Tag Archives: Work

Cracking the Whip: Hard Enough, But Not Too Hard

A Guest Post by Travis Heermann

Discipline.

A professional writing career lives and dies by discipline—or the lack thereof.

Maybe you have talent, but talent is only the beginning.

There’s honing one’s craft (got to practice and study until professional-level prose is automatic). There’s learning how to deal with rejection (growing a callus on one’s heart). There’s learning how to market one’s work effectively (most writers revile, loathe, and despise self-promotion). There’s connecting with a community of other writers, finding your tribe (who will sustain you through the long, dark nights of the soul).

And then there’s the simple fact that one has to insert one’s backside (Tab A) into the chair (Slot B), apply one’s hands to scribing tools (Assembly C), and wiggle them around until beauty and pathos are released into existence.

It all sounds so simple. But if it were, the world would harbor more professional writers.

It’s easy to pour something onto the page when the flush of inspiration is hot and new, when the Muse is sitting in one’s lap with a martini in one hand, stroking your hair with the other, and whispering thrills into your ear. Call it what you will—The Muse, inspiration, your subconscious, whatever—I’m talking about those moments when you realize two hours have passed and there are many more words on the page now than there were before, artful words poured forth from the chalice of your amazing subconscious.

However, the Muse is a fickle tart and simply doesn’t show up every day.

But you’re the professional. You have to show up to work even when the Muse doesn’t. You have to slog it out, even when the Muse is out there draping her(him)self over the lap of some other writer. The bottom line is this: the Muse most often visits writers who are working.

It is working that’s the hard part. Carving out a writing schedule when other demands on your time swarm like rabid termites out of the woodwork, and then guarding that time like a snarling, viciously aroused mama tiger, is where the discipline to finish books comes from.

One of the best ways to develop writing discipline is to set daily goals.

  • A paragraph.
  • A page.
  • A thousand words.
  • A chapter.

These are all good starts. A thousand words a day is a great round number, because it means in 60-90 days you will have a completed novel draft. If you write 250 words a day, a single page, you’ll have a novel draft in a year.

Regularly meeting a simple, achievable goal helps develop good, steady production habits. After a while, you may find that it becomes easier and easier to meet your production goals. In that case, try ramping up a little. Challenge yourself. Instead of a thousand words a day, try 1,500.

You will find, once you establish reasonably regular butt-in-chair discipline, that the Muse finds you increasingly sexy and comes over for trysts more frequently.

Nevertheless, there are limits. You should push those limits, yes, but you must make sure your goals are achievable. If there is no way you can write 3,000 words in a day, making that your goal, only to fail every single day unless you skip showering and sleep and feeding the kids, is a fabulous way to dive headfirst into the crazy pool. It will destroy your confidence like those dreams where you’re walking around naked at work. The Muse likes you best if you’re properly groomed and smelling nice.

For the last two years, I have successfully completed NaNoWriMo. This year was a real struggle, because I lost more than a week of writing time to travel and household emergencies. But I succeeded—51,000 words in about three weeks. It was a struggle. I had to make sacrifices. Friends and family saw me less often, because I had a goal. And I made it. That success alone was a tremendous confidence boost.

Fortunately I have learned to surround myself with people who understand and support my goals. They miss me, but they’ll get over it when the book is done.

In the coming months, I have a number of goals.

  • Finish the third volume of my Ronin Trilogy, Spirit of the Ronin.
  • Write seven short stories for various anthologies.
  • Launch, promote, and oversee the Spirit of the Ronin Kickstarter campaign.

Creating and running a Kickstarter campaign relates squarely to goal setting, but that’s a topic for another time, except to say I would really appreciate your support. The campaign will launch in mid-January, 2015. Please follow this link to view the Kickstarter campaign, and consider supporting this project.

Then go put your butt in the chair and invite the Muse over for a booty call.

Of Lightning and Umbrellas

Imagine that fool on the hill dreamed up by the Beatles. Now, imagine him sitting up there in the rain, with storm clouds rolling over, thunder pressing down, and the ominous flash of lightning a strobe in the black tumult above.

He’s tired and alone, the rest of the world pointing fingers laughing at what they believe are hopeless dreams. Now imagine him atop that hill, in the rain and lightning, surrounded by a forest of steel-shafted umbrellas stuck in the ground and as many as he can hold clutched tightly in each hand.

He plants another umbrella and stares at the sky. And another. And another… hoping that lightning will strike.

 

That is what it’s like to be a writer, to be that hopeful soul chasing his or her dream regardless of the scorn, the derision, the laughter… and the torrent of rain that comes in the form of rejection after rejection.

And those umbrellas?

Each one is a tale—a short story or novel crafted in solitude—raised from the limitless depths of imagination in hopes that more than our loved ones will find some sort of connection within the words. It’s the very definition of madness. Truly. Doing the same thing over and over in hopes that there will eventually be a different result.

It was Lord Byron who wrote, “If I Don’t Write to Empty My Mind I Go Mad.” He understood. Most writers understand. Those who aren’t possessed with the compulsion to pour out our words couldn’t possibly comprehend what it’s like to have an army of characters, a galaxy of worlds, all crammed together inside one’s skull. And yet, the ones who can’t write are often the ones who, every once in a while, crave the creative fruits of those who can. And those of us who can, love it.

Perhaps part of it is ego. Every writer wants his or her writing to be savored and then craved, to have an audience that hangs on the next word, the next story, desperate for more. Writers hunger for such adulation, and will endure all manner of trial and travail to find it. But there is more to it than just ego. We write even when we’re certain no one will ever read a story. We write because that’s what is inside us. And in some respects, the accolades from being read, particularly oft-read, are a happy circumstance, an accidental result of our efforts.

I suppose there’s a contradiction there… that man on the hill with all his umbrellas… he would place them in the thunderstorm regardless of whether he got struck by lightning or not. And he would do it again the next day… and the next.

We are writers.

We understand.

 

Q

It’s a Business

I graduated college in May 2007. I had no idea what to do next. Luckily, I landed a job interview with a well-known publishing company, and it turned out to be one of the best, hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.
Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.

Dear Kristin circa May 2007,

Oh you beautiful, delicate flower, you. I know you think you’re really good now. Your writing isn’t bad. Really! I like how you use poetry-like metaphors that only a few people seem to understand, and your interesting paragraph structure. It’s all about the self-expression amiright? Yes, I am right, and so are you.

Like the Terminator, I come bearing news from the future. In a month or two, you’ll have an interview at a big publishing company. Yeah, I KNOW. Good job!

But you will not get the job. Wah wahhhhh. And it’s important that you don’t, so don’t go trying to change it. One of the most important life lessons you will learn happens in that interview.

In the interview, you’ll have a short conversation with the Associate Editor. She’ll tell you that after leaving college, she was idealistic. She was after changing the world. “Cool, me too!” you’ll think. And then she’ll drop this bomb on you. “But this is a business. Yes, it’s a publishing company, but it’s still a business.”

At the time, you’ll wonder why she’s trying to crush your spirit and decide she hasn’t had her coffee yet. In the months after the interview, you’ll understand.

No matter the cause or mission statement, every organization is a business. Every business needs to make money. If they happen to make dreams come true along the way, that’s cool. But the bottom line is that a company needs revenue to continue.

This is where you come in. You love writing, and you do it pretty well. Keep doing it. Keep getting better, keep making friends who are professionals. But also remember this: a publishing company is a business. In order for anyone to read those flowery prose pieces you like so much, you have to make sure they are sellable. Make sure the story is compelling, new, unique. You love experimental writing, and I’m not saying you should stop writing it. But you should also hone your skills on telling good, tight stories that publishers will want to buy.

The future is bright. Hone those skills. Write sellable stories while staying true to yourself.

Oh, and stop with the flowery prose. No one seems to like those but us. Er… me.

Hugs and Kisses
Love

Keep on keepin’ on,

Kristin circa August 2014

 

Vision & Work

clear sight, hard workIn 1997, during some volunteer work in Argentina, my supervisor, Carlos Monroy taught me a truth that has had a profound effect on who I am today.

He drew on a chalkboard a graph similar to the one below, though I’ve translated the words from Spanish.

The graph is made up by two components, Vision along the y-axis and Work along the x-axis.

  • Vision is measured by one’s ability to plan, prepare, visualize, envision, project, dream, and anticipate possibilities.
  • Work is measured by the amount of effort put forward, dedicated or otherwise spent.

Within the graph, Monroy drew four quadrants with the (translated) titles below.

Vision Work

  1. Victim: Low Vision, Low Work. A Victim is someone who feels that the world is constantly dumping on them. Often they are waiting for their lives to get better though they generally feel that any good or bad that may happen to them is outside their control. For example a victim will blame those around him or her for how he or she feels. Victims aren’t very fun to be around. Friends and family that try and support, encourage positive results often find their advice disregarded or twisted to the point where they are seen as part of the victim’s problems.
  2. Dreamer:High Vision, Low Work. A Dreamer is someone who usually exhibits positive energy (though they may slip into victim mode when their plans fall through). They frequently speak of the possibilities that await them and often have many plans for greatness in the works. Dreamers are full of lofty, grandiose ideas. However, they tend to lack the ability to finish goals that they have set. They struggle with meeting deadlines or objectives. Many of the lofty goals lack the careful planned-out structure of getting from point A to point B, and when those deadlines pass, the dreamer typically lapses into victim mode, blaming people and events around them for impeding their success. While vision is a crucial element of success, without work, the world will never know of the dreamer’s existence.
  3. Laborer: Low Vision, High Work. The laborer is a great person to have on any team. Generally, they know how to work and they don’t shy away from it. They put forth the effort. Laborers usually burn the candle at both ends, willing to dedicate time and energy to given tasks. Their lack of vision may create situations where efforts are misguided. They might get down the road a ways on a project before they realize that they’ve wasted time producing something different than expected or desired. Workers typically believe that their happiness is within their control and is directly tied to their efforts. They are self-reliant and very dependable.
  4. Leader: High Vision, High Work. When applying as much vision as the dreamer, with the ability and willingness to work as hard as the laborer, great things happen. These are the people that change the world. They know that their destiny isn’t left to chance, but is within their control. Their happiness is not based on anyone else’s actions. Leaders know how to inspire the masses by sharing their vision and then empower the same by actually following through with the goals they’ve set. Through ample vision, Leaders recognize and harvest the talents of those around them and through example, work to accomplish dreams.

Monroy told a story of a man who raced a team of horses pulling a cart. After winning event after event the man and his horses gained a bit of notoriety. He was asked what he fed his horses to help them perform so well. The man replied that he fed them grains like everyone else. He was then asked if the horses had been bred from a special lineage. He smiled and shook his head. “The secret,” he said, “is to start the team at exactly the same time.” When the team was in step with one another, they didn’t fight each other’s efforts, the load was shared and they travelled faster. A leader has the ability to inspire each individual to contribute and function in his or her unique capacity for the betterment of the team, in step with the other members, a concept known as synergy.

The first two quadrants, Victims and Dreamers, are selfish in nature. The vision of Victims and Dreamers is fogged by their motivation of fear and greed. They are incapable of seeing anything greater than themselves, primarily because there is much effort required in selfless causes. The effort to succeed is not seen inside them so they fail.

The second two quadrants are opposite. Leaders and Laborers by nature are not selfish. They put their heart and soul into greater causes than self but they see that success comes from within them.

What does this have to do with writing? Hopefully we are not Victims, blaming our inadequate word count on events and people around us. Hopefully we are not Dreamers, expecting to write many novels in our lifetime, but not writing anything today. Even though they are great, hopefully we are not Laborers, generating significant word counts, but failing to say anything.

Let us be Leaders in writing. Let us use our talents and craft to inspire the masses. Let us change the world.