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):

Page Count
Word Count
400+ pages
100,000+ words
200 – 399 pages
50,000 – 99,999 words
80 – 199 pages
20,000 – 49,999 words
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.