Tag Archives: motivation

The Power of Being (I’m not procrastinating…I’m preparing)

Hello Scribes friends,

PJ Sharon here. Some of you may not know this about me, but I can be a bit lazy. I know—you’re thinking, “No way, PJ. Not you! You’re so motivated and productive!” Um…not really. Looking at the big picture, I do seem to manage to keep a pretty steady schedule, meet my goals on a regular basis, and take care of my daily responsibilities while maintaining a fairly decent attitude, so I guess I’m not a total slacker. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that anything I do accomplish is because I know myself well enough to make my goals achievable and realistic, I accept my limitations as an imperfect human being, and I plan accordingly. Being a natural multi-tasker and somewhat disciplined helps too, but these days, I’m less rigid and a much nicer boss to work for.

With my writing, I try to push new limits, set appropriate deadlines,  and stay challenged–since I know these are what motivate me to stay on task–but it would be foolish and self-defeating to expect more from myself than I want to give. You have to want success…and you have to want it bad! And you need to ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to achieve it?”

Admittedly, I’ve given up a lot to get where I am. But certain things–like time with my granddaughter and at least one day off a week, are now higher on my priorities list. What I also won’t compromise on is exercise. I commit myself to doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week because I know the payoff is totally worth it! When I’m strong, fit, and happy, I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way. If my schedule gets crazy, I let myself off the hook for a day or two, but then I’m back at it. The same applies to diet and nutrition. I’m not as rigid as I once was, but I try to eat high quality, nutrient dense foods that properly fuel my body. I like chocolate and pie as much as the next girl, but I believe in the 80/20 approach to everything. If I’m doing the right thing 80% of the time, I can slack off 20% of the time and I’ll probably be okay. Yay…pie!

For me, first and foremost, my mental and physical well-being are my priorities, and stressing out about what I’m NOT accomplishing only serves to make me feel overwhelmed and down on myself. It has become clear to me that my to-do list will never be done and that if I want to keep my sanity, I have to focus on just a few daily tasks that keep me moving toward my overall goals. It might take me longer to get there, but it’s not a race for me anymore. I’m in it for the long haul, so pacing myself is key to staying the course.

If goal setting isn’t your strong suit, here’s a great article to help you get on track and stay there.

Could I accomplish way more if I didn’t watch twenty hours of television per week or spend time gazing out the window at the lilac buds sprouting? scent of spring Maybe I could shave ten or fifteen minutes off my overly-lengthy shower time, or possibly I could sleep less. It seems changing even a few of these “recreational” behaviors would lead to a tremendous increase in my productivity. Then, maybe I could write five books in a year or spend another twenty hours a week promoting my butt off. After all, I do understand that the success of my business depends on me and how hard I’m willing to work. But how hard I’m willing to work today may be different from what it was two years ago, and will likely be different again a month from now. We each have to decide what’s important to us.

It comes down to perspective and priorities. In my opinion, none of those “recreational” activities are a total waste of my time. One could even argue that I am more productive because I’m living a balanced lifestyle. A full night’s sleep–when I can get it–is an essential tool for weight management, stress reduction, and overall health. I need at least 6-8 hours a night to remain productive and happy. Staying up late to write that blog that’s due in the morning, or waking at the crack of dawn to sneak in some “quality” writing time may help me check off a few to-do’s, but it’s going to leave me cranky and tired, and increase my susceptibility to illness. That’s not worth the trade for me at this point in life. Maybe some of you can live on five hours of sleep, but I’m betting it catches up with you eventually.

As for the apparent television addiction, I do try to limit my viewing to “must see” shows that give me the most enjoyment. I’m not a total hedonist! I TiVo my favorites and dole them out throughout the week as reward for accomplishing my tasks for the day. Getting lost in my favorite shows not only helps me decompress after a full day of massage work or long hours at the computer, it activates my creative brain. I’m constantly analyzing and deconstructing what I watch. I’m looking at story structure, dialogue, characterization, metaphor, etc. My mind is being entertained, but I’m also in my writer’s brain and learning.

The long hot showers, which some may argue are a luxury and a waste of not only water and resources, but are a self-indulgence. I assure you, they are a necessity for me. There are many challenges in daily life, and few “inexpensive” luxuries for most of us. If spending a half hour in the shower (where I do a stretching routine to treat my arthritic neck and back) relaxes me and reduces my pain, then so be it. I’ll take every little bit of relief I can get. Besides, my shower time is the most creative and productive time of my day as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a cup of tea, a soothing massage, and an opportunity to let my thoughts flow freely without my internal editor alarms ringing, all rolled into one.  My best ideas and snappiest lines of dialogue come to me while standing under a piping hot shower. I’ve also been known to belt out a few tunes while I’m there. Singing elevates my mood, clears my lungs, and centers me. It helps me shift from my right sided “business” brain to my left sided “creative” brain so I can get those 1,000 words on the page. The long hot shower is staying!

So, what about the inordinate amount of time I spend staring out the window, walking around my yard to see what’s coming into bloom, or simply sitting on my front porch with a hot cup of tea, paying attention to my breathing for a few minutes and taking time to be grateful for the multitude of gifts I have in my life? Am I procrastinating?

Maybe, but these moments too, are priceless. When I’m not actually writing, I’m usually preparing to write. I’m processing my next scene or coming up with some brilliant twist to my plot. As a writer, my brain is always processing some bit of information that will ultimately lead me to where I need to be on the page.

What it comes down to for me is that I’m a human being first, and a writer second. I NEED to stay connected to my higher self–the part of me that knows how to live in the moment and appreciates the power of just being.teens prayers5 (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC) That’s the part of me that inspired me to write in the first place and continues to be the well from which I draw my best work. Whether it’s called prayer or meditation…or just plain daydreaming, we all need it on some level.

I know that nothing can substitute for diligence, consistency in getting those daily word counts on the page, or putting in the overtime, but these quiet moments of stillness and reflection are essential to my sanity and well-being. I know this to be true about myself. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but I prefer to think of it as “preparing” the soil. The fertile ground of productivity is only as good as what you feed into it. So next time you start to feel guilty for daydreaming instead of writing, or taking a day off to hit the beach, don’t look at it as “slacking”. Consider it part of the process. Tomorrow is another day and there is always more work to be done. Today, take a moment to reconnect to what nurtures and feeds your soul. You may be slightly less productive on paper, but you’ll be happier and more balanced in the long run.

Namaste!

PJ

What are your best “self-care” indulgences? What fuels your muse? What have you done for you lately?

Top Seven Things I Learned At Debra Dixon’s Book In A Day Workshop

Hello, my lovely Scribelings! Suze here. First off, a bit of news. My cozy mystery, FETA ATTRACTION, will release from Berkley Prime Crime on January 6, 2015! I’ve had a sneak peak at the cover and, just like all the Berkley artwork, mine is just gorgeous. I’ll show it to you as soon as I can. FETA ATTRACTION is the first book in the GEORGIE’S KITCHEN MYSTERIES and I hope you’ll love the village of Bonaparte Bay and its residents as much as I do. When it’s available for preorder, I’ll let you know.

So you’d think, with a traditional contract and two books in the series written and the third one about to be started–as well as a few partial manuscripts living under the bed with some unsatisfied dust bunnies who may or may not ever find out what happens at the end of those stories–I’d know everything there is to know about writing a genre fiction novel. After all, I’m also a freelance editor (www.crazydiamondediting.com), so I work with other authors on their manuscripts too.

GMC[1]HA! SNORT! (Hang on a sec while I get myself under control) OK, I’m back, still giggling. The answer is Not by a long shot. Producing these two manuscripts drove home the fact that I have a lot to learn.

So to help me become a better writer, I signed up for Debra Dixon’s Book in a Day Workshop, presented by the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Along with some of my best writing buddies, I spent the weekend in New Hampshire with Writing Goddess Debra Dixon, whose book Goal, Motivation and Conflict (available in ebook and hard cover) has become standard material for anyone seriously pursuing a writing career, no matter what kind of stories you write.

So here are the Top Seven Things I took away from the workshop:

1. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well. This means that you can break the “rules” as long as it’s  beautifully executed. However, and this is just my personal, more conservative opinion, if you’re trying to break into genre fiction, start out following the rules so later on, when you’re more experienced, you know what rules you can and can’t break.

2. Force your character make choices–and make those choices Sucky and Suckier. Most of us have probably heard the basics of story structure broken down like this: Put your character in a tree. Throw rocks at the tree. Get you character out of the tree. So what Ms. Dixon means is that in the rock-throwing phase, put your character in a situation where she cannot win and force her to make a choice: should she save the child, or save the man she loves? Whichever choice she makes, she is changed forever. Powerful stuff!

3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) can be summed up in five words: Who, What, Why, Why Not? Who is your character? What is the situation the character finds herself in? Why does the character behave as she does and want what she wants (this is often a function of backstory, and most of that backstory will not make it onto the page)? Why Not–Why can’t the character have what she wants? There should be both external reasons (the bad guys are throwing rocks at her while she sits in a tree, so she can’t physically get to the child who needs her or the man she loves) and internal reasons (she has a paralyzing fear of heights because she saw her father fall off a cliff to his death, and she couldn’t save him). She can’t see any way to get out of the tree without jumping, whether or not the bad guys are there.

4. What is fun for you, the author, is not necessarily fun for the reader. While you might gleefully kill off your main character, your readers might see that as not playing fair. Related:  Give the reader the candy you promised them. Don’t withhold critical information and spring it on the reader at the end. They’ll feel cheated, like they’ve been sold a bill of goods, and might not read more of your work. You must play fair with the reader. This is especially true in a traditional cozy mystery where the clues should be planted early on, and it’s only later that the sleuth figures out what they mean.

5. Every character in the book must have GMC. A minor character’s GMC does not necessarily need to be spelled out on the page, but there has to be a reason for the presence of every character.

6. We root for the underdog. Cowards make great heroes/heroines. The reader can relate to underdogs and cowards. It isn’t satisfying to have a character already be at the top of his game unless you bring him down and change his goal. And your character must have fears and insecurities that make it difficult or nearly impossible for him to make the choices necessary to move ahead.

7. Every scene must have at least three reasons to be present in the story, and at least one must be Goal, Motivation, or Conflict. Goal: The scene illustrates your character’s progress toward the goal. Motivation: The scene provides your character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation. Conflict: The scene brings the character into conflict with opposing forces. The best, pivotal scenes will encompass all three elements.

These seven items were my big takeaways from the workshop (which also encompassed the Hero’s Journey model for story structure). I would highly recommend that anyone who has not done so take this course. As I sat through the workshop, I thought about my own characters in different ways–and I already feel like a stronger writer.

My only regret? My third book did not actually get written in a day. Sigh. Well, BICFOK–no, that’s not a dirty word. It means Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. This book ain’t gonna write itself (although, how awesome would that be?).

Have you seen Debra Dixon speak? Have you read Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Are you conscious of the concepts as you write?

Tough Love

Hello, Scribes Readers, PJ Sharon here, and today I’m talking about tough love. This is the time of year that many of us are setting goals, working on business plans, re-evaluating our marketing strategies and generally attempting to lasso and tame this wild thing we call the “writer’s life”. Even with the best of intentions, most of the resolutions we make fall by the wayside and our ambitious goal setting can make us feel overwhelmed rather than hopeful for the new year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love goal setting, and my plate is as full of to-do’s as it ever has been, but instead of sharing my lofty aspirations with you all, I’d rather discuss how we go about sticking to our plan and meeting those goals. You’ve probably read a ton of blogs on goal setting, with such advice as making them manageable, measurable, and achievable. Great advice, for sure. But for today, I’d like to offer some coaching advice from an expert–no, not me.

Jillian Michaels (2013_06_02 01_59_31 UTC)My girl, Jillian Michaels, is one of the best motivators I’ve ever come across. I don’t often watch The Biggest Loser, but I know from personal experience that her training methods are effective. Through her 90 Day Body Revolution DVD set–which I bought last year around this time in hopes of shedding the weight I’d gained living the writer’s life–I was able to drop twenty-five pounds in about five months. Yes, I had to eat healthier and the workouts are brutal, but they’re only thirty minutes a day, five days a week…a small price to pay for a strong, healthy body, in my opinion. I figured I could do anything for thirty minutes a day and I knew the pay-off would be worth it. I reminded myself that I was worth it!

As a personal trainer myself, I quickly learned to appreciate Jillian’s tough love approach. Even when I want to swear at the TV, her passion and positive messages of encouragement continue to push me through every workout. Statements like, “Do your best,” “Just try one,” “Don’t you quit on me–don’t you quit on yourself,” “I know you can do this,” “Dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had,” and my favorite, “Focus on the why–why are you doing this?” She lists the common reasons why people want to be more fit, such as better health, longevity, skinny jeans, and sex with the light on, but the bottom line is that we all have a “why” when it comes to being driven toward a goal. If you focus on the “why”, you will tolerate any amount of torturous “how”.

Last week’s guest, Amy Denim, author of THE COFFEE BREAK BUSINESS PLAN for WRITERS, talked about creating a muse statement, a positive affirmation that sums up who you are and what you want for your writing career. (Here’s the link to the post if you missed it). I highly recommend that you start your new year by doing just that, and when you’re writing that statement, think about your “why”. Why do you write? What do you want to accomplish in your writing career? Why do you want it? How important is it to you? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Today’s Unlocked Secret: When you start to feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand or are questioning if the time and work you’re investing in your writing life is worth it, read your muse statement and remember your “why”. Then, dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had, and tackle that next goal.

What motivates you to keep going when the going gets tough?

Up In The BLues

Sometime ago, my husband was buying seasons tickets for the NY Rangers, up in the (then – we haven’t seen the new Garden configuration) blue seats. Those were the ones practically on the ceiling, but I always thought you got the best long view of the action.

But what he found there was not only like-minded fans; he found a comraderie, a Garden” family,” if you will, whom he didn’t need to see or confer with outside the arena, but who he knew would be there week after week and they could share whatever sports and personal information they cared to, and whether they were renewing for the following year

This went on for several years and then — the commute got to be too much, the ticket prices too high, the losses made the whole thing not worth it. But the reminiscences were interesting. It was like the “family” had moved away. They barely knew each other, so there wouldn’t be any kind of contact. And yet the memories of the good times, the great on-the-ice triumphs, the family atmosphere live on and are resurrected every now and again with great nostalgia.

Like family memories of long-gone neighbors, relatives, cousins, friends. People you meet at conferences. Family from whom you’re estranged. Or who are so long distance, you can’t manage any kind of relationship.

Do I not hold in my heart the memory of my Uncle Manny, my Aunts Gladys and Mary? They were not relations — they were neighbors in my toddlerhood who lived across the hall and upstairs. But forever, they will be my aunts and uncle: I never remember or speak of them any other way.

Is it any wonder that “family” is the bedrock of almost every tv drama, movie and novel these days? Arguably, it is one of the most important fictional memes, given how dislocated families are and people feel.

And maybe it’s not your conventional family. Maybe it’s a hospital’s sexy doctors, your office cohorts, a newsroom, an FBI behavioral unit, a quartet of high school girls, the staff of a high powered “fixer.” A group of romance authors. Or your neighbors in a small town in anywhere USA who always have your back.

Rediscovering family, going back to your roots, finding the people who anchor you, coming finally understand the place where you belong — even if it’s “up in the blues” … are powerful underlying themes that will always resonate, themes on which you can build or rebuild a plot, a novel, your heroine’s — or, for that matter, your own — life.

Who’s in your family, not directly related to you? Do you feel that “family” thing in the tv and movies you see?

Thea Devine is currently working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and several other projects. She’ll be speaking at NJRWA’s Put Your Heart In A Book Conference. She was among those honored as a Romance Pioneer by RT Booklovers last year.

Porch Story

So we went to Maine, and I am sitting on the porch with my ghosts and memories as twilight falls and the call of a loon breaks the silence. And then the quacking of ducks from somewhere at the edge of the pond.

“Margaret still feeds the ducks,” John says, which seems very odd to me since they have to make their way from the pond up our lengthy path to get across the road to Margaret’s house.

I wonder what my heroine would do. She’s come to Maine — why? She inherited the island in the middle of the pond, even though she’s not family. She’s thinking the family must be furious. There are a raft of nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles who on the face of it are more entitled to inherit than she. She’s never asked herself why her.

But the family must have: the family was surely gathering forces to contest the will. At the moment, however, my heroine doesn’t care.

She sits on the porch at the home of a friend, thinking about the past as she gazes out over the pond. She used to come here as a child. There was a guy — but best not to think about that. She hasn’t really thought about him in years and gives herself a moment to wonder now, is he still around? Is he married? Is he dead?

He is one of the ghosts; she fully expects to see him canoeing toward the dock, calling out to see if anyone’s home. Or to find a jar of homemade jelly on her front steps, a sure clue he came visiting.

But no — all she hears are the far-away voices from the camp at the other end of the pond. The sound of oars dipping in the water, or the occasional roar of a speedboat pulling water skiiers on the far side of the island.

It’s all about the island, my heroine thinks, and how it reflects in the water. In some lights, when you photograph it, you can’t tell which is the real island and which is the reflection. It feels like a metaphor for her life.

Clouds gather, a portent of a storm. Mist wafts across the water. The branches overhanging the pond, which look like a samurai warrior and a dragon respectively, sway in the churning wind like marionettes controlled by an unseen hand. It starts to rain, a pattery rain that causes the water to ripple. A drift of lily pads and pond grasses floats across the reflection, effectively dividing it in half.

The rain drops blur the shadowy trees mirrored in the pond, making the upper half look like ghostly men rolling toward the shore, coming for her, coming for me.

Across the pond, out of the corner of her eye, she sees movement — an ethereal figure in white which looks as if it’s walking on water.

She freezes. Who’s heading toward her island? Anyone could — it’s wide open all the time. If she were there, she’d be defenseless. Here, on the porch, in the rain, she can do nothing about it. She feels terrorized nonetheless.

The ghost men in the water come closer and closer, reaching for her, reaching for me. The white ghost floats along the length of the island, seeking — what?

Ducks quack loudly, one-two-three. “They’re on their way to Margaret’s house again,” John says from the kitchen window. “We’ll visit tomorrow morning.”

My heroine (and I) look up. The mysterious white figure is gone.

Does being away from home set your imagination in motion? Do you weave stories from dust motes? Do you believe in ghosts? Yes, the island really exists.

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance, and other projects. She will be attending CTRWA’s Fiction Fest in September, and speaking at the NJRWA Put Your Heart in a Book Conference in October. She was among those honored as a Romance Pioneer at this year’s Romantic Times Convention.