Goals Check-in: Never Surrender!

BC2010 Holiday Aug4_10 067So, I’m not great with math, but even I know that seeing as February is coming to a close, we’re about 1/6 of the way through 2013. Which leads to my check-in. How are the goals coming along?

You did set some goals right?  Have you taken a look at them since you last wrote them down?

Here’s the thing: making goals is excellent. KEEPING and ACHIEVING goals is much better.  So come on, go find those goals you set and take a look. Don’t worry, I’ll wait ….

…..

Okay. Back yet?

It shouldn’t have been too difficult for you to find those goals. Ideally, they should be somewhere you can see them regularly. Well, how have you been doing so far? Not so hot? Do you feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon? Have you already resolved to stick to goals next year … or maybe when it’s easier? Or maybe, like me, some goals you’ve been doing well on, while others have languished.

Here’s the thing: it’s a new month. Tomorrow is a new day. You can start over whenever you feel like.

 

“Stumbling is not falling.” – Portuguese Proverb

 

 

 

So. 1/6 through the year. Look over your goals. Is that still the direction you want to head? By all means, abandon those which really don’t work – but don’t do it hastily. Instead, give it another try. Stick to it. You can do it – I know you will. And then, when you’ve accomplished these, you get to make NEW goals next year, and wouldn’t that be nice instead of the same ones over and over?

 

How do you stick to your goals? Or conversely, what makes you slip-up?

 

Good luck. Good for you to keep trying. And thanks for reading.

 

Constructive Yet Kind Critique: 10 Tips for Effective Critique

By the time  you read this, I’ll have gone wedding dress shopping with my soon-to-be-sister-in-law. Which made me think about critique.

Here’s the thing: I believe all critique must try to strike the right balance between kindness and compassion … and telling it like it is. Too kind (sometimes known as “rubber-stamp critiques”), and it’s meaningless for the other person (beyond an empty ego-boost). Too harsh, and you crush egos and hurt feelings (and if you want to be THAT harsh, you may want to consider the motives behind it – are you trying to hurt someone’s feelings? to prove something?).

Anyhoo, here are my 10 Tips for Effective Critique – whether we’re talking working with a critique partner on your writing, or possibly going wedding dress shopping with your future relation.

  1. Clearly outline expectations. This comes first because, from hard-won experience, I learned how important this is. Try to understand and establish how the critique relationship is going to work. What are the expectations from both sides? Goals? Level of critique required or desired? Frequency? Give yourself a starting point.
  2. Acknowledge and then try to leave personal prejudices and goals out. We all have a past which leads to certain dislikes, habits, weaknesses, strengths, and preferences. Be up front about it, but don’t let them tarnish the critique. Do you hate wrestlers and your CP has just written a whole book about them? Have you always hated V-neck dresses and that’s what your friend is trying on? Try to look past your own feelings and goals, instead working to help the other person, not yourself. If you fear not being able to get past yourself, acknowledge it so the other person can possibly temper your critique based on the information.
  3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Yes, this means don’t belittle the other person or make them feel terrible since probably, you wouldn’t want to be treated that way. But it also means putting their goals in the forefront instead of your own. Does your friend want to look like a princess? Great – help her do it. Does your CP want to write the best vampire erotica ever? Great – help her do it. Remember that just as you’ve sought out critique to achieve your best – and push you to your best – the other person has too: help them achieve their goals.
  4. Be honest. If there’s a problem, make note of it. Not telling your sister she looks fat in a dress or your CP that the entire opening of their book is boring if that’s what you honestly believe, well, you’re not helping anyone. That said, honest doesn’t have to be mean. Consider tact when stating your concerns. Something like: “I really like your main character, but I’m finding the opening a bit slow” is easier to stomach than “I could hardly stay awake for the first three pages.” Having established expectations early on, you and your partner will know what’s acceptable – but they still need to hear the truth.
  5. Ask questions. Sometimes this helps to establish expectations. Sometimes it can point out weaknesses, direct the partner to problem-areas, and help to direct the critique. Is something unclear? Do you wonder why a particular authorial choice was made? Is your cousin really comfortable wearing a neon-pink dress down to her ankles? Ask questions an gain more information to assist in the critique.
  6. Emphasize the positive. While you’re busy pointing out what’s wrong, make sure you remember to point out what’s good! Sometimes this will be easier than at other times, but remember that just as nothing is perfect, nothing is probably that terrible either. Look for the positive points, the things you like – even if small – and make sure you shine a spotlight on those.
  7. Edit your comments. Especially true for any kind of written correspondence or critiques for other writers, I strongly recommend going back through and re-reading your own comments. Watch out for excessive sarcasm, annoyance, cruelty (intentional or not), or unnecessary notations.
  8. Take your time. Think before you speak, and take your time in giving your opinion – taking into consideration all of the above. Is what you’re saying necessary? Is it helpful? Is there a way you can be more helpful (ie: instead of just giving criticisms, offer suggestion for possible improvement)?
  9. Give it your best effort. No one is right all the time, and you may not be an expert. But, you’ve been asked for your honest opinion and critique, and that’s what you need to give to the best of your abilities. This means putting real effort and work into the critique and not sloughing it off: you want better than that, and your partner deserves the same.
  10. Be willing to be wrong, or ignored. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter. Understand that you give your best effort for a critique, and sometimes it will find fertile ground, sometimes it will be ignored, and that’s okay. It’s only your opinion, and whoever asked for the critique is allowed to accept or dismiss it. Give your best, and then let it go with a smile. That’s all you can do.

Have I missed anything crucial? Do share!

Hoping your critiques are well received, and my soon-to-be-sister finds a terrific gown. Thanks for reading, and have a great week. 🙂

Serenity … I’m working on it

scotland2007-390.jpgWith a new year, I seem to want to run all different directions and start seven billion new projects. I don’t know … maybe it’s like seeing a fresh patch of snow and wanting to run through and leave your footprints. A new year, all that time, all that space … evidently I need to fill it up with more things than I could ever manage. The problem with this is that running around metaphorically in my head leaves me grasping for straws when it comes to writing. It means I lack clarity and focus.

And then I found this quote in, interestingly, my very clever day-planner calender (yes, an object is evidently more clever than me).

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.” – Anonymous

Let it soak in for a moment as I did. And then realize how foolish it is to think you can’t focus because of the internal chaos and noise. What was I waiting for? Silence? If my brain was completely silent, completely still, I’d be dead.

Besides which, serenity is internal. It’s as self-created as the chaos is. WE decide when and how we will feel and experience serenity. WE create it in our minds, by hollowing out a quiet part, or learning to push all the rest of the obnoxious chatter aside. And as we sit down to create – whether that’s writing or some other kind of art – we reach for that inner serenity, and we control and utilize it at will.

Sounds “easy,” right?

In a lot of ways, it is. The ideally timed quote stopped me in the tracks and made me realize how much I was running myself in circles. But there are other ways we can find serenity. Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

  1. Create something with your hands that occupies you physically, but requires little mental focus. The act of that creation – and the small amount of thought that requires – quiets the noise in your head, thus freeing you to think more calmly with the rhythm of the activity. For me, crocheting and spinning are both extremely calming because I’m using my hands and my mind, but the rhythm of the activity lets my thoughts quietly cascade and I can consider a problem from all angles without stress.
  2. Take a walk (or a run, if that’s more your style). Lift your head up and experience the present of the moment you’re in. Let your footsteps guide the pace of your thoughts and calm you. Either that, or burn off excess stress-energy with something more vigorous.
  3. Write it down. I am perhaps the least consistent of journalists, but when something is distracting me, writing it down – every annoying thought that keeps distracting you or keeping you awake at night, and then physically and intentionally setting it aside does seem to help. Nope, you don’t even need a fancy book – type it on your laptop, or scribble on a scrap of paper. It’s just about getting it out of you and somewhere else.
  4. Take a bath or shower. I don’t have the patience for sitting around in a tub of water (yes, this may be a symptom of not being very good at relaxing either). However, I find hot water, steam, and privacy help me think – it’s where I often come up with my best ideas and solutions. It seems to have something to do with the water, so swimming or perhaps spending time near a lake or ocean might work, too.
  5. Quietly experience nature. I’m fortunate enough to live outside a city and near a lake, though I don’t often walk down there. Just going into the backyard, listening to the bees and other critters, smelling the flowers, etc. It sounds like a cliche, but it is calming in the way so much happens in nature all the time, and yet it’s never “stressed” – it just is.
  6. If all else fails, find somewhere to scream your frustration aloud … and accidentally be witnessed by someone like a small child, who looks at you like you’re an idiot, and you realize you might be. If nothing else, it usually makes you smile.

So, how do you find serenity? Is it a place inside of you, or out? Or is serenity the last thing you want? Love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

How to Celebrate the Joy and Success of Others

I’ve recently realized something: I’m better at dealing with people when they’re down than when they’re happy.

It’s a strange thing to think about. But I’m quite good at offering sound advice, helping loved ones plan a way out of the hole they feel trapped in. That I’m great at. But when things are really great? When something wonderful has happened to them? The words sound hollow and chunky to my ears. “Congratulations” just doesn’t convey what I want to say. It’s the same when I meet someone – say another author at a book signing who I really admire. What do you say without gushing they’re the best author  you’ve ever read – which probably isn’t true anyway (the more wonderful the author I read, I’m likely to pick up someone just as good or better the next time – that’s why it’s so hard to have just one favorite!).

So … how do you congratulate and compliment someone and be sincere about it? Okay, here’s what I have so far …

  1. Be Specific. Instead of just “congratulations” or “that looks great on you,” explain a little, make it matter and try to convey your sincerity with the “why.” It also backs up the compliment and makes it matter more. Why was this the best book you ever wrote? Why do they look nice today?
  2. Don’t be phony. If the person’s speech was terrible, complimenting them on it will probably sound insincere because it is. Instead, is there something you can compliment them on? Coming out? Volunteering? Other achievements?
  3. Make it about the person and their success, not you. It can be hard to offer congratulations to someone who’s just achieved what you haven’t been able to yet, or when you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps. BUT, celebrating your loved ones success can make their achievement that much sweeter. Later, they’ll listen to your problems. But first, celebrate the good times, and who knows? Maybe it will help you forget the bad.
  4. Don’t have a hidden agenda. Don’t just be kind to get something (ie: an author to promote your book, or your husband to buy you something, etc). Be kind for it’s own sake: it will make someone else feel good, and it will make you feel good, too.
  5. Give kindness to someday receive it. Okay, that sounds really, horribly selfish, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: I sincerely believe we receive back what we put into the world … you know, cosmic balance and stuff. And if something great happens to you, you’d want to celebrate, right? So give and allow that same joy to whoever you’re congratulating.
  6. Don’t cloud the joy. If you’re a bit of a cynic, like me, it can be easy to see that a small success isn’t the end of the road, and there will always be hard times ahead. BUT, unless you remember to enjoy the good bits, how do you think you’ll manage to get through the bad? Let the other details go, and savor the pleasure of joy. It can be far too fleeting.

Okay. That’s all I have. And I’m still not sure if it’s enough. Any advice? How do you help celebrate success and achievements? How do you spread joy and kindness during the good times?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!