Gazelle Intensity

I almost can’t believe it, but I met four deadlines last month! I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my writing life. Maybe the only time I’ve accomplished so much in such a short space of time is for school/college. But the point is – I did it.

What I learned from that experience is that I can do more than I think I can. Past experience may tell me that I can’t – until I make an experience that tells me I can. What I have to be careful of is thinking I can always get this much work done. It would be foolish of me to think I can work 10-16 hours a day, six days a week, for an infinite amount of time. For one thing, there is no time for friends or family, little time for exercise or healthy habits, and almost no time for fun.

However, last month I reminded myself that I can work very intensely and accomplish a lot in short bursts. Life is a marathon, and the writing life is a marathon, but sprints are useful and appropriate. (In my half marathon training, I use short sprints in training.)

John and I are participating in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, a money management course designed to get you out of debt and keep you out forever. In one of the lessons, Dave shows a video of a leopard chasing a gazelle. Even though the leopard can run faster than the gazelle, the gazelle got away! Why? Because the gazelle could make quick leaps out of the leopard’s path faster than he could move to intercept. The gazelle only has to keep this up for a short intense period until the leopard gives up and looks for easier prey.

Dave suggests we use this method to get out of debt. A short, intense burst of effort to pay off everything from credit cards to student loans to the balance on your mortgage. I listen to his radio podcast and people call in saying they’ve just paid off their last debt. Dave asks them how much they paid off and how long it took, then they give their debt free scream. It’s very inspiring! People are getting out of debt to the tune of $20,000 to $158,000 (that I’ve heard) in 12-48 months. John and I will be right in that range, and it’s exciting to know it can be done.

That’s what I learned last month with my writing deadlines. I focused like I have rarely focused before on one project, then another, then another, then another. And I got them all done, on time. I had hoped that on November 2, I would be able to sleep in, read a little, take a deep breath, and go back to a more relaxed lifestyle. But I still have four more time-sensitive projects to finish. At first, that made me feel super tired just thinking about it. Then I remembered the gazelle intensity speech.

I can’t keep up this pace forever, but I can do it for four more weeks. As one friend reminded me on November 2 when I was trying to figure out if I could do all this, I can’t “catch up” on everything that didn’t get done over the last year. But I can pick the most important things to finish now, and re-schedule my other goals for 2013.

National Novel Writing Month is about gazelle intensity. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are finding it can work for their writing life. But it works in every area of life. What do you really need to get done? Not just urgent things, but important things. Piles of paperwork? Haphazard, overcrowded home? Behind in something you could finish if you just really applied yourself for a few weeks?

Think about it and decide what you’re going to do about it. In the end, you’ll not only have accomplished something wonderful, and maybe done something about those monkeys on your back, but you’ll find pleasure in your own personal growth as self-discipline blooms in your life.

I’m nervous about failure, about exhaustion, about missing out on fun things other people are doing, but last month I proved that it can be done! So I’m going to keep it up for another month. See you at the finish line!

[Note: If you want more encouragement and direction in planning your goals for 2013, join me for my online class Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. Here’s to a fabulous and productive new year!]

Imagine the Changes That Can Bring Good Things

One of my favorite movies is Music & Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Drew’s character has a creative block at one point and she insists they go for a walk out in the city night. She says, sometimes you have to go see new things, do new things, eat new things to get past the block. And she does!

I’ve read several creativity and neuroscience books that suggest traveling to open up your creativity. (I’m still reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer right now.) All the new experiences help to create new thoughts and patterns in your head. It’s particularly useful if you go somewhere quite unlike what you’re used to. If you live in the countryside of Alabama, a visit to New York City would be very different. If you live in Chicago, a visit to Albuquerque might really surprise you. Even though it was mostly the same language, living in Australia for a couple years definitely changed some of my neural pathways. 🙂

I think this way of thinking, looking for new ways of thinking, really does open up your creativity. If you have been in a normal, everyday kind of rut, do something different, eat something different.

I said last week that I’d spent the last two weeks working in a warehouse doing manual labor. I wondered how much my creativity would spike just by going from normal routine to something completely different and back to writing. Well, whether it was the change, or whether it was desperately wanting to get away and write again, I don’t know. But I got about 55,000 words edited last week! Woo-hooo!!

If you’re trying to figure out how to jumpstart your creativity, read something different like neuroscience books on creativity (I’ve read about half a dozen so far), or nonfiction history books (I heard Killing Lincoln is good), or children’s books (just saw that Lemony Snicket is coming out with a new book).

Or listen to something you haven’t listened to before. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately – Dave Ramsey and Joyce Meyer in particular. I’m learning a lot about new ways to think about money and new ways to think about living my life. Joyce has a great podcast series on watching your tongue, what you say to and about yourself, because you can make things happen – or not happen – by the way you talk, including how complaining affects your attitude and life.

I mentioned last week that I’m going to participate in the open submission window for Harper Voyager going on now. Then I heard that Love Inspired Suspense (part of Harlequin) has a Fast Track Event (open submissions) later this month. I’m brainstorming a new story for them, too. Carina Press, a digital imprint at Harlequin who accepts both romance and non-romance, has an open submission period going on now through Thursday. If you have a completed manuscript, or a synopsis and first chapter for Love Inspired Suspense, maybe the thing you need to do to change it up in your writing life is to submit your work. Right now.

The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll get feedback on why your book wasn’t right for the two Harlequin lines, or no response at all from Harper Voyager (per guidelines). That’s not bad. The best thing that could happen by submitting is that you’ve got a book someone wants to publish.

But the exciting thing that may well happen for you – it’s happening for me! – is that the deadline will add fire to your writing now. Trust me, it feels great!

Whatever you decide to do, try something different this week. It may change your writing, and your writing routines, for the better.

P.S. In the vein of sharing what I’m learning in the world of self-publishing, you’ve got to read this blog by Lindsay Buroker about her self-publishing journey. She really nails the points you need to be focusing on if you go this direction in your career.

Who Are Your Influences?

John has a knack for finding cool photos of other people’s amazing libraries, reading rooms, and funny things made out of books. This staircase is something he promises to paint for me when we have a home of our own. I love it! When I look at it, I see a pyramid of influences.

When we paint our own stairs someday, I think I’ll paint the Bible on the bottom step. It’s my first and most important foundation for all things including my writing life. There is excellent advice on the best way to use your time, how to manage your money, how to grow as a person, and how to build healthy relationships with other people. It also gives me a lot of story ideas! The backstory of my superhero novels comes from Genesis chapter 4.

I haven’t decided who I’m going to paint on the other steps, but some of the other influencers in my writing life include Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Christopher Vogler, Dean Koontz, and C.S. Lewis. To name a very few!

When it comes to who I really listen to, though, that’s a somewhat different list. Of course, Shonna and Stephanie here at Routines for Writers are major influencers in my writing life. So are my writing friends Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Damp Wright, Marcy Weydemuller, the Reunioners group, and The Coven, my writers group in Australia. My Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America are also high on my list. And I listen to almost all of the workshops of the annual RWA conference when I’m running, so those writer-speakers are some of my big influencers as well.

I’m beginning to find that some of my readers – old friends and new – are becoming influencers for me, too. I’ve gotten some of the nicest compliments from friends and strangers (i.e., friends I don’t know well yet) who have read Little Miss Lovesick or my short story that just came out, “Hero in Disguise” in the anthology Romancing the Pages. The things they’ve told me about what made them laugh and what they found to be romantic gave me good ideas for how to keep giving them more of the same. (And, of course, it felt great to get such positive feedback!)

I just went to the Dave Ramsey one-day EntreLeadership course on Friday. Dave has become another one of my influencers on the business side of writing. (Well, personal finances, too.) He and the other speakers at the event reminded me that if you “just” have a business and it’s not doing well, there’s nothing wrong with quitting, shutting it down, trying something else. But if you feel strongly that there is a reason for what you’re doing – I want to help young women understand they have more power over their happiness than they realize – then you should never, never, never give up!

When it comes to encouragement, I want to be one of your influencers reminding you of that same thing: if this is more than a hobby, if it’s more important than pursuing a dream for yourself, if your writing is about changing the world for the better – never, never, never give up! And while you’re at it, try to be a positive influence on those around you. Slowly, but surely, you will make the world a better place! And in that you’ll find that you have more power over your own happiness than you may realize.