Do You Cut Corners and Settle for the Easy Win?

I’ve never been motivated by the easy win.

It used to drive my gym teacher crazy. Whatever team sport we’d play during phys ed, I hardly ever tried to score even though I was one of the best athletes in my school. I didn’t see the point of scoring against kids who could barely dribble the ball. I got a bigger kick out of helping them make that basket or sink the ball between the goal posts.

The same thing happened in class. I would never answer easy questions unless I absolutely had to. I’d only raise my hand when a juicy problem would come up, when there was a chance I might be wrong. Again, teachers seemed baffled by this attitude.

In both cases, it always amazed me that my teachers could not see what I was doing. When actual game time came along or exams popped up, I never fooled around with scoring and getting all those right answers in. Because then, it mattered.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m attracted to writing. There’s nothing easy about it. And there’s no guarantee of success either.

Starting a book doesn’t mean you’ll finish it. I should know. I have several unfinished manuscripts to prove the point.

Finishing a book doesn’t guarantee it will find a publisher. Again, I have many orphans in my files.

Publishing a book doesn’t automatically ensure it will get read, bring fame, or even stay in print for long. One of my books survived for less than one month before the publisher unexpectedly decided to close up shop.

No, there’s nothing easy about writing. But there’s nothing that could bring me more joy, pride, and satisfaction either.

If you like easy wins then maybe writing is not for you. But then again, it doesn’t need to remain a struggle. If you’re not making the progress you desire, then it’s a sure sign you need to change your game plan.

Start by answering these questions honestly:

  • Are you putting enough time into your writing?
  • Are you keeping up with market news?
  • Are you querying, pitching, and submitting regularly?
  • Are you learning continuously?

Just because you’re a part-time writer doesn’t give you a free pass to skip the steps necessary to succeed. Sure, you may not have as much time as some other writers do, but it’s not a valid excuse to cut corners.

A friend of mine publishes at least one novel a year. He teaches full-time, has three kids, and is involved in various causes and activities. He certainly hasn’t skipped any steps to reach this level of success. I bet he’s not motivated by the easy win either.

What about you? Will you settle for the easy win—or take a chance, invest in your dream and become the writer and person you want to be? The choice is all yours.

Are You Sticking to Your Plan?

Wow, it’s already February! How did your first month go? Are you sticking to your plan or is the shine of the new year already wearing off? This month is super important—even more so than the last. Take some time now to review the fabulously inspiring goals you made in January.

Start by taking a look at what’s been working so far and what totally bombed. The first is easy, but the second requires a bit more thought. You’ll want to ask yourself a few questions to figure out what went wrong:

  • Why did this goal fail to move forward?
  • Did I give it enough time and attention?
  • Is this goal something I really want to work on and achieve?
  • Should I keep it or replace it with something else?

When writing part-time, it’s easy to overreach and fail. But worse is to keep chugging along, struggling with things that don’t work and keep failing until you’re tempted to give it all up.

In my case, on the third week of January, I noticed a couple of flaws in my monthly tracker (a system I use to make sure I’m working on the right tasks-see previous post). Some of these tasks included various forms of writing such as magazine pieces and book manuscripts. But because I spent a great deal of time studying markets, I didn’t do that much actual writing. I discovered that it’s really easy to get carried away when studying markets. The deeper I dug, the more markets that popped up. I got distracted even more by creating lists to keep track of them all.

This means my tracker looked pretty empty even though I hadn’t been slacking off. To fix this, I added an extra row in my February tracker for market study. This should help me better balance my time between the two so that I get more writing done.

Another thing that came to light as I reviewed the previous month was that I needed to plan my days better in order to make the most of my tracker. So the very first row of my February tracker is reserved for daily planning. It acts as a reminder for me to take a few minutes the night before and decide what tasks I need to work on to move me towards my goals. This way, I don’t waste valuable time the next day wondering what to work on or get sidetracked working on things that may be fun or interesting but that won’t take me in the right direction.

As the weeks go by, I expect to be doing a lot of adjustments to my monthly trackers. That’s the beauty of this system, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Ready for 2017? Reach Your Goals!

Like most of you, I have spent a lot of my free time this month pondering my goals for next year and how best to accomplish them. I’m a fantastic list maker, but seeing them through to completion is always a challenge. My biggest problem is that I can’t predict what will happen in one day, let alone an entire year!

So I dug around in my writing toolbox and here’s what I came up with.

First, the lists. I started off by jotting down all the things I would like to work on or see happening in 2017. I then separated these into two lists: professional and personal goals.

For my professional goals, I shuffled the items on my list and grouped them into three main categories: landing more writing gigs, maximizing my two websites, and expanding my social media presence. All of which, I hope, will lead to my main objective: a substantial increase in my income for 2017. I then analyzed each category and trimmed it down to those items which I felt would help me reach this objective.

The next step involved figuring out how to make each one of my goals a reality. The thing about goals is that unless they are paired with concrete actions, they’ll very likely never see the light of day. As I dug around in my writing toolbox, I pulled out my monthly trackers and decided to see if I could adapt them to propel me forward.

Monthly trackers are extremely popular with fans of bullet journals. They’re basically charts used for tracking activities or habits. The first column contains a list of actions you wish to keep track of. The following columns are numbered to reflect each day of the month. So, let’s say you wanted to track the days you spend promoting yourself on Facebook every month, you would add a check mark or colour in a square for each day that you did. Here’s a picture of what I mean.

goals monthly tracker

This particular tracker contains both professional and personal goals and starts in the middle of the month. The ones I’m working on right now for January will contain one page for professional goals and another for personal goals and will cover the entire month. My professional goals tracker will list specific actions that I feel will help me reach my overall objective. And by colouring in each day that I complete an action, I will have a clear visual guide to ensure I move in the right direction. By the time we near the end of January, I’ll use my tracker to help me plan for February and so on. Maybe I’ll notice that some actions work beautifully while others need to be modified or changed completely. But whatever happens, I’ll be able to adjust as needed so that by the end of the year there’s an excellent chance I’ll have reached my main objective.

Now excuse me while I go finalize my trackers before January 1st comes along!

Keep Track of Your Progress With a Writing Diary

When you’re writing part-time it can be difficult to judge if you’re making progress or stagnating. Everything seems to take longer to get done. And if your interests are varied, you’ll probably have lots of projects at different stages of completion. As you hop from one to the next, you may start to feel that you’re not getting anywhere at all.

For me progress comes when I do two things: write regularly and submit regularly.

Of course the writing process involves much more than that, such as brainstorming, researching, planning, outlining, keeping up with industry news, promoting, networking, and taking classes. But if I stop producing new words and submitting on a regular basis, my progress slows down or comes to a complete standstill.

Sure, life happens. On any given day, countless things pop out of nowhere to interfere with my progress. I can make as many excuses as I want, but it won’t change the fact that I’m not writing, not submitting, and definitely not moving forward.

So how do you keep the momentum going to make sure you’re making progress with your writing career? One thing I started to do at the beginning of the year was to keep a writing diary. It helps me see exactly what I accomplish each month. Using a spreadsheet, I make an entry each day that I do something related to writing.

A quick look at my diary shows me exactly what I spent my writing time on, when I made the most progress and when I didn’t. Some months are packed full while others are embarrassingly bare. Usually those bare months of writing and submitting are also my most productive for translating. Some might argue that translating is a form of writing so I should include it in my diary. Although that’s technically true, I prefer to keep the two separate as it would be very easy for me to fill all of my writing time with translations.

HERE’S A SIMPLE WAY TO MAKE YOUR OWN WRITING DIARY USING A SPREADSHEET:

Column 1 – Date (today’s date)
Column 2 – Submitted (number of queries or manuscripts sent out today)

Column 3 – Accepted (number of queries or manuscripts accepted today)
Column 4 – What I Did Today (short description of each writing task accomplished, add the time you started and finished each one if you like)
Column 5 – $ Earned (money earned from work accepted)
Column 6 – $ Received (money received from work completed)

My writing diary helps me have a more balanced life. It ensures my translating and library work each have their own space and allows me to make adjustments so they don’t overly encroach on or totally take over my writing time.

Curious to see what a writing diary might do for you? Then give it a try! You can then come back here at any time and let me know in the comments below if it made an impact on your writing progress.

Meanwhile, make sure to keep writing and submitting!

Blasting Writer’s Blues

Hi, I’m back!

I came down with the flu during the last week of September and was sick for most of October. Now, I’m not one to complain. I always try to look at the positive side of things. But in this case, it’s been a real challenge. Aside from the occasional migraine, I rarely get ill. But this whopper really floored me. In fact it caused me to suffer from writer’s blues as well.

What is writer’s blues and how do you get it? I describe it as losing the will to write. It can strike at any moment and can be quite devastating. For me, it usually occurs after an illness or prolonged energy drain.

When I finally recuperated from the flu, I discovered I had lost my writing drive. Instead of coming home from my library job eager to start working on a writing project, I found myself tackling cleaning chores instead. A house can get pretty messy when you stop looking after it for a few weeks, so it’s not as if I was wasting my time. But did I really need to clean all the hidden cupboards that no one ever goes into?

While my house looked better with each passing day, I was no closer to fixing my writing dilemma. Running out of things to clean and feeling slightly panicky, I forced myself to step into my office and sit at my desk. I stared at my laptop for a while but couldn’t be bothered to turn it on. I really, truly, absolutely didn’t feel like it. Gazing around the room, I found myself staring at a pile of magazines that I had saved over the years to study. Curious to see how old they actually were, I got up to find out. Turns out most of them were more than ten years old! These definitely had to go. As I sorted through the lot and made piles for the recycle bin, I found my spirits lifting. Nothing like a bit of cleaning to get me out of the dumps.

Over the next few days, I ended up cleaning my office from top to bottom. In the process, I found lots of scribbled ideas tucked away in various places. As I read each note, I was surprised to find quite a few good ones. The writing buzz slowly stirred back to life as I collected my ideas and placed them all together on my desk.

The funny thing is that I actually have idea folders in my filing cabinet, but I rarely go through them. They are squeezed in among other important documents and easily disappear from sight. I decided to take them out and give them a place of honour in their own special spot next to my desk. Now whenever I sit at my computer, I see all these ideas just waiting to be developed to their full potential. I’m glad to say that my interest is back full force and that I am happily writing again.

Does that mean you should clean your office if you find yourself suffering from writer’s blues? Not necessarily.

HERE’S SOME OF THE THINGS I’VE DONE IN THE PAST TO BLAST WRITER’S BLUES:
  • Reading inspirational books
  • Rereading my favourite books on writing
  • Treating myself to a beautiful journal and colourful pens
  • Doodling and drawing with markers, crayons, coloured pencils, paint
  • Making lists of things that make me happy
  • Meditating or practicing deep breathing
  • Kicking a soccer ball or shooting some hoops
  • Doing something crazy or unusual and writing down my experiences
  • Writing a short piece in a new genre or form
  • Cooking up a storm and coming up with new recipes

You get the idea! Just do whatever you feel you need to do. The important thing is not to give up. You may need to be creative to get back your writing groove but most of all, be patient with yourself. It’ll come back. Promise!

How to Control Your Schedule

How do you control your schedule? It took me quite a while to answer that one. Fixed schedules don’t work at all for me. I wish they did. They would certainly have saved me a lot of grief over the years. I tried using professional planners with entries for each hour of the day and night, pretty agendas with words of inspiration printed on each page, calendars with extra large squares to write in daily tasks, and electronic versions of each that sent me helpful reminders every single second. Unfortunately, none of these have ever done me any good.

The problem is that if I tell myself I must do a particular task at a specific time, one of two things happens: my brain rebels and refuses to cooperate, or something unexpectedly comes up to change my plan altogether. Then I invariably end up feeling like a total failure for not sticking to THE SCHEDULE.

If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Put aside your agenda for now and try the following technique.

STEP 1

Rather than adhering to a strict schedule, I jot down what I wish to accomplish today, this week, next month or even for the rest of the year. Then I break these down into smaller doable bits and chunks.

Yesterday for example, I decided I wanted to get the following tasks done and that they might take roughly this much time:

  • Translation – 2 hours
  • Write this post – 2 hours
  • Work on a beginning reader story – 1 hour
  • Workout – 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Call the plumber – 5 minutes

Total: about 6 hours.

Before going to bed, I looked at my list. It was more than I usually attempt in one day. I knew there was a better chance of me getting through it if I finished at least one of these tasks before I went to my library job. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee I would be able to drag myself out of bed before my usual time of 7 am. The thing is I’m not a morning person. Although I naturally wake up around 5 am, if my brain doesn’t latch on to some weird or worrisome thought I happily drift back to sleep for another couple of hours. So for me to get any work done that early in the morning mostly depends on whether I can coax myself into doing so. This is where the next crucial step of my technique comes in.

STEP 2

I give myself options.

Since I don’t like to do things when I feel forced to (does anyone?) I give myself as many options as possible. So looking at my list, I figured out that if I managed to wake up — and stay awake — at 5 am, I could tackle either the translation or this blog post. If not, I could aim for 6 am and do my workout or write my beginning reader story. As for the plumber, I could simply call him later in the day (I doubt he would have happily answered my call that early anyway).

So, how did things turn out? Amazingly, I did manage to work from 5 to 7 am (I chose the translation). When I came home in the middle of the afternoon, I called the plumber and started this blog post. I stopped halfway through to do my workout, then resumed the blog post where I left off. After getting that out of the way, I took a short break for dinner then jumped into my beginning reader story. Yes, it was a very full day — but a very happy one, too. I loved feeling that I had total control over my schedule instead of it controlling me!

The Pampered Writer

I admit it. I’m a pampered writer. I never write unless the conditions are just about perfect. Fortunately for me, they nearly always are. How do I manage that? Fairly easily as it turns out. You see, my brain knows my weak points and loves to take advantage of them. So I’ve learned to bypass my weaknesses by giving myself what I need to make my writing time as productive as possible, no matter what.

Take the weather for instance. It was really hot this week, but I’m not complaining. I love being hot – both literally and figuratively! Actually, this is when I do my best writing. It’s also why I’m about a thousand times more productive in the summer. Unfortunately, summers are not that long in my part of the world. There are many more cold days than hot ones. The worst is that in-between period, when summer has ended but it’s not really cold enough to turn on the heating or start a fire in the wood stove. Every room has a damp feel to it that seems to seep through my clothes and right into my bones, especially on cloudy days. Getting out of bed from my cocoon of warm blankets in the morning is absolute torture. And just the idea of sitting still to write in those conditions is torture times a hundred!

As much as I would like to, I can’t hibernate for three quarters of the year. So what’s a writer to do?

HERE’S SOME OF THE TRICKS I USE:

For those misery-inducing cold days, I use a heating pad. I can plug it anywhere for instant heat. Wool socks are great, too. If my feet are toasty, it’s easier to keep the rest of my body warm. I even have special writing gloves with the finger tips open for easy typing.

But for those rare days when it’s too hot even for me, a wet towel works wonders. I simply soak it in cold water for a minute, then wring it out and wrap it around my head and shoulders for cool relief. Frozen treats are marvellous, too!

Once the ambient temperature is taken care of, my brain will start complaining about my surroundings. I have a great home office, but if I have already spent several hours sitting at a desk at my library job, followed by more desk work in my own office doing translations, then the chances of me doing any writing in there are nonexistent. So, I’ve made my writing portable. I went all out with the pampering here by getting myself both a laptop and a tablet. Except for the shower, I can write pretty much anywhere.

But then, my brain tried to trick me again: Sure, go ahead and write outside on your lounge chair! Let’s see how long you last after you’ve had to make thirty-six trips back to your office to get something you need! In answer to that, I made myself a writing bag. It follows me wherever I flop down to write. When I hurt my foot recently, it came really handy. As I could neither sit at my desk nor keep dashing back and forth to grab what I needed from my office, I simply stretched out on the couch with an ice pack on my foot. Then with my tablet in hand and my writing bag on the floor next to me, I was all set. What do I keep in there? Everything that I use the most or can’t do without. This includes a fully-equipped pencil case, notepad, important files, thesaurus, market guide, three-ring binders containing book outlines for manuscripts I’m working on, and even an emergency pair of socks (because you never know when the temperature will suddenly drop). It can get pretty messy in there if I keep adding to it, not to mention heavy and bulky! So once in a while I empty it out and make sure that what goes back in is truly necessary.

By ensuring I always have all I need to write, I effectively cut off any excuse the wimpy part of my brain might possibly find to trick me into skipping my writing session. Plus, it’s fun to be a pampered writer.

What do you need to write? Go ahead, pamper yourself!

P.S. If you’re one of those people who have difficulty indulging yourself, see this as investing in your writing career.