No busywork!

In my college days, I had roommates. Occasionally I learned something from them. I definitely learned that you can look very, very busy without actually doing anything….

I’ve also had my share of substitute teachers. Most of them seemed to operate under the theory of “just keep ‘em busy”. I’ve never met anyone that like a sub’s busy work. But it honestly wasn’t as bad as the busy work we give ourselves.

Busywork vs mundane work

Busywork isn’t mundane work. Mundane work is the less than exciting stuff we have to do in order to do the other stuff: the fun stuff, the exciting stuff, our real work. Busywork is working for the sake of working.

The mundane stuff isn’t exciting but at least it has a purpose. By expending time and energy doing it, we move ourselves toward our bigger goals (or at least we should do that…). Busy work doesn’t get us anywhere. Unless our goal is to look busy doing nothing worthwhile… (and why do that).

Question the mundane stuff too (being busy vs being productive)

We need to watch that mundane stuff too… Sure, it’s not overtly pointless. But is it really getting us anywhere, or are we just doing it because we usually do? Are we doing it to avoid doing something else? If we’re doing it to avoid something, or ‘just because’, we’re back in the realm of busywork and that’s not really getting us anywhere.

The mundane stuff might advance our goals but there might be a better, and faster way to do it…

Do you have to do it yourself? Many of us accept that it’s cheaper to cook at home (for a lot of things it might be). We’re paying with our time and effort rather than money. Sometimes that makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. But what about pasta?

I can get a box of spaghetti for about a buck. If all I want is one box, or less, of spaghetti noodles, the time and effort I’ll to put into making pasta probably adds up to more that a dollar. In which case, buy the box and get on with your life. On the other hand, if you love your grandma’s home-made spaghetti, you can’t buy that in a box. It may be worth the time and effort to make. (Note: This is just the pasta… Sauce is a whole ‘nother subject…)

You might hire someone to do the mundane stuff. I know a guy who loves numbers and really enjoys balancing checkbooks and what not. He’s an accountant. I like numbers, but I have other interests and skills he doesn’t have. It’s better for me to pay the accountant to do the accounting stuff and I’ll handle the world creating writing stuff and behavioral therapy with teens and tweens stuff. It works out better for both of us that way. (I don’t like the numbers that much, and he doesn’t ‘interface well’ with teenagers)

Are you using the right tool? I have a hand drill. I also have a power drill. And a drill press. And a flex shaft. And two (2) hand held micro motors. Many of their capabilities overlap. But I still have to choose the right tool for the right job. If drag out my three-inch hole saw and try to cut lath and plaster with a micro-motor, it burns out. The drill press doesn’t fit the situation either… On the other hand, I can do more precise depth cuts with the drill press and finer sanding and polishing with the micro motors. You can save a lot of time and energy just by using the right tool.

Mundane doesn’t mean busy work. But you still have to question the mundane work’s value.

Failing ‘safely’ versus succeeding

Some of us hyper-focus on mundane work, or dive into busywork, because helps avoid risk. It’s safer. Or at least it feels safer. But often the safer path doesn’t really lead anywhere. 

I’ve never gotten a date by not ‘putting myself out there’. (I wasn’t always the one to ask, but I had to at least put myself into a place to be asked) Top tier publishers aren’t breaking down my door begging to publish stuff I haven’t sent out yet. (Maybe Steven King has experienced that but I certainly haven’t) Generally, to succeed you have to risk something. There’s a cost to be paid either way; the risk is that the cost is higher than the payback. Of course, if your goal is to avoid risk, you can do that. At the cost of not achieving anything else (and you may still fail… Doing nothing entails the (fairly strong) risk that the world will move along without you!).

We need to do the mundane stuff. It helps us keep going. There’s boring stuff that’s needed for life to function. But when we focus on the mundane stuff to avoid risk, that’s a warning sign. It’s time to give thought to what we’re really doing and what our goals are.

Do what needs to be done (when it’s needed)

Sometimes we need to do the safe, boring stuff. Sometimes it’s time for excitement. Sometimes it’s time to roll the dice. Sometimes we get to do what we really want to do. Knowing when to do what is key to success.

How do we know when to do stuff? A big step is knowing why we do what we do. Why does what we’re doing matter? What benefit does it give us? How does it move our goals forward? If we don’t know, we’d better figure it out. If it doesn’t move our goals forward, we should do something else!

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Seek after your goals, dear reader. Do the stuff that really matters. And, I’ll see you next post.

Writing group: pulling it together

A while ago I mentioned I was starting a writing group. It was a good thought, but also one needing a sanity check (why the heck am I doing this? I’m not that person…). I knew it would be hard and (curses!) meant I would have to work with a team (so much for my solo days…). Well, dear reader, it was more than a good thought. I’m helping others and seeing success in my work because of it. (I talk about that more over at my Forever Mountain Publishing blog )

Initial struggles

I’d hoped to have three to five people. The week before we started, we had four of us signed up. Then one dropped out before the first meeting. Then another dropped after the first meeting (in her defense the ‘life stuff’ was getting intense). That left two of us.

Could we survive with two? Possibly, but it wasn’t the group I’d pictured. It wasn’t going the way I wanted. I searched. I begged. I pleaded. But no more people were signing up. What was a writer to do?

Carrying on

Well, we did what successful writers do. We learned from our mistakes. We worked on our stories. We kept pushing. Both of us put down the stories we were working on (we both needed to stew a bit on our stories). But we picked up other stories and worked on them.

We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We improved. We continued to work and learn.

Blossoms appear

And then… Last week happened. First, I changed tactics. I asked a writer I’d wanted to join us to look at one of my non-fiction chapters and tell me what she thinks. She accepted. I never mentioned the writing group, but she brought it up. I connected her with the material (fiction) for the group meeting. She read it. And then… her daughter had a baby. So, she missed the meeting because she was at the hospital with her child and grandchild. Life happens. And she’s got family support brewing that’s encouraging her to join us next month.

But it didn’t end there… Randomly the other person who’d been with us at the start asked about the group. She’s reached a point where she recognizes a need for feedback. She liked some of what I told her. She wants to submit for our next one. She’s not sure she’ll be a full-time member, but she’s heading our direction without us pushing.

But wait there’s more… I mentioned I’d like to have another guy in the group (in this context me and four women feels odd…). Immediately she came up with the name of a friend (male) who’s looking for a writing group (and then there were five…).

It’s a basic principle of the universe, dear reader. When you do outstanding work for (at least mostly) non-selfish reasons, eventually it turns to your good. It’s been six months since we actively started the group. Eight months since we started talking about the group. But it’s taking off. And those involved are learning, growing and telling better stories.

And so it is. I know working with teams isn’t always easy, but there is value in it. Seek the good with the people in your lives. Seek to bring good into people’s lives. And, I’ll see you next post.

Being bigger

My church congregation used to be ‘the little broken ward’. I used to be a novice writer (and blogger) who thought writing a thousand (1,000) words per day was really hard. The folks at church had the mindset that we didn’t have the people or skills to “do it all” even with The Lord’s help. I once thought doing a presentation at a national conference, and even more so having a published book, was more than I could do.

Well, those thoughts used to be true. But they’re not true anymore. Unfortunately, some of us (occasionally even me) still operate under those beliefs. It’s a problem. It shapes our behavior patterns in ways that make it harder to succeed (if we succeed at all…).

Success means getting out of that place. It requires us to have faith and hope (and is helped along by charity; giving it, not just receiving it). We have to accept the possibility of success, that we have the potential to do more than what we’ve done before.

Thinking about ourselves (who we are)

The way we think about ourselves: the descriptions, names and labels that we give ourselves (or accept being given) directly affect our success and our belief that we can succeed.

Sometimes we fall into the error of focusing on our failures. We can learn a lot from our mistakes, but the key is to learn from them, not focus on them to the exclusion of learning, growth, and the possibility of current or future success.

Looking at our mistakes and learning from them, assessing what we could have done differently and making adjustments to current and future actions, is healthy. It’s necessary for growth. Accepting that we have potential to be more and doing the thinking and planning to figure out where, when, and how to grow is the way forward.

Growing in what we do

Ever seen a puppy, you know, one of those little four-legged things that’s going to grow into an adult dog someday. Ever seen a teenager? You know, one of those awkward things that occasionally grow up to be an actual person?

We all have an awkward period while learning. We have to give ourselves permission to be awkward. That’s what allows us to make the mistakes that will help us learn to do things right. You can’t just accept being awkward, but you can give yourself permission to do it, in order to learn how to avoid it. (this is something I talked about last year (link)).

You might maintain a level of strength or skill by doing the same thing and same amount of work, but you won’t have an increase. You don’t get stronger (or faster, or smarter) unless you push yourself.

That doesn’t mean you should push full force into things you’re not ready for. It means that taking the next step (the right next step) will help. We assess what we need to do next. Do that. And then move on.

It’s an ongoing road…

Just as we need to focus on the right next step instead of trying to dance the whole dance all at once, the subject of how to learn and grow is to be taken a step at a time. This is something I intend to come back to again, dear reader (we’ve been here before). And I intend to bring something new to the table each time.

For now, dear reader. Give yourself permission to learn (I certainly am). Don’t dwell on your mistakes, learn from them instead. And, I’ll see you next post.

Gut Checks and Little Voices…

It happens sometimes, and we should pay attention. In my case, a couple of days ago, something told me I should check the stove. I was busy, so I didn’t. a few minutes later I got another impression that I should check the stove. This one came with a bit of an odd smell. I was busy, so I didn’t. Then, the feeling came again…

Maybe I shouldn’t have fried the spatula…?

Well, it turns out I left the stove on, and a spatula in a frying pan on the burner. I’m actually lucky I didn’t start a fire.

These things happen. Sometimes we just “get a feeling”, other times we’re better off checking our feelings against what our rational minds and other people are telling us. Often those little feelings are there to help us. We don’t have to be dominated by them (technically we don’t even have to listen to them) but stopping for a moment to check them out isn’t usually a bad thing.

Where do these things come from?

There is a bit of a debate on where these feelings come from. Some will say, “you’re imagining it.” And sometimes we are. But sometimes we’re not.

Many people of faith believe in the Holy Ghost, the still small voice of The Lord which teaches us and brings things to our remembrance. The Holy Ghost is hard to test empirically, but people of faith will tell you it exists (and I’m one of them). The Holy Ghost would be (and is…) an ideal tool for a loving supreme being to communicate with us.

The God I understand is all about personal choice. My God would never force us to do anything. So, why would he communicate with us with a tool that compels us to listen? God doesn’t force us, but still communicates with those willing to listen.

All of us, even those who don’t believe in the Holy Ghost, have another precious tool that contributes to those little voices and funny feelings, our senses. Our senses take in a lot more information than we can process on a conscious level. So, our minds filter the information. Some goes to the forebrain where symbolic reasoning happens. Some doesn’t go to the forebrain, but gets shipped directly to the amygdala and the emotional centers of the brain. And some information gets filtered out completely.

Yes, dear reader, there are messages coming to our minds. Even if you don’t believe in God or the Holy Ghost, your own senses are telling you more than you might think they are.

Why we should listen

Whether we’re talking about the Holy Ghost, our senses, or some other mechanism entirely, these messages exist for a reason. They exist to help us recognize and respond to things that we may have forgotten or that our conscious “thinking” mind doesn’t notice or doesn’t believe it has time to deal with. They’re meant to help us by bringing things to our attention. They’re meant to keep us successful and safe.

When we shouldn’t

Sometimes the messages we get aren’t so helpful. Sometimes they can cause us problems. Sometimes our minds are trying to tell us things that we shouldn’t listen to. In my experience, the messages we shouldn’t pay attention to come from our fears, the parts of us who have doubts and like to get in the way.

So, some messages are helpful, but others are problematic. Obviously, the ones we should listen to are the helpful ones and the ones we should ignore are the false, fear based, and non-helpful ones. But there’s a catch. We have to acknowledge them, hear what the message is (we have to listen even when it’s our own minds talking to us…) and then decide whether or not to follow. Ignoring a helpful message is as dangerous as following a bad one.

So maybe check out that message before you ignore it. Then you can be sure (at least surer…). (And maybe you won’t start any accidental fires…)

Learning to understand

Understanding which messages to listen to and which ones to ignore takes effort. We have to listen to the messages and make decisions. We also have to do a little experimentation and learning to help us recognize the good ones from the bad ones. It pays off in the long run.

In the short run we may make mistakes. But mistakes aren’t always bad. Actually, if you put in the effort to learn from them, some of them can be valuable. So, there are a few things we should do:

  1. Learn to recognize when we’re getting a message (whether from our senses/feelings or other sources).
  2. Make a habit of identifying the message.
  3. Learn to evaluate the message with other information.
  4. Use our evaluation to help us decide about what to do.

It’s not always simple, but it’s worth doing.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. I’ll see you next post.

Continuing and improving…

Six years ago, I almost died… Not as big a deal as it sounds. It’s happened before and might happen again (Heaven doesn’t want me, hell’s afraid I’ll take over, but the Grim Reaper’s convinced there’s a bounty on my head and really wants his five bucks…). My adventure six years ago did one significant thing. It convinced me to get off my butt and start writing. Since then, I’ve written a couple of books, lots of blog posts, and a few other projects. But I can do more and better.

Learning has always been something I do. Right now, I’m learning and working to make the blogs, my books, and the other things I do better. I’m planning on returning to regular posting next week (I hope) with other changes to come. It’s been a bumpy ride (if it isn’t you’ve missed something…) but things can and will get better. See you next post (hopefully next week), dear reader. And remember, things get better.

To post or not to post…

Yes, dear reader, I’ve been away from the blogs for a couple weeks and I might be gone for another week or two. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you or the blogs; there are just a few things I need to bring under control.

Words are powerful. We as human beings and children of God are powerful. And I’ll be back to talk about those things soon. See you next post.

An update on waiting… And life in a writing group…

Last post, over at Forever Mountain Publishing, I talked about not hearing from a publisher when the response window ran out. I emailed (gently) asking for information. And… It turns out that there was a bit of a slowdown on the editor’s end and they’re working to catch up. I immediately thanked the editors for the information and told them I’m looking forward to hearing from them in the future.

The good news is I’m not out of the running and my story hasn’t been forgotten. I just have to wait some more. I also showed the publishers that I can behave professionally rather than acting like a jerk. Sometimes you have to take the good in a situation. I looked good in the eyes of the publisher and my stuff is getting a good hard look (Like I’ve said, they ain’t shy about tossing stuff that doesn’t fit their needs. A hard look isn’t immediate, but it means I’m close. Playing things right could tip the scales in my favor)

Yeah, delays happen. And if you deal with them in a courteous and professional manner, you may give yourself a leg up.

I’ve also been continuing with my writing group. To be honest, some of our writers are very new. So, the writing group is also a chance to do a bit of teaching. And like many teachers, I learn at least as much as those I teach, if not more.

Last meeting one of our newer writers gave me feedback. And her feedback is dead on correct. When I really thought about her advice, I discovered how to get the effect I’m looking for. In return, I helped her recognize her voice as a writer. Which helps get her story to where it needs to be.

Writing is often solitary. But we can’t do it entirely on our own. We need people and we need to learn to work with people, even when our project is personal and important to us. We need to learn to be gentle and constructive in dealing with others, even when they’ve goofed up.

Dealing with people isn’t just important, it’s vital. And how you do it can make or break you.

Be constructive with the people in your writing world, dear reader. Help them be constructive with you. And I’ll see you next post.

“Because it’s there,” isn’t enough!

An odd thing happened while I was researching a non-fiction project this morning… I’d just picked up another article on anxiety and sleep when I realized there was no point in reading it (today at least). I already had the information I need. I’d already decided what to do. So, why read another article that won’t change my decision?

Some of you (and part of me) are saying, “But there could be something in there that will change everything!” And there might be. But that’s a problem for next month when I’m working on my section on anxiety and sleep; this week I needed enough to say that dealing with nightmares isn’t the same thing as dealing with anxiety while you’re awake. I have that information and enough of an idea of the similarities and differences to say I should do an anxiety and sleep chapter, which I will get to next month.

Since I’ll need to read all the anxiety/sleep material again next month and it won’t help me today, why read it today? While pondering that question, I realized the principle applies to a lot of things. Sure, I could eat the entire bag of potato chips sitting on the kitchen counter, but why? I’m not hungry. It isn’t mealtime. I have other things to do (so I’m not bored). All eating the chips is going to do is raise my blood sugar and mean that the chips aren’t available later when it is time to eat some.

The same thing applies to dealing with people. Sure, the kid walking down the block has a tee-shirt supporting the wrong band/movie/snack food/political movement, but is the kid’s shirt affecting me and my need to go to the post office?

Sometimes there are reasons besides “because it’s there”, in which case we need to think about and decide what to do based on those reasons. If I told my professor I’d read that article this week, I should read it. If it’s lunch time and I’m hungry, maybe I should break out some of those chips (but not a whole family-sized bag just for me…). If the kid in the tee-shirt is shouting slurs and brandishing a baseball bat, it may be fight-or-flight time… The point, dear reader, is that we should consider why we’re doing what we’re doing and make good choices.

The existence of a thing doesn’t force us to act. It definitely doesn’t force us to act in a particular way that’s been pre-determined by someone else! (I could keep hammering the point because a new page just popped up in my text editor, but that would be missing my point). Don’t be bullied by the world around you, dear reader. Make your choices for actual reasons and not just “because it’s there”. And (if you find it worthy) I’ll see you next post.

An update… Or lack of one…

We all have to wait occasionally dear reader. And let’s be honest, waiting is hard.

Last October I submitted my book Names and Secrets for publication. The time line for response was 12-16 weeks. Well, as I’m writing this, we have officially hit the 16-week mark and… I have heard nothing! But that’s not a bad thing.

Christmas fell into that 12–16-week window it might have put things behind. But there’s a better reason not to worry (actually a reason to be hopeful). I’ve worked with this publisher before; they send you an email when you’ve been rejected. The fact I’m at the end of the window and have heard nothing means I haven’t been rejected yet! It means that they may be seriously considering publishing the book.

The publisher isn’t shy about rejecting stuff that doesn’t fit. Not hearing at this point doesn’t guarantee publication, but it means the book has lasted longer than my last rejected manuscript. Even if it comes back a no, the effort spent on a yes or no answer indicates I’m that much closer to a yes. That means I’ve just got to push it a little more to get to yes. And a yes is what we’re looking for.

No matter what we do, we’re making progress if we can honestly say “we did better than last time”. And, who knows, there may be a success in our (near) future!

That’s it for this one dear reader. I have to get back to editing the sequel (and checking my email every five minutes…). I wish you success in your projects dear reader. And I’ll see you next post!

The danger of acceptance

This week I’m sharing something I shared last week over at Forever Mountain Publishing.  For those who read both blogs please forgive the repeat. I this stuff is important (and I still haven’t heard back on the novel…)

I’m waiting to hear about a novel I submitted. I’m also working on the sequel and a couple of non-fiction projects. Getting the book accepted will be exciting. I’ve been wanting to work with this publisher for a while and good things will come out of them accepting the series. But there is danger in the book being accepted.

The book being accepted is going to be a big step for me. This is true. But I can’t stop growing as a writer just because the publisher likes the book. It would be easy. Acceptance means they think my work is “good enough” to publish. But is “good enough” really good enough?

Most people I’ve met know ‘that guy’, the one who achieved a goal (won a championship, served a mission for his/her church, got married, graduated college, etc.), and then just sort of gave up. We can’t do that. Not as people or as writers. As people, the moment we stop growing is the moment we start dying. As writers, if we don’t keep learning and improving, our audience will tire of reading the same old stuff and move on to someone or something else.

I’m really looking forward to hearing my book is accepted, but I can’t let acceptance stop me from making the next one better. Everything we try, whether we succeed or fail, provides us with lessons we can learn (if we pay attention to them).

No one on this earth is truly perfect. That means we all always have the potential to be and do better. Sometimes we have to struggle to find that potential, but it’s there.

The moment we stop growing, we start dying. If we think we’ve done the best we can (especially if we think our work is perfect) we need to search for what we can do to improve (or we need to set it down and come back when we’re smarter…).

It’s a choice we have to make dear reader: keep growing and learning, or be the person sitting around talking about what used to be. I intend to be the guy talking about what I’m doing next!

I wish you success dear reader. I don’t want you to stop at “good enough”. As usual, I’ll see you next post.