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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

My big, scary goal

I couldn’t talk blithely about my goals today without stopping to mention the tragedy in Boston yesterday. My heart hurts for all those affected. It also swells at the stories and pictures of those who raced in to help just seconds after the bombs went off. After such devastation, we need a reminder that most people still care about their fellow humans.


Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can. ~ Unknown

LadderLast week I talked about being bold and setting big goals. Not just big, but scary goals that represent what you really want out of life in the long term.

Since I’ve been challenging you, I figured it’s only fair that I set my own goals and share them here. Talk about scary. If I put my goals on the Internet for everyone to see and then fail…

Here goes. My overarching goal:

To make enough money from my teaching and writing activities that my husband can quit working when he’s eligible to retire from the Air Force in 2016.

(Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a minute.)

That’s my big, scary goal. It used to be just a dream, something that would hopefully happen one day after I finally got published. But wishing for something—which often means you think it can’t really happen—does not get help me get things done. Nor does it help me figure out which path to take. Goals, on the other hand, can be broken down into progressively smaller pieces until you get to something you can start today.

I’m already making some money from teaching—and from Scrivener For Dummies—but I really want to generate income from my fiction. With that in mind, I started thinking about the best way to do that.

Keep working toward traditional publication, or self-publish?

Even a year ago, this would have been a no-brainer for me. New York all the way, baby! But times have changed. While I would love to be on bookstore shelves—if there are any left in a few years—and would love the ego stroke that getting a traditional publishing deal would bring, I don’t need either one to consider myself successful. Neither is a guarantee that the money would follow.

So, my plan is to self-publish. I think for all but the best writers among us there’s more money to be made going it alone.

That said, I don’t want to self-publish just because I’m not good enough to get a deal. I’ve seen enough work by authors who should have waited a few years to upload their books to Amazon, and I hope to not be one of them. But the kind of feedback I’ve been getting tells me I’m close. With a little help from an editor, I hope readers will never even notice my book doesn’t come from Avon, Signet, or St. Martin’s.

Am I averse to risk? Oh, yes. But there are different types of risk. While I’m loath to plop down the cash (that I might never earn back) for an editor and book cover designer, I’m even more worried about giving up my rights indefinitely to a publisher.

I also like to be in control. By self-publishing I can choose my covers, titles, release dates, book lengths, and story lines. For better or worse, success or failure is all on me.

(Where'd I put that paper sack again?)

By defining my ultimate goal, and determining that I intend to reach it by self-publishing, something dramatic happened. My daily priorities changed drastically.

I dropped my current WIP cold. It doesn’t fit with my new plan to release a trilogy in the spring of 2014, so it had to be pushed aside so I can work on revisions for the first book in the series and get to work finishing book two.

Without defining my goals so carefully, I would have kept pushing really hard—25,000 words in January, for example—on the wrong thing. Productive, yes. Helpful, no.

I can now make more informed decisions about how to utilize my time.

Sign up for editor/agent pitch appointments at a conference? Nope.

Read a blog post on writing great query letters? Pass.

Take a class on self-publishing? Sign me up.

See? A month ago, the answers to those questions would have been very different. There’s the real value of creating specific goals and plans for achieving them.

There's no guarantee I'll succeed, anymore than there was ever a guarantee I'd get a publishing contract. But at least I know I’ll be heading in the right direction.

Photo credit: By SOIR (Own work) (GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons