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Don’t wait

Don't wait to take that first step.

I once worked with a woman in her late thirties who had never seen the ocean, had only been to two States, and had flown on a plane once (for a business trip). She was not poor, afraid to fly, or uninterested in seeing the world. She and her husband made decent money, didn’t have kids, and they wanted to travel, but planned to wait until her husband retired.

I was flabbergasted.

Immediately I thought of all sorts of reasons why she shouldn’t wait. He was ten years older than her, what if he got sick? What if they didn’t have enough money to travel after retirement? What if he couldn’t ever afford to retire? What if, what if, what if…

I wanted to yell, “Don’t wait!” Actually, I wanted to shake her silly and then yell, but I also wanted to keep my job.

About ten years later, my mom died at the age of 58, the same year my dad had originally planned to retire. If they had waited until retirement to travel, my mom would never have been anywhere except where the military sent them. Sure they’d lived in two foreign countries and more than half a dozen States, but it was what they did when they were in those places that made the difference. They explored the local area, and used it as a base to travel further out.

When we lived in Germany, we visited just about every country we could reach within a 17-hour drive–in a tiny Volkswagen Rabbit–even traveling through communist-occupied East Germany to see West Berlin. When my parents were stationed in Okinawa, they not only toured Japan, they went to Hong Kong and Australia.

My mom saw and experienced more of the world in her regrettably shortened life than many people would if they lived to be 100.

I’m a hardcore advocate of travel. I think people learn a lot from seeing how others live, and opening themselves to new experiences, but that’s not really what this post is about. It’s about making what you value a priority in your life.

Are you on target for the life you desire?

If you listed the five most important things to you and then compared them to how you spend your time, would they mesh? Do you value family over career, but are never home? Do you value your health, but eat all your meals out and never work out? You might not be able to change right away, but if you start planning you can. If you start really thinking about how and where you spend your time, you can.

Maybe you’ve decided that two years of long hours now are worth it for the end result. Great. You’re living according to your priorities. But maybe that two years has turned into four, and you want to see your family again. What would you have to do to make a change? Find a new job? Quit a hobby? Trust your employees enough to delegate?

I don’t have a bucket list, per se, but I have places I want to visit and things I want to do or accomplish. Maybe I can’t or won’t check them all off my list, but I’m damn sure going to try.

Yes, money can be an issue, but it’s all about priorities. Which is more important? The daily lunch out with coworkers and the morning Starbucks, or the trip to Europe?

Both are worthy, depending on what matters to you. For me, it was Europe. And when I quit working full time–a move that was also inspired by my need to live according to what I valued–we had to put off the trip to Europe we’d been saving for.

But we still went. It just took an extra two years of tight budgeting to make it happen. It was worth every penny and every extra day we waited. Two years later we’re still talking about it and sharing great memories.

There’s a difference between things that would be nice if they happened, and things that matter.

Maybe you think it’d be cool to have a master’s degree, but if you’re not actually willing to put in the effort, it probably isn't as important as you think. And if it is, and you haven’t found a way to make it happen, why not?

Barbar Sher has a great book called Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. In it, she advocates breaking up a goal into individual steps until you get them small enough that you can start tomorrow. Brian Tracy preaches a similar philosophy–and teaches strategies for tackling goals and managing your time–in Eat That Frog!

Gunning for grad school? It’s easy to start with a search of the university website or a call to the admissions office. You can deal with the year-long admissions process, financial aid, and the GRE or GMAT in baby steps.

If you take it one piece at a time, you’ll get there.

It works for just about anything. My unsolicited advice is: Don’t wait to save for that trip, get that degree, write that book, or learn that new skill.

Take it one bit at a time and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Photo credits: BABY GIRL © Aleksandra Belikova | Dreamstime.com, TARGET © Lyn Baxter | Dreamstime.com

Detour to success

Have you ever noticed how even when things don’t work out the way you planned, often the experience leads to something good? Maybe even better?

Here’s an example. Back in 1998, bored to tears in a programming job that was likely going to be eliminated anyway, I quit my job to start a training and support company called—in a flash of brilliant inspiration—The Help Desk.

Through some serious soul searching I had decided I really wanted to be a professor, but lacking a PhD—and the time and funds to get one anytime soon, especially with baby number two on the way—I figured teaching adults was really the key element that I craved.

I started by looking for jobs at the local community colleges and training centers, with no luck. No surprise, since I had a couple of years of programming under my belt, and several years heavy experience with Windows and Office, but no actual teaching experience. And at this point, I hadn’t even started Toastmasters.

But in my heart I knew I could teach if given a chance, and The Engineer, as usual, was willing to let me try. (Have I told you that man is the absolute best?)

And being my own boss sounded really, really good.

So I dug deeper into the Microsoft Office programs, bought a cell phone, printed out some business cards, put an ad in the local business newspaper.

I actually got some work too. Several one-on-one training sessions, some Outlook and Word classes, and even a live, televised PowerPoint training with a reporter asking questions.

A couple of non-training projects came my way as well, the most important one through a personal property appraiser I met through the chamber of commerce. She hired me to write a database to catalog items for her clients and create the final reports.

It took me over a year to complete, forcing me to learn Microsoft Access to levels I’d never dreamed of, including integration with Word, and lots and lots of Visual Basic for Applications to make it all seamless.

I also learned the definition of project creep, and the importance of a good contract.

Despite all that, by the time we left Oklahoma for Ohio 18 months after starting The Help Desk, I was feeling like the grand experiment was a failure. I had learned some good—and hard—lessons along the way, and maybe earned a little beyond my investment, but I wasn’t making enough money to justify starting over in Dayton.

If nothing else, the experience taught us that we could live on a much tighter budget. We could live with only one car. We didn’t have to eat out every week. And I learned how much I loved being home with my kids. I figured I’d enjoy my babies, and start saving up to go back to school for my Master’s.

And then it happened. Two weeks after the move, I saw an ad for an Access instructor at a local business college. Turned out they needed someone who knew Access well enough to pass the Microsoft Office User Specialist exam.

That's the beauty of the universe, right there.

Two years earlier I wouldn’t have been qualified for the job, but after all the grueling months of working on that appraisal database, I was an expert. I passed the test, got the job, and spent the next four years teaching software and business classes at private colleges and a computer training center.

No PhD necessary.

Looks like that failed business wasn’t such a failure after all.

Photo credit: By Mr. Matté , via Wikimedia Commons

Why dogs are like writing

My kids once argued that they could never be bored if they had a dog. You can probably guess how that worked out. But I feel the same way about writing. I can never be bored when I have a story to work on.

Writing’s been keeping me engaged for three years now. In fact, if you ignore the complete lack of pay, this is the longest I’ve held one job, um, ever.

I’m not lazy. I just crave constant mental challenge. Once I master my work I’m ready to move on, but writing is the one thing I can never fully master. Even if I were flawless in all aspects of craft—oh, if only!—there would always be a new story to challenge me, new plot points and characters to work through, research to be done.

Writing has held my attention over the last three years, but each year has had a different focus or feel to it. That keeps it interesting.

2009 was all about the joy of writing, happiness at finally finding something to keep my brain engaged, and getting to know other writers. I started learning how the industry worked, and began to see that it was changing rapidly.

2010 was the year of craft. I read as many books, blogs, and articles as I could get my hands on. I took online classes, attended my chapter meetings, worked with a critique partner, and entered contests. I attended my first national conference and volunteered at the national level.

2011 was the year I hit my stride as a writer. I got the Golden Heart nod and placed well in several contests, and I started getting requests for my full manuscript, rejections with feedback (including one revise-and-resubmit from an agent), and requests for my future work.

I took a leap and started teaching my online Scrivener class, getting back to something else I’ve always loved. But the other thing that happened in 2011? I faltered as a writer. I got too caught up in the craft and structure and forgot how to just write for the story first. I focused too much on my process, my stories’ publishability, and other people’s visions for my work. I got too involved in volunteering, email loops, and social media.

I went off track.

So, 2012 is the year I take back my writing. I’m scaling back my commitments to more manageable levels. As for my writing, this is the first year where I feel like I might actually be ready to deal successfully with a publishing offer. I even got my first revise-and-resubmit from an editor.

Now that I have all that craft swimming in my head and know (better) how to layer it in during the revision process, I’m focusing on the writing joy again.

Maybe this won’t be the year of the contract. And that’s okay too.

People who’ve never written before wonder how we can stand to wait three, four, five, or eleven years to get published. Sure, the anxiety and impatience are there, but the longer I’m in this game, the more I realize how ill-prepared I was in the early years, and how much more I still need to learn.

I have to believe that persistence will pay off. So, until I get the call, I’ll be happily working on my future backlist.

Besides, I have a dog, so I can never be bored.

Completion and progress

The Celtic triskelion symbol (at right) represents completion and progress, and a sense of advancement. A fitting metaphor for reviewing the past year and looking toward the next one, I think.

There’s something to be said for accountability. Writing down how much I spend, eat, or write makes me more likely to stick to my goals.

In 2010, I only tracked my word count, but that didn’t tell the whole story. Some months I had almost no words, but I’d still been working hard. So for 2011, I tracked all of the hours that I deemed directly contributed toward publication or making money: revising, researching, reading craft books, preparing query letters and contest entries, taking workshops, and teaching Scrivener classes.

Because you wouldn’t expect anything less, here’s a snapshot of my productivity for 2011.

  • Total (net) words written: 173,617 (14,468 words/month average)
  • Total writing/revising hours worked: 377.25 (31.5 hours/month average)
  • Total hours worked on all writing-related activities: 736.25 (61 hours/month average)

Words by Month - 2011



(Note: Word counts are net. During NaNo my manuscript contained 50,200+ words.)

Hours per Month (blue=writing/revs, red=total) - 2011



May and August have a low writing/total ratio because I was teaching classes. June was similar because of the RWA conference.

What’s not included is the time I spent on writing-related activities that don’t directly contribute to more words, better writing, or making money in some way: blogging, tweeting, checking my Facebook author page, reading/answering emails, volunteering for RWA groups/events, and Citizens Police Academy classes.

Hits:

  • Golden Heart final, The Sandy Contest win, Between the Sheets Contest 2nd place
  • Attended RWA National Conference and pitched to an agent and editor, both of whom requested
  • Received eight full requests and four partial requests
  • Received four rejections with specific feedback, including one request for my next project
  • Won NaNoWriMo
  • Proposed and taught two Scrivener online classes, and figured out how to host the class myself in 2012

Misses:

  • Only met hours-worked goals in four of 12 months
  • Didn’t meet manuscript completion goals

Plans for 2012:

  • 1500 words/day, 5 days/week when writing
  • Two hours of revisions/day, 5 days/week when revising
  • Complete and polish current manuscript, and one additional MS
  • Stay off email, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs until writing/revising goals met
  • Teach two Scrivener online classes
  • Attend RWA National Conference and WRW Retreat
  • Win NaNoWriMo
How did you do in 2011? Are you going to make any changes in how you work? What are your plans for 2012?

Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triskele-Symbol-spiral.svg

What’s left?

Can you believe there are only three weeks left in 2011? Were you good this year? What do you still need/want to do before the year is out?

Here’s my list:
1. Get my WIP to 75000 words.
2. Read the six books that I had on hold at the library that all came available today.
3. Finish my holiday shopping.
4. Start my holiday shopping.
5. Relax and enjoy the holidays with my family.

Enjoy your weekend!

Photo credit: TO MARK WITH A CROSS. © Demarco | Dreamstime.com

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?