Category Archives: Goals

Bring on 2012!

AMNH --- Maya Stone Calendar

I don’t care if the Mayans thought the world would end this year. While 2011 was a wonderful year for me professionally, I was not sorry to see it go. In my private life, 2011 was a year of freak accidents, the loss of a pet, the near-loss of two relatives, and was just generally a pain in the rear. Buh-bye and good riddance!!

My own theory about why the Mayan Long Count stopped in 2012 is that they got tired of carving all that stone. Of course, I also believe that Stonehenge was actually a prehistoric shopping mall. (Come on, am I the only one who is reminded of a food court by that open circle? If any scholar would like to discuss the possibility that the monoliths served as the entrance to  Og’s Mastodon-Skin Creations and the Bluestone Boutique, please contact me.)

End of the world or not, I am going to try to make 2012 a good year. I hate to use the word ‘resolutions’, so I won’t. But ‘goals’, ‘good habits’ and ‘wishes’ are all okay. Here are a few simple habits I am implementing to improve my life this year.

1. I need more sleep. I’ve had insomnia of varying degrees since I was a kid. Stress over the last few months made it worse, and I got tired of being tired. There are a lot of things I’ve tried, short of medication. Mind you, meds work wonderfully for many people, but they’re not ‘me’. What helps my brain slow down and turn off is an hour or so of television and needlepoint. This must be why I avoid having the TV on during work hours 🙂

2. Order is our friend…or at least a frenemy. Much as I hate housecleaning, neat surroundings do lead to clearer thinking. I have a high level of clutter tolerance, but eventually it gets too much even for me. Plus I married a neat freak. Am I going to start scrubbing the house down every day? Um, no. But I can set aside 30 minutes a day for straightening/basic chores. Big jobs can wait for the weekend, when they won’t cut into work time.

3. Organization can be fun! Last year, I discovered the joys of using a desk calendar to track page counts and each day’s accomplishments, as well doctor’s appointments, deadlines and birthdays. I can’t recommend this enough — it’s amazing what we actually DO get done in a day, and reviewing the calendar each week (or more often) is a morale boost. Mine shows a week over two pages. I can look at it and know if I’m doing well or slacking off. Desk calendars with fun or pretty pictures are still on sale!

4. I want to go on field trips. Or as Julia Cameron describes them her excellent book, The Artist’s Way, ‘Artist Dates’. She suggests taking time each week to do something just for us, to keep our souls alive. Once a week is not feasible for me, but once a month should be. I already found one fun outing for January: a lecture on the history of tea at a local library over lunchtime. Yes, I know most of you read that and immediately felt the urge to snooze. But I live for arcane knowledge like this!

How would you like to make your life better this year? Healthier habits? Save more money? The trip you’ve always dreamed of? I’d love to hear from you!

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Make Something of Yourself

Razvan Ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People often ask, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” and “How do you make time to write?” before telling me, “I could never be that creative.” The answers to #1 and #2 are blog posts of their own, but I always feel terrible when I hear the last comment.

I am convinced that all of us were put on this earth to make something of ourselves. Not in the usual meaning of the phrase, which means a person establishes her- or himself in a prestigious job, or becomes a celebrity or earns a big income. Say ‘make something of yourself’ aloud, but emphasize the last word.

‘To make something of yourself‘ implies that you put your heart and soul into creating something you love. For me, it’s making up stories. If I weren’t published, you know what? I’d still think of characters and plots. My stories happen to take the form of books. Other people make stories in the form of movies via screenplays, or acting. Some people love to tell stories to their grandchildren.

My mom always says she’s not creative. This from the woman who took a shoebox of broken rhinestone jewelry, cleaned it up, and glued the pieces onto colored felt in the shape of marvelous, sparkly Christmas trees to give to her friends as gifts one year. I would never have thought of finding such a cool use for junk jewelry! And she does stuff like this all the time.

As in the worldly meaning of the phrase, it’s not easy to make something of yourself. Society approves of some goals more than others. For example, Warren Buffett is usually admired for doing what he loves, namely making sound investments. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. If you like making up characters and stories about them, people say you’re a daydreamer. If you like to paint, people tell you to stop fooling around with watercolors and get a job. Even if you already have one.

To make something of yourself, here are some things you’ll need:

1.  Something you love to do or have always wanted to try.

2. Teachers or mentors: Instinct only goes so far. You’re not going to know how to compose a picture, dry flowers or develop a character right off the bat. If you can’t find someone in person, look online for help, or in the library. Julia Child still inspires budding chefs thanks to her cookbooks, for example.

3. Time alone to explore what you love: This one is a bear, especially if you’ve always tried to be there for others. That makes you a wonderful person, and means you’re entitled to schedule a bit of time once a week or so for *you*. Schedule your time, and fight for it. You’re allowed to be less wonderful for that hour or two.

5. Permission to Fail: We all suck the first time we try something. This is normal. If you’re feeling terribly ashamed of how much you suck at whatever it is you tried (which you shouldn’t because you’re still a wonderful person, right?), you don’t have to show it to anyone. It was just an idea that didn’t work. You will get better next time.

6. Permission to Succeed: Use part of your creative time to think about your definition of success. Work backwards from there to where you are now. This way, you’ll know what you need to do next. Then, when a painting is accepted for the show, or a manuscript is requested, you’ll know what you want to happen, where you are on your road to *your* success. Other people will have a hard time talking you into what they think you should want. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for every stepping stone you land on, even if others say, “Are you sure you should waste time doing this?” If it’s still fun and you can put your heart into it, the answer is ‘yes’.

For more photos from Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net, click here.

More Passion!

We all need a good passion in our lives. I don’t mean sexual passion, although that’s fun, too. I refer to those activities, objects and relationships that make us want to jump out of bed and seize the day. Or if you’re like me, to at least shove the covers back and stagger to the nearest source of caffeine without as much whining.

One of the greatest encouragements I ever heard for giving in to passion came from a sermon. The priest said that those things that make our heart sing are what God means us to enjoy. Whatever you believe (or don’t) about God, we human beings are not meant to slog through life with a mental chorus of ‘should do’ and ‘ought to’ making us miserable. Among the obligations to do things for others, we also have the gift of  intense attraction to certain activities or objects.  These are our passions, and they deserve exploration.

What makes your heart sing? Old houses? New houses? Gardening? Hiking? Movies? Dinner with family? Gaming with friends? I get excited by writing, ballet, period movies, roses, sitting under a shade tree on a hot day. There’s more, but hopefully  you get the idea.

Note that I said “good passion” in the first line. Those feed our souls. People who are drawn to activities or behavior that hurt themselves or others need to explore their passions as well, but under the guidance of a professional who can help them heal or master their urges.

Granted, any unmastered passion causes problems.  It’s a matter of balance. If you indulge in your love of restoring hardwood floors 24/7, you’re going to alienate the people around you who don’t share that particular passion, and you’ll neglect practical matters like washing the sawdust out of your clothes and eating right. Much as I love writing, at some point I have to turn off the computer or put the pen down.

Souls are smart. Once you discover a way to do things you love on a regular basis, your soul knows it will have another chance to sing. The trick is finding or making the time to feed it in the first place, and then keeping that commitment to yourself. Have you always wanted to learn to dance? Maybe there’s a beginner’s class out there somewhere if you can set aside the time and money, although I’d be careful and ask to observe the class first. The director of our family dance studio believes that dance benefits anyone of any age and sets up ‘adult beginner’ classes so no one is intimidated. It is better to forgo classes if the atmosphere does not nurture you.

If you explore your passions, you might find an activity that brings you so much joy it gets you through the work week. You might even end up with a new job that gives you a sense of purpose and wonder. Either way, a good passion brings out the best in you.

If I had not explored my fascination for telling stories, I would not be published. How many of you have discovered things, big or small, that make your heart do a happy dance? What have you always wanted to try?

I Hereby Resolve….Not

A string of Christmas lights decorating the ed...
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January. Bitter cold. Gray skies and white snow-covered ground. The Christmas lights are down, the bills have come in and it’s time to buckle down and work on those resolutions. Kill me now.

Instead of making resolutions this year, I’m joining several other writers to set up goals for myself. Real, concrete, measurable goals that will leave me with something to show for my efforts in 2011.

I never did like resolutions. The day always came when I ate the cookie or spaced off the exercise regimen. Then that little voice would start in: “See? You can’t do this after all. You should have known better than to try.”  If I could, I’d beat the Internal Naysayer to death with the toilet brush. If I have learned one thing, it is that everyone fails at something, sometime. Accept this.  Then get back up, brush yourself off and remind yourself of why you made that resolution to begin with.

Why did you want to go to that yoga class three times a week? Did you want a stronger, more flexible body? To get toned up in time for bathing suit season? To relieve stress? The answer to ‘why?’ is the goal. It doesn’t matter if the resolution involves a diet, a budget, a class or time spent with loved ones. The reason why you made it is what you want to accomplish.

In 2011, I want to finish my WIP and hopefully one more book after that. Why? Because then I’ll have two manuscripts to submit to agents and editors. And if they sell, cha-ching! Money and another publishing credit. Put in those terms, why would I not work on my goal every day??

Back to that failure thing. Life isn’t going to stop throwing curve balls (or hairballs, car problems, and extra reports) just because we want to go to yoga class, set aside money for a new car or meet a minimum word count.  The goal will still be there when the phone call or last-minute snafu has been taken care of. True, life does throw things at us that are so monumental all our goals need to be reassessed. But I’m talking about day to day nuisances, not catastrophes. Maybe there is so much going on in your life that a small adjustment is needed in your daily or weekly goals, say two times a week at yoga class instead of three. Just don’t give up your goal completely! Remember why you wanted to reach it in the first place.

I’m tracking my progress toward my goals this year in a $6 desk calendar.  On the days when I miss my word count goal, I write down why. For some comfort, I note what I do accomplish every day, writing-related or not. I can literally see where my time goes and keep myself on track.

Meeting a goal give a sense of accomplishment as well as the tangible benefit you wanted in the first place. We all deserve that feeling of success. Go for it!

What would you like to do in 2011?

Being Here

Dry.  Blocked.  Stuck.  Staring at the screen.

One of a writer’s many nightmares is sitting down, putting her fingers on the keyboard and…nothing.  No words, no idea, no clue comes on how to finish this wretched story.  She has to write the scene — she wants to write the scene — and her mind says ‘beeeeeeeeeeeep’, like those old ‘end of the programing day’ screens before television was on 24/7.

I think every writer deals with this syndrome at some point.  Most of us call it ‘writer’s block’ though my mentor, S. J. Walker, calls it ‘writer’s procrastination’ with some justification.  When the words don’t come it is too easy to turn off the computer or set aside the notebook and say “It’s just not working today.  I’ll do something else.”  Don’t get me wrong, everybody needs mental breaks, even from work  they love.  But the biggest secret to accomplishing any creative endeavor?  It ain’t talent or unlimited time or an independent income.  It’s showing up, plain and simple.

If you don’t make it a habit to pick up the needle or the paintbrush or sit down at the computer, then the quilt, the drawing, the story will never get done.  You gotta set a schedule to give yourself creative time, whether it’s your full-time job or weekend projects, and you gotta show up on the schedule you set for yourself, be it daily or weekly.

My goal is to write for a set number of hours, six days a week.  Even though I’ve been spinning my creative wheels for the last month, I am still here.  I haven’t felt so unproductive in years, but I am following my friend Sally’s dicate: “Write anyway.”  My frustration shows in stilted dialogue and entire scenes that have nothing to do with my story.  (Another important part of writing is accepting that the first thing I come up with is usually crap.)  I groan, hit ‘delete’ and try to remember that one point the chance to write these characters and their story thrilled me.

I’ve lived long enough to learn that creativity, like the rest of life, goes in cycles.  I’m in a dry spell where the right words are as scarce as water in the desert.  But if I show up and keep stringing one word after another, I will find my way back to the story I hope to write.  And then the words, like rain, will come again.

Then I’ll probably whine about drowning.

Dream On!

No one accomplishes anything in life without goals.  We hear this every day on talk shows and read it in newspapers and online.  This is because it is true.  Unless we establish reachable goals and stick to them, we are subject not only to what life throws at us, but to our own short-sightedness and bad habits.  Goals are proactive.  Goals are concrete, unlike wishy-washy dreams and ‘what-ifs’.

Of course, writers live with ‘what-if’.  That’s how we spin ideas into words on a page.  I’ve never heard a writer say “I just thought of some great goals to write about!”  For that matter, I’ve never heard a business person explain that “I started this business to sell my wonderful action plan.”  Goals tells how we’re going to achieve something.  But dreams remind us of why we should put in all that hard work.

I call them dreams.  Others refer to their vision, or their aspiration.  Under whatever name, they are unique as our DNA and just as necessary to our existence.  Show me someone without a dream and I’ll show you someone living in a form of poverty.  Dreams give us something to hope for.  Who wants to live without hope?  I don’t, because that is called despair.

“Ha,” you mutter.  “Dreams are fine for creative people.  But I’m just a banker.”  Or “a beautician.”  Or any other occupation.  If you think you’re out of dreams, as soon as you finish reading this, go find a copy of the book ‘Wishcraft’, by Barbara Sher.  Seriously.  Get to a bookstore, library or open a tab to search for it online.  I’m sure it’s at B&N.com or Borders.com.  Beg, borrow or buy it for yourself.

One of Sher’s exercises is to write down your ideal day.  Not a day in the life you have right now, but a day in the life you (probably secretly) have always wished for, be it as a movie star or a cabinet maker or a stay at home mom.  What we crave defines not only our wants, but our needs.  And when we know what we need, we can figure out the smaller, reachable goals to get it.

My own ideal day includes a large old house (and the staff to clean it!), writing in a garden and a glamorous red carpet event in the evening.  At this point, the day as a whole is achievable only on the holodeck of the USS Enterprise, but many elements are do-able by themselves.  Think I’ve gone off the deep end?  Maybe, but I used to dream of being a published author, too.

So dream on!  Dream big!  I told you a little of my wildest dreams…what are yours?