Tag Archives: goals

What you can learn from the NaNo forums

As I work through my post-surgery fun, another post from last year’s NaNoWriMo:

I haven’t procrastinated too much in the forums so far. I did a good bit of forum reading before November 1, and might do more after I’m done, but mid-writing I don’t find it too helpful. Here are some things I’ve noticed, for what it’s worth:

People take themselves way too seriously. I am (at least in my own opinion!) a professional writer. I do NaNo events (all the NaNo events) so that I can get a first draft. My intention is to take that draft to publication. Is that draft ready for publication on December 1? Of course not. But I am serious and intentional about my work.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, and that I don’t try to make NaNo fun. I mean, let’s face it – it’s a crazy thing to do, to write 50,000 (or more) words in a month. Regardless of your plans for the work, the process is nuts! It’s absurd, when you get right down to it. And I celebrate that. I don’t take myself so seriously that I can’t enjoy silly posts or crazy rants or even the occasional whacked-out haiku. It doesn’t offend my “craft” when people have fun writing, and it shouldn’t offend yours either, no matter how seriously you pursue your goals as a writer the rest of the year.

People give up too easily. On day 1 there were countless threads that it was over, done, finished, irretrievable, irreparable. People were calling it quits right and left, before they’d even begun. Come on, grow some backbone! Believe in yourself a little! Will you write the next great classic, destined to be taught in ivy league classrooms? Not bloody likely. Can you crank out something, even if it’s a rambling stream of consciousness involving your sister, zombies, aliens, a smuggling ring and Bigfoot? Sure! If you thought enough of your skills to sign up, think enough of them to at least try, for more than 24 or 48 hours.

People don’t dig deep enough. I don’t mean with a backhoe. I don’t think a lot of people bring a plastic beach shovel. I am not the most disciplined person around. I don’t exercise regularly, diets don’t last more than a couple of days, I hate housework, I have boxes of crap that I don’t want to file. It’s a joke to my kids that people always say, “Oh, I couldn’t homeschool because I’m not organized or patient.” Well, neither am I! Everyone I know will attest to that fact.

But I do know that, for a month, I can set a daily goal and work towards it. There will be days I don’t reach it and days I don’t write at all. There will be days I’d like to scrub the toilet rather than write. Conversely, doing it anyway means that I’ll have days like yesterday, where I had an idea that turned into a small plot point that became a big deal. Where the first 2000 words had felt like pulling teeth, the last 1600 flew off my fingers. If I hadn’t plowed through those first ones, I wouldn’t have gotten to those last ones.

My first boss used to say that the streets were full of people with talent. He didn’t hire people with talent. He hired people with tenacity and stick-to-it-iveness. Tim Tebow basically says the same thing about football: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.  Bottom line is, you have to work hard at things. Some things come easy, and some things don’t, but you don’t get far without the work. You all know what I’m talking about… When you’ve worked hard and achieved something, you’re proud, right? In this case, it’s 50,000 words. Who cares if it’s good? It’s a marathon – crossing the finish line is an accomplishment, even if it takes you 8 hours instead of 3, right?

NaNo wasn’t created for the “serious novelist.” Nowhere in anything does it say it’s for the “serious novelist.” So lighten up. Even if you’re a “serious novelist,” does that mean you never have fun? Maybe you should! Throw in some fairies, some zombies, a line of dancing girls. Eat red hots and cackle over your own genius. Have some wine and chill.

It’s supposed to be fun. Really.

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How to keep momentum going

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It sounds like bragging to say that I published 6 books in one year, so I don’t often say it in real life. Obviously, I’ve blogged about it as the year went along, and tweeted and posted on Facebook. But I almost never go up to total strangers and say, “Hey, guess what? I published 6 books in 10 months!” Because that would be tacky, at the very least.

I have not kept that pace in 2013, although I am on track to publish 4 in this calendar year, and that ain’t bad. I’m having some logistical (not story) problems getting Darian’s War finished, but I know that I write best when I write fast, so I’m not worried about it. I gave myself a generous deadline, knowing that I had 2 international trips (this first one, which started 8/7, requiring a TON of planning and preparation) in August and September. November might see me sweating a little, but I’ll be ready.

But here’s what people ask me all the time: How did you write so much so fast? How did you keep the momentum going?

I’d like to say I have a magic bullet (AKA easy answer), but I don’t. Not really. One answer is that I am a somewhat obsessive personality. I am a project person, as I’ve written about several times on this blog. When I start a project, no matter how small (and they never stay small), I am obsessed about getting it done, and quickly. It’s why NaNoWriMo works so great for me – writing a novel (not just 50,000 words) in 30 days or less is seriously speaking my language. I did 5 NaNo events in a row, and won them all. It’s just how my brain works.

But now, I’m not relying on NaNo to finish my books, mostly because the camps were inconvenient for me. I actually write better with that schedule, but this year was crazy (3 international trips, 2 graduations, 1 wedding, 4 books), and I know I need to cut myself some slack. For instance, after my daughter’s wedding, my brain was just fried.  If I had tried to write, you wouldn’t have wanted to read it! So this is where real life meets ideal life, and we tend to lose momentum.

So how do I keep it going? Well, several ways. First, I book with my production team ahead of time. I absolutely HATE to change my dates once I’m scheduled. I’ve had to, and it was not fatal, but it was close. I hate it. I feel like I’m inconveniencing not only all the great folks at Streetlight Graphics, but also whatever other authors are getting moved around because I didn’t have my act together. If people-pleasing is a good motivator for you, I strongly recommend this method. Book with your editor, your cover artist, your formatter, even your beta readers. Then stick with it.

Another way is to start telling your fans when the book will be released. I’ve had people email me, Tweet me, and Facebook me: “WHEN is the last book coming out???” So I say November. Guess what? Barring some really terrible life happening, that book will be out in November. I need all the fans I can get, and I’m not going to be untruthful if I can help it!

Finally, tell everyone you know. Post your daily word count on Facebook and Twitter. Blog about it. Make it public. This works for dieting, and it works for deadlines, too. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing, if harnessed properly. We should always look at ourselves askance if we find that we are hiding our progress and our goal. That usually means we’re not making progress and haven’t set a goal. Just sayin’.

Writing every day is a treat, a blessing, and, to quote Mr. Monk, a curse. Some days we’d all rather clean toilets. Twice. So sometimes we need a little external pressure to say to us, “Get a grip – this is a JOB, not just a hobby. Write, no matter what you feel like.” And amazingly enough, that usually works!

I discovered when reading the first draft of my first novel, Solomon’s Throne, that I couldn’t tell the difference between the days writing flowed from my fingers faster than they could type the keys and the days every 200 words seemed like an epic struggle. In the end, I just wrote. With a migraine, waiting for my son at practice, when I was so tired I didn’t think I could come up with one semi-original word. And in the end, it was all the same. Really, that’s momentum. Taking a play from Nike’s book: JUST DO IT!

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Of self-publishing and deadlines

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I have one week to get the final edit(s) of Ixeos done and off to my cover artist/formatter extraordinaire Streetlight Graphics. Now some of you may find this confusing if you haven’t self-published or haven’t gotten to the final stages of the book you are planning to self publish. Aren’t self-publishers supposed to be free from such worldly things as deadlines? Don’t we, well, self publish, so we’re in control?

Yes and no. If you do everything yourself (something I really don’t recommend unless you’re the one in a million writer who is also both a fabulous graphic designer and a bit of a computer whiz), then this is true. You are in charge of your time, and if you want to give yourself an extension, that’s within your purview.

I am not a fabulous graphic designer. I am, in fact, so bad at Photoshop that my vision of hell is me, sitting at a computer, having to use that program into eternity. There is no one who would ever want anything I did on Photoshop for any reason, myself included (and no, please don’t tell me how to learn it! I have limited time and patience in my middle age!). I also have little patience for learning and executing the multiple types of formatting necessary to publish a print book and ebooks on Amazon (pdf and .mobi), Barnes & Noble (epub), Smashwords (crazy Word formatting), etc. I would much rather be writing, editing or planning another book than learning all that, especially when I have someone who is great at it that would love to do it for me.

Hence, my deadline. My original deadline for Ixeos to start production was last Monday, the 14th. When I realized that I wasn’t going to make that due to a lack of internet on our vacation and holiday stress I pushed it back to the 28th. But I leave for Uganda on Feb 15, so if I want to have a “soft launch” of the book before I go (meaning one without a lot of hype), I need to get it done and to Glendon for production on time. Period. End of story. Because otherwise I won’t get it done until mid to late March, and that messes up a lot of other things in the pipeline.

A friend of mine is struggling to finish her final editing. She asked me how I persevered and got the books done. I told her that I book my production. I don’t like to inconvenience people, and I know that if I get close to my scheduled date and then move it, I inconvenience not only Glendon and his team at Streetlight, but also everyone else who is scheduled with and after me. Someone will get pushed back through no fault of their own, and that wouldn’t be fair, so I meet the deadline. Period. It may mean late nights, but I’ll get it done.

I’ve been self-employed for a long time, and both my father and grandfather were self-employed. I have a pretty good understanding of how to stay on task and get things done, but I’ve always had customers to answer to. As an author, while I do have (and am enormously thankful for!) readers, they are not waiting for a service to be performed as in my other business. They don’t call me demanding explanations if my new book is a week or a month beyond what I predicted (and authors and publishers always say things like “coming spring 2013” for that very reason).

If your goal is one or two books a year, you probably have a little room to fudge your self-imposed deadline. And if you absolutely can’t meet it, it is definitely better to push production back rather than put out a bad product. But try putting a little pressure on yourself. Remember those all-nighters you did in school because the paper was due the next day and you couldn’t possibly get an F? Well, you still have that inner fortitude in you, if you will structure your circumstances to activate it.

Self deception? A little bit, sure. But it can work. And the reward is pretty great: you get the confidence of knowing you really can get a book out into the world. That sets you up for success the next time. And so on and so on and so on. We all need a little poking and prodding from time to time — it’s much better to ‘fess up and find a way to shore up your weaknesses than to feel like a failure because you didn’t get it done. Take it to the finish line!

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Keeping your goals when life happens…

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As we all know, life has a habit of getting in the way of our best laid plans. This was perfectly illustrated yesterday when I went to the gym (and no, my take-away isn’t “don’t go to the gym” – read on!). It was one of the rare days when I leave in the morning and am not going to get home until late afternoon. (Usually I’m home working and I have a routine about things.)

Anyway, yesterday I left early and had several meetings and appointments. I went to the gym at around 3:00, and I knew walking in that I was a bit dehydrated. Because dehydration is a big migraine trigger for me, I’m usually hyper-aware of it; when I’m at home I make sure I drink enough, but when I’m out and not really in control of my environment, it’s hard. So sure enough, I start my death-by-elliptical cardio interval workout and, at exactly 12 minutes, I start to get a migraine. If you get migraines, you get to where you can distinguish between the “this is livable, carry on” headaches and the “this is going to be bad if you don’t stop now” headaches. This was the latter, so I stopped.

My plan, of course, was to get the workout in. It was written in my day timer and I’d texted my husband about it. I’d planned my dinner around it. But life happened. I got off the elliptical and left and ended up not even needing any meds after I pounded a bottle of water on the way home. Now, in times past (all of 2012), this seemingly small incident would have derailed my day. I’d be mad and frustrated that the new-to-me phenomenon of chronic migraine was once again derailing my day. Maybe I’d try to push through and end up with a doozy of a headache that put me in bed by 6:00. I might decide to just bag the whole schedule for the day. You know the feeling.

What I learned in 2012 was that I need to just shake off setbacks. I need to do what I can do, celebrate and embrace it, and shake it off when I can’t do something. I need to do the next thing (we call that “TNT” in our house) and carry on. In other words, stick to my “it’s enough” motto.

You’d think I’d know this. I’m 47 years old, after all! I’m reminded of teaching my daughter to drive. She’s a big perfectionist, so if she’d do the slightest thing wrong, even if it wasn’t her fault (like hitting a pothole that she couldn’t possibly avoid because of other traffic), it would ruin the rest of her driving time. Everything else went downhill while she stewed over her “mistake.” On several occasions I had to tell her to pull over and change drivers because she was being unsafe — NOT because of the first problem, but because of her reaction to it.

I told her, “You don’t have the right to drive, you have the privilege to do it. And you’re in a heavy, moving vehicle that can kill someone. If you can’t focus and get past a problem, you can’t drive. Period.” It was a really good lesson for her because she had to learn to move past a less than perfect outcome and carry on living. It helped temper her perfectionism so that it doesn’t paralyze her.

I am just now learning this lesson, I guess, at least as far as my own expectations go. I am the only one being hard on myself; I need to give myself a break. Now, I’m not talking about simply being lazy (which, as a Florida girl, I’m prone to do) or slacking off for no reason. We should be learning the art of self-discipline all throughout our lives. But when life happens, when things outside of our control change our plans and our ability to meet our goals, we have to adapt and move ahead anyway within the reality of the new situation.

You might get the flu. You might get blessed with unexpected house guests. Maybe a storm comes (literally or figuratively). One can always hope for an unexpected trip to Paris or somewhere great. Or you start to get a migraine on the elliptical machine. Whatever comes your way from life, you have to put it aside and move on. Don’t obsess about it (my personal favorite). Don’t post it all over Facebook and Twitter and email your friends about how big a screwup you are or how helpless you are in the situation. Simply evaluate what’s going on objectively, adjust your expectations, and do what you can. That’s our motto now, right?

IT’S ENOUGH.

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Can you write and edit two works at the same time?

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Can you write and edit two works at the same time? I used to say… maybe. Almost. Not quite. In a pinch. But as a writer with a pretty ambitious production schedule for 2013, I realized that I needed to crack this nut. It’s just not possible to produce very many books a year if you can’t figure out how to change from the “writer” hat to the “editor” hat on a daily basis.

I don’t do any editing while I’m writing. My first draft is literally a first draft. Each day when I start writing, I read the last couple of paragraphs as a reminder and then move on. My first drafts are pretty clean, but there are always typos and spelling mistakes, scenes that need to be added, and a dearth of description. (I’m terrible about forgetting to describe things!) In short, editing needs to happen post-haste.

Right now, I’m editing book 1 of my upcoming YA sci-fi fantasy series while finishing the first draft of book 2. That’s not so bad, since the story is the same. But last year I was editing a Christian historical romance set in the Civil War while writing an action adventure treasure hunt set in the Greek Islands. Two very different stories in every way, and I found it very difficult to move from one to the other. My head would stay in the Civil War while my fingers were trying to pound out action.

When I decided to “get a job” by taking my writing as seriously as I would an outside job, I made a schedule. After talking with my daughter for a while, I determined that, if I could have a good break between my time editing and my time writing I could probably clear my head and concentrate. Consequently, I’ve been taking a one or one and a half hour lunch every work day. If it’s the longer one, I go to the gym, then come home and have lunch and a shower. By the time I get to writing, the morning’s story is long gone. When it’s the shorter lunch, I make sure and read something else, or watch something we’ve recorded on the DVR, or maybe run a couple of quick errands. By the time I get back to work for my “afternoon shift” my mind is clear and I’m finding I can write unhindered.

This is a new schedule for me, and we’ll see what happens when we get closer to warm weather and nice days, two graduations and wedding, and a move… But so far so good, and today’s the only day we can count on, right? How about you? Do you have any tricks for writing and editing? I’d love to hear them!

 

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