It’s Most Difficult at the Beginning

I am back to square one, maybe even square negative five, regarding my fitness level. Similarly, but much less drastically, I’m at a low point in client numbers. Fitness and business have always swung along the same pendulum in my life, likely because they both depend solely on my own motivation and willingness to do the work. At this particular moment in time, I’m working on the basics for good health and for a prosperous business. You know, paying attention to what and how much I eat, making a point of doing some form of exercise everyday, making marketing calls, sending out queries, referring back to my business plan.

And it’s freaking hard.

Easing myself into things, as I do, I started counting calories two weeks ago, and have kept it up. Now it’s time to add in exercise, and that is tougher. I’m trying to follow a fun, slightly silly workout plan, that uses the language of RPG (roll playing games). It’s called The Hero’s Journey, and it looks pretty simple. Except, on the first day, I am supposed to do 100 reps of four bodyweight exercises. I’m going to try, but don’t have much faith that I’ll be able to do it. The first set of 25 almost killed me.

Similarly, I started sending out marketing emails a week or two ago, but I know that to see real results, I’m going to have to do much more. Like make 10 calls a day, every day, for a month or two, and continue to send out several emails per day. That’s just how it works. For someone like me, who feels weird and awkward on the phone, and who struggles with any kind of social interaction, this stuff is hard. Probably not as hard as getting back in shape, but still not exactly as easy as writing a blog post.

The important thing to remember at times like this is that it’s only hard for a little while. It won’t take long before I’m looking forward to working out, or before the marketing has done what it always does and I only need to send out 2-3 queries each week to stay busy. Everything in life is that way. When I first built my flower garden, it took a lot of work to break up the grass and fluff up the dirt. But the next spring was easier, and every one after has been too. Any BIG THING is that way. You have to approach it a bit at a time and know that it will get easier.

A friend learned to play guitar as a teenager. Then she got a job, raised some children, and didn’t play. Recently she picked it back up and says the same thing about her practice sessions. They are tough, but she knows they will get easier.

Have you ever started over with something? How did it go for you?

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Refusing the Fear

One of my big things for 2015 is publishing fiction. It was one of my big things for 2014, too, but it didn’t happen. Lots of other good things happened, but I didn’t publish any fiction. This year, I’m taking a few proactive steps to push myself along:

I’ve taken a spot on the calendar of a very in-demand professional editor. In December, she announced that her first available opening for 2015 was August, and I grabbed the slot. So, I now have a deadline.

Writing fiction is scheduled, just like my client work. Each day begins with #firsthourforfiction. (Except today. Today I’m sick and haven’t written any fiction yet. Having that time as part of my daily schedule makes doing the work easier. Just like when I rode the city bus to school and walked to class. Exercise was a built-in part of my day and much easier to fit in.

Daily reporting on what I’m working on will give me a good reason to actually do the work. I’m posting #firsthourforfiction reports on my public Google+ profile, and have also joined a couple of accountability groups.

All of those things may seem like normal, common sense things, but in reality, they are tactics for dealing with fear. Feeling afraid of writing is something new for me. Writing is what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. Writing is how I make decisions, it’s how I work out tangled emotions, it’s how I speak most clearly. I write hundreds — often thousands — of words almost everyday. I’ve written and published a non-fiction book without the least bit of fear. Articles don’t scare me, nor blog posts.

IMG_0104.JPG

Why is fiction scary?

It’s not because it’s a window into my soul or anything cliche like that. I have no plans to write any kind of ground-breaking literature. I just want to tell a story. This book will be the equivalent of a TV show you might watch for entertainment. I’m not trying to change minds or say anything important
with it.

It’s not because I fear rejection. Since I’m going to self-publish, there won’t be anyone to reject it. I don’t expect it to be a best seller or anything like that. If things go according to my long term plans, it will simply be the first of many entertaining stories that will provide some small income for my retirement years. I have no plans to market this one story at all. I will simply write it, polish it, and publish it, then move on to writing the next one.

I think it is scary because some people I respect will read it, and maybe they won’t like it. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. People pay me money to write things. If the people I respect don’t like the stories I write, maybe I’m not really good at it. Then, I’m not good at anything.

Now, that is the deep, dark, sinister voice inside me. It’s not the optimistic, bright outlook I work for, or even the logical, calm train of thought that I rely on. It’s the ugly thing that I try to ignore.

It won’t be ignored, though. It asserts itself. It’s the reason this novel has not yet been published. It’s the reason so many other stories are sitting, half finished, in my documents list. It’s the reason I’m still a wannabe and cannot speak about writing fiction from a position of authority and experience.

2015 is the year of seeing projects through in spite of the fear. It’s the year of having a little courage.

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Review & Reflect, Set & Implement

For about the last three or four weeks, and maybe even a little longer, I’ve been thinking about what I want. From little things like some new socks (why do I wait until every pair has holes before I buy new ones?) to bigger-picture things like

You have to start somewhere.

You have to start somewhere.

what I’d like my life to look like in a year, or five, or even ten. Thinking about what I want inevitably leads to thinking about how I spend my time because, as we all know, minutes make hours and hours make days and days make years. What you do with your minutes matters.

Review & Reflect

So what have I been doing? Not writing posts for this blog! The last post was in AUGUST. This blog, and in fact, my business, enjoyed an unnoticed, uncelebrated anniversary in July. Smiling Tree Writing began (both the blog and the business) in 2009. The last two months have been the most profitable for the business to date (which is one reason there haven’t been any posts since July — I’ve been working!). Both of those facts make me feel a sense of pride, as well as a drive to push harder.

Although the last two months were the best to-date, I have a confession: November was the first time I met my original, set-in-2009 income goal. It took more than five years to reach that first (quite modest) income goal.

I have conflicted feelings about that. One the one hand, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I had to work that hard for

Then you can grow from where you are.

Then you can grow from where you are.

that long to make that (quite modest) amount of money? Geez. Do I really want to keep on doing this? On the other hand, it can be done. I’ve learned an awful lot about it in the last five years, and it feels like that work is paying off.

Of course, reaching that original goal means I must increase it rather drastically — by about 75%. In order to increase your income by 75% you need goals, short term, long term, measurable, specific, and all of the other things that good goals are.

Set & Implement

Once I knew what I want for the next year and beyond — insofar as anyone can know since the universe always holds surprises — I needed a map. How do I get from here to there? Here’s a glimpse of what my goal setting looks like:

  1. professional
    1. make $XXXX a month, from varied sources (this will require an increase in both number of assignments and amount paid per assignment)
      1. create a list of publications to pitch
      2. continue looking for regular, steady, paid gigs like XXXX and XXXX — it would be great to have 2 more of those
      3. set a regular schedule for marketing, whether it’s a couple hours a week or 15 minutes per day. Just do the work.
    2. finish the rough draft of my story, send it to some people to read, get it to XXXX for editing in August, get it
      ...and growing...

      …and growing…

      published in October.

      1. complete the draft in Scrivener
      2. get the whole thing printed for draft 3
      3. make corrections in Scrivener
      4. send to people to read
    3. finish the tips for XXXX book, pay to have it formatted and pay mark for a cover and get it published by February.
      1. inquire about cost for formatting.
      2. if it’s not all already in Scrivener, get it there.
    4. start writing on smilingtreewrites again, at least every other week.
    5. update everything in my portfolio, add new work
  2. health
    1. Nutrition
      1. shop every

As detailed as that list may seem (and it goes on for several pages, and covers a variety of categories besides professional and health) it is missing at least one crucial element. Dates. Although it mentions some months, there are no specific milestone-type dates. For example, this list doesn’t say how many letters of introduction or queries I will send each week in pursuit of new work. It doesn’t say by what specific date I will have completed the rather painful second draft of my manuscript, or what date I will have “the whole thing printed.” As it stands, this list of goals is only a partially useful.

After I wrote this list, I made another for how long I’d spend on various activities each week or month. Doing that led me to add a few things. Next, I’ll put things on my calendar, so that I see them everyday. I may even make some kind of visual aid to hang next to my desk to help me stay focused as I’m working.

The hardest part is implementation. I can write workout plans all day long, but that won’t help me become a runner again. To do that, I’ll have to put on my running shoes and hit log in some miles. Reaching your goals isn’t magic, no matter how magical it may feel when you do.

When do you review and set new goals? Do you have a process? Can you share any sage advice about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to reaching goals? 

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Developing Discipline

The most frequently visited post on this site is about pursuing multiple goals at the same time. Today, I’m going to share a little more about how I personally pursue multiple goals, and the kind of planning I do. Most everyone knows that having vague goals is about as useful as having no goals. For instance, if you are a writer and your goal is to finish a novel someday, chances are mighty low that you will actually finish a novel. Most of us need some kind of deadline attached to those goals.

I couldn't find an appropriate photo, so here is a beautiful pond lily.

I couldn’t find an appropriate photo, so here is a beautiful pond lily.

There is no lack of “epic” posts, blogs, podcasts, and motivational what-have-you on the internet. That’s not what this is. This post is about the nitty-gritty details of what you need to do to actually get things done. It’s so much more fun to be told “You can do it! You are awesome!” than it is to figure out when, where, and how you can do the work. Make no mistake: if you want to reach your goals, you have to do the work.

Following is a list of my goals for the summer, along with what I need to do, and by when, in order to reach them:

  • Publish my first novel, tentatively titled Disappearance at Pine Lake, by July 31.  This is a huge goal, with several pieces and parts:
    •   Complete the second draft by the end of May.
      •       In order to finish the second draft by the end of May, I need to work on it 5 out 7 days every week.
      •       I will share chapters as they are completed with my critique group. The goal is to get one chapter or section up for critique each week.
    •   Get the manuscript to at least three beta readers and a cover artist by the first week in June.
      •      I need to have approached the betas and saved some money while completing the draft. My potential cover artist said she would do it for $40.
    • Complete the third draft, using the suggestions and criticisms of my critique group and beta readers, by the second week in July.
    • Spend the final two weeks of July formatting and getting ready to publish.
  • Write a second non-fiction tip book by the end of August. (I plan to publish a whole series of tips books.) This one will be called 27 Blogging Tips for Busy Real Estate Agents.
    • Create an outline and begin fleshing out the tips by the end of May.
    • Draft the manuscript by the end of June.
    • Send the manuscript to 5 or 6 beta readers by the middle of July.
    • Edit and format the manuscript by the end of July.
    • Create a cover and publish in August.
  • Begin working on a co-writing fiction project in early May.
    • Add 1000 new words per week to the first draft beginning the week of May 10.
    • Edit one section written by my co-author each week.
  • Add three new clients to my freelance business by the end of September. I’m looking for three very specific types of new clients, and in order to find them I will:
    • Create a weekly marketing plan to target the three areas I’d like to find new clients.
    • Follow the plan.
  • Help grow a GIANT garden.
    • Spend at least 4 hours per week gardening.
  • Track calories eaten and exercise at least 5 out of every 7 days.
  • Take time off to enjoy my family and the world.  This list will grow, but so far I have these things planned:
    • go to the beach for a weekend in May
    • go to the Smokey Mountains to see the azaleas and rhododendrons in bloom in late May or early June
    • have monthly gatherings of my extended family (read: parties!)
    • go camping at least once a month
    • take several long (full day and overnight) motorcycle trips
    • get out in the woods in the evenings once or twice a month
    • have a backyard fire once a week
    • ride my bicycle to work once a week

In the midst of all that, I will also be working at each of my part time jobs 10-15 hours per week, exceeding the expectations of my existing clients, moderating and participating in my online critique community, and about 14,000 other things. I’m busier than other people, and I’m not better at reaching my goals. What I am good at, though, is realistically considering what I want to do, what will be involved, and figuring out how to make it happen — or sometimes IF it can happen.

It’s nice to think that we have the power to reach any goal we set out for ourselves. But sometimes it’s just not feasible. In January, I decided that I would publish three works of fiction this year. That is absolutely not going to happen. It’s not going to happen because I want to spend time on that last part of my list. Doing the fun stuff is as important to me as the work. Without family parties, camping trips, and time to relax, I hit burnout fast. Acknowledging that fact is difficult. I want to believe that I can work like a superhuman and do all of the things. And I can — for about two weeks. Then, everything crashes and burns.

How do you balance work, personal projects, health, and time with your family? Do you give yourself deadlines, or are you the victim of vague goals? What advice would you offer someone else pursuing multiple, complex goals? 

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Remembering Why I Am So Busy

6:30am – get up, feed all of the animals, start working on three articles that must be submitted to meet deadlines.

8:30 – wake husband, see him out the door

11:15 – admit that only one of the three articles will be ready to turn in, email editors to ask for one more day

11:45 – arrive at part time job in time to shove some food in before my shift

12-8:10 – work, work, work

8:30 – return home to cook dinner and try to wrap up at least one article

For some people, that would be an average Monday. For me, that’s a long day.

 

Lately, I’ve been busier than usual (you may have noticed the months-long hiatus from this blog). Most of the time, I’m careful to build down time into my schedule, but for the last couple of months, I’ve been booking myself completely solid. There are articles to write, a part time job to enjoy, marketing projects to complete…

Being especially busy can be good. It seems like my mind is sometimes more creative when my body is busy. But, if there’s no time to give that creativity an outlet, it just sits there. Finding the perfect (and elusive) balance between creative (usually non-paying) work and work that pays the bills can be difficult, but seems to me to be a worthy pursuit.

This summer, I want to help grow a giant garden, which means spending at least 4-5 hours a week weeding and shoveling and doing glorious physical labor outside. I also want to take a couple of short trips, go to a local amusement park, and spend some time in the woods. All of that means careful time management and the need for funding. It means working some long days so that I can enjoy time off.

I’ve also set a personal deadline: I will publish a novel-length work of fiction by July. I have a first draft, and have begun the second. But it is slow going between the paying work and the fun stuff. Writing a novel falls somewhere in between those two. It’s a big goal, and there are fun aspects, but it is also work.

With all of these goals, the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. It’s pretty common to read that if you Business owners usually have to make sacrifices to run successful businesses — maybe give up some personal time in order to work longer hours. Novelists, especially ones who have other, paying jobs usually have to sacrifice some time to write. A goal I haven’t mentioned here yet is fitness, and a common thread among people who are very fit is that they spend time shopping, cooking, and working out. Time that could be spent building a business or writing a novel.

One of the most-often clicked on posts on this blog is about pursuing multiple goals. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve never been one to narrow my focus. At this point, it would be painful for me to put my novel aside or to decide to forego the garden this year. Those are the kinds of things that keep me from feeling burned out. Success in any one area spurs me more to reach the other goals as well.

Yet, some days I end up feeling tired and angry. Yesterday was like that. Looking back over what I did yesterday, there was no time to remember why I’m so busy. No time spent on my novel, or even in my flower garden. There was no time to exercise or nurture myself at all.

Is it better to have whole days spent off — writing novels or planting gardens or hiking — and then work long hours on other days? Maybe. Entire days dedicated to fun are important. But, weaving some fun into everyday is equally important. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, a little time to mentally unwind is a necessity.

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There Is No Perfect Job

Yesterday, I wrote about my personal narrative – the story I tell myself and others. Contemplating work and life choices led me to think about  Jon Morrow’s recent post How To Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers. I’ve been pondering what my so-called ideal day would look like (there are actually several versions of it) and whether or not the activities I do on a daily basis are going to get me any closer to any of those versions of an ideal day.

Jon’s post is about getting smarter in order to become a popular blogger. He shares his own daily routine, including the deliberate steps he takes to get smarter. Those steps cover everything from reading nonfiction books daily to finding friends who stretch his mind. He is talking about the day to day activities required if your dream is to be a popular (or successful, or money-making, whatever you want to call it) blogger.

Jon does a great job of explaining the work that is involved in being a great blogger – great posts don’t just flow from a fountain of inspiration. There’s research, writing, rewriting, learning, and thinking involved. There are a whole lot of experts and studies that offer inspiration for people who are looking for something different, an alternative to a gray cubicle. You can find all kinds of advice on starting and running a small business. While that kind of inspiration abounds, posts like Jon’s are a different sort of inspiration.

Even the most perfect job involves, well, work. Some part of the day to day stuff will probably always feel like a grind. Calling it an “ideal day” is a

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

little misleading – wouldn’t most of us think of a vacation day as the ultimate ideal day?

When I am writing, I can get lost. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post, a research article, marketing copy, or fiction – if I’m playing with words, I am having fun. (Unfortunately my dogs or the phone or some other minor interruption usually limits the time I’m lost in the fun part of my work.) But, sending out emails marketing my services? Ugh! That, for me, is a grind. A slog. The part of this job I’d like to skip. (And, I don’t mind the minor daily interruptions during this part of my work!)

My writing accountability partner is the opposite. She LOVES marketing. She likes doing interviews, creating outlines, and so on. The writing? She can’t stand it. She gets all tangled up in figuring out where in the outline bits of information fit best, and in writing active versus passive sentences.

There’s always going to be a part of the job that isn’t fun. What part of your job do you love? What part could you do without?

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