Thursday, December 27, 2012

Steps to reaching your goals for 2013

Well its a few days before the new year, hopefully everyone is thinking about, writing down, and or actually getting a jump start on their 2013 goals :).

Studies have shown that the more concrete the goal, the more likely the person is to complete it. So saying, “I want to lose weight”, “I want to get published”, aren’t valid goals. Well, they might be valid, however, they have two things wrong with them 1) too vague, 2) the goal is not directly controllable for the person.

So the first step in our little goal blog today is:

Define the goals:

Work backwards. Where do you want to be in a year from now?

In as concrete terms as possible put down exactly where you want to be.  Then map your way to it in nice, easy to digest chunks. (I like weeks personally ;))

Control the goals:

If I want to lose 30 pounds, and I break it up into nice little x-pounds per week chunks- I could still be messing things up because my body may not lose weight at that ratio. There are many different variables that make up weight loss- such as our body type, our fitness level, genetics, age, etc. So to say, “X-pounds per month” is setting things up for a big disappointment. Then you get depressed, give up, and go eat a pint of rocky road. The trick is to make as your goal something you CAN control. For weight loss this could be “I will work out for 30 minutes a day 3 days a week, and go for 45 minute walks 6 days a week.” This is something YOU have control over- if you fail, regardless of the reason (no time, things came up, etc) the onus is on YOU to fix it. Plus, in terms of weight loss- when you get enough healthy goals lined up you WILL lose weight ;).

For the goal of getting published- again break things down. For most folks still looking at the traditional model, an agent is a good idea. Now saying, “I’ll get an agent this year.” isn’t a viable goal either. The agent does have a say in things- after all, free will, etc. So the better goal is one in which control comes back to you. Something such as, “I will submit a query to 25 agents this year.” That is in your control completely and hopefully will lead to an agent, which will lead to a sale, which will lead to being published.


Responsibility for the goal (or failure):

The problem for many folks is that they place the “success-o-meter” for their goals in the hands of something other than themselves. Psychologists refer to it has an external locus of control. My happiness, or success, is in the hands of someone else, whether it be fate, luck, some higher power. If a person has an external loci of control, they see that their happiness, sadness, success, etc is out of their hands. "I'm not happy because (outside action, person, event)." Or I’d do that “wonderful thing to change my life BUT”. These could be called the ‘because’ and ‘but’ folks.

It's also true for responsibility of ones life and actions- external locus of control folks are never to blame for their own failures or mistakes. It’s not their fault their life isn’t what they want, or they can’t reach their goals- it’s always the action of something far beyond them.

Folks with a more internal locus of control see themselves as the steering action for their lives. If they succeed at something- it’s through their own hard work. They fail at something? It’s them who dropped the ball. And it's up to their to get back on course.

Now guess which group has more control in changing their behavior? In succeeding in their goals?

Like all personality and social behaviors, people range from one end of the spectrum to the other- probably no one is at the extreme end for either side. But as people who want to gain control of our lives, one of the first things we need to do is take responsibility. Develop your internal locus of control ;).

Future Time Perspective concerning goals:

This is a psychological theory about people’s ability to delay gratification now in order to achieve a goal or desire in the future. Aka, how much are you willing to suffer now to reap future rewards. Like locus of control, people range on this scale. Some folks are close to zero. They’re the 'I want it now, I don’t want to set aside time to advance my goals, I want to watch tv because it gives me immediate enjoyment' bunch. Those folks have a hard time making the reality of those future goals concrete in their heads (and most are going to be on the external locus of control end of the game too- if you can’t control your future, why should you give up current pleasure for it?).

People with a strong sense of future time perspective have trained themselves to see what they want (define their goals), adjust those goals as needed, and can connect their current actions with those future goals. They adjust to dealing with getting up at 5am, to watching less tv, playing less with social media, giving up some time with friends (not too much, social contact is vital for mental health ;))-because their future goal is real to them and they see they have control over it.

Notice I said train themselves. Through upbringing people may be at one end or the other on both of these scales. BUT they can train themselves to be better. To realize they have control over their lives (both good and bad events), that sacrifice now is important for success later on.

Flexibility of goals:

Goals should grow and change as you do, don’t hang onto a goal just because you wrote it down.  Take a look at your goals regularly, and change them as needed.


Hope all of you have some great goals for 2013!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing is like making cookies...

Now yes, the title of today's blog is a bold and possibly rabble rousing statement. How can I compare cookies to writing a novel?! Well, it could be that I’ve blown out my last brain cells during the great cookie baking week-end of 2012.

Or I may have a point. ;)

Let’s start with cookies (always a great place to start ;)). I make a lot of different types, most all have folks for whom THAT cookie is their favorite. But they don’t all agree. What one person loves in my frosted pumpkin spice cookies, another may find too sweet.

So which person is “right”?


Cookie taste is subjective, I like all the cookies I make to varying degrees or I wouldn’t make them. I do use my friends as litmus tests- if everyone finds a cookie too sweet, or too something not good- I’ll modify that cookie recipe. But if person A loves them, person B thinks they are too sweet, and person C likes them but likes a different cookie from my collection better- I don’t change the recipe.

I make my cookies to the best of my ability- over the years I’ve created and modified recipes to suit my tastes. I am the first consumer of the cookies- if I don’t like them, others won’t either. But you are never going to have a cookie that EVERYONE universally loves.

Cookies are subjective.

And writing is subjective.

Ah, you knew I’d get back to the point—right? ;)

As writers the ONLY things we must do are to keep writing and to keep learning our craft. We can’t worry about making everyone who sees our work love it- that simply won’t happen.

All we can do is make the best cookies—er, books— that we can and keep an eye out for an ‘everyone hates the same thing’ mark. Otherwise, take feedback with a grain of salt, if it feels right to you- make the change. But don’t change every little thing because one person didn’t like it.

Believe in yourself.

Believe in your writing.

Don’t give up.

And make lots of cookies! J

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

GUEST: RACHEL AARON- author of the Eli Monpress series

I’m lucky enough today to have the wonderful Fantasy novelist, Rachel Aaron as my guest. Rachel is the author of the Eli Monpress novels and one of the fastest writers around!
 I’ve started her off with some questions and she’s really given a wealth of answers- if you’re a writer or a reader-READ ON! (Then go check out her books ;)).


How did you get started writing?

I always wanted to be a story teller. Ever since I can remember, I've been full of stories, but it wasn't until college that I fixed on writer as the way to get them out (as opposed to manga or movies since I can't draw and have no visual artistic sense what so ever). Even then, though, I didn't get really serious about writing until I finished college and started a very boring job as a secretary/graphic designer for a Methodist church.


By this point, I was starting to get really serious about being a writer. I was researching publishing and trying on and off to write, mostly at work, but I wasn't really getting anywhere. Then, one day, I found this quote from Ernest Hemmingway "Those who say they want to be writers, and aren't, don't."


This was the shot across the bow for me. Because I did want to be a writer, but I wasn't writing, and if I wasn't writing, I'd never be one. Also, I knew I was in a rare position. I was newly graduated, no responsibilities other than feeding myself and paying my dirt cheap rent. I had a boring job with several dead hours in front of a computer, if I couldn't write under these conditions, I never would.


So I got serious. I started trying to get 2000 words a day. Most days I didn't, and sometimes I'd have whole months where I didn't write a word (especially when Warcraft was really going). But the point is I never stopped for good. I always came back. I got a new, much harder job, but I still got up in the mornings and wrote, and about a year after I got serious, I finished my first book... and it got rejected EVERYWHERE. But I had the bug now, and I wrote another book that became The Spirit Thief, which was the book that got the agent, the book deal, and started my career.


From the published authors I've talked to, my story seems pretty typical. There's often this moment where you shift from thinking "I want to write" to really doing it, and that moment is the moment where your career as a writer really begins. For me, it was in 2004. For reference, I sold my first book in 2008. Four years and 2 books after I got serious, I made it. Some people take less time, some people take WAY more (Bestseller Lynn Viehl famously took 10 years to make it). The point is we all made it not because we're geniuses and writing came easy to us, but because we didn't give up.


What words of wisdom would you want to tell that early version of you as a writer?

PLAN BETTER! I'm a huge plotter now, but at the beginning I rushed into things head long and often ended up painting myself into corners or making dumb plot decisions simply because I was trying to play everything by ear. If I'd just taken the time to figure out my ending and the plot twists, much of my in book angst could have been avoided. Planning will set you free!


Who were your biggest influences?

 In terms of my writing, probably anime, weird as it sounds. I love the way anime/manga handles drama and pacing, and I try to incorporate that same addictive excitement into my books. I take my prose sensibilities from Peter S. Beagle (for the pretty stuff), Elizabeth Moon (for the fights), and Frank Herbert (for the spiritual/magical stuff).

 For my writing life, though, I'd be remiss if I did not mention Holly Lisle. Her website was my window into how publishing worked when I was first starting out, and I loved her for it. She was the one who taught me to "Pay it forward" and her influence is a huge part of the reason I take the time now to help new authors as much as I can. We're all newbies at some point, and I feel it's my duty as an author to reach back and help others with the climb just as Holly helped me.


What would you say has been the most difficult writing lesson to learn?

If something isn't working: stop. This is a lesson I'm still learning, actually. In many writing circles,"finishing what you start" is a sacred creed, and for a good reason. You'll never sell a book if you can't finish one. But this saying often leads writers (or at least, lead me) to try and just power through scenes that aren't working in the name of "just get it done." But it doesn't work. Cliched as it is, you can't force art. If you're not interested in writing a scene, if the words aren't flowing, you can't make them. And believe it or not, this is a good thing. Your brain is trying to tell you that something is wrong, and when that happens, the best thing to do is just stop (even if that means missing your words per day quota) and figure out what's gone sour.

 This can be really scary. Often it means throwing out words and rewriting. But if I've learned one lesson so far, it's this: writing should be enjoyable. If you didn't have fun writing your scene, no one's going to have fun reading it. So instead of sitting there desperately trying to wring words into an unwilling scene, just stop and ask, why don't I want to write this? What's wrong? The answer is often the solution to problems you never even knew you had, and it almost always makes your book better.


What have you enjoyed the most about your Eli Monpress series?

Completing the meta-plot. The Eli Monpress novels were always planned to be five books. Right from the beginning, I knew how the overarching story was going to end. I knew what the Shepherdess was and the secret of the world, but I didn't quite know how to get it out there. As the series went on, unfolding the meta-plot of the larger world and Eli's role in it became this enormous balancing act. I was telling a huge, background story over five books, one I couldn't show too much of for fear of spilling the beans but I still had to make sure readers noticed things so that when the revelations did come, they'd know what they meant. This was a really freaking ambitious stunt to pull on a first series, but I did it, and I think I did it really really well. Pulling off the end of Eli is probably the single thing I'm most proud of in my career so far, and Spirit's End is my favorite of the Eli books by far.


Other than that, though, I LOVED writing Eli. His voice is one of the strongest character voices I've ever had, and spending 5 books with him talking in my head was an absolute delight. Ah, Eli, I miss you!

Now that your series has ended, what is on the horizon? Where do you see yourself five years from now writing/book wise?

I'm currently finishing up the third book of a new SciFi trilogy for Orbit Books. It's a much more R rated series than Eli, more Romance, sex, cursing, and violence. The main character is a very badass female powered armor mercenary and I love her to pieces. I'm kind of on the fence about whether my Eli fans will like it, so was Orbit, which is why the books are coming out under the name "Rachel Bach" instead of Rachel Aaron. But I think the series is a hoot. So if you like adventure romance mixed with hard core armored combat and space adventure, my new series might be right up your alley. Book 1, Fortune's Pawn, comes out in May 2013.

What is the most important thing (or things ;)) any writer can learn to improve their craft?

Patience with yourself. So many of the writers I meet have these strange ideas that they're just supposed to know how to write a publishable quality book even though they've never done it before. This is silly, because writing is a skill. You wouldn't expect to sit down at a piano never having touched one before and just start playing like a pro, would you? Of course not, so why do people expect to be able to just shoot out quality fiction? It's absurd.

Good writing takes practice, patience, and a whole lot of experimentation. Failure is inevitable. You're going to write a lot of bad words before you get to the good ones, and this is totally acceptable and natural. Don't look at a failed book as failure, look at it as practice. Every word, every scene, every chapter, every book you write makes you better. Nothing is wasted. So if you're frustrated with your work, rather than hate on yourself for being a bad writer, remember that you're learning your craft and cut yourself some slack. It's much healthier for everyone involved.

Thank you so much for coming by Rachel! 

Writer folks, along with her amazing Eli  Monpress series- Rachel also has a must read short e-book and improving your writing speed- this book is great regardless of what genre you write!


Her main website:
The Legend of Eli Monpress
 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love (




Thursday, December 6, 2012

Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

Ok, there are two components of this statement- one for us as writers.  A screenwriter friend once told me, “You can never fail, you can only quit”. If we give up on our dreams, on ourselves, without doing all that we want to do- we’re selling ourselves short. You can't fail in this business as long as you keep writing.

But the way I want to look at it today is our characters.

Our characters have to be realistic enough for readers to identify with otherwise they’ll never be able to jump inside their heads for the ride.

But at the same time, our characters have to go a beyond real- they can’t give up even when faced with odds that would destroy “regular” people. (Ok, the argument can be made, and it’s valid, that there ARE people who perform with super human tenacity, but we’ll ignore them for now. If you KNOW someone is going to succeed no matter what, what’s the fun in watching their path?).

We have to create people who are normal to begin with (normal for whatever they are, fae, elf, dragon, vampire, or even just human) but who find that inner power we all wish we had to go beyond who they were and save the day.

These characters have to have plenty of options to walk away, they may even do so once or twice, but something inside of them keeps them going back to the right path. To put themselves in harm’s way to save others, an ideal, or a way of life.

I'm finding that the more flaws I give my characters, the more problems and reasons for them to turn away, the more I believe them when they don't.

Any tricks out there for making characters who go beyond themselves and are yet still believable?

Thanks for coming by!