12/29/2015 3 Comments
Achieving New Year’s Resolutions
Defining the New Year’s Resolution:
In this context, a resolution is a firm decision to do, or to not do, something specific. It’s a goal. The timeframe spans one calendar year, in this case, 2016.
Simple. You set a goal and give yourself a year in which to accomplish the task. Then why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fall by the wayside, often within the first month or two?
Like any goal, you need to be able to measure a resolution. How will you know you’ve completed your goal if you can’t quantify the results?
Example – the ubiquitous resolution to lose five pounds.
Let’s say you lose two pounds in January, then gain three in February. Lose one in March. Gain two in April. Lose two in May. Gain it back in June. You have achieved your goal. You lost five pounds in 2016. In reality, you gained weight. A better resolution would be to attain a specific weight.
Example – you resolve to retire.
I worked with a gentleman who planned to retire in two years. He continued to work for another seven years, operating the entire time under the same clearly stated goal. If he had declared he was going to retire in March of 2014, he would have had a specific endpoint instead of constantly shifting it further into the future.
Quantifying your resolution does not increase the pressure to achieve your goal. It sets parameters that let you know whether you are taking the correct actions to achieve your goal.
In the weight loss example, with a specific weight goal, you know if you are approaching success, or letting it slip away. You might be motivated to go on a diet or start an exercise class. In the retirement example, you might research your anticipated benefits (pension, Social Security, 401K savings) and adjust your spending and saving to achieve a monetary goal before hitting your planned retirement date.
For writers, it is easy to quantify some goals. “Write more” means nothing. Write two pages a day, or write ten hours a week, can be measured and tracked. Complete a short story, or a novel, in 2016 is a specific goal, but setting milestone dates will improve your chances for success. Draft short story by end of March. Polish short story by end of July. Submit short story by end of September.
Keep a calendar. I think of my spreadsheet as my time sheet, just as though I am tracking job hours. That’s what works for me – tracking time. Other writers track the number of pages or words they have written per day. I can tell at a glance if I am falling short of my monthly time goal.
With each resolution, you may find you need to make other adjustments in your life. Losing five pounds might require giving up viewing a television program to make time to train for your first 5K race. Retiring by a certain date might mean you stop eating out as often, or you continue driving your late model car, as you save for retirement.
Writing goals require sacrifices, too. If you have a job and family, the challenge to put in a specific number of hours writing might mean you miss out on some leisure activities, or some sleep.
2015 presented many challenges that knocked me off my typical schedule. One was a laptop crash. Others involved family. While some issues were beyond my control, others were not. I could see myself getting off track. The timesheet does not lie.
My writing resolutions for 2016? Write 40 hours a month. Complete two short stories. Complete a novel (that is near completion). Draft a new novel. Read more outside my genre. Read or re-read more classics.
I know I am capable of achieving my goals. The trick will be staying the course through the storms of life.
Rather than making silly declarations during the New Years celebration, take the time to contemplate where you are, and where you want to be in another year. Consider the little steps that will bring you closer to your goal. Write them down. Break them down into verifiable chunks of measurable sub-goals. Revisit your 2016 New Years Resolutions once a quarter.
I wish you success as you strive to achieve your goals! And may you have a Productive New Year!
12/22/2015 0 Comments
Who Visited My Pine Tree?
My husband dropped me off at the house after a Sunday morning outing. I had the afternoon to myself. I planned to work on a novel-in-progress.
When I entered the house, I could hear birds. Not indoors, thank goodness, although they were so loud, for a moment I thought they might have broken in. I went upstairs and peeked out a window. My backyard looked like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Black birds perched on tree branches, the deck railings, the fence.
Against my sense of self-preservation, I stepped out onto the deck. Fortunately, most of the black birds flew away. The remaining birds were focused on one of three huge pine trees. When they realized I wasn't leaving, the rest of the birds vacated my yard.
I glimpsed something in the tree. Tufted ears and a round face. I could not figure out what creature was hiding in the pine tree. After the Dragon on the Deck and the Killer Baby Robin incidents, I knew I needed photographic evidence. I hoped my camera phone images would be more convincing than those of Sasquatch hunters.
Finally, it dawned on me. The creature was an owl. I am not a birder. We have friends who keep a Life List, and have published photos of their finds. I am lucky if I can discern a song bird from a predator bird.
I watched as long as I could, but a gusty snowstorm began to blow in. I went inside to warm up. When I returned, the owl was gone.
I realized my interest in the bird in my tree illustrates the research steps I often use in my writing. Gather evidence: in this case photos. Go to the internet: bird watching sites. Consult experts: our birding friends.
Armed with my photos and a video, I went to the All About Birds and the Bird Watchers Digest websites. I still couldn't tell whether it was a screech owl or Great Horned Owl, although I was leaning toward the Great Horned. I sent a photo to my birding friends. Their verdict? Great Horned Owl. Definitely.
Here are links to bird websites I use when trying to identify a bird.
12/15/2015 0 Comments
What I Like About Snow
Whoa - what was that? Someone riding an ATV down a residential street during a blizzard? You bet!
I like snow, and that's a good thing when you live in Colorado. There are so many things to like about snow. Snowflakes are near the top of the list. Frozen crystals falling from the sky, none exactly the same. Snow days, when the city shuts down and you find yourself happily trapped indoors, or maybe outdoors getting into snow-inspired mischief. Snow ball fights and snow sculptures.
Here are three of my favorite things about snow:
1) The rules of the road are temporarily suspended. (Obviously this only applies when hardly anyone is out there braving the conditions.) Slow down for that stop sign, but don't come to a complete stop or you'll be stuck. You can't see the lines on the road, so pick your route free from the impediments of picking a lane. One year, a neighbor towed his sons uphill on our street with his ATV. The boys were on skis. Making my vehicle illuminate the "you're slipping!" icon on the dashboard, on purpose, is a thrill.
2) Snow coats the winter brown grass and bare tree branches with puffy white. There is nothing quite as spectacular as new snow glittering against a blue sky. Mountain peaks covered with snow regularly grace calendar photos and postcards.
3) I'll be practical here. Snow blankets the mountains and fills the reservoirs with the water we'll need during spring, summer, and fall.
Yes, snow makes travel difficult. You have to shovel the walk, dig out the driveway, and maybe dig your vehicle out of the occasional drift. Fresh snow is pretty, while old snow can become dingy. But if you're going to complain about the snow, you might as well complain that spring is too rainy, summer too hot, and then there's fall, with those pesky leaves to rake.
We have a long stretch of winter ahead of us here in Colorado. I intend to make the most of snowy days. Gardening season will start soon enough.
The Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was a pleasant surprise. True mystery and detective story fans must have designed the exhibit.
First, one received an overview of the history of detective work and of Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle had an interest in the scientific method and early forensics, which influenced his writing. I enjoyed the ancient film of Doyle chatting about his work.
Second, attendees entered a room where they received a notebook in which to record information. Stations taught about botany, ballistics, Scotland Yard, the telegraph, optics and lenses, and cosmetics. Wearing makeup was not a wise choice during this era, as many cosmetics contained toxic materials.
Third, attendees examined a display of a crime scene. Scotland Yard had one theory about what had occurred, but Sherlock urged us to collect data and follow the clues. Outside the conservatory, a woman in period costume challenged the Scotland Yard theory. My husband tried mightily to draw her out of character, but she resolutely played her role.
Finally, we compared clues to blood spatter patterns, foot prints versus drag marks, and bullet trajectories. My husband and I stood outside a shed, pondering the evidence while a museum docent gave us hints.
I'll admit that I did not discover the entire tale. I was surprised to learn the solution to the case. Still, I had not fallen for false assumptions.
Also on display were props from the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies. I could have spent several hours in the exhibit. We were limited on time. We flew through the equally captivating poison exhibit. I would love to go back, before the exhibit leaves town.
If you are in the Denver area, plan a trip to museum. The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes runs until January 31, while The Power of Poison is only there until January 10, 2016.
12/1/2015 0 Comments
NaNoWriMo - Winner, or Cheater???
I won. I hit the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words during the month of November. I should be reveling in victory, but guilt nags like a pesky Chihuahua gnawing on my ankle.
You see, I began NaNo-ing with a completed novel.
Before you send the villagers with pitchforks, tar, and feathers, let me say something in my defense. I am not the only author who uses NaNoWriMo in ways it may not have been intended.
The original purpose of the month long writing marathon was to encourage writers to complete a novel. In that sense, this time around was a fail for me. My November goal was to complete a major rewrite of a novel. I made it more than half way through, but no where near the end.
Why did I use NaNoWriMo? Why not just decide I was going to use November to do a rewrite? For the same reasons that I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past several years.
1) Friends and family are trained. When they want my attention during November, they pause, and mutter "Oh wait. You're doing that novel thingy." People respect my writing time during NaNoWriMo. Perhaps being part of a global happening makes it more acceptable to non-writers when we closet ourselves away for marathon writing sessions.
2) Focusing on a goal for a month is manageable and concrete. Many beginning writers have a vague goal of writing a novel "some day." Without a starting point and a finish line, that "some day" often becomes never. NaNoWriMo offers the framework of specific time and word count goals.
3) Competition is human nature. Believing you are working toward a reward, even if it is just the winner's badge to display on your social media sites, may push you to write just a few minutes longer.
In years past, I have won, and I have lost. This year, I considered deliberately withholding on my word count so I would not win. Then I considered the hours and sweat that went into the rewrite. I did not meet my personal goal. I have had to push that to the end of December. I'll make it, though. Participating in NaNoWriMo has made me a writing warrior.
You don't have to wait eleven months to jump into NaNoWriMo. Many other writing events and prompts are available at: http://nanowrimo.org/
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