guidelines

Consistently Inconsistent OR Striving for Consistency

Success Golden Key - Public Domain image courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr

I am nothing if not consistently inconsistent. At least, that was my excuse. I used it all the time.  The ‘I have a family and a job’ excuse was helpful. So was the excuse, ‘I’m a slow writer.’ After I used those excuses, I beat myself up. I was a failure for not being consistent, for not making my writing goals. I went through this a circular reasoning day after day after year. Until I decided to change.

I’ve tried to change many, many times. And I’ve failed many, many times. This time I was determined to make it work. So I did some research—of course! The internet is full of well-meaning but useless advice.  I turned to some trusted experts: Marie Forleo, James Clear, Stephan James, Dean Anderson, and Henrik Edberg. From their insights, I’ve compiled a list of things essential for developing consistency.

Know Your Why

—Marie Forleo

Marie Forleo lists this as her number one key to being consistent. Being consistent over the long haul is hard work. She encourages you to have a clear compelling vision for what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. Knowing what and why makes it easier to stay focused on your goals.

Being Consistent

Isn’t The Same Thing As

Being Perfect.

—James Clear

Oh, boy howdy, did this one resonate with me! Some say I am obsessed with perfect. If you, too, are obsessed with perfect, it’s time to change your mindset.

No one is 100% consistent. Life happens. Surprise and change interrupt every intention. I used to think I must function at 100% or I’m not successful. So when something knocked me off course, I was a failure. I’d curl up in a metaphorical, if not physical, ball and quit trying because I was a failure. How did I overcome this?

Aim for mostly consistent. Choose an achievable percentage that means winning to you—80%, 85%, 90%, 95%. There will be days or weeks when you are 99% consistent, but there will also be times when you’re 80%, or less. Keep your eye on the average.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

—Henrik Edberg

How many times have you thought that you aren’t motivated enough to do this thing? Stop listening to that! Telling yourself you’re not motivated is giving away your power of choice. Lack of motivation is a way to say you had no choice. It is a choice, you know. But you have to choose to work on your goal every day.

So, when you have a “I don’t wanna—“ day, don’t listen. Train your brain to ignore that voice. Get up and do it anyway. Pay attention to how you feel at the end of the day. And those days when you choose not to be consistent, to do the thing. Pay attention to how you feel on those days, too. Learn from that.

Focus on the process. Love the process. Acknowledge the process is work, but don’t associate the work with negative thoughts. Negative thoughts will beget negative progress. After all, if you do something that causes you pain, why would you choose to keep doing it? I don’t know how many times I have heard a writer say, “I hate to write” or “I can’t write when X happens.” Change your mindset. Associate the process with positive feelings and you’ll want to repeat the process.

Have a Plan

Without a plan, you won’t succeed. Steven Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but schedule your priorities.” How you schedule is up to you. I have an allergy to rigid schedules, so I don’t schedule by hour. I schedule by day of the week.

Dean Anderson recommends building momentum slowly. For example, if you want to exercise more, plan for a ten minute session once a week. Do that for a while (at least three weeks), then increase it to two days a week. After you’ve worked that into your schedule, increase it to include another day or more time each day. The key is to move forward step-by-step.

Many experts recommend that you take 5-10 minutes each evening and make a plan for the next day. It’s a flexible way to schedule your priorities. I know that my days are much more successful when I choose to take that evening time and plan for the next day.

If you have trouble scheduling your priorities, ask yourself Edberg’s three questions. What is the most important thing I can do right now? Is doing this bringing me closer to my goal? Am I keeping things extremely simple right now?

HAVE A PLAN B

When Something Goes Wrong in Your Life Just Yell "Plot Twist1" and Move On by zerotalking.com

Plan B is for those days when life surprises you. This has been my downfall over and over. People who are not consistent usually fail to have a Plan B. Plan B would have saved me angst during our power outage last week. Yup, this is a habit I’ve not had as successful with, but I’m working on it. (Confession: My first thought was that I failed at this habit. I’m working at changing my mindset!)

Life is a work-in-progress. So is being consistent.

Tell me, about yourself. Do you struggle with consistency? What steps do you take to be consistent?

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this blog. And thanks, in advance, for sharing your thoughts.

Credits: When something goes wrong quote and image courtesy of zerotalking.com (TinEye attributes first use of this on August 6,2013 to shadowfax42.soup.io however, I found this on dated July3, 2013 on zerotalking.)

Public Domain image “Success Golden Key “by Animated Heaven courtesy Flickr

The Road to Success in 2012

curvy road ahead sign The web, magazines, even news and talk shows on TV tell you to make resolutions, but most resolutions fail so don't make resolutions, make goals. Then they proceed to tell you how to make goals. You could get whiplash just from reading the how-tos, not-tos, and must dos. Arg!

I'm not telling you to make or not make resolutions. Heck, if not setting goals works for you, go for it! But if you did set goals or resolutions last year and you did not get the results you wanted, do not make another goal or resolution. At least not until after you get some clarity. Get started with Tivi Jones of The Creativity Loft speaks blog post Seek Clarity. If you are feeling that you are not clear on who you are and what you want, clarity about those two things takes precedence over setting goals.

However, you can know who you are and where you want to go, but get lost on the trip. If your 2011 goals or resolutions didn't come to fulfillment it is imperative that you examine why those things didn't work before you make your list for 2012. If you had a long trip to make to a specific location, would you just take off and hope you'd get to your destination? No, you'd at least look at a map, choose a route, plan how long it would take, make certain the car had air in the tires, fill-up on gasoline, etc. So, think of your resolutions or goals as a road trip. Look at what you had planned for last year. What detours or rest stops did you take and why?

Were your goals dependent upon others? For example, if my goal had been for me to go to the gym with my husband or best friend three times a week, that's a goal that hinges on someone else cooperation. Or if my goal had been to have one of the big six publish my book by the end of 2010, those are goals that I cannot control. I can't make my best friend, nor even my husband, be ready to go to the gym with me, nor can I influence if a big six publisher will publish my book.

A better goal would have been that I would go to the gym three days a week. Or that I would send my manuscript to one of the big 6 publishers for consideration every three months. Or even I will read three books and the guidelines by each publisher under my consideration and evaluate if I think they would be a good match for me.

No left turn sign

Perhaps you were more like Dean Wesley Smith in that a life change created a temporary roadblock. Then in your evaluation of how you did last year, you take that life change under consideration. For example, the year we tried to remodel my kitchen, a 90 foot tall tree landed on my house, my husband had a 5-way cardiac by-pass followed by a stroke, and my goals did not get accomplished. The kitchen remodeling stopped cold and I got zero, nada, zip writing done in the last 6 months of that year. That meant I had to reevaluate what my goals were and adjust. In Dean's post Goals and Dreams 2012 Series he encourages you to have a plan as to how and when to start back writing. Based on my experience, that's a fantastic idea. Small, specific, achievable goals would have helped me negotiate that roadblock more easily.

Sometimes, the goal is set but you can't ever seem to get to the finish line. Did you get stuck in a ‘must be perfect loop’ never finishing your project? Or were you too tired, or not in the mood and so accomplished less than you had planned. If perfectionism or feelings get in your way of accomplishing what you'd like, read Kristin Lamb's take on 2012 and Planning for Success in the New Year.

Perhaps you had goals that were 'too big.' For example, your resolution to lose 50 pounds in three months is not only huge, it may not be safe to accomplish in that time period. Or if your goal had been to write the first draft of two novels and revise another novel AND you work a full-time job outside of writing, you have a family, or had a family need such as moving, new baby, etc., those goals may have been demanding too much of yourself. That's like trying to drive from Key West, Florida to Point Barrow, Alaska (approximately 5,500 miles or 8,800 km) without a pit stop. Take a look at this marathon runner's post on the danger of setting big goals and learn about his motto: Think Big, Act Small, Start Today.

Perhaps last year's goals or resolutions had an indefinite future. In this case, your road map may have taken you on multiple detours. See Coleen Patrick's post about indefinite future goals.

Vague goals like: I'll start blogging; I'll lose weight; I'll control my diabetes; or I'll take a trip to Australia when I have the money can set you up for roadblocks or long rest stops. These goals have the potential to be great goals, but you need to have a plan that is specific. For the blogging you could say I will read three books on blogging and follow 4 good blogs for three months to see how I can fit blogging into my life. Or for your diet you could say that for the next three months you will eat a salad at lunch and dinner 4 out of 7 days a week. Or I'll save X number of dollars per week for X weeks and take my trip to Australia in January of 2013. See more about how to make SMART goals in Marcy Kennedy's blog here.

If you need more help setting goals that are baby steps. Read about ROW80. This kind of goal setting allows for future needs. If in the next 12 months you have unplanned life events that turn everything sideways, or you learn something new, or you change your mind and want to pursue a different goal, you can adjust your goals in a positive way.

I don't know about you, but after reading all these wonderful posts, I'm going to spend the month of January looking at the goals I want to accomplish for 2012. I will clarify that each of those goals will carry me forward toward my dreams and I will take the long term goals and break them down into 80-90 day increments. This will give me a way to be prepared to reevaluate my goals throughout the year and make adjustments as needed.

Remember, the road to Success is NOT straight

Did 2011 go the way you planned? What roads will you be following to Success in 2012?

Re-Visioning Your Story

Lesson 1:    This week my Writing Wednesday post was inspired by all you NANOWRIMO participants (Congrats to all, no matter the word count). Today, I’m starting a series about the revision process.

Revision is probably the single most difficult thing a writer must do. Now, I know some of you are going to remind me that there are those who advise not to revise, except to editorial demand. I believe there are some writers out that who have so internalized the process that for them there is little or no revision needed. I’m not one of those writers . . . yet.

Am I an expert on revision? I don’t claim to be an expert. Or to know THE ONE WAY to revise. But, I have done a lot of revision – the wrong way. I have also read tons of how to write books and blogs, and taken more than a few classes. I’ve had a few stories published and I have taught a few writing classes. So I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.

Many experts say the best thing to do is let your manuscript cool before you begin to revise. How long you ask? As long as it takes, they say.

Can’t wait that long? That’s okay, but gear up for some hard work.

Preparation

Before you begin, put your life in order. Okay, not really, but you do need to have long stretches of uninterrupted time, a notebook or computer file for notes, a large stack of self-stick notes, and colored pens for marking up your manuscript.

Put your pencils down. Hey, you with the red pen! You, too. Not one pen scratch or computer key stroke should be made for a while. Just one correction of a typo and your mind will shift into edit mode. That will not be helpful at this stage. Put your reader’s cap on.

Now, put a copy of the manuscript in front of you. I prefer to have a printed manuscript for the first stages of revision. If you are one who can read the electronic screen and SEE what’s written, then go for it.

What do I mean by see? Multiple studies have shown that most people scan electronic information. All electronic information. And most of the time, that’s good enough. For revision purposes, scanning is not good enough.

In revision, you need to step back from your novel and analyze how well its parts work with all the other parts. Once you’ve analyzed how well (or not) the parts of your story work, you will be able to see where it needs improvement, re-Vision your story, and make all the parts of a strong story come together.

What parts, you say? Hook, Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict (aka Plot), Setting or World Building, and Resolution are the major parts I’ll be discussing in these posts. But there are addition parts like transitions, point of view, details, and identifying your reader that I will likely cover as well.

Okay, so you have printed your manuscript? Onward.

Just Read

Read your manuscript in one sitting. Read it as a reader would. Remember no writing, no corrections of any kind. Just read. Let the story wash over you, notice how it affects you emotionally but don’t write just yet.

Finished? Now you can pick up your pen and paper (or turn on the computer). Do not write on the manuscript. This information goes in your revision notebook or folder. Write down only what you FEEL. Some questions to get you going:
-What overall feeling did your story convey to you?
-How did the opening of the book make you feel?
-What feeling did you experience at the end of the book?
-What scenes made you feel so strongly that it formed pictures in your head that you can still see?
-What impressed you the most? (Yes, it’s okay to be impressed by your own writing.)
-Where did you disconnect from the story or characters?

If you’re like me, at this point you’re going holy inkblots! There are parts that you loved, but there are parts that you cringed while reading. That’s all right. It can all be fixed.

Focus Your Story

Before you can improve your writing you have to know where you went right and where you went wrong. You have to know story structure and you have to pull your book apart bit by bit.

So, if you’re ready to start, put your thinking cap on and write your overall story sentence. If you think the story you wrote is not what you had intended to write, write your story sentence for the story you want. It’s purpose is focus. You can’t hit a home run if you can’t see the ball.

The story sentence, if you recall, is a hook, a protagonist with a need verses an antagonist with a need in an interesting setting. If you need more information about the sentence, please read my article “The Best Writer’s Tool.” If you’ve already mastered the sentence and were smart enough to have one before you started your novel, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Analyzing Scenes

Again, before you can begin to analyze a scene, you need to have a definition of what a scene is.

According to Robert McKee in his excellent book, Story, “A scene is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life on at least one value with a perceptible significance.” Whew, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Can you analyze your story based on that? If you’ve read his whole book and understand what his terms are you can. But to me, it’s a little high concept.

Let’s try another definition. According to Donald Mass in Writing the Breakout Novel, “A well-constructed scene has a min-arc of its own: a beginning, rise and climax or reversal at the end.” That’s pretty good as far as the structure of a scene. But how do you put that together or take it apart?

The above definitions are all well and good, but my favorite definition of a scene was supplied by Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer. His definition is, “A scene is a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by character and reader. It’s a blow-by-blow of somebody’s time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition.” I would only add to that that the scene ends with a change – the character attains his goal (or not) or acquires information which propels him into the next scene. In other words, a scene consists of a viewpoint character making an effort to achieve an immediate goal in direct opposition with someone or something and that effort results in a change. Now that’s a definition I can sink my teeth into.

Now it’s time to analyze your scenes. For each and every scene in your book write down who the viewpoint character is, what the immediate goal is, who or what opposes that goal, and what change has occurred. Again, don’t fix anything. Don’t write on your manuscript. You are just looking at structure at this point.

It’s a slow, sometimes painful process. But trust me, it will help. It will identify weakness and strengths. It will inspire your muse to make your story stronger. If ideas on how to fix your story come to you at this point, make a note in your notebook – but keep moving forward.

Next week we’ll look at goals.

ETA: Additional posts on Re-visioning Your Story

Lesson 1: above

Lesson 2: : Are Your Character’s Goals Golden?

Lesson 3: Twist the Knife Slowly

Lesson 4: Do Your Characters Play Well with Others?

Lesson 5: As the Plot Turns

Lesson 6: Is There a Time and Place in Your Story?

Lesson 7: From the End to the Beginning

Lesson 8: Putting the Pieces Together

Two Secret Rules for Writers

All sorts of people, from experienced professionals to the newest of neophytes, offer up rules on how to write, what to write, the order of scenes, types of characters, rules about rules for every flavor of writing from nonfiction to flash fiction.  The rules offered by one author are often contradicted by the rules of another.  The writer searches and sorts through all of this as if there is a secret out there that once unveiled will lead him down a petal-strewn path to a shiny finished manuscript and a publication contract.

The secret rule is:   

There is no secret.  Nor is there one, right path to publication.  The only real rules to writing are those of grammar, syntax, and editor guidelines.  And even those rules can be broken, if you have an understanding of what you are doing and why.

Is there harm in reading the advice of others?  Possibly.  If your attempt to “follow the rules” drowns your muse in the overload of information, freezes her in the quandary between opposing rules, or blocks her with rules that don’t apply.

I propose that as you immerse yourself in the “how-to” books and articles that you will undoubtedly seek out, make two hard and fast rules.

Rule one: The story trumps all rules.

There are all kinds of good books and articles out there on how to write a story, I won’t rehash any of that in this article.  But there is very little out there to help the budding novelist sort the wheat from the shaft.  That brings us to:

Rule two: All how-to advice is one of two things: a guideline or a tool.

A tool is any method by which you can help yourself discover the novel within.  A writer needs many tools in order to achieve a strong, well-written final draft.  You, the writer, get to pick and choose which tools you need and when you need them.

A guideline is a principle that sets an indication of a course of action as opposed to a rule which is a principle governing conduct, action, procedures, etc.  The difference is huge.

Rules confine you to one course of action. Guidelines give you boundaries and limitations in order to achieve a goal, but do not force your muse on down a particular line.  And just as with tools, the writer decides which guidelines apply to his story.  How do you decide which guidelines to use?  That’s a post for another day.  In the meantime, find tools and guidelines that allow your muse to play and be creative.

It’s not a secret — develop a selection of tools and guidelines and free your muse to write the best story you can.