Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! Un Pequeño Libro Sobre Ti (A Little Book About You) is FREE Today on Amazon Kindle!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pigtastic Now Available!

Buy it now for your Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook
Pigtastic! is an fun picture book featuring 28 adorable pieces of computer-generated art. Introduce your children to a great message about accepting people for who they are. Great for bedtime!

The book is about 30 pages in all, and best viewed in color. This title is also available in Spanish and Indonesian.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Little Book About You

Buy it now for your Amazon Kindle

A Little Book About You is a heart-warming picture book featuring over 30 pieces of computer-generated art (similar to what you would see in a Pixar movie). It is 36 pages in all, and best viewed on a color display (such as the new Kindle Fire or your personal computer).

For just 99 cents, enjoy a vibrant adventure with a very special message for your child.

A Little Book About You is available exclusively for your Amazon Kindle!

A Spanish language version of A Little Book About You is also available!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Crazy Pet Frog Is Now Available For Your Kindle and Nook!



My Crazy Pet Frog is an amusing picture book featuring 28 adorable pieces of computer-generated artwork (similar to what you would see in a Pixar movie). The book is about 30 pages in all, and is best viewed in color.

As an added bonus, 100% of the proceeds from each sale will be donated to the family of Alyssa Mowery. Last October, Alyssa was struck by a car while crossing the street with her friend Mia Decker (deceased) and sister Rain (minor injuries). Although Alyssa has awakened from her coma and said her first word since the accident, she has a long way to go. With your contribution and support, you can make a difference in this young girl's life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Little Pet Dragon Is Now Available For Your Kindle! :D

Buy it now for your Kindle or Nook

My Little Pet Dragon is an amusing picture book featuring 28 adorable pieces of computer-generated artwork (similar to what you would see in a Pixar movie). The book is about 30 pages in all, and is best viewed in color.

As an added bonus, 100% of the proceeds from each sale will be donated to the family of Alyssa Mowery. Last October, Alyssa was struck by a car while crossing the street with her friend Mia Decker (deceased) and sister Rain (minor injuries). Although Alyssa has awakened from her coma and said her first word since the accident, she has a long way to go.

With your contribution and support, you can make a difference in this young girl's life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: The Value of Hard Work


Despite what you’ve read, and despite what you think is the source of your problems, one thing towers above the rest. It can cure many of your symptoms just by acknowledging it.

Ask yourself, are you willing to work hard?

Want better things in life? Then work hard for it. There’s no way around it; if you’re not willing to work hard, no other words will suffice. In that case, what you’re looking for is a cheerleader, not advice, and when the spark of inspiration fades, you’ll be searching for something else to prompt you. In the end, you’ll be right where you started, struggling to scrape together enough motivation to face the disappointing road ahead.

If you’re willing to work hard, say it aloud, and then prove it to yourself. How will you embody those words today? Choose a task that’s been lingering, and attack it with all your might. Before you doze off, ponder the fruits of your labor. No one can give you the success that you desire but you.

So when you work, work hard. Get everything that you came for. Stay up till 4:00 a.m. if you must, but be careful not to sabotage the following day. You need sleep; lack of sleep makes you stupid (a scientific fact). Reduce mistakes by giving your body adequate time to recover. By giving your best effort, objects that once seemed immovable can now be cleared from your path.

When it comes to writing, the hard work lies in editing, not the initial draft. In the beginning, you start with a blank slate; it’s the world of all possibilities, and nothing is out of reach. Getting your ideas onto paper is only the first step; making them work is a different matter.

As you delve deeper into the manuscript, the writing tends to increase in difficultly, especially if you haven’t invested the time to plot it out. I’ve seen authors get stuck on a sentence for an entire week. That’s right, an entire week! When you hit the wall, take a step back. Put down your thoughts, focus on the big picture, and keep moving forward. Problems that have stumped you will resolve themselves once you obtain a clear understanding of how things fit together.

That’s why some writers keep starting new projects rather than finishing old ones. Once they reach the point of pain, suddenly inspiration strikes, and they shoot off in a new direction. I did this myself until I realized what I was doing. Was it laziness or did I just need a break? Perhaps both. Either way, scale back your expectations, silence your mind, and work through the problem rather than throwing in the towel. Take baby steps if necessary. The sooner that you can get this project off your plate, the sooner you can move onto other tantalizing prospects. But finish what’s on your plate first; trust me, plenty of surprises are in store for the project at hand.

If you were hoping for a nice, cushy job, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Everything is built with words here, one at a time. Sometimes we put down 50,000 before we can say that we’re done, and often times more. Characters, emotions, dialogue and settings are all erected from the soil of simple words, one after another. Writing is a workingman’s craft, and it takes effort to see a book to its fruition.

When challenged, don’t retreat; dig in. Solve the problem, give it your best shot, and do the finest work that you are capable of. Avoid reworking poor prose due to shoddy effort; invest the time and effort necessary to do it right. Make sure that your process is repeatable, and you can recover in time for the next writing session with the same vigor.

At times, writing a book can feel like passing a kidney stone; but if you don’t do the work, it will never get done. When you run into trouble, give yourself a small task, something that you can complete in 10-15 minutes, and build from there. Snare the minnow first, and then work your way up to the bigger fish. It can all feel overwhelming; don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed.

Remember, the only way to the next project is through the existing one. Although it’s fun to keep tinkering with your manuscript, don’t take it to the grave. Give yourself a deadline, and once it passes, move onto the next project. You will become a better author by the number of projects that you complete, not by how often you polish the same bit of text.

If you constantly challenge yourself, working hard comes naturally. In fact, you may not view it as “work” at all. It’s something that you must do, like breathing. Once it becomes habit, your body will be more receptive to supporting the long hours necessary to succeed.

Dump any negative inclinations that you harbor, and put a positive spin on everything you do. By choosing a positive outlook from the start, the workload never seems overbearing. As you invest more time on this higher plane of thinking, new worlds will reveal themselves to you, and the quality of the experience will sharpen. Fear not how you will exert yourself, but what you will miss if you don’t.

Now is your opportunity, and through hard work you will make the most of it, each and every time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: Consistency is Gold


Organization. Discipline. Consistency. I can already hear you cringe.

These are the most difficult words for a person to hear who is chronically disorganized, sporadic or easily distracted.

Yes, I’m talking about yours truly.

Is it surprising that things are so chaotic when we allow piles of paper to become mountains, relying on our fine memory and intellect (or lack thereof) rather than a well-conceived plan, and working only when we feel inspired? No wonder nothing ever gets done.

Perhaps you dream of a day when you’re in total control, churning out books effortlessly due to your tireless work ethic and flawless writing system? Me too. But rather than dream about, let’s think of a way to make it happen. It all starts with belief, a belief that one day you could be that person.

Consistency is a trait that everyone needs to work on, especially published authors. Challenge yourself to write better novels with each successive work and you will grow along with your writing.

There are plenty of things in our personal lives that can derail us if we let them. The trick is not to make writing more difficult than it already is, or give up when we hit a rough patch.

If you don’t feel like you have enough time to be a writer, give yourself a reality check: you don’t write because you have to, but because you choose to (although some of us self-absorbed neophytes believe that we are chosen). Think of the smiles on people’s faces when they read your novel, and stand in line for you to sign their copy. Writing is not a chore; and if you can’t see past the inherent labor resident in all tasks, how are you supposed to be any good at it?

Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, take action. If you’re truly passionate about writing, engage in it every chance you get. By writing every day, eventually it will come easier. And don’t worry about running out of ideas; by silencing your mind and listening to your inner voice, you’ll be amazed at what begins to surface.

It’s not surprising that our minds take a little while before they’re capable of composing good prose regularly. To a small degree it’s physiological in nature: the human brain needs to form new connections and fire up old ones so that it can operate efficiently. Life experience and repetition also factor in; both of which you have control over. In a nutshell, we shape ourselves into what we choose to be through action, determination and repetition, which can be summarized in one word: consistency.

By consistently working hard, you will learn how to deal with problems as they arise. You will get better at making the most of your time, and by pushing through obstacles, you will gain confidence that you can overcome anything in your path.

You may also find yourself fighting with your spouse or family members who don’t take your new profession seriously. Sadly they cannot see their actions for what they are: sabotage. To them everything’s critical, and up until now, they’ve had no reason to think otherwise. “Sorry, what’s that you’re doing? Writing a novel?” They ask. “You’re just screwing around. That doesn’t take any real effort, does it?”

Welcome to the club. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. It will take some time before your family learns to respect your writing time. While you may not be able to change their initial perceptions, all is not lost. They can be trained. And bribed. And smacked. (The latter doesn’t always work so well.)

Rather than learning to do things for themselves, people often depend on others out of habit rather than need. You’re a convenient distraction, a selfless servant, and your time didn’t seem valuable until now. Your family must learn to become more self-sufficient. Teach them to honor your time and only engage you when absolutely necessary. Or else.

Once you find your quiet little nook, make your words count. In your reader’s eyes, you’re only as good as your last book. If you consistently give your best effort, you’ll never have to second-guess yourself, and neither will your readers when they fork over their hard-earned cash.

The more consistently you produce, the more consistently your customers will buy your work and recommend it to others. You’ve got a real chance to succeed when you deliver consistent, high-quality results.

When you get right down to it, consistency is gold. The more you produce, the more gold will find its way into your bank account. Instill good habits now; otherwise it will cost you. Be proud and productive, consistent and unyielding. Let your passion inspire others, and they will open their hearts and wallets to you.

And that, my friend, is as good as gold.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: The Sky's the Limit

If I said you could, would you believe me? Not one or two projects, but every last dream and desire. Would you entertain the notion, just for a moment?

All problems can be broken down into smaller tasks, and if you do a little each day, you’ll eventually finish that 10,000-line poem or 200,000-word epic. Working to a plan, even a loose one, can help you chart your course through the wilderness of the unknown, and keep you honest each day. Nudging forward, even at a crawl, will help you realize your goal in a few months time. There’s little magic to it: stick to the plan, be consistent, and you’ll arrive. Guaranteed.

Certainly you don’t plan to write just one book. Besides, what fun would that be? Take a fresh sheet of paper (that horrifying blank slate that sends shivers down the spines of wary authors, and prompts them to run for the hills) and write down all the books that you’re planning to write. Some may not have names yet, so give a mock title or short description for each one. Keep jotting them down until you’re grasping at straws, trying to determine if you’ve overlooked any. Hopefully you’ll have no trouble filling the page, if not several (some of us are too ambitious for our own good).

Now that you have your list, grade it. For novels that absolutely must be written (as in you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and only have a few months to live), give them an A. Books that can wait until you clear out your inventory deserve a B. For all those books that would be fun to write if you have the time, give them a C.

I would hope that you would strike any item from your list that would earn a D or an F. Typically these begin as good ideas, but are quickly abandoned or shelved as one digs deeper. Eventually you may discover how to fix them; so don’t discard them entirely. For now ignore them, and focus on your best ideas first.

At a glance you can see what’s important, and what’s a few years off. Pour over your list, and select your top three, marking them with an A+. This will give you a good idea of what you’re in for, and it may surprise you what’s snuck into the top of your list.

Now comes the hard part: number your projects in the order that you intend to write them. If you’re writing several books in a series this might be easy, except if you’re having trouble picking the right series.

While numbering your list, consider the following:

  • What has the best chance of succeeding?
  • What’s vivid in your mind right now?
  • What books are dependent on others?
  • Are there any holidays you can take advantage of for your release window?
  • Is it better to get shorter books out of the way first before burying yourself in an epic?
  • Are any projects similar? Would it be beneficial to mix things up?
  • What are you really dying to work on?


Next, determine the desired length for each novel, where 1 page = 250 words. If you’re writing a 50,000-word novel (which many consider the minimum length for a novel), you will produce approximately 200 pages.

If you’re not sure what category your book falls into, consider this chart (these are the guidelines I use, and are not necessarily official):

Type
Page Count
Word Count
Epics
400+ pages
100,000+ words
Novel
200 – 399 pages
50,000 – 99,999 words
Novella
80 – 199 pages
20,000 – 49,999 words
Novelette
40 – 79 pages
10,000 – 19,999 words
Short Story
4 – 39 pages
1,000 – 9,999 words
Flash Fiction
< 4 pages
< 1,000 words

Now that you have an estimate for all of your works, determine how long each will take to write. Do this by dividing the total length by your daily goal. For example, if you intend to write 1,000 words a day until your 50,000-word novel is completed, it will take approximately 50 days:

50,000 / 1,000 = 50

Keep in mind that this number only takes into account the initial draft. You may find that it takes multiple drafts until you are pleased with the result. Let’s assume that you’ll need two more drafts: a rewrite and a polish. If you keep the same daily goal for editing, it will take a total of 150 days or 5 months before you have something publishable.

With this information in hand, iterate through your list and determine how long each will take. Are there any advantages to putting shorter works first? Take another look at your list and reevaluate.

Now it’s time to schedule each of your books. Start with this year and plan accordingly. If there are only four months left, is it possible to squeeze in a novel? Perhaps you can write more than 1,000 words a day, or shorten your novel—only you know what’s realistic.

If writing is your full time job, you should challenge yourself to write more than just 1,000 words a day. By doubling this amount, you could write a book every 75 days, more than enough time to write a novel and a few short stories before the end of the year. And if you can sustain this rate, you could easily write four novels a year. Insane, right? Can I really write four books a year? Yes, you can.

Once you’ve filled up this year and the next, keep going until you’ve filled up the next three (keep going if you like, but your plans are more likely to change the further out you get). Don’t forget to schedule breaks in between; it’s not realistic that you can maintain this level of productivity without getting burned out. Give yourself a week off in between to recover and sharpen your mind.

Remember, all of this goes back to what you think is sustainable on a daily basis. If you’re not sure that you can recover in time for your next writing session, do a trial run. Work earnestly for a week or two, and keep a running tally of your daily output. If it’s too much, scale back. Live to write another day.

In addition to daily goals, you may want to add weekly goals to encourage yourself to produce more. If your objective is to write 50,000 words a month, then you need to write at least 12,500 words per week (slightly less than 2,000 words a day) with two additional days left over for make up sessions. If you find yourself struggling to write 1,000 words consistently, you may want to set a more realistic goal.

So how do you feel about your roadmap to success? Excited? Intimidated? Or perhaps you think you would be better off without all these long-winded estimates?

If schedules aren’t your thing, look over your list, select one, and dive in. Give yourself a deadline for each project, incorporate lessons learned, and cram in as many as you can until you’ve crossed off every item on your list or you run out of time. This may inspire you to do more rather than knowing that you have x-amount of time to complete a task. Ultimately, the goal is to get as much done as possible before the year runs out. Find out what works for you and go with it.

Whatever you decide, be honest with yourself. Maintain your roadmap and keep your goals in sight. When people ask you how you get so much done, tell them:

I declare what I want and I get it. That’s the secret to drawing the things that we want into our lives.

Get a few successes under your belt, up the ante, and challenge yourself further, and the sky’s the limit to what you can accomplish.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice


Perhaps you've heard of Nora Roberts? In case you haven't, she's one of the most prolific authors of our time. On average, she releases 5 books a year, and has done so for the past 30 years. Currently she's written over 200 books, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Any author would die to have her productivity. So how does she do it? While Nora is gifted, it's her discipline that sets her apart. Nora works 8 hours a day, every day. No exceptions. On weekends and holidays, you'll find her at the computer, and she rarely takes a day off. Due to tight deadlines and edits from her publisher, there are days when she works longer. It's hard work, and she does it every day.

In a typical year, Nora works approximately 3,000 hours (8 X 365 = 2920 + additional hours worked). Her average book takes approximately 500 hours to complete, enabling her to produce six titles a year. Now that you see it in this context, is it really surprising that she churns out so much so often? And what happens when things don't quite go according to plan? "Keep beating the square peg into the round hole," she advised my mother one fateful evening.

While we're at it, let me throw another name out there that you might not know. His name is Ryoki Inoue, and he's world’s most prolific author (Guinness World Book of Records). Currently he's written 1,100 books, the bulk of which was produced in a ten-year span.

Over the years, Mr. Inoue has developed a system that allows him to write up to 3 books a day. At the height of his creative powers, he averaged 6 published titles a month or a new book every 5 days. There are stories of him writing whole chapters on bathroom breaks and entire novels while at the beach or having his car fixed. It's extraordinary what Ryoki Inoue has accomplished, and he's still going strong. "I like doing one book in three days, rather than three books in one day," he told a reporter.

Excuse me while I pick up my jaw from the floor.

When journalist Matt Moffet heard about Ryoki Inoue's exploits, he was immediately skeptical. Against Ryoki's objections, Moffet flew down to Brazil to see Mr. Inoue work firsthand. True to his word, Ryoki turned out an entire novel in one evening (Sequestro Fast Food) between the hours of 11:30 pm and 4:00 am. A week later it was published. Amazed by Inoue’s prolificacy, Moffet wrote an entertaining piece for the Wall Street Journal, which was published on May 2nd, 1996.

Ryoki's advice to aspiring writers? Abandon inertia, rely on organization and discipline to succeed, juggle multiple projects to keep productivity high, use dynamite to solve plot conflicts (I’m not even making this up), and don't stop until you finish.

The messages that Ryoki and Nora are relaying are quite similar: it's all about working hard and maintaining discipline. More importantly, it's about personal sacrifice.

What are you willing to give up in order to succeed?

Certainly there are times when Nora or Ryoki prefer to surf the Internet or take a day off. Perhaps they give themselves a treat here and there, but the other 99% of the time, they're hard at work. Do these prolific authors buy cases of superglue to keep them in their chairs? It wouldn't surprise me.

Now I'm not suggesting that you devote every waking moment to writing, nor am I expecting you to become a prolific author of the likes of Ryoki Inoue or Nora Roberts. If you take something from their example, let it be this: set your hours and honor them voraciously. Eliminate distractions (sorry, family doesn't count), and most of all, be willing to work hard.

Nothing's impossible when you're willing to work hard.

In order to reach your goals, you'll need to make a few sacrifices. Some of them are easy: instead of watching a movie, read a book, or better yet, write. Reduce your television time, gaming, and Internet browsing. Actually, I would suggest that you work on a computer that doesn't have Internet access so that you're not tempted. Indulge in your hobbies as a reward, and you will appreciate them more afterwards.

Also take your nutrition into account. When working long hours, it becomes quickly apparent when you're running on bad fuel. Remove soft drinks from your diet, and replace them with water instead. Snack on fruits and vegetables instead of potato chips and cookies and you will work longer with better focus. Nutrition directly affects mood, and you won't want to do anything (much less write) if you feel terrible.

A month from now you won't remember how important it was to read the latest gossip, beat a videogame, or that you wolfed down a Cinnabon (ok, maybe that last one), but you will remember the sweet taste of success when you publish that novel you've been toiling with for the last few months. Indulge later; don't make play time your full time. Instead, do something meaningful with your time!

When it's time to work, work. No excuses. If you need to step it up, invest the time and energy. No one wants to hear about how tired you were; they want to hear about how you overcame obstacles. Put everything into your writing. Become great. Recognize and eliminate bad habits. Force yourself to read and write more. Create an environment that fosters productivity. Put in the time, maintain discipline, and make the necessary sacrifices. By removing obstacles that encourage failure, all that's left for you to do is to succeed. And succeed you shall.

Let your sweet sacrifice speak for itself.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: Grains of Time


Five minutes. You can give five minutes, can't you? Today? Every day? Of course you can; it's just a matter of reminding yourself that you can make a difference, even with the smallest grains of time.

The possibilities are endless. Go full speed, all out, no holds barred. Every morning, every lunch break, and just before dozing off.

Just five minutes. You can do it!

How much can be produced in five minutes? A page can be written in this short sprint, perhaps even more; granted, it may need a fair amount of editing when you’re through. Even if you can only salvage an idea or two, you’ll find yourself invigorated and closer to your goal.

And what will you find while performing this mini brain-dump? Typically things that you wouldn't have considered otherwise, or ideas that you've had trouble expressing. Original ideas materialize out of thin air when you nudge yourself, if ever so slightly.

So next time when you find yourself with a moment to spare, remember this. String together enough of these brief writing sessions and you’ll have a book; all this that wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for your small sacrifice.

Many times in our lives, it’s the small things that make a difference. Put aside a few moments right now, and set the page on fire.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: Touched


I met a young man today, far worse off than I. A tall, dark-skinned chap who reluctantly disclosed that he was homeless. When I greeted him back he was overjoyed that someone would take the time to hear his spiel. I wasn’t one of the vagrants hustling the streets like him, but a workingman—one of those busybodies filing to and from work that usually don’t give him the time of day.

Often I have been that person: hurried and miffed that someone would try to wring another dollar from me. I have my own financial problems to deal with; you don’t see me skulking the streets and asking for a handout. And when one does fork over a buck or two, where does the money go? Booze? Drugs? Hopefully hunger gets the better of them first.

While I’d hate to think that I’m funding their addictions, I cannot entirely blame them for wanting to escape their plight. Besides, where did they come from? How did they become homeless? If I endured the same misfortune, would I also be tempted to drink my problems away? Most of us would never believe that we could become the person standing across from us, but didn’t we say the same thing about our parents when we were younger?

Though I typically resent the position that they put me in, today I felt different. I could see a bit of myself in the young man, even though he towered over me and wore the stench of the alley.

At first he had difficulty making eye contact, and when he did, I realized there was something else at play. I could sense his vision was poor; perhaps he was partially blind. I also noted some mental impairment while our conversation unfolded, further explaining why he seemed a bit distant.

He smiled briefly, showing me his vacant gums. Most likely his teeth had been knocked out, but it was hard to imagine that he wouldn’t yank them out himself if he needed a root canal.

“I was an athlete at AU,” he told me. Not one of the stars that made it to the Olympics or professional leagues, but one of the hopefuls who was good but not great, and now warming our streets.

From his physique, I could tell that he had been a track star, and perhaps even a basketball player. And the letters he blurted out meant something to me, not because I had gone to American University, but because it was the metro stop that I commuted to every morning. I had gotten an education and was now working near AU, while he had gotten an education at AU and had no hope of working, here or otherwise. With both of us staring down different ends of the same spectrum, I found the connection odd, especially since I had done track and field in high school, and could appreciate the steep level of competition at the collegiate level. For some reason I was supposed to talk to this gaunt, impoverished man, and the more I recognized his ailments, the more my heart warmed to him.

But let me clear about one thing: this isn’t a critique of American University or any other school featuring college athletes. As previously stated, I’ve never enrolled there, and believe that everyone must take responsibility for his or her own actions, especially in regard to education. Certainly he had a hand in his own demise; we all do. It’s not always clear how deeply we’re affected when we falter, and it’s important that we don’t use it as an excuse to give up.

For the first time in a long while I decided not to shy away from the problem, and took a good look at the burden he shouldered. At very least he was homeless, jobless, penniless and in need of a bath. In addition, he appeared to be in poor mental and physical health, had limited skills, and most importantly, did not have a family to turn to. Any of these problems can make life unbearable, but what if they hit you all at once? I don’t think I’d last long, either.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He backed away as a bus pulled up.

“It’s ok,” I assured him. “That’s not my bus. It’ll be another 10 minutes before it comes around.”

“Bless you, sir.” He showed off what few teeth he had. I thought he was going to cry right then, but he held himself together well. “You’re going to have to give me a hug when I get done with you.”

“All right.” I was wary of the thought, but cracked a smile nonetheless. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

“This is for you.” He handed me a narrow strip of paper with the words ‘D.C. Lotto’ printed on it. Even though I don’t play the Powerball, I thanked him and took it anyways.

“And because you took the time to speak with me, I’m going to give you this as well.” He handed me a set of 10 pens.

Ironically he had no way of knowing that I’m a writer, or that I frequently run out of pens. “Thanks, I can use these. I’m a writer, at least that’s what I aspire to be.”

“Well how about that?” he grinned. “All I ask is that you make a donation. A few dollars…anything will do.”

It was hardly a surprise. I knew where this was leading all along, and appreciated that he was trying to be useful, and more importantly, feel useful. Without hesitation, I reached into my wallet. Typically I do not carry cash on me, not even a dime. “All I have is a twenty. Can you break a twenty?”

His eyes lit up, and I knew right then that I wouldn’t be seeing much back of it. “Sure, sure. I got fourteen right here. Is it ok if I give you back fourteen?”

“That’s fine.” I nodded.

“Oh, thanks man. And don’t think that I forgot about that hug.” He dug through his pockets, and handed over three crumpled bills and a pocketful of change, well short of $14. Again it was to be expected, and I could sense that he was having trouble counting. “My bad. I’m afraid it’s going to be a little less.”

“It’s ok, my friend. Put it to good use.” I straightened out the dollar bills, and put them in my wallet.

“You really touched me. No so much with the money, but with your words.” He finally scraped together enough courage to look me in the eyes. Before I could say anything, he embraced me, and then joined a female friend hidden among the scaffolding nearby.

Certainly my critics will admonish me for feeding the problem rather than addressing the underlying root causes; but if he weren’t genuinely in need, I wouldn’t have lent him an ear. In the end, the homeless man left me with more than I had begun with:

Words change people.

Your words.

As I peered down 14th street, waiting for the bus to arrive, the homeless man looped back around and handed me a second pack of pens. “Set the world on fire.” He patted me on the shoulder and walked away.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice - Writing: A Timeless Celebration


Do you know how it feels
When your spirit soars?
You do?
Good
Then you’ve probably written before

This isn’t some crackpot theory
Or unscrupulous form of chicanery
You can go anywhere
Do anything
Know what it’s like
To be alive
A vibrant dreamscape awaits
This private universe inside

Come
Join me now
Let yourself go
You are always welcome
Always cherished
And your words mean something here

Why would you
Even for a second
Think of going away
Leaving the fruits of your labor
To die on the vine
This kingdom
Built of dreams
Unlike any other
Abandoned      
Falling back into the void
From whence it came

Do not cower from destiny
There are no mistakes here
Evolve
As other creatures have
In this vivid, wondrous land

If you’re worried
About being yourself
Swallow your fear
For you are your words
And your words are you
Together
Inseparable
One

The world wants to know you
Not some rehashed tale
Or soulless tripe
Churned out
By the ivory towers
And paper mills
Of the northeast

Your readers love you
Because you are you
Unique
Real
Someone they can relate to
You are their hope
For better things to come
Validation
That the human soul exists

Let your voice
Desires
Dreams
Be heard

This is your world
Share it with others
In turn
They will gladly share theirs
Go forth
But be quick about it
Come back soon
So that we can hear about
All you’ve discovered
And revel
In this timeless celebration
Of the human spirit
Known as writing

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: Never Surrender


Tired? Me too. The story of my life, actually. Seems like I never get enough sleep. Or time off. Not too long ago I took a break—from work, life…everything. A mini-retirement if you will, and what I found disturbed me.

With an ocean of time at my disposal, I soon realized that I wasn’t doing much of anything. I continued depriving myself of sleep, and grumbled every time my son woke me in the morning. I was decaying right in front of my eyes, and I knew it. I now understand what people mean when they talk about the need to stay active and “will to live.”

In the end, going back to work was the best thing for me. I wasn’t making good use of the time, and was surprised at how much I had left over after working an 8-hour workday. I could even squeeze in a little writing during my lunch break, who would have thought? There were plenty of opportunities to write if I had just opened my mind.

Later I compared my productivity during my hiatus to my new working life and was stunned. The results were roughly the same. How could this be? When you have less time, you make better use of it. The time at work also gives you a much-needed break from writing, and in addition, new social experiences to draw upon.

When focusing exclusively on writing, I find that I work really hard for a few weeks, promptly run myself into the ground, and then stop. By stop, I mean a dead stop, as in no writing at all. A few weeks of intense writing is typically followed by weeks (or even months) of inactivity, resulting in an output that is equivalent to part-time status.

The moral of the story is that I was wrong to stop, even though I convinced myself otherwise. We can deceive ourselves into believing just about anything as long as we get what we want. But in the end what I truly needed was a break. “I’m sick of this”, “I don’t want to do this anymore”, “I never finish anything”, and the infamous “What I really want to do is…” are all justifications for giving up, a recipe for failure which adds even more distance between you and your work.

In hindsight, I should have scaled back. Instead of writing ten pages a day, five would have sufficed. I should have broken things up, given myself frequent breaks, and written periodically throughout the day. If I had done this for a few weeks, I would have sufficiently recovered without sacrificing quality.

For those times when I have had to produce in a very short period of time, I’m often surprised with the results. At first it’s difficult to get into; my energy is low, writing poor and attention fleeting. Then around the thirty-minute mark something just clicks. I stop listening to all those self-defeating thoughts, get past myself, and dive in. Fatigue subsides, a light goes on, and then suddenly I begin producing. All this despite convincing myself that I did not have the enthusiasm or the interest to write a whit more.

Before you fall into this downward spiral, silence your mind. You’ll never get enough sleep anyways, and there’s always something better that you could be doing. Don’t pay your fickle emotions any heed. Open up your heart and mind to the words flowing through you.

Though it’s true that you can be your own worst enemy, you can also be your greatest ally. Keep your emotions in check and schedule time to do the things that you really want rather than what grabs you at any particular moment. It’s easy to find yourself stumbling down the wrong path (and occasionally right off the cliff) if not careful. You know better, listen to yourself. If it requires planning and sacrifice then it’s probably worth it, otherwise you wouldn’t bother.

Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s obtainable and repeatable. If you’re planning to write 16 hours a day for the foreseeable future, think again. Give yourself a chance to come up for oxygen, and don’t forget to get up and walk around every once in awhile; blot clots have a funny way of messing up your merry day.

Even while you’re away from your work, your mind will continue chopping away at the problem at hand. You don’t have to be at your desk to come up with brilliant ideas, and inspiration will often strike at the most inconvenient of times. Some of my greatest insights have come during breaks, propelling me forward with a new energy and conviction that would not have been possible if I had forced myself through. Be judicious with your breaks, and you will find that you are more productive, not less.

Most importantly, see your project through to the end; you owe it to yourself. Despite all the blood, sweat and tears (or I shall I say, the chocolate, cheeseburgers and Pop Tarts) it’s definitely worth it. You didn’t come all this way just to give up, did you? And what will you have if you do give up? That’s right, nothing. Without publishing your work, how can anyone know for sure that it really exists? You have little more than a promise. And what advantage do you have over the person who cannot write? If you never finish anything, none.

Adopt a policy of never giving up on any project. You must have had a good reason when you started, and at some point, envisioned it working despite your troubles. Don’t delay; finish it. There’s no telling if this project or the next is the one that gives you your big break. Editors and publishers have been trying to do this for years and still pass over such gems as A Time To Kill and Harry Potter. The truth is nobody knows, so what do you have to lose?

Regardless of the odds or how little time you have to write, if you follow through you will always win and never have to second-guess yourself. It’s your duty as an author to believe in your work, fight every step of the way, and to never surrender. Ever.

Cover for Sweet Sacrifice, My Self-Help Book for Writers