Cages

A pig face looking frankly at you and telling you that you don’t belong in a cage!

How often have you experienced the kind of overwhelm that comes from feeling that there are so many things you “should” be doing, and that list is so long, you end up paralyzed and end up doing nothing?

I recently finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. She talks about how the cages that society creates for us leave us trapped and stifled, often trying to live definitions of ourselves that come from outside of ourselves. (This is definitely paraphrasing. Go read the book yourself to see what I’m trying to get at. )

Anyway, today after reading something from a friend who’s definitely feeling that overwhelm, it made me think: how many of those cages, especially as writers, are we creating for ourselves?

I mean, yes, there are definitely things that we have to do as writers – write books or write something for other people to read being, likely, the number one thing. But other than that, it feels like so many of the definitions of things we “must” and “should” do is a proscribed list that if we actually obeyed it, we’d have no time whatsoever for a life outside of work… and probably no time to write either.

I do wonder if this is perhaps worse among female author-preneurs, or if it’s prevalent everywhere, but if you’re a writer looking to publish and sell your books, you’ve probably heard of some of the things I mean.

  • You have to be on every social media account that has and will ever be (come on, aren’t you signed up yet for the one that won’t exist until 2023??)
  • You should be active on all of those social media accounts too (but be fresh! Just be you! Keep it real… as you force yourself to follow all of this advice.)
  • You must be constantly building relationships with every person out there (forget actual relationships … or, like, family. Nope. No time for that if you’re doing what you “should” be doing.)
  • Make sure you’re making ads for all of those social media accounts, sell, sell, sell, … but gentle sell, not spam sell.
  • Plus make sure you’ve got ads running on all the platforms (because if you’re making less than $2k a month, you’re a failure!)
  • Have you spent thousands of dollars on classes that promise you THIS is the right answer to make you a millionaire and selling millions of a books a day? (Come on, you didn’t think you actually had time to do things, like, write, did you? And wave to your family through your office doors… if you still have one.)

On and on it goes, and you know what? I’m going to stop, because it’s stressing me out.

And it’s driving me nuts. All of it. And I know it’s driving lots of other authors nuts too.

You want to know the real secret?

There is NO secret.

Nope. Sad, isn’t it? Yep, I was looking for it too… along with possibly the drafting or editing fairies that help get books done when things aren’t going well. But, they don’t exist any more than the perfect formula to sell all those books – no matter how much that workshop costs. Game the system? Sure, you can follow those examples, buy up case loads of your own book and “buy” your way onto the lists. You CAN do a lot of things. But what works for Lizzy P. Author may not work the same for you.

You’re not her.

You’re YOU.

And yes, let me pause and insert here that not all advice is bad advice. Do I take workshops, try to keep learning, try to keep improving in both my writing craft and the business side of my career? Absolutely. Is there lots of great advice and information out there? Yep. That too. Are there many things we can do to tweak our marketing / get better at the business / get better at our craft? Yes, indeed, and there are a few specific ones on my list all the time.

My objection comes when all that advice, when all the things you “should do” stretch into the bars of a cage. When you’re so hemmed in by all those “shoulds” that you feel like you can’t breathe, let alone write the next word, the next sentence, or hardest of all, the next book.

I’ve been there. I fall into that cage every so often. Was there yesterday, as a matter a fact, when all my emails seemed to be screaming at me to “just do this to double your sales” or “just keep up this to guarantee search engine results” and so on. These were legit blogs I follow too, because I usually appreciate their advice. It got me so depressed, I did the bare minimum of words, but tried nothing else, too exhausted by all the “shoulds” that I had to focus on the “could.”

That’s what I usually come back to. What could or CAN I do? What do I WANT to do? And what do I really NEED?

Yesterday, I needed to recharge so I don’t get burned out. I needed to remember there is more to my life than writing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes we get terrific advice, but we need to be wise enough to recognize when it isn’t the right advice for us. Perhaps it won’t ever be right, perhaps it just isn’t right because of where we are financially / personally / emotionally / whatever. But it’s up to you to stand up for YOU. To recognize that feeling when your chest tightens, your shoulders tense, and the whole world is demanding more and more, or something is telling you that it just isn’t right for you… just tell that advice “no.” (You’re welcome to use stronger language and swears. Swears are fun. 🙂 I’m just trying to be polite.) 😉

Sometimes maybe you’ll need to sit with that feeling for a little while, think about where that resistance to the advice or next “should” is coming from. Maybe it’s child-you deep inside that’s stubbornly insisting “No, I don’t wanna!” And sometimes you need to tell child-you inside that it’s okay, we can still do scary things that will just make us stronger. So sometimes you try some of those things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But you pick and choose which of those things you try. Ignore the others. Cut down on the blogs and other input you take in that feeds into that stress and fills your head with Shoulds. Connect with people in your field and outside of it, people who care about you, that can help pull you back from the madness of trying to do all the things all the time. You don’t let the Should-Army flatten you down and stop you from doing what you need to do.

And if you’re a writer, you need to write.

You’ll do that too at your own pace, in your own way. You’ll find ways to reclaim and hold tight to the joy of pure creation that is the work, that is writing, because there are days when it won’t feel that way. But you, you will write.

Because you are a writer. And you are free.

Taking Stock of the Year

So you’ve survived yet another year. YAY! Glad you’re still with us. 😉

And at this time of year, it’s only suitable to start to look back and consider the year. Remember those goals you were supposed to write down at the beginning of the year? Yep, those ones. Go drag them out now, hmm? I’ll wait.

(waiting. Tapping fingers. Playing with iPad.)

Back? Excellent. Now, take a deep breath, close your eyes for a minute, and start to read back over your goals. DO NOT jump to your first conclusion of “gee, I didn’t get this done … or this … or this.”

Instead, check off the things you DID achieve. There are at least one or two in there, right? Maybe expand on it a little, going over how you achieved it, maybe padding the achievement a bit. Did you only get one book written? Yes, but this was exceptional circumstances, and it’s now the best book you’ve ever written, with blood and tears,  a steep learning curve, and the potential for bleeding fingers. Did you achieve some of those bigger goals? Woohoo! Celebrate and be happy (though you were celebrating those things at the time, right?)

Now it’s time to start a new list. Write down what you DID achieve this year. If you want to stick to career only goals, or if you want to branch out to all areas of your life, write it down. Did you learn a new language? Paint your house? Do something you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe celebrated a milestone, or completely changed your life with a new child, a marriage, a move, etc.

Now add this to the original list. And take stock. It’s strange to see an entire year summed up that way, and it’s very easy to forget some of the things we have achieved, especially if we’re focused on the negative or perhaps mired in a bad mood at the time we look at the list. And while it can be easy to say it was a “bad” year, or “hard,” guess what buttercup? Most years are. Because that’s how life is, and it’s why our victories seem all the sweeter. So remember gratitude and the wonderful things you’ve experienced this year, and all that life has brought you. And then get ready, set, go, because a new year is about to come, and it’s ripe with potential and waiting for you with all the best intentions.

Happy New Year to you, and may 2014 be a fantastic one! 🙂

Thanks for reading, and see you in the new year.

Priorities: Is it time for re-ordering them?

Do you have your priorities in order? Do you even know what your priorities are? When was the last time you assessed them, and considered whether you lived according to these priorities?

My priorities are fairly simple. Family. Writing. Friends. Everything else (and yes, housework is somewhere way down the list).

The top three are, to me, the most important ones, though even as I write this, I find myself switching them around a few times, adjusting. Because let’s face it: if we put them in order of priority, it means at one point or another, one of them will “win” over a lower ranked priority.

It’s not a very nice thing, is it? To consider that we’d choose our career over our friends? For some people, perhaps career ranks the highest for them. For me, sometimes this is the case. Which is where this post comes from.

Is your priority list shifting? Do you allow it and yourself that freedom, or hold yourself to a more rigid standard?

Last month, I was desperate to finish Christmas presents galore (I make most of them), get the house prepared for my party, AND finish the rewrite on a novel so I could get it submitted to a contest and have it out of my head for holidays. I wanted to achieve it all simultaneously, which is impossible. And to get it done, I had to shift around the priorities a little bit. Writing moved up higher on the list, and I had to sacrifice some of my time with my family to get things done. BUT, using a shifting priority list, I DID get it all done.

Keeping track of your priorities also means that on your writing day, sometimes you have to say no to other offers and possibilities – because that day, writing may outrank other priorities (like friends or fun). Whatever the case, I try to assess what’s most important to me at that time, and set my priorities and actions accordingly. Usually it’s the first three that continue to shift and dance amidst the positions, and remind me what I want, what I need to do to get it, and where I need to go.

So what about you? Do you think priorities must be set in stone, or are yours shifting as you need them, too?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

New Year, New Knowledge: What will you learn this year?

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” – Max Depree

To me, knowledge is growth. Sometimes what we learn may be painful, sometimes it can shake us to our core and make us reassess everything, but that’s just a part of growing, of improving. So, as you work on setting your goals for success in 2013, have you likewise considered your educational goals?

For me, this is a new step, specifically looking at setting educational goals. But seeing as I now suddenly receive and ask for almost exclusively non-fiction books to add to my library, it seems my educational goals are alive and well without my asking. My goals will likewise primarily center around my writing: this year I want to improve the depth of emotion in my writing, go deeper into third person POV, and work on plotting, experimenting with different methods of pre-plotting and outlining to see if this makes rewrites go a bit smoother.

What about you? Have you got a hankering to learn something new? Is there something you’ve always wanted to know more about? There are so many options available to you, and I’m a HUGE fan of the public library, which is frequently a free or inexpensive tool to lead you to all kinds of knowledge, especially when they offer talks and workshops.

What about the internet? Classes and workshops offered through conferences, universities, colleges, and specific groups? Chances are that if you’re interested in something, someone else is too – and you just need to find them.

It’s an exciting prospect, deciding what you want to learn for the year. It’s practically like picking and choosing amongst the most delectable sweets. Choose according to your taste, your budget, but make sure you choose!

Imagine life without new knowledge, how limiting it would be. Why would you want to stay the same forever? If you don’t continue to learn, you’ll stagnate. One day you’ll wake up and realize the world has left you behind, or you’re stuck in a hole. Knowledge, learning something new, sets off new light-bulbs in your head. What kernel of a story will be hiding in even the dullest of history texts? What workshop will lead you to friends and experiences you couldn’t have imagined?

So, what will you learn this year? Does this knowledge play into the specific goals you’ve set for yourself this year? Or will new knowledge lead to pleasure and passion in your life? Do share!

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, happy writing, and here’s to learning something new this year, this week, and every day of your life.

Goal Setting for a New Year: 10 Steps to Easy, Achievable Goals

Welcome to 2013! Hooray, cheers, huzzah!

Okay, now time to put down the champagne flutes and get to work. It’s a new year, and that means goal-setting. Don’t moan and groan about it – what happened to all that cheering? Trust me. This will be WAY easier than living up to that new gym membership.

Step 1: Reflect. Reflect on the past year, on what you’ve accomplished, and what you still need to do. Knowing what you’re capable of and where you’ve been will be a big help in knowing where you want and need to go. But, don’t consider this limiting.

Step 2: Dream big. What do you want to achieve this year? What would make for a better, happier, more complete you? These can be new dreams or old ones. And the goals can be as big or small as you like – don’t compare yourself to anyone else. These are your dreams, your goals.

Step 3: Reality check. Not to dampen your enthusiasm, but step back and consider your goals. Is becoming an astronaut and flying to the moon an achievable goal for you this year? Did you complete all the necessary training last year? Consider what you achieved last year, and where you want to go. Some dreams and goals may be more long term than just over a year, and a realistic timeline will help you avoid disappointment.

Step 4: Research. Now you need to understand your dreams and goals. If you know a lot about them, than you may be able to skip this step. But if you’re going in blind, it wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of research, which will make the next step much easier.

Step 5: Break your individual goals into steps. So, you want to be a published author. What do you need to get there? First, you need to write a book of some variety (and the writing of that also has its own steps). Do you need an agent? You want steps which clearly show a progression towards your goal, statements that can be checked off as achieved or not, progressing logically from one to the next. This means they may be broken down into very tiny chunks, but that’s okay: that will help offer encouragement and signs of success later on.

Step 6: WRITE IT DOWN. I can’t emphasize this enough. Sure, you can think of all the goals you want, but will you remember them? What will hold you accountable? How will you remember what you’ve achieved or not?

Step 7: Plan for success and perseverance. You have your steps. Have you included all the things you need to do to succeed? When things get hard, how will you keep going? How will you celebrate your small victories and your big ones? Visualise and plan for successes, and prepare to avoid failure.

Step 8: Set a clear timeline. Try to be realistic with your dates as you pull out a calendar and write your goals down. A red circle on the calendar could be the push you need in that month to achieve success. Building in rewards and encouragement will keep you going when the going gets rough.

Step 9: Share with at least one other person. Perhaps this person has the same goals as you, perhaps they don’t. But putting your goals out there makes you accountable to more than just yourself – and could be a source of encouragement. Consider finding a partner or group to help you keep going, celebrating your successes, and all pushing for your dreams.

Step 10: Post and achieve. Put these goals somewhere you can see them and reference them throughout the year, as well as reflect on your achievements throughout and at the end of the year.

See? Not that hard … now I just better get to that myself. 🙂 Thanks for reading, and here’s to a great year for all of you.

Personal Cheerleaders

You’d have to be a fool not to recognize that life is full of ups and downs – it’s so well-known, it’s practically cliché. Writing is the same way. Sometimes you’re hot, following your muse, an idea, whatever it is and writing up a storm. And other times, well, those other times you wonder if you’re just a hack, a pretender, you were a fool to ever think you could write, etc, etc.

Just like the rest of life, the ups and downs of writing are an emotional rollercoaster that leads you where it will, how it will. It’s up to you to find ways to deal with the down portions, and not give up. Something I find useful are personal cheerleaders.

Who are these people? They can be a lot of people, but in a truly low point, they’re your heroes who provide perspective, cheer, and hope. Think about when you were at a low point in life. How did you get out of it? Who was there? Who did you turn to for comfort? Maybe it’s your mom. Maybe it’s a friend or spouse. They are your personal cheerleader. Use them to help you feel better – they’ll want to help!

I have a very dear friend who isn’t a writer, and in many ways has a very different life than me. It’s been some time since she even looked at my writing, and she currently lives over a 1000km away. But she’s always there to lend a kind word, to offer suggestions I might not have thought of, or simply commiserate whether via email or phone. A conversation with her always makes me feel energized and more alive somehow, and I always hope in some small way I can return the favor.

Can’t think of a cheerleader of your own? I’m sure you do have your own cheer squad, you only need to recognize them. Or, even if you have a veritable platoon, it never hurts to store up resources. So, where can you find your very own cheerleaders?

  • Look close to home first. Literally or figuratively, what I mean is look for those who cheer you up whenever you’re down anyway. Again, this may be family or friends. They may be identified by the fact that just talking to them energizes you or can make your day.
  • Look a bit further out. Maybe there’s someone you don’t contact frequently, possibly an acquaintance or co-worker, but like the familial cheerleaders, this person makes you feel good when you talk to them. Maybe you should think about recruiting them, or just making time for coffee and a chat, even an email.
  • Look professionally. Especially for writers, this may be someone who you’re in contact with professionally who helps provide perspective. Maybe it’s not just your work that’s slow in selling, but the market. If there are problems, how can they be solved, and what directions should you look to? Instead of pointless negativity, get to work with constructive criticism.
  • Look to your elders. Perspective often helps us all, and who better to provide it than someone who’s been there, done that. For writers, this may not necessarily be someone who’s older than you in years, but merely in experience of the market. Chances are good they – or someone they know – has been where you are, and they can help provide perspective about what’s really worth worrying about, and what’s just a typical writer mini-meltdown.
  • Look abroad. Finally, look a bit further abroad for cheerleaders. The internet has made this much easier for many of us – especially those who aren’t in major urban centers. Find like-minded folks or join writers groups online, especially those with a on focus encouragement and positivity. Sometimes a quick post to them gets floods of positive energy back, even from hundreds of miles away.

So, found your cheerleader yet? Keep looking until you do – these folks are priceless. Please, tell me about your cheerleader, how you found them, or why you need to keep looking.

Staying Positive and Persevering: Goal-setting for a New Year (Part 2)

Last week we looked over last year’s goals, and there was plenty of rehashing the past and reflection. Hopefully, you remembered to stay positive and focus on what you HAVE achieved rather than what might still need a bit more time or effort. But, enough of all that. It’s a new year, a blank slate, and today, we’re setting new writing career goals which you WILL achieve.

So, goal setting for the new year. Yes, some of those unaccomplished goals may still be fresh in your mind, and if they’re still important enough to you, then they belong on this new list. But, let’s consider them a bit more closely. Say something like “get published this year.” That’s a big goal, especially dependent on where you are in your career (have you completed a manuscript? Do you have an agent? Have you been querying? Etc).  For something like “getting published” there are also factors you can’t control (trends, the subjectivity of the publishing world, the economy or cutting back in new books and authors, etc). So, break the large goal down into smaller chunks you CAN control. I love sub-lists, so perhaps have something like:

Goal #1: Finally get published this year.

A)  Send out 3 new queries to potential agents a month this year.

a.   Research and continue to update a list of at least 25 agents so new submissions can continue to go out with each rejection.

B)  Research potential publishers and editors.

C)  Send out at least 4 queries or pitches to publishing houses which best suit my manuscript.

D) Attend at least one conference and pitch my writing to agents and editors.

E)   ….

Get the idea? That means next year, even if you can’t check off the big goal “get published” you might be able to check off lots of what you’ve done which has brought you closer to what you want to achieve. Putting items on the list which are relatively easy to achieve isn’t cheating: they are necessary steps. But, they’re often what you do but don’t consider “worthy” enough to write down or list. Why not? They’ll help you achieve larger goals, plus it will make you feel better when looking back next year and remind you of what you have done. Think small, break things down into steps or stages, manageable chunks. The above fictional goal setting is relatively random, but could you use and customize it for your needs? This method of goal setting not only provides you with more easily achievable mini-goals to check off as accomplishments later, but it’s also a kind of plan which can lead you towards accomplishing the bigger goals. How do you complete a manuscript? One word at a time. Remember, a 100K manuscript is 100 days of 100 words, shorter still if you demand higher word counts per day.

Next, consider what you were able to do in the year previous, and don’t be afraid to push yourself. Last year did you have a daily word count you had to achieve? What about upping it by 1000 words or whatever seems reasonable to you? How many manuscripts did you complete? Could you complete at least one more in the same time period? How do you measure productivity or achievements? How can this kind of measurement be incorporated into your goal-setting? You might not be able to control the economy, an editor having a bad day the day your query comes across their desk, whatever: but you can control what and how much you’re writing, and how much and how you’re trying to get your work out into the marketplace. Even better, now you not only have goals, but the smaller goals necessary to achieve the bigger one also give you the start of a plan of action: you’re on your way to success.

Finally, after you’ve reflected on last year’s goals and set some new ones, there’s just one step left: start off the year with a positive attitude. Keep in mind what you have accomplished, how far you’ve come, how you’ve changed and what new adventures and opportunities await in the new year. Sure, there are things you didn’t achieve, but it’s a new year, a clean slate, and this year will be THE year. This year will be YOUR year.

Okay, so to make this all the easier for you, I’ve broken things down into three easy-to-remember steps.

Step 1 – Reflect what you accomplished the past year. What did you achieve? What can you be proud of? For the things you haven’t achieved quite yet, are these goals still important to you? Have you taken positive steps towards achieving larger goals? (See the earlier blog post for further detail).

Step 2 – Set goals for the new year. Be specific with your goals, and break large goals down into achievable elements you can control.

Step 3 – Leave last year behind, good or bad, since it’s done with now. This is a new year, a new start, which could be completely different. Start the new year off with a positive, hopeful attitude and the thirst for success. You’ll find it.

Was this helpful to you? I wish you all the best in the new year – and achieving success with your goals. Please, share how this helped, how you set goals, or even your goals themselves below in the comments section. Happy 2011!

Staying Positive and Persevering: Goal-setting for a New Year (Part 1)

Another year has come and gone, which happens faster and faster all the time it seems. As you reflect back on 2010, on what you’ve accomplished and what goals you want to set for 2011, it can be easy to get mired in what you haven’t done / seen / accomplished rather than on what you have.

I’m here to help avoid all that nonsense in a two-part blog on reflecting back on the past year, and getting ready for the new one.

All right. First off, where are those resolutions you set way back last January? Did you write them down? Here’s a basic in any kind of goal-setting: write your goals down. Sure, some folks suggest you need to share your goals with others, be open about it, perhaps post publically, etc, etc. I don’t go that far. I just figure it helps if you write them down (more reliable than your memory too – and far less selective).  That way, you have something you can actually look back on. So, look back at those old resolutions / goals. Gleefully check off any you have achieved – yay for you! Here’s the dangerous part: it can be really easy to see lots you haven’t achieved just yet. There are some which quite possibly still can’t be checked off, even if they’ve been there more than one year. Let those pass for the moment, and try not to let it eat you up – we’ll get back to them, I promise.

Okay, so you’ve checked off all that you’ve achieved, had a bit of a celebration if you’ve checked off plenty. Congrats! Now it’s time to test your memory – and your positive attitude. Now you need to consider: what have I accomplished this year which isn’t on the list? For example, did you set the goal to complete one entirely new manuscript this year, but you actually wrote two? Just because they weren’t on the original list doesn’t mean they’re not important. Look over those additional accomplishments and add them onto your list, giving yourself a few more “checkmarks” for achievement (and a bit more celebration – yay!).

I know. Staying positive at this point can be hard (just like thinking of what you’ve achieved when you can only see what you haven’t). There are still those special goals which remain unattained. Take heart. Have you made steps towards them? Was it possibly too big of a goal for just this year, or dependent on many more factors than you can control yourself? If this is still an important goal for you, can you think of what possibly held you back? And in just the same objective light, what has brought you forward from where you were last year? What steps towards achieving the larger goal have you achieved? How many new words have you written this year? Have you made contacts which will help you next year? Have you learned new marketing or writing strategies which could help you market your writing and your author brand? What do you know and have you done that brings you closer to your end or larger goals than you were last year?

Finally, pull back and consider the year and your goals objectively – as though you were someone else, either stranger or friend. Did you achieve every goal? Maybe not. But were there some great achievements? Have you made progress towards long-term goals? If it’s not good enough, why? Who says? How could things have been different? It’s very easy to say “I should have done this, this, and this” but at the time, were there other more pressing concerns? Are there legitimate reasons for why goals weren’t achieved? How will things be different next year? What different steps can you take? What goals could you set and achieve?

Enough reflection on the past year. It’s over, it’s done. Accept “it is as it is” without rancor or guilt, be proud of what you have accomplished, and move on. It’s a new year already – a new year full of possibility. Next week: setting goals for next year.