September 2016 Goals in Review

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Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and warn you guys in advance that September was simply not a great month for any of my goals. Part of that is because of being busy with various life stuff, and getting totally stressed out because of my job, but if I’m honest I have to say that I’m not even really quite sure what happened in September. The month just seemed to completely fall apart on me in numerous ways. So let’s just go ahead and get this ‘Month in Review’ over with, shall we?

Goal #1. Take good care of myself, specifically by walking 10,000 steps per day and taking at least 15 minutes per day to do something fun/relaxing.

Goal #1 is probably the most epic fail of the month because I didn’t even manage to accomplish a part of it. For one thing, out of the entire month, there was only one day on which I managed to hit 10k steps. One day. That’s ridiculous even for me. And to add to that, my average steps were only 6550, which is the second lowest average I’ve had all year. That number should actually be slightly higher, because there was one day during which I’d forgotten to charge my FitBit and it died on me, but the extra steps would probably only boost the average buy a couple dozen. Totally pathetic.

But to make matters worse, I didn’t even manage to pull off the 15 minutes of “me time”…not by a long shot. I counted 19 days where I managed to do something – usually just lounging on 9Gag on my phone or playing that silly Sailor Drops game. That means there were 11 days in September during which I couldn’t even manage to find myself 15 minutes. Not 15 minutes. And that is just depressing.

Goal #2. Build more readership/viewership by putting more focus and energy into my blog posts, shooting more fun YouTube videos, and putting more effort into self-promotion.

The second goal isn’t a complete fail, but I’m not really feeling a huge level of success here either. I’ve definitely been trying to put more time and effort into things like the YouTube channel’s social media, interacting with other channels and the like, and that’s definitely a good thing but it doesn’t seem like it’s doing a whole lot of good, really. We’ve stagnated a bit in terms of new subscribers and followers, and while that’s not necessarily our fault (it could be any number of things, really), you also can’t help but feel a little like you’re climbing uphill with no shoes.

Meanwhile, a little bit of good news is that the new cover for Nowhere to Hide does, in fact, seem to be making a difference. I still wouldn’t call my sales anything worth talking about, but at least there’s the occasional e-book sale, the occasional number of Kindle Normalized Pages Read popping up, instead of months of a completely dead graph. So cheers for that! I definitely need to put more effort into promoting the book though, because I’ve really been neglecting that aspect of being an author lately. Bad Tracey.

Goal #3. Write as much as I can, including writing an entire novel from start to finish.

And then there’s this. I wrote a grand total of 6689 words this month which, like my step average above, is the second worst number I’ve come up with all year so far. It’s better than nothing, there’s no doubt about that, but I’m consistently depressed with my apparent inability to commit myself to the thing that I actually love doing the most.

To accentuate this personal failure, I’ve been getting reminders in my email about how National Novel Writing Month is less than a month away, and I just don’t know what to do with that info. I want to participate, because I’ve participated every year since I discovered the challenge, but I know I’ll fail. I haven’t written 50k words over the course of the last five months, so what are the chances I’ll be able to write that many in one month? Pretty slim I’d say, and I just don’t know if I feel like setting myself up for that failure right now.


So that’s that, I guess. I didn’t intend for this post to be so moody and depressing, but those are the facts, I guess. And it doesn’t help that I’ve been feeling tired, stressed, and pretty much just burnt out in general. Tomorrow is another day, right? I promise I’ll try to keep telling myself that, if you guys promise to believe it.

How was your month?

5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It’s Too Late): A Response

Last week I did a response to David Wong’s 6 Reasons the System is Rigged (the name of which later got changed, but I’m sticking with the original one because bugger it all). Writing about my own personal thoughts and experience into the points on the list was so much fun that I decided to do another one for another Cracked.com article that caught my eye. This time Mr John Cheese writes about the post-secondary education situation in 5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It’s Too Late). Every entry made me nod my head enthusiastically and cry a little for my own four years of wracking up debt, so of course I had to share with you. Be sure to check out the original article as well!

"I went to Cape Breton University and all I got was this stupid t-shirt."
“I went to Cape Breton University and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.”

#5. The First Two Years of College Are a Repeat of High School

The first entry doesn’t apply to me as much as it might apply to some people because I took a trade, which involved a whole lot of stuff that the high school education system does not deem to be important, but even so I do have to agree that there was a lot of crossover. For instance, the degree that I took involved a four-part math program – that is, four semesters of math classes, labeled 1 through 4. I ended up opting for two semesters of Calculus because it was quicker (and thus, cheaper), but not before going through the entirety of “Math 1”, so I can definitely tell you, without exaggeration, that this was basically a repeat of high school math. I absolutely understand the need for halfway-decent math skills if you’re going into a technology-based program, but a lot of it was stuff that you literally cannot graduate high school without having done, so it definitely felt like a huge waste of time and money. And, of course, that’s the point, right? They tack on a bunch of extra courses based on stuff you should (and usually do) already know, because more money for them! It’s not evil at all. No, really. Totally on the up-and-up.
For myself, the math thing is the best example, but for a lot of my friends it was a lot more like what the title of this first entry implies: the first two years of their four-year degrees were almost entirely things they’d already done throughout high school. BA students were re-taught all the language skills they’d been practicing for years, science students had to spend a ton of time and money on the same basic concepts they’d chosen to study in high school, and the technical/engineering students spent their first several semesters doing the same old mathematics before eventually moving on to stuff they’d never seen before.
I’m not saying that college students should be immediately dropped into a shark tank of 100% brand new and confusing information, but those first few semesters really make you feel as though you’re wasting your money on stuff you spent three years learning for free.

#4. You’ll Be Forced to Take Classes That Have Nothing to Do With Anything

Even in my case, taking a trade, this was absolutely true. As near as I can figure, every single college program out there is inflated with courses that you would otherwise have absolutely no reason to take, simply because they need the program to have the “proper” number of courses and they ran out of stuff that made sense before they were finished.
The best example of this in my particular program is the two “Communications” courses I was forced to take as part of my degree: Communications 101 and Communications 201. Knowing that I took a trade based in electronics and industrial instrumentation, you might assume that my “Communications” course would probably have something to do with technical communication…phones and the internet, and stuff like that. You might assume that, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. This particular pair of courses was based on business communication. So, okay, now you’re probably thinking that it has something to do with learning how to properly communicate within a business setting, deal with customer relations, or how to appropriately commerce with employers and coworkers. Sorry, wrong again. We may have spoken about that kind of thing for a single class or two, but that wasn’t the main premise of the courses.
So what did we do in these particular courses? Well, we learned how to write a resume and a cover letter. Oh, and we were taught the proper way to use things like footnotes…that is, if by “proper” you mean “totally-ass-backwards” because our professor for these particular courses was a bit of a lunatic who liked to make things up and tell us that it was the “correct” way to do things. One notable piece of information that she imparted was that your name is the most important part of your resume (I’ll give her that one, but just wait for it…) and thus you should make it as visible as possible. Her suggestion was to make your name a font that allows it to take up the entire width of the page, and to make it bright and colorful so that it’s more noticeable. She actually told us, with a completely serious look on her face, that it would help you get hired if you made your name on your resume bright, fuchsia pink. The woman must have never actually had to apply for a job in her life.
Long story short, other than the different acceptable formats that a resume can take, these courses taught us absolutely nothing that we would ever need to know. Those two courses were $600 each. I spent three hours a week for 24 weeks and $1200 to be told that I should add bright fuchsia pink text to my resume.

#3. Failing Will Cost You Severely

It should come as no surprise that failing a college course – which you had to pay through the nose just to get into – will cost you to fail. You pay for the course before you’ve ever gone anywhere near the classroom, and that money becomes the college’s whether you pass the course or not. That’s the system, and we all know how it works.

But there’s more than just a monetary loss involved in such a failing.

Remember earlier when I mentioned that I chose to take two Calculus courses instead of four more basic math courses? I chose to do that because of the money I’d save and because I was always good at math so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately the university that I attended has the market cornered on terrible Calculus professors. There were three to choose from, one of whom was out right off the bat because of the timing of his courses. Of the two who were left, one was lazy as hell and genuinely didn’t give a rat’s ass if a single person passed his course, and the other was an evil bastard who had tenure and used that sense of security to actively attempt to fail as many of his students as possible. I had the first prof. A friend of mine had the second.

My prof never explained anything anymore than he personally felt he needed to, and never answered questions. By the end of the first semester, almost exactly half of my classmates had flunked out of the course. By the end of the second semester I literally had an anxiety attack that found me in the emergency room of the nearby hospital. It was the night before the final exam and nothing made sense to me. I’d failed a ton of the course’s homework assignments and all I could think about (while I was trying so hard to study) was how if I didn’t make at least a 70% on this exam, I was going to flunk the course. I’d never flunked anything before in my life, so the disappointment was pretty bad. That alone didn’t cause the anxiety attack though; it was a combination of the disappointment, the fact that failure would mean I’d completely wasted $600, and the knowledge that if I did fail I would have to do the whole goddamn thing over again. When you fail a college course you don’t just pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move on with your life. If you want to continue on with your chosen program you have to take the failed course all over again, which means paying for it again, as well as trying to figure out how to fit it into the schedule – because it might fit into year 2, but there’s no time slot available for it in year 3.

My friend with the devil professor experienced this several times over. He had gone into engineering, and because of the schedule of the courses the evil prof was his only option. He failed the course three times before finally managing to weasel his way into a different prof’s course. He spent $2400 on that one course, and had to deal with a hell of a lot stress in the process.

It’s no wonder that so many college students find themselves having a breakdown at some point.

#2. The New Friends You Make Will Be Temporary

I was never the kind of person who made friends really easily. I was shy and a little odd from other peoples’ viewpoints. That got a little easier when I started college because these were people who were interested in the same things as me, headed toward the same goal as I was. My classes were not huge ones, because the trades don’t attract enormous numbers around here, but the guys in my classes became quick friends. We were buddies, for sure. My husband – who was a year behind me when we attended the same college – had his own set of classroom friends, and I became friends with many of them as well. It was a great time. We spent a couple of good years partying with friends every weekend and just generally being more social than I had ever been in my life.

You know how many of those college friends we still keep in touch with? I have, like…six of them on Facebook. Know how many of them I’ve actually seen, face-to-face over the past year? Two. And only them because it so happened that they were out on the same job with me while I was out West.

The fact of the matter is that college is a stepping stone for most people. The majority of the people you go to college with will move away after graduation (or else return to where they came from, if they moved for college). You might keep in contact with some of them, since social media is such a basic concept of life these days, but chances are you’ll never actually see most of them ever again. It’s just one of those things. Sorry.

 

#1. College Isn’t the Booze-Fueled Orgy That Movies Depict

At first I actually wanted to dispute this particular entry, but when I really thought about it I realized that, yeah…it’s true. I mean, there’s no denying that a certain amount of boozing and sexing goes on in college. That’s part of the experience. For some kids those are the only reasons to even bother going to college. But it’s not even the tiniest bit close to how movies depict it. The guys I hung around with during college loved to drink, but they saved that stuff (for the most part) for the weekends; we weren’t drowning ourselves in cheap beer in between classes and doing shots out of hot girls’ navels every evening. And I honestly don’t know anyone who drank like that, even when considering the people who were obvious party animals. As for the sex part…yeah, college is an excellent place to meet people, share experiences, try new things, and I definitely know some people who took major advantage of that. But it wasn’t a hedonistic den of sin by any stretch of the imagination. Even the guys I knew who were major dogs managed to keep it in their pants the majority of the time.
The simple fact is that college isn’t the enormous party that people imagine it is. There’s tons of fun and friends and being the biggest idiot you can be just for the hell of it, but that’s a byproduct, not the normal flow of things. College students simply are not drunk and having sex 100% of the time. To think that they would be is actually pretty foolish.

So now that I’ve shared my side of the experience, how about you guys? What was college like for you? Did you have to put up with courses full of material you already knew, or even worse, courses that were undeniably useless to you? Did you ever fail a course, and what did it cost you? Have you managed to hang on to any of your friends from college? And be honest…how much boozing and sexing did you really do? I wanna hear about it! Please share!

Accountability Wednesdays: Week 16

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Before I get started today, I want to send out a belated “Happy Easter!” to all those who celebrate the holiday, and I hope you had a good one! This Easter was the first one that I really got to celebrate with my daughter since she was too young to understand what it was about the first two years, and last year I was working on the other side of the country during the holiday. Since I had the opportunity I staged a little egg hunt with goodies (cream eggs, M&M’s, mini-eggs, and little plastic bracelets) in plastic eggs. It was too fun watching her run around looking for the eggs, sometimes staring right at them and walking past. She also got a Build-a-Bear Fluttershy (My Little Pony) from us, which was the first thing she ran right for, which of course made my heart melt. Throw in some books and candy and a couple of games for her LeapPad from the grandparents, and the little missy had quite a lovely day, and therefore so did I. Little joys, my friends. Little joys.

Also, decorating eggs is a necessity! :D
Also, decorating eggs is a necessity! 😀

And now that I’ve thoroughly cleansed your pallet, it’s time to muck it up with a week’s worth of failure. o.o

Goal #1: Lose ten pounds and become healthier overall.

On the upside of things, I weighed myself this morning and I am almost three pounds lighter than I was when I had my meltdown last week. I’m not exactly sure how that happened, or whether either of those two weigh-in’s was accurate, because it doesn’t seem likely that I lost three pounds in one week without doing anything at all. But for now, I’ll take it.

The bad side of things is that I had an awful week for poor eating, due in part to the Easter holiday. I mean, come on, chocolate was everywhere. I also had a lot more pop than I should have, so I’m reasserting myself to avoid it this week. Water, water, water…maybe if I repeat it enough times I’ll start to enjoy drinking it. lol

The other bad side of things is that I did almost zero activity last week. I hopped on the treadmill once, and that was it. My FitBit should seriously have some kind of shock function that fills me full of voltage if I get fewer than so many steps in a day. >.>

But there is another upside! Kinda. See, I’ve got a plan. My plan partially hinges on the weather not being an ass, but it’s a plan none-the-less. I broke out an old book I’ve got called “Buff Brides” that I used when I was trying to lose weight for my wedding. It’s actually a pretty nice program, laid out in a simple-to-understand “do this on this day” system, and it helped me last time so I figure it can help me this time. The program involves weight training three days a week, starting with simple exercises that neither take too much time nor beat you out so that you end up quitting right away. It also encourages three days a week worth of cardio, so I’m going to hike up my britches, pay that my stomach holds itself together until the doctor’s can give me a more definitive answer about my gastronomic issues, and start my Zombies! Run! app again. I hope to start my new plan this Sunday – starting with a Zombies! run – but I’m not committing to it for certain because I’ve got some other things to deal with between now and then. If not this Sunday, it’ll be the following Sunday. Hold me accountable, people! Ask me how I’m doing and yell at me if I say anything other than “Great!”

Goal #2: Be more active on social media and work hard on my “author platform”.

This week was much like the previous week. I’ve been doing pretty well with Facebook and the blogging community, interacting and getting conversations going and the like. Twitter is my weak point and I’m not really sure what to do about it. For some reason it feels like a lot of extra effort to add that one site to my daily routine, and I think it’s because I can never think of anything to say that I can compress into less than 140 characters. I’m just too wordy, I guess. 😛

Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.

This is the crux of my failure right here. I keep telling myself that I’m going to work on it, and I keep daydreaming about what it will be like when I’m 100% done and sending the file to Create Space, and yet it never happens. Partially my problem is a mixture of laziness and lethargy – I’ve been very badly obsessed with sitting on my ass and playing video games the past while – but at least part of the problem is good-old-fashioned fear. I long to have my book finished and published, but I also fear it. It’s that stupid human way of fearing both failure and success simultaneously. What is wrong with the human mind? A great many things, it would seem.

That said, I stand before you now (or rather, sit behind my side of the computer screen) and swear to you all that I am going to get something done toward this goal this week. Even if it’s just to go through and fix the invisible typos that my beta-reader pointed out, I will do something this week, I promise.

Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.

You know what? I’ve changed my mind. This is the crux of my failure. If there’s one thing that I know for sure that a writer has to do, it’s write. We have to write, write, and write some more, and then have a couple of cups of coffee and keep writing. I have completely failed this aspect of writer-dom during the month of April. I figured – I really did – that if I wrote and scheduled all my A to Z Challenge posts in advance, then I would have tons of time to write other things throughout April without having to worry about the blog. Technically that did happen. I’ve had time to write. I just haven’t been using it. I completely wasted three weeks of not having to worry about writing blog posts by completely failing to write anything else. This past week the only thing I wrote – literally, the only thing that wasn’t a Facebook status or a comment reply – was last week’s accountability post…for a grand total of 875 words. The really sad thing? That was actually a better total than last week.

So my second promise for this week is to write something every day, even if it’s just a couple hundred words of nonsense. This complete and utter laziness toward writing has got to stop. How can I ever consider myself a professional writer if I don’t write?

Accountability Wednesdays: Week 10

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I almost forgot to write this post today, and I blame that on the fact that I have very little good to report. I lost an entire day this week as a result of having to drive quite a ways for a doctor’s appointment (which served almost no purpose besides scheduling day surgery, which really could have just been done over the damn phone), and I spent most of the other days trying to get organized, do some work around the house, and search for a new job, all while dealing with the little barnacle that I call my daughter. You have been forewarned: this will not be a great accountability post.

Goal #1: Lose ten pounds and become healthier overall.

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha…oh my. I don’t even know what to say here. I can tell you that on one day near the beginning of this week I spent about forty minutes playing a dance game on the PS3 and that I haven’t touched it since because it made me feel absolutely horrible about myself. I can also tell you that I’ve been continuing on with my attempts to drink mostly water, so that’s a good thing, I guess. But also, my eating habits have been horrible this week. I don’t know how much chocolate I ate this week. I think I only ate breakfast once in the last seven days. There was one day when I ate a lot of fruit, but I subsequently was sick of it after that and changed over to junky stuff. There’s been a veggie tray sitting in my fridge for almost an entire week now, with healthy dip even, but I haven’t even broken the seal on the sticker.

I am in such a mood this week, you have no idea. It’s no excuse, I know, but just trust me when I say that I don’t even feel bad.

(Except for the part when I stepped on the scale and totally ended up feeling bad. Very bad.)

Goal #2: Be more active on social media and work hard on my “author platform”.

On the one hand, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Facebook this week, specifically on my new Author Page, which I have linked to on the right sidebar of this page, under my photo. Please visit and “Like”! 😀

On the other hand, I’ve been totally absent on Twitter, for the most part, and I’ve only managed to scrape together a minute here and there to interact with other bloggers. I don’t know what it is the past few days, but I swear my days are just flitting away from beneath me while I somehow manage to not get anything done. What’s up with that?

Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.

At the very least I wish I could say that the reason I haven’t been accomplishing anything else is because I’ve been busy working on the final draft of my novel. I wish I could say that. Alas, it would be an enormous lie. I haven’t even opened the file, or glanced at my beta-reader’s notes. I’ve done absolutely nothing and I feel positively horrible about it because it’s terribly unprofessional. Please feel free to yell at me.

Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.

On this one front I will say that the week wasn’t too bad, but it still wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Remember last week when I said that I was going to at least double my word count from that week? Yeeeaaaahhh….that didn’t happen. With the bits of time I managed to actually sit at my computer and think I wrote a few blog posts that totaled up to 4923words. Not too shabby, but nowhere near doubling last week. This is not me whining, I’m just pointing out that I’m consistently failing. Ha!

So now that all that painfulness is out of the way, let’s just go ahead and pretend that week 10 never happened. On to week 11!

Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Epic Fail

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

37. What to do if you’ve failed at the goals you set

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve just gotta get back on the horse”? If you have, you should understand what I’m about to talk about. If you haven’t, what rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?

Everyone fails at goals. Maybe not all the time, maybe some more often than others, but everyone at some point in time fails at a goal they’ve set for themselves. It’s the nature of the situation that even if we have all the best of intentions, things will go wrong, other issues will intrude, and any number of problems will arise to keep us from reaching the end of the line. Maybe it’s something we can’t control, like the fact that our new job requires us to work 70-hour weeks and we can’t work on our goal if we want to be able to eat and sleep as well. Maybe it’s something absolutely controllable, like being just plain lazy. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. It doesn’t make you a better or worse failure. Failure is failure.

But failure is also just a chance to start over again. Failure shows us what we’ve done wrong, which issues we failed to take into consideration, and what we have to change to do better next time. If you’re a really optimistic type, failure might even be motivation to try harder. If you’re the pessimistic type, things might be a little more difficult, but the same points still apply.

And excellent example of failure and moving on from it is rejection in writing. An author can put their heart and soul – and a ridiculous number of work-hours – into a manuscript, only to have it rejected by the publisher…and then rejected by another…and another…and another. Regardless of how good a manuscript may be, it is almost certain that the author will receive multiple rejections before (hopefully) receiving a publication offer. This situation really defines the whole “get back on the horse” thing because if these authors were to just give up, where would we be? Were you aware that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book before finally getting published? We all know now that the Harry Potter books are well-written, well-loved, and have ultimately sold bucketloads. So why did she receive so many rejection letters? There are any number of reasons, but the point is that she had a goal set (to publish that damn book!) and she didn’t let failure upon failure stop her from continuing to try and try, getting back on the horse again and again.

It’s definitely hard sometimes…humans are naturally depressive and easily-discouraged creatures…but if the goal you’ve set for yourself is something that’s important to you, something that you know you’re not going to be happy just giving up on, then you have to press on. If you’ve done something wrong, figure out what it is. If outside issues are holding you back, figure out a way around them. And if the problem is just timing, situation, or reliance on others to react the way you need them to, you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, until all the puzzle pieces fall into place. In the end you’ll be better off for having to have worked for it, and the end of the line will be that much more beautiful when you reach it.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope you’re able to hold on to that hope as well. 🙂

“Aim for the top-right corner!”

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

36. Goal setting

That’s a little hockey joke up in the title of the post, in case you missed it. 😛

If there’s something I think we can all agree on, it’s that goals are important. Without goals we cannot advance, we cannot attain. It could be something as simple as wanting to pay off a loan sooner. Without actively making the decision to set that goal for yourself, your loan will stay exactly where it is. By setting the goal, by choosing to want something better, you’re taking the first step in setting yourself up for attainable advancement.

The problem with goals is that most people don’t understand how to make a proper one. Most people set themselves up for failure by creating goals that aren’t well thought out. Common issues are creating a goal that is too broad, or too ambitious, or that neglect to take important personal factors into account. For example, take the common goal of weight loss:

Too Broad
“I want to lose weight.”
This goal is about as broad as you can get. Think about it for a moment…how are you going to lose weight? Are you going to eat less? Different kinds of foods? More vegetables? Less fats? Are you going to exercise? What kind of exercise? Running? Spinning class? P90X? And what about the fine details? How much weight do you want to lose? How fast? Neglecting to narrow down your goal leaves you open to far too many possible points of sabotage. You might exercise your ass off, but neglect to monitor your eating habits and thus fail to accomplish anything. You might lose weight, but not as fast as you had hoped and find yourself discouraged enough to give up. If you figure out all the details ahead of time, and stick to them, you’re much more likely to progress.

Too Ambitious
“I want to lose 15 lbs in a month!”
It should come as no surprise that setting goals that are too ambitious (in other words: damn near impossible) will also set you up for failure and disappointment. In this example you would have to do something very extreme, and probably very unhealthy, to reach your goal, since a healthy and plausible rate of weight loss is about 1 lb a week. If you set yourself a goal that is so ambitious that there’s no way it’s actually going to happen, you’re just going to end up frustrated that you can’t achieve it.

Neglect to Attend Important Factors
“I’m going to lose x-lbs by cutting out all sweets and soda.”
This is actually a half-decent plan at first glance. Most people take far too much sugar into their bodies, so cutting that out would almost definitely result in some form of weight loss. But in this example the goal neglects to consider the repercussions of the intended actions. Presumably the person who set the goal consumes a large amount of sugar, if they believe cutting it out will help them lose weight. What’s going to happen when that sugar stops being consumed? Many people don’t realize that sugar is no different that many drugs. It’s addictive, it gives you an artificial “high” in the form of short-term energy, and cutting it completely from your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms. No, I’m not kidding. Aside from all that, do you actually have the willpower to cut out all sugar? Is this plan going to succeed only in making you miserable? Because misery is absolutely not conducive to a successful goal. When determining the details of your goal you have to take into account the consequences that may occur and your own personal ability (really, really take a good look at yourself here) to deal with the limitations you’ve set for yourself.

These three factors can be applied to a goal of any type. If we’re looking at a writing goal, they definitely apply. You can’t be too broad (“I want to be a writer even though I have absolutely no plan and don’t know what I want to write!”), you can’t be too ambitious (“I just got an idea for a novel and I’m totally going to have it written and published within two months!”), and you can’t forget to consider possible consequences and personal ability (“I’m going to get up an hour early every morning to write, even though I already only get about four hours of sleep a night!”). Ignoring these factors will set you on the path to failure, and failure will set you on the path to disappointment, depression, and a little thing I like to call “I Give UP!” syndrome.

Set goals for yourself…just remember that not all goals are equal and very few are easy to attain.

I Don’t Even Have Time to Manage!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

32. Time management systems for writers

I know I’ve said this before about other topics, but if there is one thing that I should not be commenting on, it’s ‘time management’. The very existence of a thing known as ‘time management’ eludes and confuses me. At my very best I’ve been known to accomplish one or two things a day that I had actually set out to do. Most of the time I accomplish only the herculean task of clothing and feeding myself, and rolling around on the living room floor with the baby.

That said, I know that time management is (should be?) very important for writers. We have to be able to find the time to pluck out x-number of words a day, plus keep up to snuff on our social media, plus deal with all the other aspects of everyday life, which for many of us means a day job. It’s just not something I’ve ever gotten a hold on. I write when I can, and when I can I write a lot. That’s about the best I’ve been able to manage.

I’m aware that there are many apps out there for both Apple and Android products, as well as many websites such as LifeHacker that were created for just this sort of thing, but somehow I don’t even manage to find the time to look into these things. How sad is that? I can’t find the time to look into time management. And despite my own failure to initiate change, I do suggest that anyone looking at working on their time management skills do a little research on Google…trust me, there are tons of aids out there if you can muster up a little initiative.

A Little Push

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

29. Encourage other writers to keep going

I suspect that it is an inevitable truth that at some point (and possibly multiple, regularly occurring points) every writer feels like giving up. Whether you’re an amateur working on your first real manuscript or a published professional having issues in editing, writers are a naturally self-depreciating breed. As my rage comic indicated, we have a tendency to flow through repeating stages of “I’m so awesome!” and “I’m such a hack!” It is a tendency we share with artists, musicians, and other creative peoples who put a little piece of their own selves into their work.

Some of this constant shift in attitude can be attributed to physiology (moods, hormones, emotional state due to outside forces, etc), but much of it is likely due to the lifestyle of a writer and the inability of people in general to fairly, and without bias, judge themselves.

The lifestyle may break may would-be writers because they simply can’t (or feel that they can’t) handle it. The life of a writer may seem simple and carefree to many, but in reality it can be very stressful and difficult. Deadlines may lead to anxiety and burnout. Disagreements with editors and agents can cause frustration and a feeling of losing creative control. Rejections from published and poor critiques/reviews can create doubt, depression, and the belief that you’ll never be successful. It’s a mentally and emotionally exhausting situation to volunteer for.

And then there’s that bit about being unable to judge ourselves. As humans, we are notorious for this, not just involving creative processes, but in every aspect of our lives. One only needs to observe drivers on the highway to understand the concept. Everyone on the road believes that they are an excellent driver, while everyone else is a dangerous SOB who needs to be arrested. It’s the same with writers, except that in our case it works at both ends of the spectrum. Either you think you rock (even if you don’t) while everyone else is a hack, or else everyone else is amazing while you’re a miserable failure (even if you aren’t).

So, in conclusion, being a writer is wrought with emotional distress, time management impossibilities, peer-to-peer conflict, pain of rejection, and psychological issues, and on top of all that you might never become successful enough to make a living out of it.

And here I am, supposedly about to tell you to keep going. Hmm…

Here’s the thing…have you ever heard the phrase that nothing worth doing is easy? While it may not be a logical descriptor for every person in every situation, it still rings true a good deal of the time. Do you think the athletes who go to the Olympics just breeze through the events without any training? Do you think young army recruits just walk through the door and all of a sudden they’re a high-ranking officer? Hell, do you think pregnant women just have a squat and a grunt and a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby just pops out?

If you really care about something – genuinely want it with all your heart, then you’ll do what you have to do and endure what you have to endure to make that dream a reality. Olympians know that they’re going to have to push their bodies to the limit, but they crave that gold, so they move through it. Privates-in-training know they’re going to be trained hard and disparaged at every turn, but they want to serve, so they deal with it. And women know damn well that childbirth is like to be a painful, miserable event that makes them feel like they’re going to die, but they want to bring a life into the world so they damn well manage it.

So if you really want to be a writer, write. Put your heart and soul into it and deal with whatever you have to deal with as a result, because in the end that’s the only true way to get what you want. You have to be willing to do whatever is necessary, end of discussion. If you aren’t willing, well…I guess you didn’t really want it very much in the first place, did you?

The Failure/Retry Ratio

I remember once reading an article about why people fail the New Year’s Resolutions (or goals in general). There were a variety of reasons, such as making your goal too specific (or not specific enough), forcing your goal on others (“My entire family will eat salad all the time because I want to lose weight”), and hitting it too hard all at once (i.e. quitting sugar cold turkey, which inevitably makes you feel like hell from the withdrawal). All of these points make a lot of sense when you really think about them, but there was another point that resonated with me. That was, basically, insisting on seeing setbacks as failure.

I’ve always been a tracker, by nature. Trying to lose weight? I write down everything I eat and every minute of exercise I perform. Want to keep track of my spending habits? I create a detailed notebook that shows every cent I spend and when each of my bills is paid. Goal to write 1000 words a day? I’ve got to track each word and what it was written for.

And the thing is, when it comes to my tracking, I can be a bit…obsessive compulsive. I don’t know why, but for some reason when it comes to stuff like this, one little mistake makes me lose my mind. If I miss a day of writing down what I’ve eaten and can’t remember what I ate in order to write it down, I’ve FAILED. If I lose track of some of the money I spent and my numbers don’t add up perfectly, I’ve FAILED. And if I miss a day of writing my 1000 words and have to look at a blank spot on my tracker, I’ve UBER-SUPER-FAILED!

“Seeing setbacks as failure”, you see? In the article it referred to such things as missing a few days of exercise and completely giving up on your health goals because of it. My issues are similar. Did anyone notice that I didn’t post my 1000-word-a-day results last week? The reason is because I wrote less than 1000 words that entire week. I not only failed, I failed miserably, so much so that it wasn’t even worth talking about.

Fortunately, unlike the examples in the goal-failure article, when I find myself “failing” as the result of a “setback”, I have a tendency to just start all over again. I’ll throw out my tracking results and start from scratch with a fresh new piece of paper, Excel file, or whatever I happen to be using, and I’ll get back on the horse. Sometimes it won’t be right away (I have a related obsession where my goals have to start on a Sunday or the 1st of the month), but it eventually does happen. Without this attitude I would never have lost the weight I wanted to lose before my wedding. With this attitude I will eventually finish this damn zombie novel.

With that said, I would like to report that I had a truly excellent week after restarting my tracking efforts. Following are my word-counts for last week:

Sunday – 1140
Monday – 1098
Tuesday – 1074
Wednesday – 1047
Thursday – 1402
Friday – 1432
Saturday – 1788

With this past week, my zombie novel is getting very close to completion. Mind you there’s still a lot of editing to do, but just to complete a novel….that’s going to be a huge deal for me, so wish me luck that I keep doing as well in the coming week! 😀