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Snow and showdowns

Snow on field and bare trees

We had our first “sticky” snow of the season overnight. It didn’t last long, and I know it’s just the beginning, but it still made me smile. Especially since the sun came out.

If you’re working on NaNoWriMo this year, let me know how it’s going.

I have my own goal for November—to finish book two in my Men of Steele series—and I’m really close. I’m struggling with the final showdown, but I keep reminding myself that I just have to get something down on the page so my brain can start figuring out how to make it better. It helps.

Whatever you’re working on this month, good luck!

Inspiration for writing and life

512px-Inspire_Sunburst_Italian_AlpsOver the years, I've been collecting quotes that inspire me when I'm low, or need a reminder that it's not supposed to be easy, or when I'm rooted in fear. I'm sharing some of them with you in hopes that one of them will inspire or help you when you need it.

You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank one.
– Nora Roberts

It's never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise.
– Nancy Thayer

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

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– E.E. Cummings

Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien (Gandalf’s poem in LOTR)

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain

Never give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyhow.
– Earl Nightingale

Don’t wait!
– Gwen Hernandez (Don’t wait blog post 5/15/12) [Yes, I'm shameless. :-)]

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.
– Ray Bradbury

I dwell in possibility.
– Emily Dickenson

When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “one word at a time.”
– Stephen King

Never let fear decide your fate.
– AWOLNation, lyrics from “Kill Your Heroes”


Image credit: By User:Nauticashades/w:User:Nauticashades. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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

Fun with Dick and Jane

But, why did they run?

Goal: Determine GMC for my main characters

Motivation: To write a better story with believable actions and conflict.

Conflict: It's hard work!

I want to know what my characters want, why, and why they can't have it. Yes, I'm working on my new book's GMC. Again.

Here's the thing. This time around, I really need to know that I have plausible, believable goals, motivations, and conflicts for each of the main characters before I move too far into the story. Not just my main characters, but the antagonists too. I think the reason I've struggled in the past is because my GMC wasn't as solid as I thought, and it only became evident once I wrote enough words to get stuck.

GMC goes right to the heart of internal and external conflict. What's keeping my characters apart, as well as what's bringing them together. External conflict is much easier to come up with. Physical barriers are like mosquitos in my backyard. Plentiful! It's the internal conflicts that I need to solidify before I can go on.

This Mills & Boon article on emotional conflict makes the following suggestion:

A good exercise to try is deciding what story you would tell if your characters were trapped in one room for the entire book! Think of the emotional journey your hero and heroine would go on without any outside influences. How would you sustain the tension between the couple, build up to the highs and lows, when all they can do is talk to each other?

I'm not going to write this, but I am going to think about how the story would develop without any of the suspense plot that I've spent so much time trying to get right. Focusing on the internal conflict before throwing gun-toting bad guys, back-stabbing best friends, or evil CEOs into the mix should make the story stronger. And, I hope, easier to write.

Got any advice for GMC or internal conflict? I'd love to hear it!

What you can learn from children and Toyota

What do kids and Toyota have in common? They ask “why?” a lot. If you've ever spent time around a child, you've probably experienced the phenomenon of endless whys. Children are masters at digging deep.

In the world of manufacturing, Toyota and its world-renowned manufacturing system are the same way. (In spite of their recent problems, I still worship the ground that Toyota's founders walk on.) One of the four tools that Toyota quality specialists use to solve quality problems, is to ask “why?” five times in order to reach the root cause.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, I believe that if we force ourselves to continually ask why our characters are doing, saying, or feeling whatever it is they're doing, saying, or feeling, we'll find the holes and inconsistencies that often plague our stories. Asking why will also help us develop a deeper understanding of the characters' motivations.

Let's say you've determined that your character's goal in the scene is to acquire money to save her company from financial ruin. Now you need her motivations. You can either ask each why of the original goal, or ask subsequent whys to follow up on the previous question.

For example, here's a list where each why is directed back to the original goal (money to save her company).

1. Why?  The company is her life.

2. Why?  She doesn't want to lay off her employees.

3. Why?  She wants to prove to her father that she can succeed in business without his help.

4. Why?  If her business fails, she'll lose everything.

5. Why?  If the business fails, her employees will lose their health insurance, and one of them has a very sick child.

Here's an example where each why builds on the previous one.

1. Why?  The company is her life.

2. Why?  She has spent all her time building the company, at the expense of her social life.

3. Why?  She believes the men who ask her out just want her family's money, so she avoids dating altogether.

4. Why?  She doesn't think men can see beyond the scar on her face to fall in love with the woman inside.

5. Why?  Her previous boyfriend cheated on her.

Notice the second example could create a large branching tree of why lists, one branch for each of the questions in the first list. You can take it as deep as you want, but even a little digging may reveal surprising insight into your characters' motivations.

So foster your childish, Toyota-like need to get to the bottom of things. Go forth and ask, “why?”

High Resolution

Happy 2010! I hope you all had a great holiday. My household is catching up on laundry and email as we recover from a great trip to visit family in Phoenix. And, like many of you, I'm thinking about goals.

Even though resolutions for the new year have become cliché, I find it helpful to evaluate past goals and set a new course for the year to follow. Goals help me see more clearly how productive I've been, as well as where I want to go.

In a November post, I listed a daily plan that I'm using to be more productive. It includes micro goals that get me through each day and help me take advantage of my most productive/creative hours for writing, while saving my “slump” hours for other tasks.

Based on the last two months, I've tweaked the daily plan to be more realistic, but still challenging.

2010 Daily Writing Plan

  1. Write 1000 net words/day, at least 6 days/week, and track in Scrivener
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (judging, query letters, synopsis, CP readings, etc.)
  3. Post blog entry including Daily Squirrel, at least 6 days/week
  4. Limit email to three times/day unless daily goals are met
  5. Work out before 7:30 am, or during afternoon/evening
  6. Limit FB and blog reading to 30 minutes/day, unless daily goals are met
  7. No fiction reading unless daily goals are met

Writing Goals for 2010

  • read one writing craft book/month
  • enter Floater and possibly Diego's story in GH and Maggie's
  • attend RWA National Conference (pitch Floater and series?)
  • complete and polish three single title MSs

1/31 – Finish rough draft of Floater (and come up with better title)
2/28 – Finish first major revision of Floater (using Maass & other books)
2/28 – enter Floater in Great Beginnings Contest (finish and apply Hooked)
3/01 – Start next book for DEA series (Diego's story)
4/01-4/15 – Touch up Floater after CP feedback
5/31 – Finish rough draft of Diego's story (before we move in early June)
6/XX – Move to ???, trip to Europe (try to write/revise/brainstorm at least 30 minutes, 6 dpw)
7/15 – query at least five agents with Floater
7/31 – create pleasant and creativity-inducing writing space in new home
7/31 – Finish major revisions on Diego's story, get CP feedback
8/01 – start another book (TBD, part of series, or other idea)
9/01-9/15 – Touch up Diego's story with CP feedback
10/31 – finish rough draft of 3rd book
11/30 – Finish major revisions on 3rd book

What are some of your goals for the new year?

The Daily Squirrel: interview

John forced himself to sit still even though he wanted to adjust his tie, wipe his brow, and fiddle with his gold pen. With a baby on the way, he needed this promotion more than ever. And, dammit, he was the right person for the job. At least his wife kept telling him so.

“What makes you think you're the best candidate for plant manager?” Helen, his long-time boss and good friend, asked in a cool, professional tone. He knew she'd be impartial, but damn, couldn't she at least smile to put him at ease?

“Well, I've decreased the operating costs and increased productivity in my area at least ten percent annually for the last five years. I also spearheaded the new product line roll out, which was on-time and under budget. And my department has the lowest turnover rate in the entire company. I'd like the opportunity to do the same for the entire plant.”

Amazingly, his voice sounded confident, even as his hands trembled in his lap, hidden from view by the conference table.

Helen glanced at the two men sitting to either side of her. “And we'd like to give it to you,” Helen said, finally giving him a smile. “You've got the job.”