Execution is equal parts dream, deadline, and determination

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleo...
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleon Hill (Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting)

Nine months ago, I was finalizing my debut novel, An Uncertain Faith. It was a story that I had toyed with in my mind for several years. I was fortunate enough to have a sabbatical from the day job during which time I wrote until my fingers hurt.  My youngest hadn’t started walking yet and was content to sit in a corner of the room playing with his toys.

I had dreamed of being an author and now I had a book to my name, but I wanted more. I didn’t want to be considered a one and done writer. I self published. I didn’t vanity publish. I was going to have to follow-up my first book with a second.

My next book idea hit me in a few months later. I eagerly fired up my computer and began plotting the outline and character notes. I had to record the dream while it was still fresh in my mind.

The problem is outlines don’t exactly fly off bookshelves. You have to actually add content. I knew how many words had gone into An Uncertain Faith. I was going to meet or exceed that quantity before I could say the work was complete. Unfortunately, if finding time to continue writing outside of the demands of the day job wasn’t difficult enough, I was also going to have to fit in time to promote the first book. Additionally I now had to keep up with two very mobile, and very active young boys.

I expect that no one would have faulted me if book two never made it past the outline stage, or if I continued to work on it as the mood hit until I was gray and the kids were out of school. My dream of being a multi-credited novelist would remain that. An unrealized dream.

I had to transform my dream into a goal.

I set myself a deadline. Combined with my word count total, I was able to determine how many words I needed to write per writing day. I will admit that the juices flowed better some days than others, but I kept writing anyway until I hit my daily quota, otherwise I feared writer’s block might set in.

My deadline for the first draft is June 1st, and I am pleased to say that while it is definitely still a rough draft and lacks a sticking title, my manuscript has a beginning, middle, and end.

Now I am ready for my next challenges. I need to polish this draft up, re-writing whole sections. Then I need find another batch of readers willing to see past the grammatical errors and run on sentences, but just as willing to tell me exactly where the story needs more work. I will have to remember that just because I spent the last six months living with these characters, others might not see them quite the way I do. This last step is never easy, but typing the first chapter wasn’t either.

It’s time to reset the clock.

Determination
Determination (Photo credit: Dana Lookadoo – Yo! Yo! SEO)

 

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Spring is arriving and for every thing there is a season

Just like the seasons, people have the ability...
Just like the seasons, people have the ability to change (Photo credit: symphony of love)

Earlier this week I was invited to participate in one of my area’s working mom’s luncheons coordinated through the city’s Chamber of Commerce. I love these functions because everyone there is not only trying to expand their network for business purposes, but are genuinely interested in swapping tips for how best to achieve work life balance.

After a bit of pure socialization the more formal portion of the program began and the guest speaker took the stage. She was cheerful and energetic during her introduction and I was eager to hear what secrets this person who so obviously had her life together was going to share with the group.

Then she started telling us her life story, and the smile slipped. I realized very quickly how very wrong I had been to judge her particular book from its cover. She talked about dealing with the death of a parent in her early teens, and how she struggled to put herself through college and achieve her dream job. Just as you thought she was going to wrap up her presentation with the old “and they all lived happily ever after,” she told us about her experience with every parent’s worst nightmare, the loss of a child.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room. I felt my eyes tear up as she went on to talk about how she was only able to get out of bed due to her eldest child and the guilt she felt in having another baby later. Amazingly, somehow she had been able to maintain the ability to feel gratitude even after her ordeal; gratitude for her family, her friends, and her extended support network. She told us about how while her family would never be whole,  they were made stronger.

She tasked us all to discuss the challenges we individually had faced and how we had been able to grow as a result. In full disclosure, no one at my table felt we could top that speech. Her experience had been too raw, too real, for us to process over the next thirty minutes and a cupcake. We instead choose to tackle safer topics such as the ideal age difference in siblings and the headaches resulting from our local kindergarten enrollment process.

Tasmanian Devil in defensive stance, at Tasman...
Tasmanian Devil in defensive stance, at Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, Tasman Peninsula. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went home that night and my toddler’s terrible twos were in full force. Imagine a Tasmanian Devil hopped up on speed, chased with a pack of Red Bull. You might then have some idea of his disposition. He was having one of those days. His brother wasn’t exactly helping the situation by demanding my attention each and every time I attempted to sit down and decompress. But as much as I might have been tempted at that moment to sell them to the circus, at least both of my boys were home and healthy.

Obviously dealing with the challenges of living with the pre-school set can in no way compare with the challenges of living without them. As I checked on my boys sleeping peacefully in their beds later that evening, I was reminded of how lucky I have been to have my own family and support network.

Usually I would end my post with some related reading, but as I did not participate in the group assignment when instructed, I would like to take this time to complete my homework. In addition to the gratitude I feel towards the support my family and friends have given me, I would also like to express my thanks to a few of my fellow author/bloggers celebrating their own big news this month for unknowingly inspiring, motivating, and/or helping to guide me through the publishing process.

Listed in no particular order –

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Know yourself and your audience

Earlier this week I allowed my toddler to take over my blog for a few reasons. 1) He is a master manipulator 2) I’d mentioned my other son a few times and decided he deserved some spot light time and 3) His methods may be somewhat Machiavellian, but he instinctively knows how to conduct a basic personal SWOT analysis.SWOT

By SWOT I mean the business process of analyzing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and then figuring out a way to turn weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities, or at least neutralizing them.

He is mobile, but not agile. That is fine with him, he forces us to fetch and carry for him so that he can focus on other priorities saving vital resource time.

He is loud, but not necessarily articulate.  He finds other ways to get his message across. He is big on non-verbal communication.

What he lacks in world experience he makes up for by cultivating strategic partnerships.

All to often we try to be too many things to too many people. As the saying goes, when you try to please everyone, you please no one. Our messages become diluted, convoluted and lost in the crowd. In business it is of utmost importance that you clearly identify your target customer / target market.

When I began writing, I decided the same principles applied. There are going to be readers out there who just aren’t going to be interested in what I have to say, or be turned off by my style. Just as if I was creating a marketing plan in mind for product development, I tried to always keep my ideal audience in mind as I was writing. The story could easily have taken various, ultimately pointless, detours if I had tried to throw in nuggets for my non-target readers.

In addition to the book’s SWOT, I thought I might follow my toddler tyrant’s lead and complete my own personal SWOT. So what were my strengths? In the case of An Uncertain Faith, while I didn’t have much professional publishing experience, I have more than a few years of experience with much of the subject matter.

My weaknesses? The lack of prior publishing experience was a big one, but my day job has given me plenty of experience writing to non-English speakers. If you ever wonder if you are describing something well enough, send a note to overseas colleagues. If they can understand you even after putting it through a free translation program then you know your word choice is spot on. If you don’t have that luxury, merely open two free translation programs. Write text in one and convert it to Traditional Chinese. Copy and paste the Chinese translation into the second translator, specify that it is Simplified Chinese and convert back to English. I tried this once where I attempted to describe a metal fan blade. The resulting translation back was a poetic phrase about steel flower petals wafting in the wind. I believe there might have been a tiger involved as well.

Threats? Yes, there are going to be internet trolls and negative reviews out there, and as I become more successful they will become a greater threat, but at this time I found my greatest threat was myself. If I didn’t hit the submit button, I would never achieve success.

Opportunities? Well that is the whole point to this exercise isn’t it?

An unforeseen benefit from giving the little man the blog reins for the day was giving me an opportunity for my first blog two-parter, my first attempt at a sequel! I hope you enjoyed it.

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Oh the best laid plans…

Scrunched up paper in a wastebin

The pages and pages of discarded stories I’ve started and never finished over the years taught me that I am one of those writers who has to have the majority of the story including chapters, scenes, and major plot points before I write page one. It was a practice that worked wonders on my last attempt. I was able to set myself a daily goal and then click clack clack slowly, but surely I was there.

This time though I am encountering something I hadn’t planned for, an unruly protagonist. I am now 14,000 words in (a feat I’m fairly proud of considering I have to squeeze in writing between day job and diaper changes) and she is determined to steal scenes destined for other characters. She’s made me want to growl at her, “I’m your creator, you need to hang back and let these other characters develop.” Does she listen? No. She continues to do whatever it is she wants.

She’s made me rearrange entire sequences already, and I’m not even out of the first act! I’ve wanted to tell her, “oh just you wait until the beta readers get here.” Then she nearly argues back at me, “I’m making your story better!” Unfortunately I secretly suspect she may prove to be right. At times such as these I think it is probably a good thing that I don’t have daughters in real life.

I’m a huge fan of the epic fantasy genre and used to frequently shake my fist and the various authors of series spanning 5+ books who seemed to loose control of their own storylines after book 3. I now am feeling like quite the hypocrite and do hereby promise to be more patient in the future.

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