Posts Tagged being a successful author

Writer Victory!—Identify Problem Areas

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Last post we talked about the first letter in our acrostic for VICTORY—voluntarily submit. I feel those of us in Western societies have a hard time with the word submit because we’ve redefined the word in a negative way. If we submit, we’re weak. Untrue! There is tremendous power in the act of submitting.

When we submit, we’re able to let go of what we can’t control. We’re more maneuverable when we encounter resistance, setbacks or criticism. Instead of breaking, we can bend and move and use negative energy in our favor.

Nature clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience submission offers. This is why palm trees thrive in coastal areas hit by hurricanes. They bend in high winds and submit. When the storm passes, they spring back.

Here in North Texas we have a lot of Live Oaks. Though oaks are tough trees, if one looks closer and studies the branches of Texas oaks, you’d see they aren’t straight. The branches curve and twist in a spiral. The bark itself has winding grooves ideal for diffusing the force of high winds from fierce storms.   

And this is why they can take the beating of Texas weather.

Running Toward the Fight

Today, I’d like to talk about I, which is for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t change what we don’t see or refuse to see. Now, most of us could all write a long list of where we fall short. This isn’t to make anyone feel badly. But, when we’re honest about areas we need to change, we can make a plan.

Camping on top of our problems isn’t the mark of a pro. It’s the self-indulgent Soma of the amateur.

Examine Our Motivations

Writing has been such a painful and personal journey for me that has gone far beyond craft of writing books. When I began writing, I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was a people-pleaser. I was insecure and had something to prove. I was selfish, angry, jealous, unteachable, hyper-critical of myself and others and undisciplined. I blamed others instead of taking responsibility.

Oh, if my family would just be more supportive THEN…

That’s crap.

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As long as my locus of control was external, I could relinquish my responsibilities. So long as it was my family who interrupted my writing, others who didn’t take me seriously, that I didn’t have a new computer or a private office in a condo with a view of the ocean, I had excuses to remain stuck. Well, I’d have made word count had Such-and-Such not interrupted me.

Writing is a unique profession. We don’t clock in and clock out. No Author Straw Boss will punish us for not writing. We don’t get stars on the fridge for working. Our craft is subjective so we can dismiss even valid criticisms and remain self-deluded if we choose.

Who Will Remain?

Many writers won’t make it long-term, and, sadly, this has nothing to do with talent or lack thereof. An author friend of mine and I were recently talking about how many writers and bloggers held such promise yet have vanished.

Five years later, they’re gone and we’re still here.

When I go to a conference I know most won’t make it. It reminds me of a scene from the movie G.I. Jane. The troops are lined up and shown a bell. They can leave at any time, just ring the bell and a soft bed, warm meal and rest is at the other end.

Image via www.freerepublic.com

Image via Free Republic.

Who will ring the bell? Will it be you? Look to your left. Look to your right. Most of you won’t be here by the end. Who will ring out first?

My husband was in Special Operations. He can attest that often the strongest, boldest and loudest are the first to go. Training is far more mental than physical. It’s about strength of will, courage, and relentless pursuit that defies logic. Passion that defies reason.

The Crucible

Want to see who a person really is? Who you really are? Turn up the heat.

Writers who want to succeed welcome the fire. In the beginning, I didn’t welcome the fire. I avoided, defected, blamed and whined…and didn’t have anything but a pile of flimsy excuses and half-finished projects to show for all my exertions.

Making excuses can be exhausting.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I knew I was a mess. I learned to appreciate that I couldn’t tackle all my defects at one time. My first step? Finish something. My first novel is a disaster…but for the first time in my life, I FINISHED.

Blogging was tremendously helpful for me. I learned to meet self-imposed deadlines even when no one other than Cheap Xanax dot com cared about my posts. I learned to ship. It trained the perfectionism and laziness out of me.

Then, instead of hiding in the comfort of my writing group where I was the strongest writer among a bunch of other unpublished authors, I sought out conferences and groups with pros. Boy, that humbled me up with a quickness. I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I was hiding behind “Aspiring Author” waiting for the world to take me seriously when even I didn’t take myself seriously. I hid behind a cutesy moniker texaswriterchik. I wrote when I “felt inspired.” Every new idea that flitted across my gray matter was an excuse to drop my WIP and pursue a new shiny.

Oh, well no I’m not working on THAT book. It wasn’t “right” for me.

Claiming the profession is inviting the heat. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. Many of you know I prefer the term pre-published author. Why? We’re owning it. We are welcoming the crucible. Writers write. Those who want to do this for a career know there are a lot of un-fun activities that go with the job.

We work when others play. If we have a day job, we have to stay up later or get up earlier. We don’t find time, we make time.

When we are flailing and faltering, instead of whining, we must stop and ask the hard question.

What Am I Afraid Of?

Am I afraid of failure? I never finish anything because then I can’t truly fail. Am I afraid of success? If my book is a hit, can I write another one? A better one? Will I outshine Dad, Mom, Aunt Penelope?

Am I afraid I really don’t have any talent? I keep switching projects, genres, ideas because deep down I fear that I’m a hack?

I’d like to offer a quote from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death (page 39).

Keep Asking

Thing about life is it can be a game of Character Whack-A-Mole. Just about the time we get the self-discipline thing down, perfectionism pops up. Then we whack that sucker only to see we’re getting sucked into too much family drama and using that as an excuse. Whack! Then we pop that sucker on the snoot and something else pops up.

It’s life.

This is why we began this series with voluntarily submit. Writing and life is a process. It is never static. Our job is to maintain vigilance and be honest even when it hurts. The quicker we can come to that point of painful truth, the quicker we can shut down self-doubt, criticism, or fear. We can be proactive and root it out before it spreads.

I believe in you, so there is at least on person on your side. I don’t dish out anything I don’t eat first.

We’ve had a HELL of a year. Four deaths in ten months. Sickness, problems, family issues. I became deeply distraught and sidetracked until I realized I was allowing myself to become too caught up in things I COULD NOT control as an excuse for avoiding what I could.

So don’t feel badly. This is life. Focus on your love and passion, but also be fearless with yourself. We all procrastinate, make excuses, hide, or deflect. We are human. A pro takes problems seriously, the amateur takes them personally.

Dust off, wipe away the blood and get back to it. This is why we will remain when others fall away. Refuse to ring that bell and keep pressing!

What are your thoughts? Has writing helped you grow as a person? Do you run into problems and then realize it’s really something you FEAR? Do you face self-doubt? I do too if it makes you feel better :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

April’s WINNER is Patricia Woods. Please send your 20 pages (5000 word WORD document), query letter (250-300 word Word document) OR synopsis (Up to 1000 word WORD document) to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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72 Comments

The Democratization of Publishing—Independence is Scary

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy 500

I’m looking over the final formatting for my new book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. The goal is to release it on July 4th for a number of reasons. My first book was called We Are Not Alone and then we have the whole Rise of the Machines thing goin’ on with the new book. What better day to release than Independence Day? Okay, May the Fourth might have been cooler, but the book wasn’t finished with editing at that point.

Yes, I am a sci-fi nerd :D.

Publishing has Been Democratized

Before the e-book/indie revolution, we writers relied on New York solely to grant us a career or not. We needed favor from the King traditional press to move forward. There was no other way unless we were willing to hand ten or twenty thousand dollars to a vanity press and hope we could duplicate The Grisham Effect.

Grisham Effect—Self-publish and sell books out of the back of our cars and hope to get NY’s attention. But note, this wasn’t true independence. It was investing a lot of money and time in hopes of gaining favor with NYC.

For well over a century, NY held total control over print, production, and distribution. Additionally, writers were at the mercy of the publishers’ sales forces. The sales force would look back at what had been selling in order to get an idea of what would sell in the future. 

Yeah, well we know this is an awesome post-apocalyptic book, but there are already too many on the market. NOPE.

Due to the business structure of legacy press, it was far harder to convince them to take risks (still is). They have overhead, pricey Manhattan rents, and employees to pay. Shareholders have expectations, too.

Not personal, just business. Still works that way.

Living with Mom and Dad

Going traditional reminds me a lot of living at home. It does have a lot of advantages. I lived with my grandparents during my teen years and the fridge was always full. I didn’t have to sit and pay bills or get a job and pray I made enough tip money to keep the lights on. Of course this security came with limited freedom.

I had a curfew. There were restrictions on how I could dress, where I could go, who I could hang out with, and how I spent my  limited “spending money.” But, it was safe, predictable, and did I mention safe?

Take Care of Me

When I landed a premium agent, I thought, “Score! NY will LOVE this book. Surely I won’t have to do the heavy lifting.” Then my proposal sat…and sat…and sat some more. I didn’t want to leave the traditional nest, but I wasn’t being granted access to the traditional world either.

I was in Limbo, and had to make a choice. Stay in the nest or fly.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

Moving Out

Going alone is terrifying. When I finally made the decision to move out of my grandparents’ home, life became much scarier and utterly unpredictable. I had to do a lot of stuff to survive that I would never had to do had I stayed in the nest. I wouldn’t have had to throw newspapers all night long just to crawl into my 8:00 a.m. Political Science class.

Had I stayed at home, I wouldn’t have had to sleep on a mattress on the floor (left there by previous owners of the duplex I rented). I wouldn’t have had to shop at Goodwill for my clothes or hover around Dumpsters like a turkey buzzard looking for useful things people threw away.

***Note: NEVER take home anything made of CLOTH. The bugs will carry you away. Yes, learned this the hard way by taking home the Sofa of DOOM.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lord Jim

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lord Jim

Ah, but there was no going back, and failure had a far steeper price.

Leaving the Traditional Nest

Like many of you, I finally had to make a decision and move out. I wanted an agent and editor to be there for me, to do all that “business stuff.” After two years?

I was finally willing to give up security for freedom.

I didn’t want to have to wear all hats and be all things. Ah, but what we want and what we get in life are two different things. Not only did I have to leave the traditional nest, I had to leave the indie publisher nest.

I left because I wanted to try self-publishing, and I also knew I wouldn’t get the creative control I wanted, thus couldn’t fully spread my wings and crash to the ground and die try new ideas.

Image via WANA Commons, courtesy of Melissa Bowersock

Image via WANA Commons, courtesy of Melissa Bowersock

Author Independence

Here in America, we will be celebrating Independence Day. Americans believed they could create something different, something better. Meanwhile England was all like, “A government of the people, by the people and for the people? Are you HIGH? We protect you from wild Indians and send you supplies. We keep order.”

Writers are now facing the same shift.

Despite the scary wilderness ahead and the idea writers would 1) have to do a lot of stuff ourselves and 2) have no long-established body of support (Mother England Publishing) and 3) try things never done before in human history? We’re doing it.

The Indie movement is creating a paradigm that’s “Of the reader, for the reader and by the reader.” If we succeed, it’s because we did something right. We earned attention and loyalty from readers. Granted, the scary part is that we can just as easily get skewered by readers.

It’s the risk we take.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Yet, by breaking free, we have a chance to explore and test new ideas and combine or even create new genres. We can fail, learn from that failure and try again. We are part of a creative revolution and, like any revolution, not all of it’s pretty. But, some of it, in the end, is GLORIOUS.

So to all authors brave enough to go indie press or even go it alone? Hats off to you. And even those authors who are publishing traditionally? You are part of the revolution as well: social media, blogging and even hybridizing (self-publishing in between books to keep fans excited). It is a great time to be a writer, so Happy Independence to all of you.

Vive la Revolution!

For the indies out there, have you enjoyed your freedom? What’s been scary? Have you failed but learned a vital lesson? What are your concerns? Advice? Suggestions? Did you ever take home a Sofa of Doom? What crazy stuff did you have to do when you were first on your own?

Now get back to writing :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World will be out (God-willing) July 4th. I will let y’all know when it’s ready for sale and I am updating/rewriting the other two ;) .

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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67 Comments

The Secret to Success? Learn from the Crabs in the Bucket

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane...

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane…

I am like cerebral flypaper for cool anecdotes, but one that stood out to me was the story of the crabs in the bucket. When fishermen trap crabs, they just dump them in a bucket on the pier. No lid. Nothing to trap the crabs and keep them inside. Why? Because if any crab tries to climb out of the bucket and escape, the others will pull it back inside.

Many of us, when we decide to become professional authors face “crabs in the bucket.” They often look a lot like family, friends and even fellow writers. They fear failure, so they fear our success. If we actually accomplish something remarkable, we prove that success is more choice than fate.

Leave Toxic Relationships Behind

We have to let go of the old to grab hold of the new, but that’s often the most terrifying thing we can do. The past might be destructive, stagnant or even toxic…but it’s familiar. When we decide to do something remarkable, we face the unknown. It’s easy to be lulled into the idea that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

As artists we need to guard our emotions and our muse. Negativity, doom, gloom and drama can rob our energy, erode our (often) fragile confidence, and undermine success. Refuse to hang out with whiners, complainers and lazy people. Bad habits are contagious.

No company is better than bad company.

Writing Groups Can Be Filled with Crabs

As a neophyte, one thing I didn’t understand was that just because a group meets and professes to be a “serious writing group,” doesn’t make it so. I can say I’m the Queen of England. Doesn’t make it truth.

Many years ago, I joined my first writing group, but I was naive and didn’t know that Show, Don’t Tell applies to life as well as fiction. At first, I was just a member and a lot of people actively attended and participated. My skills grew exponentially.

Then, gradually, most of the published authors stopped attending and attendance dropped off. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to be the only one who showed up for the meeting. Most of the remaining members only attended when they wanted line-edit. They took but rarely gave (unless they wanted something).

I failed to see the climate shift in this group and stuck it out. I thought that maybe, if I became president, I could resurrect the club.

Yeah.

Instead, I fielded years of complaints, hate mail, and personal attacks, often from people who attended quarterly (we met bi-weekly). They didn’t want to help, but sure had a lot to gripe about.

They didn’t like the day, or the time, or the location or that we only met once a week or that we couldn’t meet weekends or that we met both weekdays and weekends and why can’t we do this or that or both?

The pettiness and stupidity was simply EPIC. I nearly lost my mind with the churlish politics of running a volunteer organization. Many of the members did nothing but criticize everything I did and everything I didn’t do. Yet, when I finally walked away and decided not to be a punching bag president another year? I was an @$$%^$# for that, too.

Crabs are never happy and they LIKE being in the bucket. They can’t see they will soon be made into crab salad.

Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons

Joining a writing group is one of the best things you can do as a new author, but please learn from my stupidity. If the group isn’t producing published writers? If people say they want to be professionals, but can’t bother showing up? If all they do is complain and backbite? If they never finish anything?

RUN.

I always recommend finding a Romance Writers of America chapter in your area (even if you don’t write romance). RWA is full of professionals who take their craft and jobs seriously. They can help hone your craft and be a system of growth and emotional support. You can also find peer support on WANATribe, #MyWANA or even the WANA Facebook page.

Choose Friends Wisely

We are who we hang around. If we hang around flaky amateurs who don’t keep their word, who consistently fail to honor their commitments, and who never finish anything? People who change their minds every other day what they want to do with their lives? People who whine more than work?

We’re letting them drag us back in the bucket.

Want to be successful? Professional? Hang around those people. Stalk them on Twitter. Comment on their blogs. Digital relationships are just as powerful. My closest friends (all PROS) I met on-line. I learned to be a professional by escaping the bucket, then looking to the pros. I read their books, their blogs and immersed myself in their energy.

What about you? Facing some crabs in the bucket? Have you escaped the bucket? How did you do it?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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77 Comments

Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay?

Don't make me toss you in my well....

Don’t make me toss you in my well….


Yesterday, we talked a bit about self-discipline. It’s one of my favorite topics namely because it took me so long to get it figured out. Also, we live in a culture of quick-fixes and fad diets. We idolize the rare few who “rocket” to fame. In Robert Greene’s FABULOUS book Mastery he even mentions how our society’s almost developed a general disdain for plain and simple hard work. We’re a culture of day-traders, not investors. Thus, in a world of instant, it can be really easy to get discouraged when the *POOF* *Glitter* *Ahhhhhh* magic doesn’t happen.

Success is mostly elbow-grease, and most of us can’t afford to hire Buffalo Bill to toss us in a well and hose us when we don’t make word count. We have to be self-directed, self-motivated and self-disciplined. That isn’t natural. It goes against our natures, so we have to develop this area if we want to succeed at anything.

How?

We Must Be Wise How We Train

Self-discipline is in us, we just have to strengthen it. It’s a muscle of character. Don’t start Day One trying to have the discipline of a Shaolin Monk. That is a formula to fail. Start with small steps. It’s one of the reasons that I believe blogging is wonderful for new writers in particular. Blogs are great for training self-discipline muscles, for showing up no matter how we feel or what craziness is going on.

Craziness will always be present. It’s called life. If we wait until everything calms down before we can write? We will be writing from the afterlife.

*chains rattle because I'm typing*

Publishing Purgatory—they let you go when you finish the novel.

We Must Be Mindful To Progress

Make sure your goals get progressively more difficult as time goes on. Start with small goals and progress from there. Small successes inspire us to try harder, bigger, better tasks. Too many writers start out with some stupid word count goal that is destined to fail long-term:

I am going to write 5000 words a day.

What happens is they burn out and hate their writing (been there, done that got the T-shirt). Start with 250 words (one page) six days a week and go from there. If 250 was way too easy (like curling a 1 pound weight) then adjust until it is slightly beyond comfortable. Once that word count becomes easy, increase by 15%….just like weightlifting.

Learn to Fail Forward

Failing Forward by John Maxwell is one of my favorite books. Successful people are successful because they have a healthy relationship with failure. They view it as a learning experience, reevaluate and then try again, and again and again, each time modifying the approach. Persistence is more than not giving up.

There is a fine line between persistent and stupid.

If my goal is to drive from DFW to California, but I’m on I-35 North and refuse to give up and change highways, I’m not persistent, I’m a moron…who will end up in Canada or even the North Pole.

How many writers keep shopping the same manuscript that’s been rejected time and time again? They refuse to dig in and do the tough revisions or move on to a new book and in the end it kills their success. The first book is often a learning curve.

Use it. Learn from it. Fail forward.

Set a time-limit. If your first book has taken the last four years of your life and you’re still not finished? Shelve it. Move on. Learn. Write more books. Likely, you’ll improve with the next books and can go back and fix what was missing from the first one.

Failures must be stepping stones, not tombstones.

Many writers hang on to the first manuscript because they fear failure. It isn’t failing, it’s learning. It took me five years to let go of my first novel (the one banned by the Hague Convention as torture). I felt if I started a new novel, then I was a failure. A quitter. No, the first book is often our training wheels. Let go and skin some knees and elbows. Yeah, it hurts, but pain is a great teacher.

Successful people quit stuff all the time. It’s knowing what and when to quit that makes the difference.

Action First

People have a mistaken understanding of how life works. Most of us believe the feeling comes first, then the action and then the change. Heck, I did.

WRONG.

Action is always first. Act first, then the feelings will change and finally the results change.

Feelings are a horrible guide. Feelings can be affected by diet, weather, activity level, the news, traffic, PMS, kids, cat puke in our slippers. Feelings are a terrible compass. Are they important? Sure. The bumper on my car is important, too, but it makes a lousy navigational system.

Just remember, “Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” ~Stephen King.

What are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you afraid of failure? What do you do to maintain your discipline?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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69 Comments

Traits of the Successful Author—Self-Discipline

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 6.12.56 AM

Self-discipline can be tricky.

Last week, I talked about the first trait of the successful author, discernment. I deliberately addressed discernment first because discernment keeps us in balance. No amount of “success” is worth our peace, our health or our relationships.

Also, we’ll need discernment to manage the second trait of the successful author—self-discipline. Why? Because even self-discipline needs to be disciplined. Sometimes we need to re-prioritize.

For instance, last week, my mom went in for emergency surgery. She’s fine and home now and THANK YOU for all your love, prayers and well-wishes. I also had a niece graduating from high school. I took off a few days because I was exhausted from edits, anxiety over my mom and racing across town from hospital to graduation. Self-discipline can easily become like a religious legalism, and we need to guard against that to be healthy and successful long-term.

Mom won Miss Congeniality of Harris Southwest Hospital

Mom won Miss Congeniality of Harris Southwest Hospital

No speeding ticket racing from hospital to graduation.

No speeding ticket racing from hospital to graduation.

But we still have to be self-disciplined if we want to be successful authors (or anything else).

I confess. For a long time I was lazy. I was blessed with a sharp mind, so I’d gotten through school writing papers the night before, sliding by, and dazzling with BS and glitter. I thought I had to “feel” like doing something to do it. I needed to be “in the mood” to clean, write, study, do dishes, etc. I let emotions drive my decisions and actions.

And emotions cannot drive. Seriously. Emotions text and look at Facebook when they drive.

I have a saying, “Small truths reveal larger truths.” If we can’t take control over a pile of laundry, how can we take control of our writing futures? Back then, I thought everything had to be BIG. I wrote the ten-page paper in ONE day. Cleaned the ENTIRE house in ONE afternoon. Planted ALL the flowers in the ENTIRE yard in ONE morning.

…and half-killed myself in the process only to have shoddy, short-term success.

I didn’t understand that there are five keys to being self-disciplined.

1. Baby Steps are Steps

Small decisions/actions add up over time. Yes, this blog has a large, active and amazing following, but that didn’t happen overnight. I had to blog even when it seemed I was only talking to the ether and the male-enhancement products. Every novel is written one word at a time, one page at a time, one day at a time. Trust that consistent action eventually adds up and that eventually you’ll break past The Dip.

Can you tell when I broke past The Blogging Dip? And this snapshot was taken almost TWO YEARS into blogging.

Can you tell when I broke past The Blogging Dip? And this snapshot was taken almost TWO YEARS into blogging.

2. Excellence Begets Greater Excellence

Making our bed is a start. Really. Good habits have a way of birthing more good habits. Plant a seed and watch it grow. When we get in a writing routine, soon we find that we will write more words for longer stretches. We need practice to be masters of our craft. Focus on positive goals.

3. Be Careful Who You Befriend

If you want to be a professional, careful hanging out with too many amateurs. When I say amateur, I don’t mean unpublished (pre-published) writers. I mean writers who are hobbyists. If you’re in a writing group, and it might as well be a coffee klatshe? Find another group or create one on WANATribe.

This is why conferences are vital. Meet authors who are at that professional level and soak up some pro-mojo. Join a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Those folks are SERIOUS when it comes to writing, and will crack the whip and whip you into pro form.

4. Don’t Let Emotions Vote

Emotions LIE. Don’t listen to them. Emotions are self-centered and don’t understand why you can’t pay attention to them 24/7. Expect them to throw a fit and want to live on candy and pizza. Ignore them and eventually they will stop kicking their feet and go watch cartoons.

5. Just Do It

Yep. Says it all. Butt in seat. It writes the words or it gets the hose *pets fluffy white dog*

What stumbling blocks do you guys face? What challenges? Any tips or tricks to share? Great books to read about self-discipline? What is your success story? I want to hear! Are you a reformed slacker, too? Do you try to do too much all at one time?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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75 Comments

Traits of the Successful Author—Discernment

My mom.

My mom. She’s a loony like me :D.

Many of you who follow this blog have a dream to be a successful author. This requires writing, social media, blogging, revisions, and on and on and on. It’s a lot of work and life, family, kids, day jobs, and housework all provide tempting distractions. The past two days here in Texas have had gorgeous weather and I just wanted to go do something outside and enjoy the balmy temperatures before being thrust into three months of triple-digit hell.

But I needed to finish my revisions. Sigh.

Tuesday, I spent all day with a paper copy of my new book doing line-edits for the umpteenth time. I was finding stuff three other outside editors missed. I worked until my vision was so blurry I couldn’t keep going. Wednesday? Instead of going outside? I finished entering the revisions.

Ah, Life

I was going to indulge in sleeping in today and maybe even finally go outside and enjoy the weather, but got a late-night call my mother is in the hospital and will have emergency surgery today for a hernia. She is the light of my life and one of the funniest people on the planet (I get my talent for humor from her). Get us together and it’s stand-up comedy central. When we lived together, we used to have grocery clerks fight over who’d check us out because we’d always have them in stitches.

My mom is a strong Scandinavian woman, so it’s weird for her to be ill or injured (and not painting anything). She’s like me and just presses through even when she’s tired, sick or hurting. We’re both stubborn :D. I’m keeping up with her and the hospital, but there isn’t much I can do yet, so I’m here talking to you guys (because you always brighten my days).

The thing I want to share is, life doesn’t stop because we want to write. Laundry, dishes, sickness, accidents, trials and temptations will still be around to divert our focus. We will need to develop two traits to succeed long-term. Today we are going to talk about the first one: discernment.

Discernment

When is it time to work? When do we need rest? When do others truly need us? What are our priorities? Just to warn you, these will change. We need to always be revisiting what should be a priority in life, and in what order.

Today, my mom will be a priority as soon as I hear something. Entropy is real and so we must do constant adjustments to deadlines, goals, and expectations (of ourselves and others). As we talked about earlier, I am still working on discerning when to rest. We are all works in progress. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.

Being Balanced

Writers who are successful long-term have balance. Discernment is critical to achieving balance. Writing should never come first in our lives. I spent an hour yesterday chasing The Spawn around the house playing with swords. I take regular breaks to play with him and let him know he’s loved. Maybe read Dinosaur vs. Bedtime 14 times until he returns to playing with his cars.

Every evening, Hubby and I play video games together and now we’re learning to play guitar together. We do this to wind down. See, I realized I wasn’t resting enough and now I’m striving to be better at it.

Making the Rounds

I take timed breaks in between writing work to do a load of laundry, then back and write an hour, then do the dishes, then back to writing. I keep up with friends and family regularly on the phone. I can talk to them while I tidy the house and do the chores. I take a 90 minute break in the morning and talk to my mom while I mop, dust, make beds, etc. For me, I require a neat home or it affects my creativity and focus, so I knew I needed to work chores into the schedule. I don’t have the luxury of cleaning all day.

I had to learn to take my core priorities and then deliberately make rounds.

1. Time with kid? Check.

2. Dishes done while talking to Mom? Check.

3. Blog up? Check.

4. Bed made? Check.

5. An hour of editing? Check.

6. Tickle The Spawn until he screams? Check.

7. Video games with Hubby? Check.

8. Playing on the Kinect with The Spawn? Check.

9. Dinner made? Check.

10. Spend Saturday with Grandmother (who has dementia)? Check.

11. Visit Mom in hospital and make sure she’s tended (Note: Move to top of list)

Making our writing a priority is vital, but it won’t fulfill us if it comes at the expense of our relationships, our health, and our peace.  And to warn you, you will never get there. Our In-Boxes will never be empty. Ever.

Just about the time things are humming along, I guarantee something (like an ill family member) will toss in something new to juggle. The trick is to accept that it’s not personal, just life. Learn to roll with it. Expending emotion at the unfairness/hassle of it all takes energy you need for being creative.

Yes, there are times we need to press. The two days I would have rather been in the park, I needed to work 16 hour days to finish. But this can’t be a way of life. It would be like trying to sprint a marathon. Life is much like a marathon. One foot in front of the other. Breaks, water and snacks when needed. Keep moving. Then, when needed? Sprint! Then rest.

And repeat.

Today, I’m headed to the hospital once I hear something. Am supposed to go to a graduation tonight, but that might have just shifted down the list. We are only responsible to do what we can control. What we can’t control? Let it go. The world won’t end ;). I seriously need a nap though. Pretty wiped.

Do you struggle with balance? With knowing what to make a priority? Do you find yourself being too rigid? I know I do. Have to work on that. Are you a worrier? Do you procrastinate? Have you been able to successfully achieve a nice balance? What did you do?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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95 Comments

How Obsessive Are You? The Reward of the Relentless Pursuit

Oh, look! Kristen must have shopped here.Image via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Ryan Leighty.

Oh, look! Kristen must have shopped here.
Image via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Ryan Leighty.

Being a successful writer is a lot like being a successful anything. One must, of course, at least possess some talent. But, talent alone isn’t enough. Talent is like a vein of gold buried deep in a mountain of granite. Unless someone works really hard, the gold is worthless. Someone needs to put in the sweat equity to mine that gold, refine it, and transform it into something the world finds valuable.

Character is important, because character is what makes us get up earlier or stay up later than the next guy. Character is what will help us focus, what allows us to be teachable, and what presses us to finish what we start.

But, yesterday, I did a bit more thinking about what component truly stands out when it comes to being a successful author. The word that came to me is obsession.

It came to me after my third run through a Gears of War 4 (video game) level, where I kept earning two and a half stars. A HALF star? What IS THAT? WHO AWARDS HALF A FREAKING STAR?

Anyway…

I don’t know about you guys, but my absolute FAVORITE show in the universe is The Big Bang Theory, and Sheldon (an OCD/likely autistic physicist) is my favorite character. I find myself laughing and yelling, That is SO me!  

From rearranging the couch cushions to the “right” order, to always walking the same route when I go to the park, I have this weird tendency to need and follow patterns in life.

Me watching Hubby load the dishwasher.

Me watching Hubby load the dishwasher.

I begin my days exactly the same way every morning, and, if events push me out of this routine, I get a tad twitchy. It’s also why I hate going grocery shopping with my husband. He shops in the wrong order. 

NO! You can’t start shopping on THAT side of the store! Are you mad? Who starts shopping in the bakery?

Communist.

You can't start in the bakery. Who starts shopping in the BAKERY?

You can’t start in the bakery. Who starts shopping in the BAKERY?

This past weekend was, of course, Easter, but was also our wedding anniversary. To celebrate? Non-stop Gears of War 4 marathon.

I have to be careful with video games. I can’t stop until the game is “finished,” and even then, I only finished on Normal Level. Now we need to beat the game (finish) on Hardcore and Insane. Oh, and there are still clues out there we haven’t found. And, have I mentioned that, on most levels, we only earned one or two stars? They don’t match. They all need to be THREE stars.

Okay, at least all be two stars. Make them match.

At the gym, the Stair Monster is trying to kill me. If I set it to do a 25 minute workout, I will make it 51 floors. FIFTY-ONE? No, needs to be at least 55…but then it’s a 27 minute workout. Crap. Okay, we’ll go to 30 minutes make it even-Stephen. 64 floors? ACK, Okay, just to 65 floors…31 minutes? So 60 minutes later and 121 FLOORS….

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL MYSELF!

While my obsessive nature isn’t anything that requires therapy or medication (yet) I do think it’s a quality that helps me do what I do.

When we create characters in a novel, we must remember that their best quality always has a dark side. The loyal, tender-hearted protagonist, can also be a naive fool easily taken advantage of. The hard-driven Type A is a great leader and achiever, but often tramples over the feelings of others.

All of us have a dark side. Our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses.

My dark side is I can (if unchecked) be controlling, OCD, and obsessive. I frequently find myself worn out from doing all the housework, because, well…YOU CAN’T FOLD TOWELS THAT WAY! WHO FOLDS TOWELS THAT WAY? WERE YOU RAISED BY WOLVES?

I’ve had to learn to trust others, delegate, let go of having things my way, and just focus on my responsibilities. Appreciate that others can do things differently and that’s okay.

*left eye twitches*

Really, it is. I’ll be fine.

Being obsessive is a good thing, but the dark side of being obsessive manifests as manipulating, bullying and controlling others. I would love to say I have never been guilty of any of that *whistles innocently* but, what can I say? I’m a recovering “first/older sibling.” I’m working on it.

Yet, when I think about what’s really helped me persevere as a writer, I know I have my obsessive nature to thank. Ten years ago, when I was skewered in my first critique, I worked tirelessly until my work was so good, no one had anything but praise. If I didn’t understand something, I didn’t read a book on the topic, I read all books on the topic.

We won’t even mention my scrapbooking phase.

Obsession is part of why I blog. I heard about the 10,000 hour rule (the magic mark that separates the master from the apprentice) and I’m all about efficiency. Become a better, cleaner, faster writer and hit 10,000 hours sooner.

I think all of us require the fire of obsession to do well in this business (any business). We just need to remember three key things:

1. The world does not reward perfection; it rewards finishers.

2. Learn to delegate. Let your family be part of your success. Let your husband fold the clothes, you can refold them later keep writing.

3.  The numbers on the Stair Master WILL NEVER BE EVEN AT THE SAME TIME. I’ve tried. Ellipticals and treadmills have also been infiltrated. I think Al Qaeda is behind the calorie counter.

For those who want a laugh, there is a small dose of Sheldon in this clip. I apologize ahead of time that it is only 1:29 minutes. REALLY, PEOPLE?:

What you do think? Are Stair Masters evil? Are you a bit obsessive? What are your obsessions? Could you see a little (or a lot) of yourself in Sheldon? Do you have to be careful with your obsessive nature? Do you drive your family nuts with your obsessive tendencies? What do you do to keep the obsession channeled to your writing?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Note: Due to Easter holiday/anniversary…okay video game marathon, I will be choosing March’s winner later in the week, so stay tuned.

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78 Comments

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