Posts Tagged organization

Reduce Stress, Increase Joy & Productivity—Why Is Simple So HARD?

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Funny how we get the same lessons in life over and over and…over. Maybe not you guys. Maybe y’all are sharper than me. But the thing I keep returning to is “essentialism.” Boil everything down to the basics. Focus on one or even a few key areas with all you have. THAT is the key to success.

So why is simple so hard?

Last week, I blogged about what writing and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu had in common. Much of any martial art is mastery and focus on the BASICS.

Which is why I am no longer LOSING EVERY round. I’m even winning a few *happy dance*.

But I know my life goes through these crazy times. You’ve been there.

The Transition

It happened when I went from being single to married. I am a tad…ok, more than a tad OCD. I once moved and the movers called me, “The House that Rubbermaid Made.” Everything was organized and labeled and it took less than five hours for them to move me and less than four hours for me to completely unpack.

***Note: This phenomena hasn’t happened since *whimpers*.

Why? After that move it was no longer only ME.

I had to adjust to being a writer living with my mom who keeps EVERYTHING, then a wife of a man who is adorable but KEEPS EVERYTHING. Then I became a mom of a newborn and then a toddler, and now that he’s a preschooler? Yeah, I’m happy if I can keep the floors virtually hazard-free and my house not smelling like a crime scene.

But am I happy?

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

The Trouble with “Happy”

Am I happy?

I’ve had to ask that A LOT lately. In the end, happiness (in my opinion) should never be our goal. Why? Well, because the word is tethered to “happenstance.” It’s too wonky. Rather, I choose to do what is right knowing it will eventually produce joy which has a much longer shelf life. Am I happy being up at 3:30 in the morning because the cat coughed up a hairball on me in the middle of some weird dream about The Golden Girls and a money-laundering scandal?

No idea. That was a weird-@$$ dream and good reason not to eat too close to bedtime. BUT, I do know that I’m up for some reason…even if it is to make you feel totally sorry for me :P

Happiness and Joy

I am a NAZI when it comes to language. Seriously. Since we have lost SO many family members in two years, I finally went to a grief counseling group at our church and while it IS awesome and I have made a lot of progress (like finally CRYING) I nitpick about the Scripture. And not to be preachy here, but if you aren’t a Christian, just work with me and roll with it.

We use a lot of the Beatitudes. The translation they use in the group makes me nutso. It isn’t, “HAPPY are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Happy? That makes NO sense to me. I prefer other translations that are closer to the original text, which tell me, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I am NOT going to feel “happy” mourning. It’s awful losing people you love. But, if I learn to cry, let go, remember the good stuff and latch onto the gifts that those people’s lives gave me? I am definitely BLESSED.

Many times we are blessed yet miserable. 

I can think of a lot of super tough times that made me howl to the heavens, WHY ME? Looking back? Those were the times I grew the most. Though I was NOT happy, I needed the lesson. I needed the growth. I needed to let go of baggage, people, situations that I didn’t realize (at the time) were toxic.

I needed to realize my purpose wasn’t selling industrial paper.

Like, seriously.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

So, I do think semantics are key. We live in a world where everything is supposed to make us HAPPY. Well, kiddos, I hate to say it but most of the stuff that is good for us in the end will NOT make us happy. “Happy” is fleeting, joy is far deeper.

Letting Go

I like to believe I am an Essentialist at heart. I lose sight sometimes. We all do. Don’t believe me? Look in your closet O_o. But life isn’t static. We are slaves to entropy. We are changing and growing and shifting and we are wise to stay on top of what is going on. I cannot DO things the same as a Mommy-Writer with an infant who slept most of the day as NOW when I’m homeschooling a zombie-obsessed preschooler who abducts Cheerios in the wee hours and sprinkles them in my couch.

The goal is to always focus on what is essential. DO NOT COMPROMISE. And you will, but you can regroup. Breathe.

WANA has always been essentialist in nature. What is the point of social media? When we realize the core point, it’s clearer that we don’t have to rely on gimmick, automation or camp on top of “our brand.” The CORE of all social media is simply to create relationships. Takes away a LOT of pressure.

The weird paradox is that the more we let go, the more we can hold. We live in a world that tells us we can have it all. We can’t. Not really. There HAS to be a trade-off if we hope to do anything well (and remain sane).

For instance, I can have an immaculate home or a happy child. My son won’t remember that the house was dust-free in his childhood. He WILL remember playing at the pool with Mommy, or wrestling and playing “Attack of the MOMBIE.” He will remember the times at the park. He will remember Mommy suiting up with him in a gi to go learn martial arts.

The dishes? Eh, not so much. And if he does and this scars him? Well, shrinks need to eat too.

He can talk to his therapist...

He can talk to his therapist…

Choose Wisely

Okay, if you are anything like me you will likely goof this up and need retraining. Why? Because in our New-And-Improved-World, EVERYTHING is important. So give yourself some grace if you get it wrong the first couple tries. With all the options flying at us telling us we can HAVE IT ALL, we might struggle with discernment. That’s OKAY. Remember, life is not static. Just change direction. Make a different decision.

Go AROUND the leaf….

But, if we can look to the CORE of life, what is it? Health, Wealth, Relationships (not in any necessary order), priorities become clearer. As a fun fact, the word priority came from the Latin word a priori which was SINGULAR. It wasn’t until close to the Industrial Revolution that the word was ever pluralized into priorities. What this means to me it that most companies have their collective heads up their butts I need to work on discernment.

What is WANA’s priority? Empowering Writers of the Digital Age. Simple. We have classes, conferences, our own social network and all the tools to do ONE thing…empower. We give low-cost and digitally accessible classes and conferences, then we provide social media outlets so anything we can do can be magnified. Anything that does not align with Empowering Writers of the Digital Age? Not even a consideration.

Not that everything’s been seamless, but it’s sure been simpler.

With my life? Which things are priority? I can make a list—oh, can I make LISTS—but I’m better off focusing everything into a singular CORE a priori.

What is my GOAL as a mother and wife? As a writer? As a teacher?

Believe it or not, it’s all the same. Empowering. I can’t do Hubby’s job for him, but I can make our home a place of respite and peace that empowers him to do the best job he can each day. I can’t force Spawn to learn any faster than he does, but I can empower him to learn the best way for him.

Sigh, yes, even if it involves…zombies.

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

I can’t write your books for you or do your social media, but I can teach you all the craft and publishing stuff that tied my brain in knots for years. I can empower you to write faster, cleaner and better and also have a social media brand without going crazy. I can empower you to make the best decisions for your personality and book(s).

Something To Take Away

I am a Work In Progress. We all are. WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have to battle this entropy thing until we die, so what are some tips to keep life simpler? I’ll give a few and maybe we’ll expound later.

No Meddling!!!!

We all have family and friends who seem to collect disaster faster than black pants gather cat fur. BE UNAVAILABLE. I can’t even measure the time I’ve wasted trying to solve other people’s problems when they weren’t interested in solving it themselves. You know who I’m talking about. The people who cry and wail and want advice…and then do what they were going to do anyway and then it BLOWS UP and they need help?

No. JUST SAY NO. Back away. This is just never going to end well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.42.33 AM

When we meddle, we are NOT HELPING. We’re stealing this person’s power. We are stealing the lesson failure provides as well as the feeling of victory they will have by solving their own problems.

And, because most of us stink at priorities and think everything is an emergency, it is likely those around you do as well. So while they’re screaming FIRE!

…it isn’t.

Put down the firehouse and back away.

Take a Day Off

Sunday is my day of rest. Period. I’ve actually only fired a couple of people, but one? She couldn’t follow instructions. Every Sunday she was e-mailing and calling and wanting to talk business despite many times being told DO NOT CONTACT ON SUNDAY. Everything was a priority!

Failure to prepare on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine.

Rest is WORK

In fact, rest is the hardest work we will ever do because we live in a world that frowns upon it. We’re supposed to be doing a zillion things all at once 24/7 and be available all hours all days. And then others wonder why quality suffers.

We have no problems putting gas in our car, plugging in our phones or laptops into a power outlet. Why are we last on the list? We need JUICE, TOO. Recharge and stop running on 3% battery.

Just so y’all know, I have one finger pointed at you and the rest pointed at ME. Lately, I’m learning to say no, turning off phone, doing more yoga and taking more power naps. I NEED for my brain to just chillax.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle and have too many “PRIORITIES”? Do you lose your focus? Do you struggle with energy vampires who always have some new drama? Are you learning to put down boundaries with yourself and others? Do you feel guilty resting, taking a nap or even—GASP—A VACATION! YOU SLOTH! Have you gotten better at making you and your WRITING a priority? THE PRIORITY? What tips or tools could you share?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, 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).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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Training to Be a Career Author–Writing is More than the Writing

Many of you who read this blog desire to be career authors, and kudos to you. It is a fun job and a great time. I used to be in sales. I literally hated my job so much that every day I would throw up on the way to work. Every day I died a little more. I just knew that writing was the life for me. Ah….but how little I really knew.

After almost ten years at this and a lot of bumps and bruises, I can safely telly you guys that being a career writer is more than the writing, especially now. There has been a major paradigm shift in the world of publishing and writers have more creative power than ever in history. Ah, but with more power comes more responsibility. When we publish a book, the laundry does not magically disappear.

I KNOW! I felt robbed too.

My two-year old is not in the least impressed by my fancy New York agent. In fact, The Spawn is addicted to the B-O-T-T-L-E (we can no longer say the B Word, so have resorted to spelling it). In fact he Joneses so badly for a B-O-T-T-L-E that I swear he has one taped behind the toilet. As he shrieks for the B-O-T-T-L-E that we have taken away, he has zero compassion for Mommy’s blog deadline…or ability to hear.

Dishes still fill the sink and the cat still pukes in my floor…and always at the crack of dawn, just enough to rouse me awake grossed out and afraid to get out of bed. The bills need to be paid and the yard keeps growing and I keep writing as I pray that, if God really is good, I can one day afford someone else to push the vacuum.

None of you can relate, I’m sure.

Whether you work a day job and eek in what writing you can will out of your tired body at dawn, during lunch, or in the evening OR if you happen to be like me and held hostage a stay-at-home mother, you know that this career so so much more than the writing.

Being a career writer is more than the book. Why do I tell you this? Because it is going to affect how you train. Yes, train. Writing is not a marathon, as many author-bloggers might have you believe. It is more like a decathlon….oh, but one of the events is a marathon. This career, as some of you already know, is so much less about talent and far more about endurance. I have talented writers I know who will never make this a career even if they publish. Their approach will burn them out quickly or keep them trapped at a certain level.

We’ll talk about why in a moment.

In a decathlon, there are ten events from running to pole vaulting to shot put, and athletes are judged on their collective scores.This means that, not only does a participant need to be able to run distance, but he has to be a good sprinter, and also strong and flexible. All aspects of his physique are going to be tested and then judged against his competition.

Same with writing.

We have to write, edit, learn about the craft, organize, plan, run a business, read, research, market, blog, speak, and teach. There is so much more to this career than just the writing.

Now that Mommy is a writer, I just feed myself with stolen pizza and a butter knife.

Yes, We Must Do A LOT to Be Successful

I can tell writers who aren’t avid readers in three pages. I can tell writers who haven’t properly researched pretty early on, too (and I don’t finish those books). It takes me less than a page to spot writers who haven’t read craft books. Writers who refuse to do social media? Well, their days are numbered.

We have to be organized (I’m still working on this one). First of all, writing a novel requires we be organized. Any work spanning 80-100,000 words is going to need to be plotted and the right events placed at the right point. People who just sit down and write until they stop? Yeah, that ain’t a novel. Novels that do not have narrative structure—antagonists and major plot points—well, they aren’t novels. They are an entity with no skeleton. Or, if there is a skeleton, some bones are missing or in the wrong place. In nature that is called an aberration. In writing that is called Book that Won’t Sell.

Organization will also be critical when it comes to the business end of this business. Tracking sales, filing royalty statements, receipts, deductions, and TAXES. Oh my!

Don’t get me wrong. Some of those things writers don’t have to do, but it could impact their final success. For instance, authors don’t have to do public speaking, but those who can and do have an added advantage. Authors who can present at workshops and conferences stand a far better chance of meeting the right person who opens the right door to take her career to an entirely new level.

I generally work six days a week….7 if one counts The Spawn.

Mommy, why are you crying?

This isn’t to have a pity party. I love my job. I loved every minute of spending time with my writing peeps. I love being able to support other writers and learn new things. I love being able to open up the world of social media for some newbies and make it more accessible. But I do have to say that you have to train to be able to endure this kind of schedule and still be productive.

Mommy, are you writing? I’m hungry. All my underwear is dirty.

Those kids hanging off our leg are still there even when we decide to write. In fact, as I type these words I have a two year old screaming….shhh B-O-T-T-L-E. If he isn’t screaming about that, then he’s upset  because I won’t let him climb on the table and play with knives. Despite commercials that say otherwise, the toilets still won’t clean themselves, and apparently they can put a man on the moon, but have yet to invent clothes that never need to be washed.

Change Your Perspective and Change Your Life

I am here to change your perspective and make those challenges your triumphs. Learn to do it anyway. Those kids that interrupt you every thirty seconds are a blessing. Think of it like running pulling a weighted sled. This is author training. If you can learn to maintain your focus despite all of life’s distractions, think of how amazingly productive you will be when one day you do have that private office and can afford a meth-addicted howler monkey with a sidearm to guard your writing time. Heck, you will probably be twice as productive at least.

Successful authors are a multitasking MACHINE. This is one of the reasons it is SO vital for us to brand our name when it comes to social media. We already have a lot of responsibilities, so streamlining becomes paramount. Spreading ourselves too thinly can be a formula to give up.

I see a lot of writers who will not make it in this business. Why? Often they aren’t doing the tasks that are vital to writing a great book—reading and learning the rules of the craft. This is like wanting to win a decathlon, but eating pizza everyday and not going to the gym.

These days, everyone can get published so a new benchmark of success is becoming book sales and list rankings. I watch a lot of writers who are too obsessed with the marketing side of things. They are banking everything on the success of ONE book and aren’t getting back to the computer and working on the next book and the next and the next.

Other writers are blogging machines. Blogs are GREAT for branding….if done properly. Many writers are wearing themselves out posting blogs that will do very little to brand their names. They are writing thousands of words a week that do…almost nothing. Or they are blogging, but never getting to writing the actual book.

These types of writers are only focusing on ONE aspect of their careers. They are like the participant in the decathlon who only focuses on one event. It is a recipe to lose.

Athletes who compete in decathlons use a lot of different skills—speed, endurance, strength. They walk this fine balance of giving an event their all….without really giving it their all. They still must have energy left to effectively compete in the other events and outpace the competition.

We writers must learn to give it our all….without giving it our all. The better we get at balancing our duties, the more successful we will be in the long-run. Writers who fail to appreciate all this job entails won’t be around in a year or three. They are like a runner who sprints at the beginning of a marathon. They will fall by the side of the road, injured and broken.

So today when you have to squeeze in that 100 words on your break from work, think I’m training. When your kids hang off you as you write, picture that weighted sled. Play the soundtrack to Rocky if you must. Hey, winning is always easier with a TEAM. Rely on your WANA (#MyWANA) teammates for help. Platforms take a lot of work and time to build, but, unlike the dishes, you don’t have to do it by yourself.

We are not alone!

What part of your life are you now going to view as author training? What setbacks can you reframe in the positive? What commitments are you going to make to be successful for the long-term? What have you been doing wrong? What problems are you having? What do you now think you could do differently?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the last bit of January and the month of February, 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck! Will announce last week’s winner and January’s winner on Wednesday.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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Time Management for Writers–Getting More Done in Less Time

Photo via Happy Housewives Club, which is a FANTASTIC site, btw.

I have always struggled with organization, and frankly, if don’t make a list, I will be sorting baby pictures or writing out greeting cards in three minutes flat. I’ve always been envious of people who run their homes with military efficiency. You know the people I am talking about; those folk who aren’t afraid of their closets and actually know what is in every drawer. Show-offs :P.

Yet, I have to say that just because something is our nature doesn’t mean that we are to be a victim to our innate shortcomings. In fact, Bob Mayer gave a really interesting exercise in his Warrior Writer Workshop. He said to look at your Myers-Briggs personality…then look at the opposite of your personality, and likely that is the area you need the most work. I am going to take it a step farther. I believe that the opposite of our personality could be what keeps us from ever enjoying great success.

More on this in a second…

One of my all-time favorite books is Eat That Frog—21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey. In Eat That Frog, Tracey gives an interesting rule.

Rule: Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.

 Tracey advises that you sit down and write out all that is required for you to do your job. We’ll take five for our purposes today. As a writer I must:

  • Have a good imagination
  • A solid command of grammar
  • Possess a modicum of talent when it comes to writing prose
  • Have the self-discipline to write
  • Possess superior organizational ability

When it comes to the first four, I totally ROCK….and then we get to that last part *winces.* Superior organization? Oh yeah.

That.

First of all, even when you write non-fiction, information needs to flow in an optimal way or it won’t be enjoyable reading. I just turned in my new book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and one of the largest challenges was taking all these lessons from my blog and making them flow like a book…62,000 words of seamless lessons.

Eep! Yeah, it was tough, but after 42 versions and a lot of alcohol, chocolate and crying, I got there.

Same thing applies to fiction. If we hope to be a successful novelist, we have to be masters at organization. We have to balance narrative plot points, character arcs, POV, setting, dialogue and keep everything straight and give it perfect timing. The greatest part of dramatic tension is relaying the right piece of information at the right time. We have to manage all these components over the span of 60-110,000 words. This is one of the reasons many aspiring novelists never get beyond the “aspiring” part. They believe that the talent to manage all of this information is something writers are born with, when in fact it is a skill that 99% of the time must be taught, and then refined with a lot of trial, error and shots of tequila.

Writing a novel is an entirely different creature, yet many new writers mistakenly believe that they can jump from short story to novel with no problem. Sure. That is like creating a three-bar melody and then believing we are ready to compose a symphony with a 100 piece orchestra.

Not happening.

And, if I look at where I have had the largest struggles when it comes to writing…it has always been in my ability to organize (or lack of ability as the case may be).

Ah, but if we look at my Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP, which means I am highly skilled at concepts and BIG ideas…but I fall apart when it comes to execution because I have a hard time managing the details. If we look at the opposite of my personality we get…my husband. Seriously, there should be a picture of my husband below the ISTJ.

 Tigger married Spock.

ENFP (The Inspirer)——ISTJ (The Duty Fulfiller)

Kristen, you are being illogical.”

I have creativity, imagination and enough energy to power a small city, but it is clear where I fall abysmally short. Ah, the devil is in the details. 

I think this Myers Briggs test is a great exercise for getting a clear idea of what specifically is in our nature that needs to be addressed. But I want to take it a step farther.

In Eat That Frog, Tracey also introduces the Pareto  Principle. In 1895, economist Vincent Pareto noticed that society seemed to naturally divide into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” 20% of the population had all the wealth power and influence and the bottom 80% got whatever was left. He later discovered that this principle held true in all economic activity.

In short, 20% of our activity will account for 80% of our results.

This means that if we have a list of ten things to do, TWO of those items will be worth as much if not more than the other eight combined. But can you guess which items we are most likely to procrastinate on doing? Right. The two activities that could make the most difference. We are also most likely to procrastinate where we are weak.

Can you guess where I procrastinate? Yep, any activity that requires organizational skills. Whether it is plotting my novel or filing invoices, I do everything I can to get out of doing the chores that require I operate where I am weak. Yet, remember the rule I began with?

Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.

This rule basically says that if I do not figure out a way to mitigate or correct my greatest weakness, that it will always be my single greatest limiting factor.

So what can we do?

First, buy a copy of Eat That Frog. LOVE this book and use its principles to get A LOT of work done. See, knowledge is power and once we become aware of our limiting factors, then we can take action. We aren’t at the mercy of our nature.

As far as time-management, I know organization will never come natural to me, but it does come naturally to my mother, my sister-in-law, and my husband. When I need a system worked out for me, I have learned that I don’t have to do everything. I can delegate. GASP! I know! Cool, right? Of course, delegating isn’t one of those things I do well, naturally either, so I have to surround myself with friends who will yell at me if I fail to delegate properly. Hi, Piper! Hi, Cid!

I also make lists every day and no longer try to just “keep it in my head.” I then look at that list and whatever item makes me cringe when I read it (FROGS)? That is what I do first. Remember, 20% of our activity is going to account for 80% of our results.

When I tackle the toughest items first, I actually get more accomplished overall.

How?

When we do the toughest jobs first, we get an endorphin rush from the sense of accomplishment. Also, since our toughest jobs are out of the way, the other “less important” chores go faster since we aren’t dragging our feet dreading the FROGS.

And how does this apply to writing? Well, I know that my prose is strong and I suffer no lack of imagination, BUT I do not naturally plot well. I used to get lost in the details and had a tough time keeping everything straight.  This is why most of the writing books I now buy have to do with various ways to plot. Instead of reading book after book studying my strengths (dialogue), I now focus on my weakness, because that area will be my limiting factor if left unadressed. I also know that my writing will be faster and clearner and require fewer revisions if I can strengthen this weak area. What is your weak writing area? Work on that FIRST.

So what are some issues you guys struggle with and how do you deal with them? Any books or resources you can recommend? Are you a master at organization and maybe can offer tips? Or, are you like me? A junk drawer junkie? How do you overcome the clutter?

I love hearing from you! And 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

This Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Irene Vernadis

Happy Easter and happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

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My Life is a Junk Drawer

Ah, it is time for spring cleaning. This past week I have been on a mission to simplify and organize. Yeah, easier said than done. I began with the refrigerator, battled the Spinach Ooze of Doom and The Casserole that Time Forgot. I stumbled away wondering how the hell I managed to buy 12 jars of pickles. See, that is the thing about being disorganized. It is wasteful. I am the proud owner of 635 pairs of scissors. They hang out with the index cards and bags of rubberbands. Have you ever noticed that? You have to buy a BAG or rubberbands and after using less than FIVE, the bag disappears????

But I digress….

This reminds me of my nightstand drawer. Hey, I’m a Texan! If only I could find the bullets….

So this week I am scrubbing and sweeping and sorting, all the while putting off the dreaded kitchen drawers. See, I happen to be an overachiever. Most people have ONE junk drawer. I happen to have…okay all of my drawers are junk drawers. DON’T YOU JUDGE ME! Thus, the thing I seem to put off most is cleaning out my kitchen drawers. I secretly loathe those people who can open a kitchen drawer and actually KNOW what is inside–Show Offs :P.

One morning, a few months ago, I was doing my early morning walk through the neighborhood, pondering the universe, when I had a profound thought. My life is like my kitchen junk drawer, and maybe that’t why they were so hard to clean. Stop laughing. It’s true. Sometimes, when I put in a lot of extra effort, it is neat and clean and streamlined…and then the Law of Entropy somehow takes over. It is a never-ending battle against my own selfish will to goof off. And yet, I have to admit, my junk drawer is usually one of the most interesting locations in my house.

The junk drawer is always full of things we don’t want to face—an unpaid bill, a child’s bad report card, a letter from some crazy family member we can’t throw away but try to ignore. Something sticky that we just can’t bear cleaning. Do it later. Full of unfinished business. Write that “thank you” note later. Pay that bill later.

My life is also full of these things I don’t want to face—my laziness, my tendency to procrastinate, my harshness with myself and others. Stickiness that I just can’t face cleaning. Will get organized…later.

Junk drawers are also filled with things of questionable value; an extra screw that we just can’t figure out where it goes, a single AA battery that we are too cheap to throw away, but too lazy to put with the other batteries (wherever they are). Oh, and a tiny calendar from a real estate agent that we will never use, but don’t have the guts to toss. Markers that work when you lick the tip and pens with schmutz clogging the end…but if you scribble real hard they still work. Packets of ketchup when there is a full bottle in the fridge. Packets of salt and pepper and sporks from fast food joints.

My mind, too, holds on to things of questionable value. I have all kinds of experiences and bits of knowledge that puzzle even me. I am flypaper for useless trivia, like the end of a shoelace is called an aglet and the element helium was discovered in the late 1800s when scientists were studying the sun, and it is named after the Greek Sun god, Helios. I don’t know why I know these things, but I do. I don’t know why I can’t find my car keys, but I can remember that Washington Carver invented peanut butter and that the first thing I ever took to Show and Tell in Kindergarten was Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (yeah, I am a nerd from way back).

Ah, but then there are the hidden treasures of the junk drawer; the sweet card from a husband for no reason at all, a photo that missed the baby book, a $20 bill we forgot we had, a rebate check we forgot to cash, ticket stubs from a memorable concert, or even wheat pennies and Canadian pennies that we have sorted from the real pennies since we were children.

Which brings me to my point. Yes, I have one.

Our lives are all like junk drawers; full of the messy, the missing, the mystifying and the magical. Sometimes I think that is why I became a writer, to “sort out” the junk drawer of my soul. So often my stories feature characters so similarly flawed as me. And, as I help them learn and grow…strangely, so do I. With writing, I can find use for random childhood memories, like the smell of Breck shampoo or the taste of coconut sno-cones. Through stories, I can give them new life in new context so that they can live forever…or at least longer. Through fiction, I can tend unfinished business, like a broken heart that never mended or a dream I was too scared to pursue.

With fiction…it all oddly makes sense.

And I will continue filling the drawer with experiences and information and ideas and dreams and heartbreaks and disappointments and tragedies. Then I will sit down and sort and take what will work and then I will toss the remains back in and label them “Miscellaneous” until I find them a home.

Can you relate? Are you like me and a Junk Drawer Overachiever? What do you do with random memories and experiences? How do you use them? Keep track of them? What cool stuff is in your junk drawer? Leave a comment and share.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

THIS WEEK’S WINNER OF 5-PAGE CRITIQUE IS GENE LEMPP!!!!

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

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42 Comments

Blogging Part 6–Maintaining Your Sanity and Your Blog

 

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Every Wednesday I dedicate this blog to help improve your social marketing skills. If you are a verteran reader of this blog, feel free to scan down to the next header. But, for the newbies…

For the past month we have been talking about blogging. Everyone seems to be telling writers they need to blog (um…you do), but few people are telling writers what to blog about or how to get started. Each of these lessons builds upon the previous lesson so I recommend that, if you are new, go back and read the other posts. They will save you a ton of time.

Blogging Part I—Meet the Bright Idea Fairy then Shoot Her teaches how to know the difference between a really good idea, versus a total time-waster in disguise.

Blogging Part 2—Don’t Feed the Trolls is an exploration into how to find good blog topics that will connect you to future READERS.

Blogging Part 3—Tearing Up the SEO in 2011 explains how to use search engines to your advantage. What good is a rocking blog if no one can FIND it?

Blogging Part 4—The Future is Now discussed the shifts in the publishing paradigm and why blogging will give you a distinctive edge ahead of the non-blogging or half-ass blogging competition.

Blogging Part 5—The Counterintuitive Nature of Social Media Influence debated how effective blogging is for the fiction author. Can your blogs reach readers? I also gave tips for increasing blog traffic.

Blogging Part 6—Maintaining Your Sanity and Your Blog

Okay, I know a lot of you are fired up about starting a new blog or even just buckling down and breathing new life into that old blog that’s been invaded by dust bunnies and spam bots in your comments.

I so lick your blog. Is beste infermentation ever. My blog same. See you like. http://www.sportszanexhussycoedsluts.com

If you are anything like me, you heard about blogging and took off like a shot. I opened an account, chose a wicked-cool background, posted a blog…then three weeks later ran out of something to say.

True story about how I ended up on WordPress.

I started on Blogger. I loaded my blogs then kept going to my link to look at my page, in awe that I had created something. Kind of like giving birth, but no drugs. I would pop over to ooh and aaah over my awesome turquoise…no, black background with red letters…no, flowers and babbling brook background with italics text. I would get misty-eyed at the sheer beauty and genius of my widgets (I had just learned what those were).

My blog is sooo pretty. She is the prettiest blog ever. I think I will call her Tiffany.

What was even better was that, even though no one knew me, I already had 15 hits on my first day of blogging. Proof I was brilliant and that soon the world would be dying to hear what I had to say. I was a blogging genius. I knew this every time I visited my page.

35 views! OMG!!!!

Hmmmmm. No one has left a comment.

Let me go check my page again.

36 views. What????? Wait a minute. Click.

37 views. WTH? Click.

38 views.

Are you kidding me???? Great, the 38 visitors was ME. Moron. I changed over to WordPress because, at the time, the analytics kept me honest. Clicking on my own site didn’t count.

Okay, yeah maybe I shouldn’t have told you guys that story.

I be an expert :D.

The thing is, I didn’t go into blogging understanding what I was doing. I had a lot of trial and error and have had 4 years to throw noodles against the wall and see what sticks. Blogging can be the best experience ever, or it can make you hate your life, your computer, and your dog. Even if you already started your blog, these tips should help you as well.

Brainstorm

Before you start writing blogs, brainstorm. We have talked about blogging on topic or by demographic. Sit down and pick a subject and see how many possible topics you can generate. Go for at least 100. Here is an example.

A writer of paranormal romance wants to start blogging.

Readers of these types of books would generally like to hear about romance, the paranormal or even writing. Many writers are readers and vice versa.  78% of Americans say they are interested in writing a book, so blogging on writing is a good way to reach a lot of people. But let’s pick paranormal.

It is safe to say that an author who writes paranormal romance likes the paranormal. I think it is also safe to say that readers who eat up paranormal romance probably like MysteryQuest, X-Files, Ghosthunters, etc. So a paranormal romance author could sit down and just start writing a list of topics that would interest people who dig spooks, spirits and stuff that goes bump in the night. Heck, blogging on topic is a great way to recycle the research information used in writing the novel.

Brainstorm possible topics ahead of time. You don’t have to write about them right now, but that list will percolate in your subconscious. Your subconscious mind will become more in tune to the topics and will pick up on articles, shows, etc. that you can blog about. Sort of like, I never noticed red Honda Civics until I bought one.

Pick the Top 15

Pick your favorite 15 off that list, then take a day or three and write nothing but blogs. Load them into the queue. If your goal is to post 3X a week, you are already….

Crap. Need paper. Hold on. Carry the one. Multiply by pi. Why does it smell like something is burning?

You are already 5 weeks ahead! Now when you launch your blog (start telling people about it on FB, Twitter, etc.) your blog will look more professional and established. It is easier to be confident to send someone to our blog when we at least give the impression we’ve been at this a while and know what we’re doing. I say fake it until you make it ;).

I try to always have a week of posts loaded in the queue. I pick a day and just write blogs. Then I am free to do the other writer stuff the rest of the week…drinking, prank calling my parole officer,bathing my sea monkeys, testing the viscosity of low-fat buttercream icing. You know, research!

Tag, Tag, then Tag Some More

Make sure you tag all of your blogs with your name. The goal of blogging is to build YOU. I see too many writers who have killer blogs…but their names are nowhere in the tags. Go read Blogging Part 3. Google the Codependent Genie needs a hand in finding you.

After you tag with your name, go and add as many tags as you can think of that could be used in a search. In the blogosphere, the best way to find blogs, like anything, is word of mouth. But sometimes we just want to know about something, so we google it. We will use this blog as an example.

Blogging Part 6—Maintaining Your Sanity and Your Blog

Tags: blog, blogging, writers

Yeah, I see a lot of that. Three tags. Um, I want you to picture the Internet as one big carnival and doing a search is like being at the ring-toss booth and our goal is the big pink unicorn (the loyal, subscribing readers).

Do you seriously want to belly up to the bar with three freaking rings?

Noooooo. Man up and bring in the real firepower.

Tags: Kristen Lamb, marketing, promotion, promoting, blog, blogger, blogging, write, writer, writing, fiction, author, We Are Not Alone, organization, time-management, success, platform, readers, publishing, google, brainstorm….

You know you want it.

Okay, you get the point. Be a Tagging FREAK! Own the Ring-Toss. Claim that Pink Unicorn! You are allowed more than three tags. They are free. No one is going to auto-debit from your account. Help your future fans find you.

More next week on constructing a killer blog. I am working to make mine shorter-blech. Michael Hyatt had some good points, but he made me all self-conscious about my long blogs. His blogs are short, but mine are way funnier :P.

What are some of the biggest challenges you guys face when it comes to blogging? What helps you? Any advice?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home. It is not too late to sign up for the workshop Selling Your Book taught by USA Today Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. This workshop is for all authors, but any self-pubbed writers would stand to gain amazing benefit.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Fave Blog of the Week Why Your Novel Won’t Get Published by Chuck Wendig

To Book Trailer or Not? Do they really work? Are trailers worth the time and expense? Bob Mayer

Aspiring to Failure or: How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Start Writing by Albert Berg

How You Decide on Your Author Brand Part II by Paranormal Author Jami Gold

Why I Stopped Reading Your Blog by Michael Hyatt. Funny, I didn’t know he was reading my blog. Kidding! He makes some good points.

The Left Brain, The Right Brain and Everything In Between by Jenni Holbrook

3 Tips to Writing a Better Book Proposal by @BubbleCow

Is the Query System Dying? by Jodi Hedlund

How to Dish Out Backstory in Digestable Bites by Roni Loren

Mother, She’s Just a False Protagonist by Peter St. Clair

Get Your Nerd On:

Manon Eileen’s Affective Neuroscience

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50 Comments

Structure Part 8–Balancing the Scenes that Make Up Your Novel

Welcome to Structure Part 8. We have spent the past couple of months studying the fundamentals of what makes up a novel, and today we are going to discuss the actual scenes that make up a novel and how to keep track of them. It is easy to get lost when dealing with a structure as complex as a novel, so I hope to give you a nifty tool to keep everything straight. As a fiction author, you will often feel like an acrobat spinning plates while standing on your head and juggling fiery chainsaws. There are so many components to keep track of, lest you end up down the Bunny Trail of No Return. Organization is key when it comes to being a successful novelist.

First, let’s talk about scenes.

According to James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, scenes do four things. Bell calls these the four chords of fiction:

The two major chords are: (1) action and (2) reaction.

The two minor chords are (1) setup and (2) deepening.

Back when I used to edit for writers, I was known to draw flies on the page when the writer lost my interest. This became known as my infamous, “Fly on the Wall of ‘Who Gives a Crap?’” The reader is a fly on the wall when it comes to the world we are creating. Make them the fly on the wall of something interesting at all times. How do we accomplish this?

All scenes need conflict. Conflict is the fuel that powers the story’s forward momentum. “Scenes” that are merely back-story, reflection (rehash of what the reader already knows) or information dump, slow down the story and make the reader either want to skim ahead or put the book down. Bad juju. We want our readers hooked from the beginning until we finally let them go on the last page. How do we accomplish this? We add lots of conflict.

Scenes, according to Bell, need three components, collectively known as HIP—Hook, Intensity & Prompt.

Hook—interests the reader from the get-go. This is why it is generally a bad idea to start scenes with setting. Waxing rhapsodic about the fall color is a tough way to hook a reader. If you do start a scene with setting, then make it do double-duty. Setting can set up the inner mood of a character before we even meet him. Setting should always be more than a weather report. Try harder.

Intensity—raises the stakes. Introduce a problem. Scenes that suddenly shift into reverse and dump back-story KILL your intensity. Cut scenes at meals unless there is a fight. If your characters are in a car, they better be in an argument or a car chase. Also cut any scenes that the sole purpose is to give information. Have a scene that’s sole purpose is two characters talking about a third? CUT!

Prompt—leave the scene with work left undone and questions left unanswered. If your character is relaxed enough to go to bed at the end of a scene, that is a subconscious cue to your reader that it is okay to mark the page and close the book.  There should always be something unsettling that makes the reader want to know more.

Going back to the chords of the writing. Every scene should involve one of your key characters in pursuit of an interesting goal that is related to the overall conflict of the story. Each of these scenes are stepping stones that take your character closer to the final showdown. Most of the time, it will feel like two steps forward and one step back.

Your POV character (protagonist) sets out to do X but then Y gets in the way. Your character then will have some kind of a reaction to the setback.

So we have the major chords I mentioned earlier:

ACTION–> REACTION to the obstacle

Now when we add in the minor chords, it might look something like this:

Setup–>ACTION–>obstacle–>REACTION to the obstacle–>deepening

Setup and deepening need to be short and sweet. Why? Because they don’t drive the story, conflict does. We as readers will need a certain amount of setup to get oriented in what is happening, but then drive forward and get to the good stuff. Deepening is the same. We want to know how this conflict has changed the course of events, but don’t get carried away or you risk losing your reader.

Every scene should have conflict and a great way to test this is to do a Conflict Lock. Bob Mayer teaches this tactic in his workshops and if you get a chance to take one of his classes, you will be amazed how your writing will improve.

The conflict lock is a basic diagram of what the conflicting goals in the scene look like. Here is one from the fiction I am currently working on. My protagonist’s sister has just been taken, and protag and the love interest are clearly in conflict:

Riley wants to pursue the trail of the kidnappers deeper into Mexico.

Tank wants to return to Texas and call the FBI.

Even though these two characters are allies, it is clear they want different things. Riley wants to plunge ahead and take her chances pursuing the bad guys who have her sister. The love interest doesn’t want Riley hurt or killed. He wants to take the safer route and let the pros handle the kidnapping. Both have reasonable goals, but only one of them, by the end of the scene, will get his/her way. One path takes Riley closer to finding her sister. The other ends the adventure.

So how do you keep track of all these elements? The note card is a writer’s best friend. We will discuss different methods of plotting in the future, but I recommend doing note cards ahead of time and then again after the fact. I stole a very cool tactic from screenwriter Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

On each note card, I write the location, then a one-sentence header about what the scene is about. Then there is a neat little symbol for conflict (><) I use to show who is in conflict in this particular scene. Then I do a micro conflict lock. Who wants what? I also use an emotional symbol to note change +/-. Characters should be changing emotionally. If your protag enters on a high note, crush it. Enters on a low? Give some hope. If a character is constantly okey dokey, that’s boring. Conversely, if a character is always in the dumps, it will wear out your reader and stall the plot. I also note any facts I might need to keep up with. Has my main character suffered an injury? Lost her weapon? Gained a bazooka and a pet hamster?

I have an early scene where my protagonist’s adolescent half-sister shows up unannounced to stay for the summer. Riley’s father has secretly arranged with Riley’s uncle for the sister to spend the summer at Cougar Valley to get her away from a bad element that’s getting her in trouble. Riley is home from Afghanistan and not emotionally up to tending an out-of-control teen.

So the card might look something like this:

Cougar Valley Tactical School

Riley’s sister shows up unannounced to stay for the summer.

>< Riley and Dizzy

Riley wants sister to leave.

Dizzy wants sister to stay.

+/- Riley was hoping for a summer of quiet to heal, but Dizzy forces the issue and sister is there to stay

Riley concedes and grudgingly makes room for sister in her trailer (decision), but then bad guys show up (prompt).

I used this system to keep up with all the scenes in my book. When I finished my first draft, I went back and made a new set of cards. Using this system made it painfully clear what scenes were in need of a total overhaul. If I couldn’t say in one sentence what the scene was about, then I knew my goal was weak, nonexistent or unclear. Too many people in conflict? Conflict might be muddy. Go back and clarify. If there wasn’t any emotional change, then that was a big red flag that nothing was happening–it was a “Fly on the Wall of ‘Who Gives a Crap?'” If I found a scene that’s sole purpose was information dump, what did I do? I had three choices. 1) Cut the scene totally. 2) Fold it into another scene that had existing conflict. 3) Add conflict. Notecards also made it easy to spot bunny trails–goals that have nothing to do with the A or B plot.

This tactic can help make a large work manageable. If you are starting out and outlining? Make note cards for each scene and who you foresee being in conflict. If you already have your novel written, but you want to tighten the writing or diagnose a problem you just can’t see? Make note cards.

Keeping organized with notecards is an excellent way to spot problems and even make big changes without unraveling the rest of the plot. There are, of course, other methods, but this is the one I have liked the best. Note cards are cheap, portable and easy to color code. For instance, each POV character can have a designated color. Using these cards makes it much easier to juggle all the different elements of great novels—characters, conflict, inner arc, plot, details.

Have any questions? Are there other methods that have worked for you? Please share so we all can learn. What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to plotting?

Check in on Wednesday for Blogging Part 3.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books!

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33 Comments

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