Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: achieving goals

odds of author success, odds, Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals,

Many new writers have a passionate dream of being a full-time, well-paid, maybe even famous author…until we see the odds of reaching those dreams. Then? All our enthusiasm and optimism suddenly leaks out *farting sound of deflating balloon* leaving space for doubt, anxiety, and defeatism.

Granted, odds of author success will be different depending on the dream, what our idea of ‘success’ happens to be. The odds of ‘being published’ today are far better than when I started out, but ‘being published’ is no longer the single largest challenge we face.

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals
Not quite, but close.

If we want to replace the day job with being a full-time author–whether that is on a self-published, indie, legacy, or hybrid track—we have some tough work and tougher decisions ahead. I do have good news, though. While our mind can be our greatest enemy, it can also be our greatest ally.

Perception dictates reality.

This means we need to get our head in the game and make certain we’re framing our goals in a way that increases our odds of realizing our dreams.

Do Some People Lack the Talent to be Authors? Sure. But, in my eighteen years of experience, I’ve found that’s actually quite rare.

Why most writers fail to transition from amateur to pro has less to do with lack of innate talent and far more to do with a lack of a professional’s mindset and work ethic. We can’t keep amateur hours and hobbyist habits and expect to reap professional rewards. That’s basic logic.

Blind luck is an option. It’s a sucky one. But it is still an option. For those who want more than blind luck, how does this all shake out?

So glad you asked!

What Are the Odds….Really?

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals,

I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the Power Ball.

And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear then hit by lightning…on the same day. Plenty of people told me the odds. Encouraged me to get a ‘real job’ instead of chasing rainbows.

Between the negative voices in my head and the dream-killers posing as ‘concerned friends and family,’ it was all I could do not to give up before I began.

Fresh Eyes

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

After countless rejections, stories that fizzled, and failure after failure I hit a low point. Then, I realized my perspective about my odds of succeeding were skewed in a self-defeating direction.

Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control.

The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.

Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a fairly accurate (and encouraging) picture.

The 5% Rule

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change. In lay terms, we call this GRIT. Though grit is simple enough in concept, training grit into our character is a lot of hard work—which explains why it’s called grit not a sparkle unicorn hug. Developing grit is a bumpy ride with more lows than highs, which is why long-term grit is a rare.

Thus, with that in mind…

When we start out, we’re up against presumably tens of millions of others who want the same dream we do. Yes, tens of millions. It is estimated that over 75% of Americans claim they’d one day like to write a book (and this is just Americans).

That’s a LOT of people.

From one angle, it’s easy to believe our friends and family are right. We DO have better odds of being taken hostage by feral circus clowns than earning the title New York Times Best-Selling Author.

*sobs*

Yet, I believe this generality isn’t entirely accurate because it fails to take into account the choices we make. These ‘odds’ aren’t factoring in how many variables are within our control.

Let’s say we accept we’re up against presumably tens of millions of others who desire to write a book/become a famous novelist.

Ah, but how many even start? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step and write even a single page?

Statistically? 5%.

Feeling Lucky? Upping Our Odds

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

So only 5% of the tens of millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the millions.

But of those millions, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH that novel? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to set firm boundaries with friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?

Statistically? 5%.

Okay, well now we are down to the hundreds of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that’s required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards. How many who write a novel will hire a seasoned content editor to make sure it really is…a book?

5%.

Or, if they don’t hire a content editor, how many join a critique group for professional feedback?

5%.

Ah, but this is where it gets tricky…the place where many writers who make it this far get stuck.

Aspiring Writers vs. Pre-Published Authors

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

The best dose of humility I ever received was in my first critique meeting with ACTUAL authors (as in NYC published). I thought my novel was the best thing since puffy kitten stickers, and OMG so did everyone else!

It was AMAZING. They all wept because they’d failed to bring enough star stickers to paste all over my pages! No rose petals to throw at my feet! No lyres to sing songs of my book’s greatness!

….or not.

More like I spent an hour ugly-crying in my Honda, wondering if throwing myself off the library would kill me or merely wing me.

Despite the sound beatings, I sucked it up and returned week after week. I kept at it and improved despite having to sweep up my pride and self-esteem at the end of every meeting.

This said, how many take the step to attend a critique group, and then stick to writing even after a blistering critique? Many blistering critiques?

5%.

This marks a major fork in the road. The critique stage is the dangerous level. We’ve made it SO far…but can end up jammed in the funnel.

Talk is Cheap

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

As a neophyte, I truly believed everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors. I was saying it.

But did they mean it? Did I mean it? Good question. But first a test…

How many of you reading this refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring author?’ Raise your hand. No one can see. Now, if you raised your hand, slap yourself HARD and never use that title again.

O_o

If we don’t take ourselves seriously, why would anyone else? So long as we refer to ourselves as ‘aspiring’ we’re locking into a hobbyist/dabbler mentality. To go pro, we need to think pro.

From now on, I recommend pre-published author or emerging author. I use pre-LEGEND 😛 .

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

Anyway, for years I faithfully attended various critique groups. I had a blast…once the swelling went down.

Question Everything

Over time, however, I noticed that many of us were more in love with the idea of being a New York Times Best-Selling Author than actually doing the work required to become a NYTBSA.

I was BIG TIME guilty, because I didn’t understand critique groups can become too comfy. I started novels I never finished, complained NYC just was publishing junk, prioritized my writing after laundry, dishes, cleaning behind the refrigerator…feeding orphans in Somalia on and on. After ALL that was finished, THEN I would write.

Sure.

Lots of talk, no walk.

Truth was, I was an amateur because I thought and behaved like an amateur. Since I didn’t approach my craft like a professional, I was at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.

Suffice to say, good critique groups can help us grow in our craft but they can also become a place where activity and productivity are easily confused. This is the most common place for a funnel traffic jam, so stay frosty 😉 .

Back to the REAL Odds

So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel and survive evisceration from a hard-core critique, how many commit to learning the craft and developing their skills? Maybe take some on-line classes, read/study a stack of craft books or—WHOA—perhaps save up to attend a major conference?

You guys are good….5%.

And of those who attend a conference, how many, when an agent asks for their pages, actually follow through?

Believe it or not…5%. Most chicken out.

Alas, of that percentage of writers who rally the courage to send in pages, how many will land an agent right away?

5%.

Out of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? Maybe even hire a professional hit man (editor)?

5%.

How many are willing to let go of that first novel, take it as a learning experience, and move on? Write until they finish a truly good book?

5%.

Of the writers who land an agent or are brave enough to go indie or self-publish, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform? Comprised of cultivated followers/fans?

Again? Probably 5%.

***More hard news. Publishing a book is not enough. There is no ‘write it and the readers will come’ no matter which publishing track we choose.

Odds Favor Those Who Suck It Up

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

Thus far, we’ve weeded out all the ‘aspiring writers,’ which means the competition is not near what it appeared to be when we began. Alas, so many writers make it this far and believe gimmicks, shortcuts and algorithmic alchemy can deliver success.

*shakes funnel* *muffled screams*

Of those published authors on-line, how many are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset? Versus taking the easy way and buying followers and spamming everyone in sight?

5%.

Of those who self-publish, how many will keep writing more books and better books until they hit a tipping point for success (instead of beating marketing one book to death)?

5%.

Of writers who self-publish, how many will invest in professional editing and cover art?

5%.

Funnel Facts

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see how many variables we actually control.

We control:

  • Taking the Decision Seriously;
  • Setting Boundaries;
  • Developing Discipline;
  • Training/Improving Skill Level;
  • Writing the Book;
  • Finishing the Book;
  • Editing the Book;
  • Learning the Craft;
  • Investing Time and or Money Into Professional Training;
  • Networking;
  • Following Through;
  • Pressing On in the Face of Rejection;
  • Writing Another Book;
  • Finishing Even MORE and now WAY BETTER Books;
  • Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career.

I am not saying that finishing a book is easy, because…

None of This is Easy

Kristen Lamb, what are the odds of being a successful author, the five percent rule of success, winner's mentality, how to become a professional writer, what are the odds of becoming a published author, building self-discipline, achieving goals

Just because something is simple in no way makes it easy.

This job is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most other ‘writers’ will never be genuine competition. If we fixate on all the tens of millions of other ‘writers’ we are up against, we set ourselves up for failure. We place ourselves in danger of becoming overwhelmed and eventually giving up.

If, however, we will choose to focus on decisions and actions we control, our odds of success drastically improve.

Toss in tens of millions of people with a dream, and only a very small number will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most of us, the harder/smarter we work, the ‘luckier’ we become.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Yes, I just quoted The Hunger Games…cuz it can feel that way.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does this dream now seem a bit more achievable with this ‘fresh’ perspective? Have you been psyching yourself out? Bought the lie that your dream was silly? Have you fixated too much on factors outside your control instead of focusing on what you can control?

Hey, I’ve been at this a LONG time and still need the reminder. It’s why I’ve blogged on this exact theory multiple times and updated it. We ALL need a pep talk now and again.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft, and next time we’ll resume talking abut structure. Those new to my blog, I hope you’ll check out this series. Look to the column over there–>

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

I’m offering The Art of Character (March 22nd 7-9 EST). More advanced material, and lots of FUN! Just because we’re tackling advanced material, doesn’t mean we can’t make it a party. As always, recording is included with all classes FREE of charge 😉 .

Also, my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is a great follow up, and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. It’s being held March 29th (7-9 EST).

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of March, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***February’s winner is Gabriella L. Garlock. Please send your 5,000 word Word document in a doc.x file, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, one-inch margins to kristen @wana intl dot com. Congrats!

By the way, yes I also offer classes, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

You can sign up HERE!

Same can be said about writing a book...
Same can be said about writing a book…

Success has a LOT of common denominators. Whether we want to be an excellent parent, run a thriving business, earn a promotion, have great friendships, become published, lose weight, one day have enough money to build a secret lab in the side of a mountain…? There are fundamentals we are wise to understand and apply.

Thus today, we are going to talk about 5 Principles of Achievement or The Doctrine of the Doers because I dig alliteration 😀 .

Principle #1—Understand What We are Doing is HARD

Pros make stuff look easy. I can listen to Donald Trump ten minutes and believe I, too, could be a financial genius. When I was four, I recall being allowed to watch Wonder Woman and she did these amazing handsprings. Well, pshaw! I totally could do that…or not.

And my cousin found me semi-conscious and confused why my arm was going the wrong way.

I made this mistake of not understanding I was seeing the END result of a lot of training. Outsiders make this mistake all the TIME. They see a thriving business or someone who drives a nice car and…that person must have “inherited money.”

When I was a teen, I was in marching band, the swim team and taught karate in the evenings. This meant I was up before dawn marching until 9 a.m. I then swam laps from 2 in the afternoon until 4:30 just in time to get home and pack up my gear so I could teach martial arts at the local recreation center.

One night, I was taking a break and a woman—holding a candy bar and a Pepsi—bemoaned how I was born so naturally fit. 

Really?

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.01.05 AM

Success is NOT natural. What’s natural? Entropy. Disorder. Chaos. Those who write a book, finish a book, have a thriving blog, a strong business, great kids, a clean house, a smoking hot body often worked hard for it. 

We must do what others are unwilling to do. We are not the AVERAGE. Even those of you who are just starting out. You are NOT the average. Most people never try.

We must always guard ourselves from thinking someone “better” than us achieved whatever easily. If we don’t, we will get discouraged and are more likely to give up. The other side of that is if we DO the hard work? Expect someone to believe whatever we achieved was purchased, inherited or the result of “magic.”

Principle #2—No Company Better Than Bad Company

Lions don’t hang with sheep. Show me your three closest friends and I’ll show you your future. Complaining, excuses, procrastination, laziness are contagious because they represent the natural order of the universe—ENTROPY. When I began as a writer, I had A LOT more “friends.” Now? Not so much.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.47.04 AM

Even in martial arts, I don’t roll with people who are reckless and lazy. It’s a good way to get injured and it won’t make me better. I won’t spar with the guy who always shows up to class conveniently after the grueling warmup is over and who needs a water break every five seconds.

Choose people who are willing to do the hard stuff. If you’re a writer, hang out with people who WRITE, who are willing to read and take classes and are always pushing their skills to a higher level. Yes, there will be fewer of those, but it’s worth it.

Principle #3—Basics Trump Cleverness

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.49.56 AM

There are always people who want the shortcut. They want the Shake Weight Success and instead of being “successful” they look more like they are….ok, *leaves that to your imaginations*.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.51.05 AM

From music to writing to business to parenting to marriage to martial arts, there are fundamentals we should master because they never outlive usefulness. From white belt to black belt, the Kimura is one of the most successful tactics in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu even though it’s one of the first we’re taught.

Writers? Proper grammar, punctuation and tight prose never go out of style. I see way too many new writers so busy trying to come up with a plot never written in HUMAN history and they do this at the expense of learning and mastering the essentials.

Principle #4—There Will Be BLOOD

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.54.06 AM

We live in a world that tells us we can have it all. NO. We can’t. That’s a lie designed to sell us stuff. We must choose and then focus and then sacrifice. Often, people see how much I write and think everything else is perfect in my life. Nope. I gave up the idea of having a Martha Stewart house a looooong time ago. Also haven’t had my hair done since last summer. I focus on family, writing and martial arts. Anything else? I’ll get to it.

*whimpers*
*whimpers*

Principle #5—Achievement is a PROCESS

It also never ends. We have to be careful we aren’t comparing the highlight reels of others to our own “behind-the-scenes.” When I started blogging, NO ONE cared except the man-part-enlargement bots. I was thrilled to pass 40 visits in a day.

I read a lot of other blogs to hone my skills and still do. And, even though it’s common for this blog to have triple digit comments and thousands of shares, I still read blogs with 27,000 or more shares and have to maintain perspective.

Whoever is getting those 27K shares didn’t get that Day One. Just like I blogged for over a year and a half before real humans started outnumbering the spammers who commented on my blog.

I so lick your blog. Wonderful poinsettias you make. I must tell my brother about you’re genius. What web browser do you use? Is there a grate spam filter?

Apparently not “grate” enough…

Have any idea how HARD it was not to delete these comments in the beginning? Um, maybe the commenter is writing English as a second language?

THIS is how blonde I was when I decided to blog. I started my WordPress site and posted…and immediately got MY FIRST COMMENT. Proof I was awesome! *does bad Cabbage Patch dance* It was a lovely and thoughtful comment from this dude named…Akismet?

What kind of name is that? Must be foreign.

Or an automatically generated message from the WORDPRESS SPAM-FILTERING software *head desk*.

What if I’d given up? We all start somewhere. Goals will always be shifting and evolving. We never cross a true finish line unless we decide to quit.

And we’ll need to remember to take that moment where we can enjoy our achievement, but new level? New devil. I was so STOKED when I earned my second stripe on my BJJ white belt. I felt bad@$$! Those two stripes cost me a broken nose, a few broken toes, sprains, strains, time and sweat. I was EPIC (in my own mind).

Double-rainbow all the WAY!

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.19.36 PM

***For those who don’t know, in BJJ you are a white belt FOREVER—okay, about a year to a year and a half. Four stripes and then blue belt. Most people QUIT.

I basked in my awesomeness until the next class when I got my tail beaten like a drum.

With writing? Finishing a book is life-altering? Publishing it? Holding it in your hands? OMG! Then you get the scathing review from someone who loved the book, but gave you two stars because there were four typos in 70,000 words.

 

Also, once that book is out? It’s back to the beginning with the next book and the next. We are always starting over and reaching higher than the last time. It’s why we need a solid relationship with being a beginner 😉 .

You can DO this! I know you can. Just remember baby steps are steps and the most valuable stuff in life, money can’t buy.

What are your thoughts? Ready to rule the world? Do you get frustrated with people believing what you do is easy? Or people who want the fruits without the work? Maybe people who dismiss all the sacrifices you’ve made? Do you find you do better if you keep revisiting these basics? I do. If it can be overcomplicated? I AM your GIRL!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons
Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

We’re a few weeks out from the New Year and many of us are struggling. I don’t think I am saying anything crazy when I assert that most of us would LIKE to improve. We want to learn and grow and be better over time. No one dreams about being broke, stressed, overweight and unhappy. That’s a given and you might even laugh at that notion.

Yet, nature abhors a vacuum.

I dream of a floor I can’t find because I’m SO behind on laundry it’s more of an archaeological project than housework.

Yeah…NO.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.33.50 AM

But I need to ask the hard question: If we aren’t dreaming of all that bad stuff? What are we dreaming about?

I’ve consulted countless business people and writers. Conversations are VERY telling. Some people are so afraid of failing that they never make a decision. Yet, no decision is STILL a decision. Additionally, I will talk to people, and they’ll tell me ALL the things they can’t do. Okay, tell me what you CAN do.

See, if we don’t focus on something positive, achievable and actionable, we leave a vacuum and that’s where entropy (chaos) loves to creep in.

Since no one sane is likely to have a goal of never finishing a book or living in stretchy pants forever or being sick, broke and tired, we can already dismiss this notion that we deliberately set negative goals. Most of us aren’t going to do that.

Ah, but we can end up inadvertently setting negative goals by not putting something we WANT in the vacuum.

We are born to create. Humans are creative beings. Now, we can create beauty, destruction or wasted space, but our nature IS to create. To deny our nature is a formula for frustration.

Leave a preschooler unattended ten minutes and this proves my theory. If we as parents/adults fail to provide that kid with something positive to act upon? Lord help the electronic devices, because that kid is going to test the theory of “How Many Goldfish Will Fit in the XBox?”

I look away FIVE MINUTES!
I look away FIVE MINUTES!

Thus, the first step to changing is to set goals. We’ve talked about this before and setting goals is a great start because we can’t get to a place we haven’t taken time to define.

And this is not Inspiration Guru Positive Think Your Way to Wealth Stuff. The nature of our JOB as authors has changed and we are much more active players in the business side of our business.

Show me a business with no mission statement, no business plan, no actionable and measurable goals? I’ll show you a space that will be up for rent within the year.

The Mind is POWERFUL

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.
Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

I love reading inspirational works. I highly recommend them. Why? Because society is seriously screwed up. And it MAKES money off keeping us screwed up, so society has zero intentions of EVER being positive and healthy.

When we were kids and wanted to be a writer or dancer or astronaut, adults all clapped and cheered. Then we hit this age when suddenly the grown-ups changed their tune. “Yeah that’s cute, but time to grow up, Kid.”

This is when most dreams die. We are bombarded with negativity. We are told that dreams are reckless, dumb, unachievable, blah blah blah. In fact, we are told this SO much, we need deprogramming or we can become our own worst enemy.

We can’t achieve what we can’t conceive. Our mind is the map, so stop letting others spill goo on your map!

This is one of the reasons I’ve done a lot of blogging about relationships and setting boundaries and limiting contact with toxic people.

We all have them or have had them. People who like to complain, make excuses, indulge in their feelings all the time. People who have a new dream every other week. I wanna be an actor, no a writer, no a vacuum salesman, no a journalist!

Ditch writers (and other people) who spread stinking thinking. Laziness, apathy, and whining are contagious. Treat excuses like EBOLA. A friend coughs blood excuses all over you, and, within two to three days, you start coughing up blood excuses, too…until your dream of being a writer liquifies and bleeds out and I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Killer.

Faith Without Works is Dead

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We’ve already established that the condition of our mind and spirit is VITAL. We are going to have a really hard time achieving anything notable (like getting out of bed) if our mind is crapped up with:

I’m too old, too poor, too short. Why bother? 

Okay, I gotta stop typing before I depress myself. Y’all are smart and get the idea.

However, this next step is where I believe a lot of inspiration-self-help falls short. YES, we must learn to discipline our mind and emotions. Show me a successful person and I will show you someone who developed self-discipline.

Here’s the thing. I can “envision” I have the body of an athlete all day long. It’s probably better than going around calling myself fat all the time.

But the rubber must eventually meet the road.

I need to get in the gym. What we feed will always grow stronger. If we feed the idea we can do nothing? Guess what? If we feed the idea we can achieve something remarkable? It grows. Starve out the bad and feed the good. How do we feed? With thought and ACTION.

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My goal is to one day be a New York Times BSA. Great goal, but I only have limited control over this. Remember, goals should be defined and actionable. Since I am fairly sure no unfinished book has become a NYT runaway success with an HBO series, I can start with, “I am a finisher.”

This is why I don’t put a lot of stock in the Name It and Claim It. Or Envision It and It Will Magically Manifest. Yes, our will and emotions need training. When we’re new, our mind and emotions resemble a puppy that pees on the carpet and chews on shoes. Yet, wishing cannot replace working.

We can stand in the mirror and repeat, “I am a NYTBSA” over and over, but deep down, our spirit will call us a liar (because we are). BUT, if we make the goal of becoming a NYTBSA and break it down? We now have something actionable.

I am a finisher.

I prioritize writing/exercise/family/financial discipline.

Baby steps count.

I believe in sacrifice.

This is when small actions begin to reinforce our bigger ideas. When I finish cleaning out a closet, I am buttressing that new core goal that I am a finisher. When I turn down a movie to finish revisions? I have a small victory that strengthens that new belief growing inside.

Eventually these “small” victories create confidence and habits that are essential for achieving that BIG goal. Maybe I will never be a NYTBSA, but I stand A LOT better chance if I learn to finish what I start (and practice that habit in multiple areas of life).

Though it would be a super cool power, I have not wished almost 1000 blogs and 5 books into existence 😉 .

Order is NOT Natural

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Yes, we are creative beings. That is our nature, but we also have to appreciate the nature of Nature.

Whoa, that was deep.

Ever gone driving in the country? Maybe to some places people haven’t been? In your travels, did you round the bend and stumble across a field of perfectly lined rows of plants producing abundant crops and no weeds in sight? It just did it on it’s own. Like all the peach trees lined up one day and rebuked all dandelions and crabgrass?

Have you run across a perfectly manicured spot of ground? You know. All the grass was lush and green and only 1.5 inches tall and the edges perfectly sharp? And nature did this all by itself?

Um, likely not.

The thing is, Nature is awesome, but it’s also chaotic. Leave a parking lot abandoned a couple years and what do you see? Nature likes weeds and chaos and rubble. There are rocks and large ant hills and, if no rain falls, the soil (at least in Texas) turns into a BRICK.

What this means is that to make the most of our nature we have to tame Nature. We are going to have to do things that are VERY unnatural. It is NOT natural to sit and write 100,000 words. It is NOT natural to choose cleaning out the garage over going to a movie. It is NOT natural to eat chicken instead of a double-fudge brownie. When in a fight with a significant other? It is NOT natural to put aside ego.

In fact, when we make these New Year’s Resolutions, the largest hurdle we have is we are now doing a LOT of stuff that is NOT natural. And thing is? For most of us?

It never will be.

I consider myself a fairly disciplined person. I work out a lot because I do Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and I take a beating 3-4 days a week (which, willingly signing up to get your @$$ kicked is NOT natural). And I do great…and then the sink breaks and Hubby gets a cold and the e-mail piles up and, because of all the chaos? I get out of the habit.

EASILY.

Pretty soon that next season of Warehouse 13 is looking A LOT better than going to the gym. Pthththt. I can always start back next week. And I know I was going to make chicken for dinner, but then I’d have to clean the kitchen, and…

Why is this?

It’s because as disciplined as I love to believe I am? My NATURE digs entropy. My nature LOOOOVES stretchy pants and scrunchees. My nature starts questioning the sanity of walking up 105 flights of stairs that go nowhere… O_o .

Thus all of this is to say, yes. You probably are tired and likely that diet and exercise program started collecting dust about three weeks ago. You still haven’t finished the book and on and on and on and guess what? Don’t sweat it. Just start again. Drag out the mower and edger. Keep this as a cheat-sheet:

Clean up our thoughts. Nothing edible grows in poisoned soil.

Choose friends wisely. No company better than bad company and all gardens fare better with a FENCE.

Make the big goal(s).

Break down the big goal(s) into actionable pieces.

Act on the goal(s).

Smaller successes will reinforce the belief we can ACHIEVE the goal(s). Increased confidence=increased momentum.

Understand we will always be taming our nature. When setbacks come? Understand they will. It’s just how life works. It’s life. No one gets out alive 😀 .

You got this! Have you been feeling a bit down and out? Maybe you lost sight of where you were headed? Have you struggled against your own nature? I have. Didn’t always win either. Do you find it hard to set boundaries? Are there toxic people you KNOW are poisoning you and yet you just can’t seem to get that fence built? Have you learned to become a finisher? What did you do differently?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons
Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

In my last post we discussed striving to find balance and giving ourselves permission to be imperfect. This brought about some interesting discussion and I’d like to expound. I confess. Americans are notorious for “shortening” the language.

We use a lot of words as synonyms when, truth be told, they aren’t. Or we have “blanket words” which mask truth, thus prevent us from making progress in life, with relationships, our career or even ourselves.

As writers, we of all people should appreciate the power of words. We have the ability to create entire new worlds that could possibly endure hundreds or thousands of years…all by using various combinations of symbols. Words have creative and destructive power. This is true in non-fiction, fiction and in life.

When I began college, I was on scholarship to become a doctor, thus spent over three years as a Neuroscience Major. Though I eventually earned my degree in Underwater Basket-Weaving (International Relations/Economics), I’m still a geek when it comes to science.

I subscribe to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Discovery Magazine and inhale science books like candy, but brain science is of particular interest to me.

Did you know, for instance, that our brains cannot discern the difference between truth and lie? So, if we walk around with a self-dialogue that says, I’m just going to fail. I never finish what I start. I can’t do this. Our brains metaphorically shrug and say, “Okay. As you wish.” It is the human will that makes the difference, and will is guided by self-talk and belief.

I love leadership books and self-help, and I know they catch a lot of flack. I don’t buy the Think It and It Will Happen because this is only part of a much larger equation. We still have to put in the sweat equity. BUT, self-talk can act as an internal guidance system, which means we have to be careful of our thought life as well as what we tell ourselves and others.

Another interesting fact is that the human brain begins listening at the first ACTIVE VERB. I see this bungle in advertising all the time.

Don’t forget to sign up!

When does the brain begin listening? What is it really “hearing”?

Forget to sign up.

Changing how we talk to ourselves and others can make a HUGE difference. Instead of saying Don’t forget where you put your keys, replace that with Remember where you put your keys. You’ll be surprised how much your “memory” will improve.

Blanket Words

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Blanket words are particularly dangerous because of their vagueness. We cannot change our self-destructive behaviors, rid poor habits, gain better habits, achieve or even properly communicate if we get lazy with the language. All right, maybe some can, but life can already be tough enough, why make it tougher?

I’ve told this story before, so forgive me if you’ve heard it. Part of how I became a writer is I have HORRIFIC food allergies, which often can be diagnosed as other illnesses. In my case, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy.

The misdiagnosis destroyed my career and wrecked my immune system. I’d had pneumonia three times in a year and couldn’t get well. I lost everything and had to move in with my mother, which was humiliating and demoralizing.

I recall my mom coming into my room one day and I was still in bed. I’d always been a neat-freak. In fact, when I was in sales, I once moved and the movers were shocked it took less than three hours to move me and took less than four hours for me to completely unpack. They teased me that I was the “House the Rubbermaid made,” meaning everything was neat and organized and labeled and in an appropriate box.

So fast-forward to me living with my mom. Laundry everywhere. I couldn’t have found my own butt without GPS and a flashlight. I’m still in bed. All I want to do is cry and OD on chocolate. My mom comes in and asks if I am depressed. This was an A-HA moment for me.

I said, “No, I’m overwhelmed. I’m angry. I don’t know where to start. I’m heartbroken.”

For the first time, I refused to use this blanket word depressed. I spoke aloud the truth of what was really happening  inside and, for the first time, this empowered me. What could I do about being “depressed” other than maybe take meds and go to yet another shrink who wanted to talk about my childhood and have me journal to my Inner Child? (I walked out of the last psychiatrist’s office the second she mentioned “journal.”)

And journaling might have been productive had I been being specific instead of playing the internal violin and using nebulous words like sad or tired or depressed. When I finally confessed I was overwhelmed?

Well, Kiddies, we can do something about that.

We can make lists of everything that is scaring the bejeezus out of us and break those frogs down into manageable parts for positive change. Anger? We can confess that and let it go. Figure out WHY then change that, too. Tired? Are we really tired or are we disillusioned, overwhelmed, or wounded? Maybe we are simply dehydrated or need more exercise and sleep.

I was really proud of my mom the other day. She works a tough job as an RN. Instead of saying, “I had a bad day” she said, “I had an arduous day.” Note the difference? Bad is a blanket and amorphous qualifier that risks tainting our overall attitude. Arduous?

“Arduous” is limited to the circumstances of that day and even implies a bit of victory because, despite the day being difficult? She MADE IT!

Careful of False Synonyms

Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons
Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

This dovetails into my next point. There are a lot of words we use as synonyms which really aren’t. For instance, someone might say, “She is such a mature eight-year-old.” No. Maturity is only birthed from experience and, unless this eight-year-old just escaped a concentration camp? Unlikely she is mature. Now, the child might be precocious (seeming older than her years) but she isn’t mature.

She’s still a delicate little kid who needs the support of adults. “Mature” implies she’s earned emotional armor she doesn’t have and often can set the kid up for facing things alone when an adult really needs to be there for guidance and support.

Mad or angry are other false synonyms. What are we really? Disappointed? Ask the tough questions because those yield the best answers and thus can reveal the best plan to remedy the situation.

If I say to my husband, “You are such a jerk and I’m mad at you,” this limits what either of us can do.

However, if I say, “I’m really disappointed. I feel like too many of the plans for global domination and laundry are being left to me and I need help. I’m overwhelmed.” THIS implies a reality which has a plan of action to remedy the situation. Let HIM train the sea monkeys Ju-Jitsu for a change.

Situational Versus Conditional

This brings me to the impetus for this blog. “Striving for excellence” and “perfection” are two different things. If I’m caught up in “perfectionism” notice the “ism” at the end. The —ism is Latin for the condition of things. Alcoholism, racism, sexism. See how this implies a belief and a continuing state rather than an event?

The reason perfectionism is particularly nefarious is perfection is an impossible goal. Thus, when we buy into perfectionism we’re automatically setting ourselves up for failure, disappointment, self-loathing and neuroses. Perfection can’t be attained so the goal can never be reached.

There will always be someone who doesn’t like our blog/book/article. We cannot please everyone. There will always be someone fitter, thinner, richer, more talented, and The Perfection Gremlin goes nuts when faced with any kind of “competition.”

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Striving for excellence? Totally different story. We can be excellent without being “perfect.” Excellence ships. Excellence has deadlines. I can finish and let go of an excellent book. A perfect book? Good way to still be editing the same book for a decade.

Perfect steals the life from life and from art. Life is messy and rough and often what we humans love. We don’t like “perfect” people or “perfect” characters because we can’t connect and relate.

Perfectionism is qualitative, where as excellence is QUANTITATIVE. We can’t measure an imaginary ideal. We can, however measure PROGRESS.

Make it a habit to say, “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be. I’m growing every day.” Say it even when you don’t believe it. Eventually the brain with catch up and so will reality.

Tell Me What You WANT

I get onto my mom about this all the time (yet she still loves me and IS improving). For instance, after a major surgery last year, she started working on rebuilding muscle. She’d say, “I don’t want to be an old lady who can’t even get off the toilet.” I corrected her and said, “Okay, now tell me what you DO want instead of what you DON’T want.”

I want to be extremely fit. I want to be an energetic, athletic older woman.

Same with writing. Instead of, “I don’t want to be a failure.” Tell me/yourself what you DO want. And going back to one of the point I made earlier in the post, look at what negative and even positive goals are REALLY telling us if the brain is lazy and only begins listening at the first active verb.

I don’t want to be fat.

I want to be fit and healthy.

I don’t want to be one of those writers who never sells books.

I want to be a successful author who makes enough off my writing to quit the day job and live even more comfortably doing what I love.

This is why I LOATHE the term “aspiring writer.” Aspiring gives us a pass. It labels us as hobbyists who are holding back out of fear. “Pre-Published Author” comes with responsibility, confidence and a plan of action.

To achieve anything, we must set goals. From finishing the laundry to finishing the novel. Yet, a key component of solid goals is they are positive, actionable and attainable. And don’t let the attainable throw you off. Yes, timing, luck and chance can factor into this. BUT, I can have a goal of, “I will be a NYT Best-Selling Author” and take steps to make that reality…like, um, writing. 

Testing What We Believe

One of my first jobs as a writer was I wrote textbooks for teaching forensic writing analysis. To do this I trained for months with investigators studying thousands and thousands of writing samples (and I used to give a super cool presentation on this subject).

The FBI can look at handwriting and tell A LOT about the person and it’s a fantastic way of constructing a psychological profile. Why? Handwriting doesn’t lie.

***And people will say, Oh, but my writing is always different. I have at least five types of handwriting. To the trained eye? Nope. There are fundamentals that will remain consistent.****

I can look at a sample of writing and tell if the person still has her wisdom teeth (there is a neurological hiccup that will give an extra dollop of ink at a particular hesitation mark in rounded letters like “o” once those particular teeth are removed).

The trained analyst can see anger, aggression, level of self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, depression, emotional repression, psychosis, immaturity, narcissism, self-confidence, joy, love and on and on. The “science” (though only a tool and not admissible in court) is truly remarkable and frighteningly accurate.

There was one tidbit of my training that I’ve kept with me for the past fifteen years. In our handwriting (for most people) it is impossible to lie. Our subconscious will tattle on us every time. How? Spaces.

Most people aren’t sociopaths so we kinda suck at lying. If forced to lie in a conversation, one of the ways others spot our lie is in our hesitation.

Where were you?

I was    at the    movies.

The same phenomena happens when we write. There will be a space if we don’t believe what we’re writing. The bigger the space? The more we disbelieve what we’re “saying.”

Take out a piece of paper and a pen and write things you know you believe versus something you know is completely false (at a normal speed of writing) and look at the difference. I do this to double-check what I believe about my goals and see what I really feel on a subconscious level.

I will be a New York Times Best-Selling Author!

Or?

I    will be     a   New York Times     Best-Selling Author

Often I will crosscheck with silly sentences to compare.

I     will    give   up     writing     for    life in the     rodeo.

Thus, if I get:

I will finish my next novel by May.

I will     give    up     and go    back into     sales.

I can cross-compare and SEE what my subconscious believes is truth. And, to be blunt, when I began as a writer? I didn’t believe I’d succeed. I’d write:

One day     soon    I    will    be           published.

The spaces represent what we either don’t believe, accept or even where we might be emotionally distancing. Other things that might happen in this exercise is, if we don’t believe? We will misspell things. If we believe? We can see !s or even underlines. This shows we really are believing what we are writing.

When I began doing this 15 years ago, I didn’t believe it when I wrote I will be a successful author. I got:

I     will be   a succsessfull     writer

But, as I took steps to learn the craft, build a platform, read, train, and finish, guess what happened? Eventually my belief changed and I could literally measure how my subconscious self was improving over time with this simple exercise.

I went from:

I     will be   a succsessfull     writer

I   will be   a successful   writer (notice the spaces closing and no longer misspelled)

I am    a successful writer (Hmmm, no punctuation and still have gaps, but notice the verb change)

I am a successful writer (No more spaces)

I am a successful writer. (Improving)

I am a successful writer(BINGO!)

I believe that success, finishing, joy, peace, reaching dreams and making them reality begins in the mind. We can only achieve that which we can first conceive. I’m very careful about my self-talk. If I catch myself saying, “Don’t forget to send out that check.” I stop and say, “Remember to send out that check.”

I only permit the positive. I used to chant, “Oh, I am such a failure. Why hope for anything good? I’ll just be disappointed. I’ll never finish this book.” I expected rejection and failure, so guess what I got?

To be blunt, this transition wasn’t overnight. I had a lifetime of bad habits when it came to how I spoke about myself, my situation and others. I had to first be aware of what I was thinking and saying. Then, I had to change that and learn to rephrase in the positive. Changing my way of speaking changed my thinking and then finally my beliefs.

But, it was a process and it’s one that never ends.

Even in the darkest times when life was kicking me in the teeth, instead of playing the Woe is Me tune, I began thinking and saying, “What is this challenge developing in me? In my character? How am I going to grow stronger because of this?” It might even be something as simple as remaining peaceful. We don’t have to be at the mercy of circumstance.

We can’t choose our situation, but we can choose our attitudes. We can change how we see ourselves and our futures. And this is like bathing, it should be done daily. There is no Magic Thought Wand that’s going to transform us overnight. This is a process and a habit and it must be maintained (and paired with work), ergo why I really love that writing exercise. It’s clear when I’m slipping and allowing negativity and doubt and perfectionism to take over.

What are your thoughts? *bada bump snare* Do you have negative self-talk? Are you working to break the habit? Are you conscious about your thought life? Do you struggle with the trap of perfectionism? Are you now terrified I will see your handwriting? 😀

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

Also, I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. THANK YOU!