What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals

What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals - www.alliepottswrites.com

“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?”

Note the use of bold strokes, repeated forms, and the inclusion of a single cloud on an otherwise clear day. Here the artist is expressing the futility of man when confronted by nature’s might.

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 grinned. Both of my children are well aware of my, let’s say, lack of fondness, for Selachimorpha in all its variations and take an inordinate amount of joy in watching my reaction.

“You drew a Tsunami with 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?”

Poisonous Zombie Sharks - www.alliepottswrites.com

I’m confident sales will smash all box office expectations. (In case you are wondering, yes, this is the sort of thing I do in my spare time).

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.

The same can be said about storytelling. It’s far easier to tell a joke if you know the punchline just as it is far easier to write a book if you know the ending.

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.

 

 

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How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list

How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.comTo-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.

If you are not sure how to do this (it’s harder than it sounds), you may want to check out The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals (affiliate link). Yes, it is a business book, but I treat achieving my big goals as a business and so should you.

Step 2: Establish and Enforce Boundaries

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

How to tame your to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.com

Asana Screen Shot

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.

 

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.comA three-day weekend loomed in front of us and our plan was to have no plan. We’d sleep in as much as the children allowed. We’d stay in. After being away from home most weekends in August, my husband and I were looking forward to tackling a few projects but generally doing nothing more than relaxing. It would be a weekend to simply enjoy being a family.

It was a good plan.

I’d no sooner stepped out of my bedroom Saturday morning when I was met in the hall by my eldest son and his best friend, Biff. “Mom! Biff invited me to go with them to a mud run. Can I go? Can I?” I blinked. I hadn’t drunk enough coffee that morning to be able to process that level of excitement. It was a wonder I’d even gotten into my day clothes already.

I stalled. “Those things usually cost money.”

“My mom will take care of it,” Biff assured me.

I felt like there was something I was missing. Kiddo would be out of the house all morning? He’d be exercising instead of alternating between begging me to allow him to binge-watch his latest favorite cartoon (there are only six seasons, mom), creating Lego minefields, or complaining about how bored he was and I wouldn’t have to pay for it? It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

We learned no such offer had been authorized. Sure, Kiddo was welcome to come along (the more the merrier!) but the insurance waiver clearly stated that a legally responsible adult must be present along with every child. One of us, either my husband or I, would have to go with Kiddo else live with a weekend long case of ‘you are the worst parents ever!’ There went our relaxing morning.

My husband and I faced off like gunslingers at noon in an old western.

“It’s only a couple of miles,” my husband pointed out.

“You are the one training to run another marathon,” I reminded his father.

*do-la-doooooo wha wha whaaaaaa*

“Please?” I swear Kiddo batted his eyelashes. (Don’t ask me where he learned that trick).

My husband broke first. “I’ll go change.”

LT, our youngest, caught wind of the conversation. He had no idea what a mud run was, but his brother and father were going. He would not be left out or heads would roll (as would the rest of him as his tantrums are typically full body affairs). Then all four of us were at the starting line with the elder Potts guys in their work out attire and me and LT standing on the spectator side with a camera and their spare clothes.

A fog horn blew and then they were off.

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.com

This is after he swam across a pond. My washing machine is demanding a raise

A short time later, two incredibly filthy smiling faces crossed the finish line. I know they were smiling because the only part that wasn’t covered in brown was their shiny teeth. The shoes they’d worn were tossed in a pile which would be industrially cleaned and donated to those in need. A large tanker truck provided the water needed to remove the mud from Kiddo’s ear. Speakers blasted music while LT grabbed fistfuls of grass and rubbed them into his hair and across his belly in order to look like one of the participants. We hadn’t brought a change of clothes for him, but I found I didn’t mind. Not one part of the morning had gone to plan, but it was still a good morning.

No. It was a better morning.

I am a planner by nature as much as by habit. I set goals. I track milestones. I know how to keep a program advancing, but though it is making me twitchy writing this, there are times you have to focus on the outcome, but let the plan go.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

I was supposed to have another book out by now, but my characters rebelled. I found myself asking what was more important? My outline or my outcome.

I thought my outline was a good one. I’d put real thought into it. I’d spent hours if not days planning and pacing. I’d created character profiles and scene summaries. I’d researched setting. It should have worked, but it didn’t, and ultimately I allowed myself the flexibility to adapt moving forward. I picked outcome.

Though I hate that it has taken so long to get to this point, I have to admit my characters were right. I rewrote my plan. I altered my method. I’ve received my feedback from my beta readers and all that is left to do is a few manageable rewrites and work through my final edits before sending it out to the next round of advanced proof readers (if that sounds like something you’d enjoy, please contact me at allie AT alliepottswrites DOT com).

The path to publishing this book may have deviated from my plan. It’s taken a few twists and gotten messy along the way but my commitment has never wavered. With a little patience and a whole lot of support, I will publish this book and it may just be better than I ever planned for.

What Rogue One can teach about writing and resolutions

 

What Rogue One can teach about #writing and #resolutions

background image courtesy of www.Flickr.com

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, especially as I’ve been held hostage this week, or as my children call it, celebrating winter break, but the hubby and I actually managed to sneak out long enough to watch Rogue One.

Yeah, I am as stunned as you.

And it was awesome. But I’m not here to divulge spoilers. Nor am I here to write a tribute to Carrie Fisher, as deserved as that might be. No I want to talk about what Rogue One can teach us about story telling and life in general.

Work toward an ending

The premise of Rogue One was simple. It exists to answer the question as to how the rebels got the plans to the Death Star in the first place, a catalyst event that sets off all the events of the next three movies in the original franchise. The ending of their story was clear, the beginning – not so much, forcing the screenwriters to work backwards. And it was a effective technique. It worked so well, I found myself surprised as well as satisfied by the ending, even though I knew full well what it would be before I purchased my ticket.

This same concept can be applied to planning any goal, not just writing.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions. To me, they are far too easy to make and therefore far too easy to break. So I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. Instead I set one to three wildly optimistic End of Year Goals.

Then I work backwards, setting smaller monthly and weekly goals for myself, all in support of the larger ones. So that at year’s end I am not disappointed by how many resolutions I have broken, but instead motivated by how much more I have accomplished.

It is okay not to have an answer for everything

There are certain questions Rogue One doesn’t answer, such as what was the rift between factions the Rebel Alliance wants to mend so desperately or who keeps awarding the Imperial console button contracts to the most lost cost industrial switch manufacturer the galaxy has ever seen when they obviously utilize high-end contracts for sleek exterior ship design. There could be spin-off on spin-offs of stories if the writers choose to answer everything, but in this case I think it is a better experience to let the viewer’s or reader’s imaginations fill in the blanks. A few loose ends can keep a story interesting.

Likewise, even with my goals, I’ve accepted there are certain areas of my life, both personally and professionally, I don’t have mapped out, at least not for this year. That’s okay. A little bit of unknown now just means I have choices to explore later, or goals still out there to achieve.

Rebellions are built on hope

This is a line used a few times in the movie, a somewhat tongue in cheek reference to the title of the next movie in line in the series, A New Hope. But it is also true. In order for any well written story to progress, a character must first believe that change is possible. They have to believe deep in their core that they can evade a vastly superior military force, complete a foolhardy mission, or otherwise avenge a loved one. Otherwise what is the point of leaving home in the first place.

The past year will not go down as a personal favorite of mine for a number of reasons. But that is no reason enough for me to believe the coming year will be more of the same. I will instead continue to focus on what I can change, whether that change be big or small, rather than what is out of my control. I may not achieve all my big goals this year, but no matter the outcome, I will be closer tomorrow than I am today for trying. Because I am one with the force, the force is with me.

May you all have an equally happy and force-full New Year

The Pokemon Exchange and one elementary success

The #Pokemon Exchange and one #elementary #success - www.alliepottswrites.comIt was a quiet morning. This was most unusual as it was also my turn to escort my kids as well as two of their school aged cousins to the bus stop. Now normally, I would have soothed at least one tear fest, brokered a toy sharing deal that would make a UN negotiator proud, or cleaned up someone’s accident by this point, but none of this had happened. I was immediately suspicious.

I found my eldest, Kiddo and his cousin, Casimir, deep into discussions in the center of our den. Sipping my coffee, I carefully approached, stopping close enough to listen in to the conversation, but far enough away as to not alert them to my attention. The green folder laying next to them coupled with an open white box told me all I needed to know. The source of my peaceful morning was none other than Pokemon.

My brothers, who are a wee bit younger than me, were told under the most severe threats of doom not to discuss Pokemon with my kids. I’d seen the madness that was their individual collections first hand. I’d heard their conversations with my stepmom about rare species and evolved forms. My ears had suffered under the constant refrain of the cartoon’s theme song once before. Not in my house, I’d decried.

But then the unthinkable happened. Pokemon Go became a thing,

Okay, Allie, I told myself, no need to panic. Kiddo doesn’t have a phone or anything (or at least he didn’t at the time). He’s not going to get sucked into playing the app.

And he didn’t. Something even worse happened. Some kid on the bus gave him and his cousin a few trading cards. The kid thought it was no big deal. After all, the cards were his or her duplicates and being apparently a nice well-meaning child, the kid simply wanted to share. Darn you public school system on your new emphasis on empathy, inclusion, and anti-bullying behavior!

Trading card the Pokemon Exchange on www.alliepottswrites.com

Catching them all together truly presents a challenge

Before I knew it, three cards became ten, which somehow continued to multiply to twenty to fifty. Kiddo, as sympathetic as the child on the bus, wanted to share his good fortune with his brother, LT. LT was delighted and their joint collection grew further. Despite my best efforts, I was forced to accept that Pokemon mania had taken root in my house. Reluctantly I raised the white flag.

My stepmom, who is likely overjoyed at the chance to de-clutter her house, was kind enough to divide my brother’s collection into boxes for each of the kids, leaving it up to them to broker individual trades later, which was exactly what Kiddo and Casimir were in the process of doing that morning.

Deal done, Casimir proudly announced to his sister, my niece, Xena that he had secured ten new cards all for a single rare whatsityacallit. Xena looked at the cards in his hands. Her eyes grew wide. “I want ten cards!” she declared rushing into the den where Kiddo still remained.

“Okay,” Kiddo nodded like a retail proprietor, “what will you trade?”

“I want ten cards,” Xena stated again.

“What are you going to trade for them?” Kiddo repeated.

“Trade?” She batted her eyelashes.

“Yeah. Casimir gave me a whatsityacallit. I will give you ten cards, but you have to give me a rare card. That’s a trade.”

“But I want them soooooo badly,” Xena replied.

I took another large gulp of my coffee as way of fortifying myself against whatever tantrum was sure to follow.

“I can give you one card, but I won’t give you ten unless you trade me for it.” Kiddo offered, diffusing the explosive situation. I supposed I might have interceded at this point, but if Kiddo wanted to be generous with his collection and we avoided a melt-down I was all for it. Bless that child.

Xena scanned his collection. Grinning from ear to ear she proudly held out her newest card for all the world to see as we made our way to the bus stop.

Now when I first observed this entire exchange, I thought the lesson worth sharing here was that no one will simply give you what you want just because you state you want it. You have to do the work. You have to make the trade. But now that I’ve written it all out, I realize that while my niece didn’t secure the ten cards she requested, she still managed to leave with more than she started out with, and at no personal cost. All she had to do was simply state her intended desire at the right place, right time, and most importantly of all to the right person.

My niece may have a future on Wall Street.

So I guess the lesson here is this – while doing the work certainly helps achieve an exponentially greater result, if you openly announce your goal, others are more likely to help you on your path to success (however you define the word).

To that end, (and those who know me understand how hard this next part is for me to do) I am announcing that in addition to writing books, I also offer design services including logo design, covers, and book formatting, because apparently writing books, being a mom, and working full-time leaves me with free time in need of filling (yes, I also think my head needs examination). You can check out samples of my work at Logo and Book Design Services. While I do use stock art, depending on budget, I can also offer a quote with custom photography or illustration and I’d love the opportunity to discuss a project with you.

May your goals for the new year be equally successful.