IS HABIT DESTINY?

Why is it so hard to change our behavior when we want desperately to do so? Most people will say it’s a lack of willpower.

But new studies show that’s not it. Rather it’s not having habits and routines in place to keep you on track. This is probably why programs such as Weight Watchers™ work well for so many people. You start a new habit—calculating what you eat every day and how many points. You’re paying attention. You probably now eat only at certain times, including snacks. You’re not buying the food that tempts you—no ice cream in the freezer to call to you at 2 a.m. Plus you’ve joined a group of others who have the same goal—studies have shown this is very helpful. Hang out with the people who are achieving what you want to achieve, or have already achieved it. Peer pressure does work.

But there’s more. Advance planning for everything on your goals list will help your chances of success. Don’t just plan to exercise more. Pick a certain time every day to do it. You want to de-clutter? Again, pick a time of day (a mere 15 minutes a day will accomplish a lot in one month) and do it then. In three weeks, if you do it every day, the new habit is ingrained and you will no longer have to think about it (how often do you think about brushing your teeth or drinking your morning cuppa?).

Put your day on autopilot, and all the things you want to accomplish, unless catastrophe strikes, should get done. This planning in advance has to be realistic. You cannot plan to finish something that usually takes an hour in half an hour. This is where prioritizing comes in, too. It’s always best to do the most important things first and leave the less important things for later.  If the important things take more time than planned or you are interrupted, at least you got those done. Remember to throw in some stuff you love to do throughout the day. Put them on your schedule along with everything else.

Make it a habit to start your day with something you really enjoy, and end your day the same way. You will hear people say it’s best to exercise first thing (and for some people, it might be true). But if you hate exercising, you will soon not look forward to getting up in the morning. Instead, start with something you like—have breakfast with your spouse, read the paper or a book, watch the morning news on TV, read some email, whatever. Then do your exercises. Try alternating the hard stuff with things you love.

Also try this: Count up all the things you do every day that are already habits. You probably get up at the same time every day. What actions do you take after that? Could be you brush your teeth, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, drink coffee or tea, take some vitamins, grab whatever you need to take to work, get in the car, drive to work or drop off the kids then drive to work, and then list what you do when you get there. Do you greet the same person by the front door every day? Do you put away your purse and/or briefcase in the same spot? Do you hang up your coat, roll up your sleeves, sit down, turn on your computer? You see how many things you do just in the first hour or so of rising? This goes on all day long, and the things go in reverse when you head home.

Imagine if you scheduled the rest of your day in a similar manner. Put yourself on autopilot. Then, if you usually avoid something that needs to be done, do it right away, with as little thought as possible. But on the other hand, if there’s something you would like to do but don’t want to do (eat another cookie, or smoke a cigarette are two good examples), put it off for a minute or so. You might get distracted and forget about it, at least for a while. Then try that again—keep putting it off.

To recap: Decide in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goals. This removes the mental effort of making decisions. Your intentions have to be very clear, and you need to be sure you can accomplish your goal. It’s all in the details. And if there’s a habit you want to break, put off doing it as long as you can. Distract yourself. This would be a good time to do something else pleasurable. So, allow some time for spontaneity in your schedule. Because when you fine-tune these habits, it will be very easy to get back on track after a short break.

Try it and see!

USING ORGANIZATIONAL TIME MANAGEMENT TOOLS IN YOUR WRITING LIFE

It is suggested that when you own or are working for a company and in charge of a team, you clearly define (and write down) the company’s mission, vision, guiding principles, strategies, and destination points. Then you assure that all employees understand and want to nail these key areas.

As a writer, you are probably the main employee. Do you understand all these targets?

For example, your mission is to write, right? Are you? Are you doing enough? This is one of the biggest decisions you will make about your writing career.

What is your vision? Leaving yourself out of the equation, what are you hoping your readers get out of what you write? Inspiration, knowledge, entertainment or something else? Once you know exactly what you want to accomplish, your writing will be more focused, and probably better.

What are your guiding principles? I hope you have a core set of values and that you do not go against them in your writing.

Have you researched and decided on some strategies you believe will help you achieve your goals? Things like a certain amount of time or word count every day, a certain amount of editing every day, a certain amount of marketing, time set aside to plan, to check yourself for where you are right now and what you could do to improve that position. Do you have people who can help you–an editor, beta readers, a critique group, a cover designer and formatter if you publish your own work? Support from family, friends and other writers?

What are your destination points? How long do you expect it will take to write, edit and publish your next piece of work? Are you the type who has to work on only one piece at a time, or can you work on several at a time? If you don’t think you can work on more than one, have you tried it? How do you think you can you increase your productivity? Take a calendar and enter a note on the dates you want to have finished each project.

Finally, look at the big picture. Are you happy with your mission—do you love writing? Are you determined to keep your vision clear and your guiding principles pure? Are your strategies realistic for you? And have you clearly marked your destination points?

Clarity in all things is important, as is nailing everything down. With pen and paper in hand, list these objectives and make sure you are clear about each one. With them in mind, your productivity should increase along with the satisfaction of moving your career along.

Create like an artist; act like a businessperson. In today’s world, this is pretty much a requirement to get noticed by your target audience.

Good luck!

 

 

TIME MANAGEMENT – CHOOSING WHAT TO IGNORE

Think hard about these questions to make your life better.

What are your top priorities in life? I imagine they include self-care (meaning everything from grooming to spiritual matters),

family and friends, work, your personal environment (home and office, if working outside the home, even car), and leisure time (which may include volunteer work). Anything else?

How would you list them in order of importance?

How much time would you say you need every day to tend to each one?

Have you ever sat down and made a chart or a list of everything you want to do every day to meet your goals?

Are there enough hours in the day to meet them?

What can you cut back on to improve what needs improvement?

How can you get the most important items done every day? Do you need help? Are you asking too much of yourself? Have you shared you goals with your family and friends so they understand when you can’t help them with their own needs and wants all the time?

When you look back on your life, what will give you the most pleasure to remember? Don’t forget your future self when setting up your goals!

When something comes up during your day that is not part of your goals, how do you handle it? Do you toss away your goals because someone asks you to do something else? Do you get wrapped up in someone else’s drama? Do you become distracted by phone calls, emails, other social media?

Do you allow for interruptions? And do you schedule time to do the things you love to do?

Once you have answered all these questions and written down your major goals in life, you will be on your way to a better life for yourself and those around you. When you consciously set out to do things, they are more apt to get done.

And the satisfaction from that is worth all the planning. Your future self will thank you.

FIRST LINE; FIRST PARAGRAPH

What should the first line of your story do? Grab the reader, of course. How do you do that? For modern writers, usually having something exciting happen works well. Involve at least one sense, and you’ll do even better. The main character hears a scream, smells smoke, sees an airplane nosediving from the sky, touches something icky, tastes something odd.

To complete the first paragraph, be sure to plant the reader someplace specific. The character is most likely not floating out in space. Having her on the move is a good move. Some bit of action that nails the setting helps. Preferably physical action on her part, not in a car unless she’s being chased or crashes it. An airplane will work if she hears a scream or smells smoke or feels the plane taking a nosedive.

Here’s the first paragraph from my current work in progress, BURIED UNDER CLUTTER. Note how I used the senses (sound–scream; touch–fumbling), action, and I hope you can tell how Tina is feeling.

“The scream from next door pierced the cold winter air. Tina whirled around in her driveway and stared at the old, decaying Queen Anne next door then began running toward it. Fumbling in her bag for her cell phone, she almost tripped on the cracked sidewalk leading to the house. Another scream.”

Whatever you do, don’t have the character waking up, unless being attacked, or just sitting around someplace thinking.

To recap, have your character’s senses on alert. Set your character in a specific place, and use a small bit of description to plant the reader. And finally, show the reader how your character is reacting emotionally to what’s going on around her.

A good exercise is to write down in your reader’s notebook every first line and paragraph you read that pulls you into the story. This includes first lines of scenes, not just the first line of a short story or novel.

Next post, more about reader’s and writer’s notebooks.

 

 

OVERWHELMED AND PROCRASTINATING?

The feeling of being overwhelmed is often the cause of procrastination. It definitely is for me. Feeling as if I simply cannot get the job done is the main cause, maybe the only cause, of my procrastination, because I get lots done. But I’m often berating myself for leaving some things, always the same things, undone.

One example is email. And I’m getting a handle on it now by slicing and dicing it into manageable chunks. You can use this system for most things, so let’s go step by step with what I’ve been up to.

First, you have to know how to use your tools. In this case, your email program. I know mine pretty well by now—I’ve been using Eudora since the last century. One of the most important things I know is how to make mailboxes. Other programs might call them folders. This is where you can put emails by group, just as you file papers. Next, you need to know how to filter messages. I do that for some friends, family, lists/groups and certain businesses. In Eudora, the mailbox name gets bolded when there’s anything unread in there, so I always know where I have new mail.

Now my inbox looks a lot less full (overwhelming), thus a lot more manageable. So, when I check mail, I first go through my inbox and delete every piece of spam I get. If any stray messages are in there, I slide them over into the correct mailbox. Now I have the email I really should attend to right away in front of me. The others can be read and answered, if needed, in their own time.

I also don’t answer every email right away. If I do, many people will then answer me right back, and I could spend all day with seven or eight emails, reading, then answering. If not urgent, wait at least a few days, a week or ten days may be better to answer friends’ emails. Back in the old days, people didn’t get those instant responses, and we’re probably even more busy now. Check the date every morning, and anything older than the week or ten days you’ve set for yourself is the one that needs to be answered right away.

How can we apply this process to other to-dos that overwhelm us? Cut them down to size, into pieces. I do this with housework. I do a couple of things every day. One day it might be laundry and ironing. Another day it’s cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. One day I vacuum and dry mop, etc. Getting too much regular mail, as well as email? Spend fifteen minutes a day with it after dinner, handling it as quickly as you can. Throw away the junk, unread. File things right away that need filing and pay bills. Make a pile for reading, take it with you to your chair to read during commercials or in other stray moments. Planning for a party or big event? Do one chore a day, making a plan in advance so you know how many days you’ll need, adding a couple for a cushion.

This system defeats boredom and makes you feel in control. It changes what you say to yourself about what you need to do. Instead of, “I need to clean the whole house today,” you say, “I only need to dust and vacuum today.” Instead of saying, “I need to straighten out my closet today,” say, “I’ll work for half an hour on straightening out my closet, then quit for the day, and do the same tomorrow.” And so on. Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

WRITER ROUNDUP

Several writers I know have had interesting events this week that you can still look for on-line. And I have one, too. Here’s the scoop. Enjoy.

Carol Kilgore had a wonderful reveal of her upcoming, what she calls “crime fiction with a kiss,” novel, SOLOMON’S COMPASS. Look at this cover:

 Carol and I share the same cover artist, Derek Murphy. We think he’s one of the best out there. Isn’t this stunning? Here’s the description of Solomon’s Compass:

Taylor is in Rock Harbor, Texas, on a quest to unearth her uncle’s treasure—a journey far outside the realm of her real life. There’s one glitch. Taylor’s certain the buried treasure was all in Uncle Randy’s dementia-riddled mind. Now he’s dead.

Former SEAL Jake Solomon is in Rock Harbor under false pretenses to protect Taylor from the fate that befell her uncle and the other members of a tight circle of Coast Guardsmen called the Compass Points who served together on Point boats in Vietnam.

Jake is definitely not supposed to become involved with Taylor. That was his first mistake. Taylor is attracted to Jake as well, but she refuses to wait for him to locate the killer when she knows her plan will force her uncle’s murderer into action.

But the killer’s actions are just what Jake is afraid of.

Her bio: Carol Kilgore is an award-winning author of several published short stories and many essays and articles. Solomon’s Compass is her second novel, a blend of mystery, suspense, and romance she calls Crime Fiction with a Kiss – always at least one crime; always a love story. Carol and her Coast Guard husband live in San Antonio, Texas, with two herding dogs that like nothing better than pack time on the patio.

You can find Carol here:

website . blog . facebook . twitter . goodreads . amazon

Find out more about Carol and Solomon’s Compass here:

http://underthetikihut.blogspot.com/2013/01/solomons-compass-cover-reveal.html

Carol and I are old friends and critique partners. She gets to see my work before anyone else and tears it apart. We both seem to have different strengths and weaknesses, so this has become a very valuable partnership.

Next up is John Floyd.  Here’s the cover of his latest short story collection:

You may remember that I had a short story in SEEDS, an online newsletter for Texas Gardeners, last week. The editor, himself a prolific short story writer, includes a short story in every weekly issue in January because there’s just not a lot of gardening news in January. The stories need to have a garden theme. John’s story is called, “A Nice Little Place in the Country,” and you only need to scroll down a way to read it. What a twist! It’s amazing what John came up with. Go here to see (it’s short):

http://www.texasgardener.com/Newsletters/130109/

John and I have been in several issues of the same magazines and ezines over the years, including DETECTIVE MYSTERY FICTION, MYSERICAL-E, and maybe the old FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE. Because we both love to write short stories more than novels, we have become on-line friends, although we’ve never met in person. John has had fifty short stories in WOMAN’S WORLD magazine alone. Plus dozens more in other places. I always check to see if he has a story in WW when I’m at the grocery checkout counter. Look for him there!

Then there’s Earl Skaggs. Here’s the cover from his first novel:

 

Now he’s written a blog post about his upcoming novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION.

http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com/

I’d tell you more, but it’s a secret. You’ll have to read all about it on his blog.

Earl and I have known each other since before the beginning of this century. We even started a mystery critique group up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before I went motorhoming fulltime with my husband. We still exchange, via email, writing for critique, and I keep in touch with the other members of the group, too. Earl is another writer who loves to write short stories.

And last, in case you missed it, I did a guest blog on Tuesday, here:

http://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/editing-in-layers-and-a-giveaway/

where I gave away, to a commenter, one copy of my last novel, ORGANIZED TO DEATH.

 

I also sent off my editing checklist to anyone who wanted one. You can email me (jan@janchristensen.com) to get one, too.

I’ve known Jan all her life. I know she loves to hear from you, and commenting here would make her day.

Hope this roundup has been interesting. I think it’s wonderful that so many of us had great news this week. If I missed anyone I know, contact me, and I’ll blog about you, too.

 

HOW TO GET BOTH THE BIG AND THE SMALL THINGS DONE

Some things you want to do take a long time to finish. Others only take a few minutes or so. How to balance that? Here’s an idea.

First, have two lists of what you want to do every day. One list for big projects and one for small to-dos.

Then start your day by working for one hour straight on a long project. After an hour, if you’ve been sitting down, get up and do some of the smaller projects around your space. This will rest your mind and your eyes and stretch your body. If there is nothing you can think of to do for about ten minutes while standing, do some stretching exercises. You can do many things standing that you often do sitting. Make phone calls, sort the mail, file, and of course, if you’re keeping house, any chore will fill the time. Sit down for another, now fifty minutes, and work, then get up again for ten.  I do it this way because it’s easier to keep track of using “on the hour” time than trying to remember, was it ten minutes past or twenty minutes of the hour, or . . .? If you’ve been standing for an hour, take a break and do sitting-down chores for ten minutes.

If you can’t think of anything to do for those ten minutes or run out of chores by the end of the day after sitting for hours, well, then, dance.

 

 

 

FREE SHORT STORY ON-LINE

Today I’m still catching up on stuff in order to start the new year off right, so I didn’t have time to write a long post. Another reason is that I wrote a guest post about writing for another blog—will be announcing that, of course, the day it appears next week.

So, today, I give you a free short story to read instead. Go here, scroll down past the first article, and  you’ll see my name:

http://www.texasgardener.com/Newsletters/130102/

I plan to be back on schedule on Monday with a post about organization. Look for me then.

And HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!