the fix for days by brainstorming, making outlines, reading other people’s books… 😉 But if I just sit and write—maybe even another scene or just random notes and ideas—the solution comes. Every time.

The few minutes after I awake each day are more productive than ever when I’m writing consistently. They produce very few ideas when I’m in “brainstorming mode.”

So for me, it’s not about the 50K so much as the rejuvenation of my writing mind and soul, the cultivation of the habits that help me get the work done, and the increased output that is still a huge leap for me, even if I don’t “win.”

For me, that is a win.

Image credits:
Aims, By Youth Hostel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Quote, by http://addicted2success.com/quotes/60-colorful-picture-quotes-to-empower-your-life/

Igniting the writing

LitMatchMy writing brain is on fire! In a good way.

It’s because of NaNoWriMo. One of the things I like best about participating is that it reminds me of a few key points that I seem to forget over the course of the year.

For example, when I’m stuck on a current or future plot point, I tend to quit writing and brainstorm until I figure it out. This sometimes means days or even weeks of not writing. During NaNo, however, I have to keep going or I’ll never meet my goal.

And a funny thing happens.

The more I write, the more ideas I have, and the easier they come.

This month the plot bunnies have been multiplying like, well, bunnies in my mind. I’ve been waking up with new visions for my storyline, thinking of story concepts while walking the dog, and solving character dilemmas while driving in my car.

When I first started writing—and couldn’t wait to sit down to do it every day—this happened to me all the time. I was full-to-bursting with ideas on where to take my stories. Somewhere along the way I lost my trust in that process, and I lost the constant flow of revelations.

Pushing myself through NaNoWriMo reminds me that my brain works best when I’m writing.

Sure, I may go off on tangents, and I may end up cutting a lot of what I write later, but that’s okay. If that’s the price of the ideas I need, I’ll take it. And often, even what gets cut becomes useful down the road. If nothing else, it’s practice.

The other thing this challenge always reminds me is that I can write more than I think I can.

On a normal day, I might reach 1000 words and feel like I can’t do much more. Or I might get stumped after writing 876 words and decide it’s a good spot to quit while I ponder what should come next. But since I now need to produce more words to meet the 50K goal, somehow I just push through the 1K barrier, I force myself to write through the tough spot.

And you know what? I can. Every. Time.

Someone remind me of that when January rolls around and I’m struggling again. 😉

These are some of the reasons I participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s about much more than getting down 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s about reigniting my writing.

What about you? Any lessons learned—or relearned—from NaNoWriMo so far?

Image credit: Match: By Sebastian Ritter (Rise0011) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

No Easy Day for writers

US_Navy_SEALs_in_from_waterHow is NaNoWriMo like SEAL training? It’s not.

(Well, except that the Navy loves its partial word acronyms too. Like NAVSPECWARDEVGRU and COMNAVSEASYSCOM to name two.)

But after reading No Easy Day by former U.S. Navy SEAL Mark Owen, I think there are a few things we could learn from special forces operators that might help us reach 50K in 30 days (or any other tough goal).

Owen survived BUD/S (SEAL training) by concentrating on making it to his next meal. That’s it. He didn't worry about what was coming in the next day, week, or month. He just had to survive until breakfast. Only until lunch. If you focus on the seemingly endless days of hard work ahead, it’s easy to give up.

Stay grounded in the present. Set a goal for this hour or this day and work on that. Each day of NaNo you need to write 1667 words. If you have three hours to write, then each hour you only need 556 words. Piece of cake, right? 😉

512px-Endurance_training_--_August_2004Something else Owen mentioned that really stuck with me was the idea that he had to “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. There’s nothing comfortable about constantly being cold, wet, and sandy while working your mind and body beyond all reasonable limits.

For most people, the same is true of a stretch-goal like NaNo, giving up sugar for a month, or self-publishing a trilogy. Goals like that push you outside your comfort zone. And that’s okay. If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you can do just about anything.

Leo Babauta of ZenHabits talks about this a lot too. He recommends watching yourself be uncomfortable. Watch the feeling rise and fall. Own it. And then keep going.

No Easy Day coverIn No Easy Day, Owen mentions the traits he thinks the best SEALs possess. Some of these don’t directly apply to my career. After all, my work isn’t life and death. But I found them interesting. I’ll bet in some way you’ll find that most people who are successful in their chosen career–by their own definition, not society’s–embody at least some of these.

Especially the first one.

1. Fear of failure.
This is a recurring theme in many of the special forces memoirs and biographies I’ve read. These guys will do anything to avoid failing at something they start.

2. Always striving to be their best and provide the most value for the team.
Writers may not be part of a team in most instances, but those who strive to put out their best work and give their readers a good story (along with quality editing and covers, if self-pubbed), are most likely to sell well.

3. Always ready and waiting to go to the next thing. Don’t just want to train for it, want to do it.
These guys train hard, but eventually they want to test their skills in the real world. They want to be useful. Many of us want to be published. We want people to see our work. We read about writing, take classes to improve our craft, and dabble in it. But to get published, you have to take the next step. Write, polish, query, submit, repeat. Or, eventually, self-publish. Don’t just train for it. Do it!

4. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice.
I’m not sure there’s a real metaphor for writing here, but most of us write in hopes of sharing our stories with others, maybe even making the readers’ lives a little better with our words. Putting yourself out there—whether submitting to agents and editors, entering a contest, or dipping your toes in the self-pub waters—can be terrifying. You have to be willing to face the metaphoric death embodied in rejection. Over and over. Writers may not defy death, but writing for publication is not for the faint of heart.

You don’t have to be a SEAL to do amazing things. If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo—maybe you’re not even a writer—go set some other stretch goal for yourself and approach it like a SEAL. You might be astonished at what you can do.

As a side note, I thought No Easy Day was very well done. Plenty of action interspersed with the author’s personal background and experiences, and not too terribly political like some of the other spec ops books I’ve read, or tried to read. Pretty fascinating, really. If you like this kind of thing, put it on your holiday gift list. Or buy it now. 😉

Photo credits:

(1) Unknown Author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(2) By Shane T. McCoy (http://www.navy.mil/view_ahhphotos.asp) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons