Ok, in fairness, I wrote another manuscript. The book part will be a few weeks longer yet as it still needs to go through early reads, professional edits, and formatting. But I wrote another book. (Update – the book is done and scheduled for launch on March 26, 2020)
So what, you might be saying. You’re a writer — a novelist — that’s what you’re supposed to do. I thought so too until I tried to write this one.
However, this time was different from the rest.
Perhaps it was the fact that it is the final book in my science fiction trilogy. It was as if my characters refused to share their story with me, knowing it likely was their last.
Perhaps it was the new house or the new job. Maybe my brain needed its old combination of background and routine to get into its groove.
Perhaps it was my family. The kids are getting older now. I am unfortunately finding they aren’t as willing to go to bed before the sun completely sets, just because their mom needs to hit her daily word count. Nor have our weekend become any less full.
Perhaps it was simply me.
I should have finished this manuscript in February. That was my intent. I would take a break from the blog for the holidays and focus, instead, entirely on it. When February passed, I said, eh, it’s a short month anyway, I’m not that far behind.
Weeks stretched into months and still the most glorious words in the writer’s language, ‘the end’ continued to elude me.
I wrote during this time. Don’t get me wrong, but it was a steaming pile of word turd mixed with verbal vomit left behind to fill a blank page and little more. Thanks for that imagery, you might be thinking. Just be glad you weren’t the one expected to clean it up.
This is all to say, I might be late, but I’m still here.
I set a goal — I missed it — but I didn’t let a self-imposed deadline stop me.
It is hard to believe that Spring is here, especially when there are parts of the US still getting dustings of snow. It seems as if I was just ringing in the new year and setting goals for what I wanted to accomplish over the course of the next several months.
This week, in the spirit of looking back, while continuing to plan forward, I decided to revisit a few posts from the first quarter.
Original:“You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven today and we don’t know where she is.” – Ellen …
Update: Well folks, I am happy to say that not only was I successful in achieving this goal, I managed to figure out the recipe for making grain-free taco shells that actually hold together. I would have included a picture, but they seem to disappear off my plate before I can get the camera out.
In fact, I have found limiting my grain intake to be so easy, especially with ready-made alternatives like Against the Grain frozen pizza, I’ve decided to keep the challenge going.
In case you are curious about the zucchini shells/wraps – all you need is:
1/4 cup shredded cheese
Set the oven to 350F. Grate the zucchini and squeeze the results a couple of times to drain excess water, then shape and flatten on a stick proof baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool for a couple of minutes and enjoy. Creates 2-4 soft tortilla substitutes.
Original: This is the launch week for a young adult science fiction book called Joan the Made written by Kristen Pham. While I always enjoy celebrating my fellow indie author’s bookbirthdays, this one …
Update: This post had not yet lived in the blogosphere for a week when I received a note from the people at the Kindle Scout Program informing me that they were no longer taking any new submissions from authors and that I had until May 31st to claim any free books gained through the nomination process. No reason for this announcement was given. I will continue to look for other ways to support indie authors and encourage you to leave reviews as much as possible. It makes a huge difference.
Original: May include spoilers. My office door opens and a woman with curly brown hair peeks in. “Um, are you ready for me?” she asks with a smile. Not waiting for a reply, she crosses the thresh…
Update: Unfortunately, Charlotte’s story is not quite ready for publication and I am now in the process of rewrites based on feedback received from early readers. While I still am optimistic I’ll be able to publish this book this year, it most likely won’t be until late summer / early Fall. This also has delayed some of my other book projects such as the third and final installment of my Project Gene Assist series, which is also currently in progress.
I would encourage those who are interested in being part of the next round of early reads (I DO appreciate feedback) or simply want to be the first to know when these books are launching to sign up for my mailing list.
My eldest son became sick and not just with a little cold. No, he’d caught the flu. The same strain of flu that was being featured on every nightly newscast. Taking care of him, and monitoring his symptoms was an absolute must.
At the same time, the forecast called for snow. Again. It was in the 70s (22C) the week before, but I live in North Carolina. We can go through a whole year’s worth of seasons in a week. In fact, we add a few more to the list – there’s also pollen season and hurricane season too. (Yes, yes, Colorado – where you can have all four seasons in a single hour – I know we have nothing on you).
But normally it doesn’t snow more than once or twice a year South, which is exactly why my parents moved us here when I was a kid. As a result, most of the people who live around here don’t have a clue what to do when the white stuff starts falling other than to rush out and get milk and bread like it will become the new world currency.
I had just gotten my eldest dosed and settled under blankets when I received word that the school system would be releasing my other son three hours early. Snow hadn’t even started falling, but classes for the rest of the day were canceled.
I received another alert. Not only had the school closed early, the following morning’s opening would be delayed by three hours.
My eldest’s fever climbed to 102.6 (39.2C).
The family calendar showed my hubby would be going out of town the balance of the week.
And then beta feedback for my most recent WIP came back as a solid ‘meh,’ signifying major re-writes were required.
There were doctors appointments to make, prescriptions to fill, dinners to cook, and her royal highness to walk, not to mention the work which needed to be made up from missed school and the day job. While juggling all of this, I needed to re-write thousands of words per day if I had any hope of reaching my writing-related goals.
And yet, during my regular writing time, when most of the house is either quiet or asleep, I found myself staring at a black computer case. I didn’t even have the energy to lift the lid, let alone turn the machine on. I felt I’d broken something. My creative muscle simply refused to work.
Which brings me to the topic at hand – how to remain focused on your goals when life is determined to get in your way.
Give yourself permission to let something go
With the exception of the week between Christmas and New Year, I’ve been posting something on this site weekly for a few years. My posts, on average, are between 500 and 1200 words meaning I’ve published more than then three books attributed to my name on my Amazon author page. I take pride in my consistency. I view it as keeping my promise to you, but something had to give.
Recognize your priorities
As much as I love this blog – the outlet it provides and the community it builds, my number one goal isn’t to be best known as a blogger. Scaling back my efforts for a week, under the circumstances, was an easy choice to make (as was giving up on cleaning my house for a few days). In fact, I may adopt a practice suggested by Diana Wallace Peach over at Myths at the Mirror to take one week off a quarter as a way of refreshing the mind and spending time on the priorities that matter most to me.
Don’t confuse artificial targets with your real goals
What do you mean? Aren’t they the same thing? No. A goal is where you want your arrow to go. The target around the goal just helps you aim. Hitting the target alone isn’t enough. It’s the bullseye you want.
For example, my target was to release the sequel to An Uncertain Faith in May. That target, however, is really nothing more than a release schedule, a deadline to help keep me motivated day in and day out. My goal, on the other hand, is to write a book that lives up to, if not exceeds, the reader’s expectations. Quality, therefore, is my goal, and frankly, there is no way I can achieve that goal unless I am willing to shift my bow and aim at a target more reflective of my current environment.
Ignore the urge to splurge
Once you have agreed to let certain lesser priorities go and/or readjusted your timeline after a period of stress or frantic activity, you may find yourself with feeling like there is this hole you have to fill. I’ve been told others call this strange sensation, ‘having spare time.’ Unaccustomed to spare time you may be tempted to take on additional tasks or responsibilities which sound easy in theory but are not in line with either your priorities or your goals. Don’t.
Life will fill in that time for you just fine on its own. Trust me.
Accept that setbacks happen to everyone
Even to people who’d prefer to present themselves as having it all together.
I am disappointed to be sure, but I am not giving up, nor do I feel bad about giving myself a break. I will still have another book out this year. It may just be after the summer instead of in the weeks leading up to it. I am able to remain focused by keeping in mind a setback does not mean the end. I’m back in my chair, plotting forward once more. It’s all I can do.
Because most importantly, when life is determined to get in the way of your goals, the best thing you can do is:
“What would happen if a Tsunami came here?” my youngest son asked as he brought over his latest creation. It was a drawing featuring a tiny mound of brown in the lower left-hand corner. A large blue backward C shape filled the rest of the page. I looked at the picture. I looked at my son. Clearly, the island was toast.
“Maybe it would be okay. They might have had advanced warning,” I suggested. “Or maybe there are boats that could help them float away?”
It was a slim excuse at best (I’ve seen what a Tsunami can do to a small boat), but I was going to go with it. My youngest is only five (for another week). Who wants to talk about a disaster from which there is no hope of escape with someone that age?
LT’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at his artwork. “I’ll be back.” He ran off to the other room.
He returned with another drawing of a giant wave. This one even larger than the one before. “How about now?”
I looked at the poor island in the picture. Then another feature caught my eye. Dark triangles poking out of the second wave’s curl. “Wait. Are those sharks?”
LT’s eyes twinkled as he nodded. “What would happen, now?” he asked. “Would we die?”
I’m not sweating. “Maybe not. You could punch the sharks in the nose or use the Bat-shark repellent.” LT wants to be Batman, correction – The Batman Weatherman, when he grows up, so it should almost go without saying he’ll have a ready case of Bat-shark repellent on hand for just such an emergency.
“What if they were poison sharks?”
“Poison?! Umm… er… there might be an antidote-”
“What if they were zombies too?”
I blinked. I looked at my husband, was he hearing what I was? His grin matched that of our son’s. Yep. He shook his head at me as if to say, what are you gonna do? I turned back to our little creator of the next made-for-TV, cheesy creature feature. “Poisonous Zombie Sharks? In a Tsunami?”
Okay, I have to admit it’s a genius idea, but every now and then I have to wonder if there is something about that boy that just isn’t right.
LT was almost cackling with manic glee at this point. Delighted with his cleverness, but unable to speak, he could only nod again.
Seeing no alternative – no stick figure on the island representing a scientist who had up until this point been the laughing stock of his profession, but was now humanity’s last hope against the coming killer tide – I had to give up. “Well, I guess, then yeah, we would all probably die.”
Apparently, this was the answer LT was going for the whole time. Satisfied, he ran off to create additional masterpieces.
I’ve mentioned before, my youngest knows how to achieve his goals and close a deal. The first step to doing either is to go in knowing what you want going out.
But while having a goal in mind can keep you focused, it is also important to allow yourself the flexibility to deviate from the plan. I’m pretty sure that the inclusion of poison and zombies was a spur of the moment decision (though with LT one really never knows). All he wanted was for me to confirm that his island was a complete loss, but he allowed our conversation to detour, evolve, and refine until the end result was even better than the one he originally imagined.
Many of us made resolutions at the beginning of the year and many of us have already broken them once or twice. You don’t need my permission, but I want you to know that’s okay. Life happens. Zombie sharks may appear in waves.
The important thing is remembering the reason for the resolution in the first place. Ask yourself what is the underlying need and keep asking until you know the answer by heart and adjust your plan accordingly.
Who knows? When you finally reach your goal and look back, the path you wound up taking might prove even better than the one you first imagined.
To-do lists can be so cute when they are young. When they look at you with those big shiny eyes, begging for your attention, you can’t help taking them home. As you stroke its fur and listen to it emit those adorable sleepy sounds of contentment, you can’t help think of all the wonderful things the two of you will accomplish together.
Then one day when you aren’t paying it enough attention, it piddles on the floor or gnaws a hole in your favorite shoes. Your sleep gets interrupted by late night whimpers or whines demanding your immediate attention. It nips at your fingers with sharp baby teeth and scratches your legs with its razor-sharp claws.
But you let this behavior go. It’s a baby to-do list after all. Mishaps happen. It’s annoying, yes, but all part of the process. You tell yourself it’s no big deal.
The next thing you know, that baby is one hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle more capable of taking you on a walk than you are taking it. The floors are ruined as is the couch, the blinds, and the contents of your closet. You stop having anyone over, too embarrassed to let them see what your list has become. You dread leaving your home, worried about what mess it’ll make while you are gone. What if it gets out? Even worse, what if it finds another list out there and multiples?
It growls at your family. It snaps at your dreams and each day you do nothing your to-do list only grows larger, meaner, and more wild. It’s no longer annoying. It’s quality of life affecting.
You might be tempted to take the to-do list out to the woods and be done with it, but then you remember back to those eyes and the sweet little baby it once was, and you decide to give it one last chance, but deep down you know something has to change. That something is you.
It’s time to take control and tame that unruly beast.
Step 1: Put that list on a diet.
If you aren’t sure of your to-do list’s ideal weight, ask a trusted friend, but chances are you have been feeding it far more than is healthy. Start by cutting back on the filler treats that might make you temporarily feel good, but in truth don’t provide any nutritional value, like agreeing to judge a hot dog eating competition at the local state fair when you also have three missed deadlines already and no experience in the world of professional competitive eating.
Focus instead on limiting your list to three to five lean but high-quality meaty goals and keep your list active with plenty of exercise. Once your list is back in a manageable weight class, you can reintroduce the snacks provided they remain in moderation.
Expect whining from your to-do list, especially in the beginning as it is used to getting its way, but remember its reign over your house is over. Spray bitter apple on things that shouldn’t be chewed. Invest in a fence or limit its range to only certain rooms. Purchase a timer or create a schedule. However you set your boundaries, make sure they work for you because once set, you’ll need to remain firm and let what doesn’t make the list go. As long as you don’t mind the language, I recommend reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (affiliate link)
Step 3: Enlist the help of a trainer
Your to-do list just knocked over Grandma Maude’s vase with its tail. I get it. Adding more books to read to your list isn’t helping. You’ve maxed out on what you can do alone. If this is the case, I recommend finding an accountability partner. This can be a friend, spouse, colleague, or even a random person you’ve stalked built a relation with online (facebook groups related to your interests are a good place to start). The ‘who’ doesn’t matter. What they do, however, does. This person should be able to regularly help identify priorities and be trusted to hold the leash with a firm hand when your to-do list starts pulling away as it is apt to do.
Step 4: Reward your progress
Positive reinforcement works wonders. Just as a dog can learn to associate the sound of a clicker or over-the-top expressions like “whose a good girl/boy? You are!” as praise, your list will respond to seeing tasks getting checked off. Treat each check mark like a big deal it is. If you prioritized your tasks properly, they will be. Don’t keep your accomplishments in your head. Write them down and display them for all your family to see.
Some people might be comfortable working from a scratch pad or a pile of post-it notes, but I prefer using an app like Evernote,Trello (affiliate link to tell them Allie sent you) or Asana. All have desktop and mobile versions as well as limited, but free-to-use plans. I also like these tools because it makes it easy for me to share my list with my accountability partners, set due date reminders, and upload files related to a task, so pulling it all together later is one task I don’t have to add to a list.
Step 5: Accept accidents will still happen
No matter how well-behaved your list becomes, its heart is still that of a wild beast. Accidents, like forgotten commitments and missed due dates will still happen. Don’t rub your list’s nose in it. Don’t dwell on the failure and whatever you do, if your goals are important enough, don’t ever give up.
This site contains affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation when you click on a link to a third-party site. I am also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.