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Letting go

LettingGoBalloonSometimes, we have to let go of our expectations. Of life, of others, and of ourselves.

Okay, well, we don’t have to, but we’ll probably be really unhappy…

I got a good reminder of this last week when I had a couple of trusted writer friends read my upcoming book. While they had good things to say, they also made some valid points about things that need to be fixed.

What? Now? But, but…this book is supposed to come out on May 13th. I already had it edited, got the cover designed, had the proofreader scheduled, and…well, everything.

But what’s more important, speed or quality? For me, there’s no question. Quality trumps speed.

So I had to let go of my plan and adjust my expectations. The book needs more work, simple as that.

I’m incredibly thankful to my (honest) friends for bringing the story’s issues to my attention. (Funny how you sometimes can’t see these things until someone points them out to you, and then you think, “Duh.”) I’d rather have it be my friends/beta readers than my paying readers!

To those of you who were looking forward to reading Blind Justice in May, thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry. I hope when you finally read it, you’ll think it was worth a few more months’ wait. I sincerely believe the book will be much stronger.

And I’ve learned something about myself. I will continue to strive for better books at a faster pace, but I need to honor my process and be true to my characters and their stories. There are authors out there who can produce a book every two to three months. I applaud them!

At this point in time, I’m not one of them.

I’m trying to let go of unrealistic expectations—both in my personal and professional life—and focus on creating the best books I can. I know that little spot at the base of my neck that carries all of my tension will thank me. 😉

Has anything forced you to let go of your expectations? Please share!


 

Photo credit: By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Apprentice Eric Cutright [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fitting it all in

CollageAt a conference in Montana a couple of weeks ago, I gave a speech called “Fitting It All In”. It was about how I set things up to balance being a writer, instructor, mom, and world traveler.

Sometimes I do it well, other times, not so much. I talked about both.

But what I love about giving speeches or writing blog posts on a topic like goals is that it helps remind me of what’s worked in the past, and what I’m not doing now that I should be.

Since returning from that conference, I’ve intensified my efforts to align my daily activities with what’s really important to me. That means setting aside time to work on the things that matter most, but are often left undone. Like writing.

It means finding the discipline to limit my social media, email, and other distractions.

It also means setting daily targets so that when I reach them, I can move on to another task without guilt or danger of burning myself out.

So far it’s working. When I get the urge to play hooky or procrastinate, I remind myself that I’ve chosen this work as my job and that I have goals (ones I really care about) that won’t be met if I slack off. I ask myself how I’ll feel about it later if I don’t do it now. Once I sit down to start, it’s a cinch. That first step really is the hardest.

For tasks like writing, I find it helps to work early in the day when my mind is fresh. That way, even if I get distracted later, I’ve already accomplished my main goals for the day. And I can always find the energy to read email or post on Facebook. The same cannot be said for writing, editing, or creating class lessons.

I’ve even gone so far as setting “office hours”—which can change from day-to-day depending on what’s going on with my family or my non-work schedule—to help me stay focused. An unexpected side effect of working from home is that I feel like I’m always on, always at work. I can’t just leave at five and leave it all behind.

By setting work hours, I have an endpoint to my day, a specific time to look forward to. When I quit at five, if I’ve made a nice dent in my to-do list, I don’t even feel guilty about leaving my laptop closed for the rest of the night. That’s more incentive to get it all done during the day.

About now, you might be wondering why I stay home to write and teach if I dislike it so much. Actually, I love it. But it’s still “work”, not just a hobby. As such, my brain views it that way. Add in all the fear of failure and rejection and low rankings that authors face, and I have to force myself to sit down if I ever want to reach my goals.

But once I start, I often don’t want to stop. That is the best benefit of all.

How about you? Got any tricks up your sleeve for fitting it all in?

Fitting it all in

ChecklistLast month I wrote more than 25,000 words.

And—don’t hate me—it was easy.

It’s been a long time since keeping a pace like that was doable. Last year I only had two months that good, and those were when I was writing Scrivener For Dummies under deadline. Not since I first started writing—back when I didn’t belong to any writing chapters, didn’t know any other writers, didn’t blog, tweet, or have a Facebook author page—has writing come so easily.

Part of it is the joy of a new story. But it’s more than that. A couple weeks ago I wrote about how I’m scheduling out my day, holding myself accountable to write every weekday morning before I get sucked into everything else that goes on in my day.

Well, it’s working.

Mainly because I don’t allow excuses; I have to write for 90 minutes. Once I get started, after I’ve read through the previous day’s words, time usually flies. In fact, even though I’m guilt-free for the rest of the day if I don’t write more, I find myself wanting to get back to my story because it’s on my mind. Which means I often add words again in the afternoon.

Productivity is contagious.

I don't know the science behind it, maybe we release endorphins every time we keep our promises to ourselves. I don't really care why it's working for me, I'm just glad it is. Not only is my new schedule now a habit, my new normal, but it feels good to end each day with 1000 shiny new words instead of a day full of busyness without anything meaningful to show for it.

The positive feelings I associate with my workday (or those endorphins, whatever)—and the fact that I can end it at 5pm without guilt or stress—get me out of bed in the morning.

Sure, there’s always more I could be doing. I’m a whiz at finding things to add to my growing list: more research reading, plotting on that other book I never finished, edits for the manuscript I need to resubmit. The list is nearly endless and overwhelming sometimes.

The key is to define each day’s priorities in advance (I usually do it the night before), and then schedule accordingly.

How’s your writing coming? Have you tried a new system to get on track? Have one that already works for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Plotting my day

ScheduleI’m most productive if I get my writing done before the rest of the day starts. Once it gets to nine or nine-thirty, I feel compelled to check and respond to email, comment on and promo my group blogs, and stop by Facebook and Twitter.

If I sleep until eight, eat breakfast, and deal with the dog, then by the time I sit down to write, the precious early hours are gone. I’m a night owl by nature, and while I get up to kiss my teens goodbye before they head to school, it’s hard to resist the call of the warm, cozy bed once they’re out the door.

But the lure of more sleep leaves me frustrated with myself by the end of the day. The word counts don't stack up the way I want, and other “urgent” tasks get in the way. When I let my body rule my day, I work, but don't produce what matters to me on a consistent basis.

I decided I needed a boss to keep me in line, and since I work for myself, I had to step up.

SampleDayPlan

A sample day plan

The answer—at least for me—was simple. I had to go back to the practices I’d used when I worked full time, back when I worshipped time management gurus like Brian Tracy and Franklin Covey. I had to determine my priorities and plot my next day in advance. I had to plan it out the night before so I'd have a reason to get up the next morning.

Once I could see in writing how my day needed to play out, I was motivated to get up to make it happen.

Rather than clutter up my digital calendar with things like “write”, “check email” and “work out”, I’m using a small white board. Easy to see from my chair and easy to modify if my schedule changes.

I’ve fallen into a schedule where I get up to see my kids off to school—or sometimes earlier—and then stay up. I make my oatmeal, feed and let out the dog, and then write for about 90 minutes. I don’t always produce as many words as I’d like, but I’m doing much better than before.

The key is putting in the time.

Once the writing is done, I don’t have to feel guilty about working on all the other stuff that I want/need to do, some of it writing-related, some of it not (I didn’t originally quit my full time job to write, after all). The number one goal is met, and if I write again that day, great. If not, no biggie.

Less stress and guilt, more productivity. That’s a win.

Oh, and here are some numbers to prove it.

Last week, getting up early (for me) to write before doing anything else on the computer, I kicked out 7528 words between Monday and Friday (I’ve been taking weekends off for family time). That’s an average of 1505 words per day. Near NaNoWriMo levels of words without the NaNo—or rather, mega—levels of stress.

Sure, it helps to have a manuscript idea that won’t let me go right now, but if I weren’t producing words, I’d be outlining or editing, and by 9:30 I know that even if I blow the rest of the day, the thing that matters most to me professionally is done.

And productivity is contagious. Now that I schedule my email/social media time, the guilt is gone, but I also have a reason not to get lost in the Internet for hours. I’m on a schedule, dammit. I’m a professional.

I’m putting my needs first. Following through on my promises to myself. It feels good, and that’s addictive. Like the runner’s high, it’ll keep me coming back for more.

I’m plotting to make this my most productive year yet.

What about you? How do you keep yourself on track?

Image credit: By Gentaur (Gentaur) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Good morning, night owl

I’m a confirmed night owl, but my boys’ new swim schedule is going to clip my wings. I’m not even sure an early riser would be happy getting up before four o’clock. Ugh.

The solution is easy right? Go to bed at nine. Or earlier. But here’s the thing about a night person. Nine is when the second wind kicks in. The ideas start flowing, the energy comes back, and suddenly the thought of going to bed is untenable.

I’d be missing out on valuable, productive hours.

I sometimes wish the world operated on my schedule so I didn’t have to shoehorn myself into working—and waking—hours that don’t fit my natural rhythm. I spent plenty of my working life at jobs that started at seven or earlier. I spent seven weeks at Officer Training rising at oh-dark-early for PT.

Occasionally, I even choose to get up at some ungodly hour to work out before a full day, but I don’t think I’ll ever like it.

I’d love to be a disciplined early riser like Thomas Jefferson, though I’d skip the icy foot bath. I love being up in the morning. The soft light of dawn, the cool air, the quiet. My brain even fires on all cylinders quite nicely until fatigue sets in and my brain screams, “Nap!”

It’s getting up early I have a problem with.

But, like it or not, four days a week for the next eleven months, I’m going to have to embrace getting up well before the sun. And then repeat for the next four years.

Sigh.

How about you? Night owl or lark?

Photo credit: OWL © Pdiaz | Dreamstime.com

Diphtheria, tilapia, and peanut butter cups

Today was productive but annoying. Productive on the home front, that is. Not so much on the writing front.

I took my son to get a vaccination he didn't need. Yeah, he was happy, and I was vindicated. I was positive he'd had it, but it wasn't on the shot chart we got from the clinic in Alabama. Unfortunately, he forgot his ID card (partly my fault, of course, since I only reminded him once) and now I have 30 days to bring it in or be charged for a visit for nothing. Jeez.

We did drop off the last bit of packing paper at the recycling center. No more piles in random spots around the house!

We also hit the grocery store for fresh fish for tonight's dinner, along with a few bags of Reese's peanut butter cups. Both very necessary. Unfortunately, we forgot about the grocery bags until three hours later, after a trip to the pool. The candy was salvageable; the fish, not so much. *sigh*

I wish I had a decent excuse for being so scatterbrained today, but I had plenty of sleep last night. Maybe my new plan to go to bed earlier is messing me up. I'm trying to get the boys (and myself) back on a decent schedule before school starts next week. No more late night writing/blogging/reading sessions.

Until I fall off the wagon and stay up till 1am.

Really, maybe I perform better on my night owl schedule, but for now, I'll settle for a few peanut butter cups and hope tomorrow is better.

Looking for worms

Are you a lark or a night owl? Me? I'm a night owl who really wants to be a lark. As much as I'd like to rise with the sun and get working, I just can't do it. I love being up early, but I hate getting up early.

The funny thing is, once I'm up, I'm very productive before lunch. Then my brain usually crashes in the afternoon and starts working again after dinner. Even if I'm tired at eight o'clock, I get a second wind and get some of my best work done before midnight.

My body's natural schedule wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't conflict with the rest of the world. I have to get up early to make sure the kids are getting ready for school, or drive them if they're not riding the bus. My husband is up early for work. In the evening when we could all be hanging out, I'm just getting into the swing of writing again.

I'm starting to learn the best times of day to focus on writing, working out, running errands, and reading emails, so that I can be the most productive. But, I'm struggling with it because it doesn't match up well with the rest of my family's schedule.

What kind of schedule are you on. Are you fighting it, or does it work with the rest of your life?

The Daily Squirrel: rejection

Madison held the crisp paper in her hands, and blinked back tears. Another rejection. With a fat red marker, she scrawled “#159” in large numbers across the paper. Each letter chipped away at her heart, and yet every denial only made her more determined to prove that she could make it as a writer.

If she wasn't good enough now, she'd keep on working at it. Her dad's mocking face flashed across her mind. She'd show him. Her brother invaded with his own taunts. She'd show him too.

She'd met published authors with suitcases full of rejections. They'd earned their success, and she would too. As long as she didn't give up. With firm resolve she sat back in front of her computer. If it took her fifty years, she'd show them all, show the world, show herself, that she could do this.