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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.

Permission granted

When I go running, I usually set out with a goal for that run–say 35 minutes. Sometimes, when I've met that goal, I think, “Great, but it'd be even better if I went around the loop once more and made it 45.” Yes, my hips will thank me, and an extra ten minutes will not normally throw off my whole schedule, but surpassing a goal isn't always the right choice.

There's a delicate balance between shirking your work and going overboard. It takes discipline to keep going when it feels like you won't make it, but it also takes a sort of discipline to stop when you reach your goal.

For example, I have set a daily writing goal of 1000 words. Some days it takes me less than two hours, and other days I sit in front of the computer for 12. And some days, I don't meet it.

Often, I feel like I should keep pressing, even if I meet my 1000 words, to make up for the days when I don't. Shouldn't I just keep typing until bedtime? Write during lunch? Skip reading that book I've been dying to open?

No!

As tempting as it is to work on my MS day and night (and I still do, a lot), I'm granting myself permission to stop at 1000 words. Stop after reading one contest entry. Stop after doing one class exercise.

Otherwise, I'll miss out on the little joys that I so look forward to. Every good effort deserves a reward. I'm not yet getting paid to write, but I can pay myself in other ways. Relax with a good book. Hang out with the kids. Have lunch with a friend.

How do you keep yourself from burning out, but still meet your goals?

The Daily Squirrel: goal

A crimson banner emblazoned with the word “FINISH” flapped in the breeze at least a mile down the road. It appeared closer on the long, straight path, but she had only passed the eleventh mile marker a few minutes ago.

Her legs dragged as if weighed down with lead, but she kept shuffling forward in a pathetic jog-walk. No one thought she could do this. Brad had laughed right in her face when he overheard her telling the boss she signed up for the half-marathon.

She might not finish in ninety minutes like super jock, Brad, but she would finish if it killed her. She couldn't wait to see the look on his face when she crossed the finish line. He wouldn't be laughing then, and he might start to wonder what else she could accomplish if she set her mind to it.

Let him worry, she thought with a smile.

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.