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Define Your Success

Success means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?

Happy Halloween!

Tonight, millions of kids all over the world will be dressing up in bizarre costumes and knocking on door after door to fill their pillow cases with candy. Many children on the eastern coast of the US will be staying in due to hurricane Sandy, whose winds have brought days of rain as far north as Toronto. Many adults will be dressing up and going to Halloween dinner parties.

I’m sure some of you will be taking the kids out or going to a dinner party. I, on the other hand, with probably a few thousand other writers, will be staying in frantically trying to finish the six pages of editing I have left in MG so I can start Nanowrimo at midnight without too many worries. Of course, I planned to finish this edit during the summer, but due to tendonitis and more recently getting a tooth pulled AND a bad cold in the same weekend, that didn’t happen.

The important thing is that I don’t beat myself up about it. Instead, I must forge ahead, finish that edit and dive right into Nanowrimo. Of course, I’m much less prepared for Nanowrimo than I usually am by now due to the aforementioned edits and health problems, but that’s all in the spirit of Nano anyway–besides, who’s ever really prepared for something this epic?

For those of you who will be staying up with me, counting down the hours, I have a couple things to say. The first is that staying up all night writing is probably a bad idea. You don’t want to compromise your school or your job, so do yourself a favor and limit yourself to an hour of writing.

My second note is that the few hours you have left are a good time to spend with your family or on other menial tasks which have nothing to do with Nano. Part of being prepared for Nanowrimo is to have eliminated as many other tasks from your to-do list as possible, so you’ll have more time to write during November. Spend your last few hours doing this, and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to find writing time.

Finally, if you’re stuck, try one of these first sentences on for size:

I often wished I’d been born someplace else, with parents who didn’t hate each other.

The weather was wet and gloomy, and had been for days.

She truly loved books: poetry, history, biography, even trashy fiction from time to time.

He had always wanted a pony.

Take any one of these first sentences and make it your own. Note that most of these sentences are longer than necessary–that’s all part of buffing your word count to ensure that you hit 50, 000 words. So don’t be ashamed of your run on sentences, and don’t try to fix your mistakes. Just plow forward and before you know it you’ll have your first 1, 667 words.

Now go out into the world, finish your pre-Nano tasks and ready yourself for the crazy novel writing month ahead!

One Cannot Be Ready for Everything by Allison Cosgrove

Today’s author is Allison Cosgrove, several time Nanowrimo winner, former word war captain, mother of three, hard worker and recently published author. I’ve already interviewed her here and am currently reading her mystery novel, Sacrifice of Innocence, which I’ll be reviewing sometime in the upcoming months. Today she’s decided to do us all the honour of sharing her realization that none of us are ever truly ready for Nanowrimo.

* * * *

One thing I have come to realize, as a long standing WriMo Veteran, is that in preparing for the wonderful thing that is NaNoWriMo is that we are never truly ready for it. I mean there are things we can prepare. We can plot and outline and make notes for just about everything, pre-cook and freeze meals, but in the end we can not be completely ready for everything.

The one and only year I have ever tried to plot out everything it turned out to be all for naught. I honestly had everything set out. I knew EXACTLY where I was going. I was so proud of myself. And then two days before NaNo I was hit by a monster of plot bunny and away I went on a completely different direction and everything I did was pushed to the side until later in the month.

That, to me, is the most amazing part about NaNoWriMo. We plan everything out. We get all of our emergency junk food kits ready. We set our coffee pots to constant brew. We make sure our loved ones know that if they don’t hear from us for a month that everything is alright and that we are just knee deep in a whole other world. Then we set out and put pen to paper, fingers to keypads and the world around us disappears.

We don’t always end up where we expected to and that’s alright. We may eat more junk food, drink gallons more coffee, sleep less and we may even end up smelling like yesterdays socks. We may not finish at the amount we would like and we may not cross the 50,000 word finish line but that too is alright.

Because it is not where we end up that matters most. It is the journey that we take to get there that counts. We will learn and grow so much in 30 days. We will learn to stretch our wings and not worry about where the winds take us. We will take chances and risks we may never have taken with our creativity. We will forge long lasting friendships and find a new place to call our own.

Just remember that as you finish off your plot notes, your character sketches and pack your pre-made food for next month. You may not end up exactly where you think you will when you set out in a few days but enjoy the ride none the less.

It will be all worth it and besides you can always edit later.

Preparing to Edit a Novel

It’s that time of year again. All the mistletoe has rotted and half of everyone’s New Year resolutions have already been thrown out the window. That first draft of your Nano–or whatever other project you’ve been ignoring for the last several months–has been sitting in its corner quietly collecting dust for long enough.

It’s time to pull that tome out and edit. It will be painful, it might be bloody–though I suspect you’ll go through more ink than actual blood–but it’s necessary. Trust me, your novel will look better without all those tangents and ten page character descriptions. They are extra limbs just getting in the way–I mean, spiders have eight legs but if a human had eight arms that would just be awkward, right? Think of limbs as sub-plots and character descriptions and then decide whether your book should be a human or a spider and act accordingly.

Anyway. Before you go into your word file and start messing around, there are a few things you really should do. These steps should help get you organized so that when you get to the novel to start messing around, you know exactly what you need to do and you don’t get discouraged.

1. Print it out. You’ll do all your actual tinkering inside word, of course, because that’s where you wrote it and that’s where the file is, but you have to print it out. First off, you tend to–and I do it too, it’s okay–skim when you’re reading on a computer. Printing it out slows down the reading process, which means you catch more errors. There’s also something about that black font on that crisp white paper that makes errors stand out.

2. Read it and take notes. Don’t go back into your word file until you’ve read THE WHOLE THING and taken notes on it. Some people suggest to read it really quickly and only to note how you felt about it overall the first time. I’ve never been able to do that. I’m anal enough to proofread my math tests and published books. I can’t imagine NOT crossing out words and fixing typos. But really, if you’re in one of your first few edits, those little things aren’t important–I’m not going to stop you from writing them down, but focus on the story.

One thing I’ve done, just as a quick example, is to write chapter notes at the end of each chapter. I write these on the back of the page where the chapter ends, and these are my story notes. Those are the notes I look at when going to the next step.

3. Make a To-Do List. Your to-do list starts with world building. Do you have any new questions about your world? Will you have to develop the world further to get a feel for a new subplot? I decided in this draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian to make politics more important to the story, which means I need to build the family trees of the politicians. That’s just one example of a number of small world building things I’ll be doing before I start my next draft.

Your to-do list obviously also includes any new scenes or subplots you need to add, characters you’d like to develop, writing exercises you’d like to do to master PoV, and any scenes or subplots you need to delete. Basically, even if it’s a separate short story that’s another exploration of your world or characters, include it on the list because it will in some way make your next draft more awesome. If in doubt, put it on the list. You can always change your mind later.

4. Do some writing exercises. Even if you didn’t put it on your list, do some writing exercises. Stay in the world you’ve already been working on and write about something in it or someone. Pick a famous object from your world and describe it. Write about the first time someone meets your main character–from that other person’s point of view. Put yourself into the head space of your novel by working inside its world for a little while before you actually dive into editing. That way you won’t have to spend time getting back into the flow when you’re actually in your novel file. Of course, this is also when you do any exercises you put on your to-do list and any world building.

These steps will prepare you to edit that monster first draft. Editing can feel overwhelming, but taking the time to read through and make a list of everything you have to do will make it a little less terrifying. At least now you know not just where you’re going, but–if only vaguely–how you’re going to get there, too.

Next week I’m probably going to talk about something totally random while the guilt about not doing anything on my MG to-do list eats away at me, but sometime soon we’re going to talk about first chapters.

How do you prepare to edit?