Tag Archives: goals

“I’ve Got This Great Idea for a Book…”

I’ve written about this before, but with National Novel Writing Month breathing down our necks, now seems like a good refresher. Plus I’m annoyed.

Don't Let Your Dreams Be Dreams Shia LeBeouf

This time, Shia is right.

The title of this post is “I’ve got this great idea for a book…” because that phrase inevitably comes from someone who may indeed have a good idea but who has exactly zero motivation to actually sit down and write a book.

Writing a book is hard. There are a lot of things to distract you. You may sit down with good intentions, only to see the internet and get completely sidetracked; it’s easy to lose hours surfing, stalking ex-boyfriends, or watching videos. Or you sit down and feel like your ideas have evaporated. Or you sit down and write but then you hate it. I tend to sit down and immediately notice how messy my house is and get an overwhelming urge to clean.

I get it. Writing a book is hard and time-consuming.

But it’s also easy. I mean, writing a book is mostly consistency. It’s showing up and committing to put words down on paper (digital or physical) and doing that over and over and over again.

So if you have a “great idea,” there aren’t that many initial steps to turning that great idea into a book.

Great idea + consistency x time = book

Heck, recent successes show the writing doesn’t even have to be that stupendous!

I met someone awhile back who had a killer idea for a nonfiction book. I mean, it was exciting. She’d done the initial research and was clearly passionate about it. She had a thorough outline. She asked my advice as an editor and I told her the direction looked fantastic.

And then… well, that was 9 months ago, and she hasn’t gotten around to actually writing a single word. She got sidetracked with making a marketing plan–and it was a good marketing plan, even if it completely ignored the fact that you can’t sell an unwritten book–and never actually sat down to do the work. So that great idea? Totally worthless.

It’s frustrating. But that’s why I like events like NaNoWriMo. It’s no excuses time. It’s “don’t let your dreams be dreams” time. It’s sit down, shut up, and produce time.

Take you great idea and wrestle it into reality. As Nike says, Just Do It.

6 Comments

Filed under writing

Review: Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money

Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace UniversityDave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re unsure about how to manage money, or have already made some big mistakes and are trying to recover, or just want to brush up on some obscure things, this book will likely help you out.

HOWEVER…it has its flaws, despite the enthusiastic baying of many of Ramsey’s constituents.

I received this book as a very well-intentioned gift to help my new husband and I get our marriage started on the right foot. I’m already persnickety about how I manage my money, so I may not be the ideal audience for this book, but as much as I read about personal finance, I figure there is always room for a little more knowledge.

I did find it practical. Ramsey uses folksy analogies and down-to-earth language to explain the sometimes high-falutin’ financial language that can be a barrier. His strategies are fundamentally simple: don’t be in debt, save money before you buy something. He has undoubtedly helped many people find a workable strategy to put themselves on a path to financial security, and that is to be commended.

But I found parts of the book deeply distasteful. My concerns:

It’s Self-Serving.
You’ve probably heard of Dave Ramsey by now. He has a radio show, a whole series of classes and DVDs, and several books. This book aims to make sure you know who he is–the appearance of his name TWICE on the front cover, as well as the plug-in for his class “Financial Peace University,” is just another way to build his personal brand.

Now, that may be unavoidable–it is a self-help book, after all–but the repeated references back to Ramsey’s personal products, other books, and stuff he’s selling started to make me feel like I was at a flea market (want this? How about this? No? Well, you definitely need one of these!). Ramsey’s a smart marketer; if he can get his hooks into you with this book, he hopes you’ll buy everything he’s ever made.

He Doesn’t Think Much of Women
I’m sure if you spoke to Ramsey–and he seems like a very affable and likeable guy–he would insist that he loves women and that I’m crazy for suggesting this, but his own book would be great evidence against him. Ramsey may like women well enough, but the book repeatedly takes a “that’s nice, little lady” tone. Women are called out repeatedly based on negative female stereotypes–“stop shopping ladies!”–and reminded that they are best in the home with the kids, whereas men are repeatedly held up as the providers, the “real men” who “take care of their families,” the ones who are the responsible ones.

Even when he praises women (mostly via his wife) he is slighting them with more aw-shucks patronizing: following an apocryphal tale of President George H.W. Bush wherein Barbara supposedly gets the upper-hand, Ramsey discusses the way decisions are made in his family–he makes decisions and “if I’m not careful, I’ll just roll right over her when it’s time to make a decision. It’s not that she doesn’t want to contribute…”

Let me finish the line for him: it’s that he’s already made up his mind and his wife’s vote isn’t as important.

This is further shown in his advice, including that married couples have one bank account and one only. That may work out very well for some people, and the more power to them, but having one bank account and no money of their own is one of the most common ways women end up poor: husband leaves, takes all the money and there is nothing in her name (or, she wants to leave, husband takes all the money, etc.) I feel strongly that both spouses need some way to access at least some money without involving the other.

Evangelical
Ramsey does a good job of talking to the reader as if you are just like him. Which is great, and is a sign of excellent persuasive writing! Except. Ramsey is an evangelical Christian, and you may want to avoid this book if you aren’t as well.

Even though I’m a Christian, I must not be the same variety as Ramsey. I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the Bible every other page for awhile there.

And while I am happy that folks have a spiritual life they can tend and enrich themselves with, Ramsey doesn’t even cater to the idea that you may not be the same. The chapter on giving never mentions how to give to charity except through your church. Further, his example about giving exorbitant tips to waitresses on Christmas Eve fell flat with me. He says the only reason a waitress might work that day is because she really needs the money. Well, Dave, I came up with a few other reasons:
-Her boss won’t let her have the day off, and while she doesn’t need the money so much this month, she needs long-term job security, and that means she doesn’t get to pick.
-She’s Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/FSM-ist and doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
-She’s Christian, but is celebrating Christmas in two weeks because that’s when her family can all get together.
-She thinks she’ll get extra tips from the travelers desperate for a meal on Christmas Eve. And besides, it’s generally quiet.

Four reasons I just thought off on the spot! Not everyone is the same as you, man.

Additionally, as an intellectual-type person, it is useless to me when he provides a Bible verse as the reason why I should do something. Sorry, I want evidence. History has shown that Bible verses can be made to fit just about any situation.

Anathema to Debt or Help
This is tricky, because I almost agree with him here, but he takes it to extremes that I find uncomfortable. Ramsey repeatedly insinuates that money should not come to people from the government, and further suggests that putting “burdens” on wealthy people will “make the golden eggs dry up.” I see your Trickle-Down Economics at work, sir. Let’s just say I disagree and found his mixing of politics with finances when it isn’t needed.

But further than that, he is completely 100% opposed to debt. On paper, I agree with him: debt is not a positive, and, particularly for people struggling under a mountain of debt problems, his strategies will be effective. But I think it’s short-sighted.

Debt, in my opinion, is like a pit bull: Sure, it can be awful, but it can also be useful tool when used properly. Much like a pit bull can be one of the meanest fighting dogs out there in the hands of an abusive animal, debt can turn on you quick. But a pit bull well cared-for and attended to will be the sweetest dog in the neighborhood.

I think his “no debt at all” view is problematic in particular for young people. Ramsey’s quite a bit older than me, so perhaps he doesn’t remember, but having zero credit history (yes, that means zero history of debt) will make it hard to get: an apartment to rent; a job (they sometimes check the scores); a car; and, eventually, a mortgage on a house. Zero credit history is treated the same as bad credit history, and refusing to teach people how to handle credit responsibly means young people who end up in a bad spot. Additionally, his “pay cash for everything” strategy is an effective way to get him something else he rails against: kids coming back after college.

One of the things that most upset me in this book was a story from a reader about how her son was going to school, the Dave Ramsey way! It is featured as an example of doing things right, and it hit me like a brick. In this story, a boy works hard in school, gets several scholarships, and his parents have saved money for some of his tuition for college…but it’s not enough. Because they are following Ramsey’s preachings, they don’t get a loan of any kind, but instead pull their son out of college. He was already accepted, but he is forced to withdraw (wiping out, by the way, all that prepaid tuition money).

He goes to community college (which has a drop-out rate of well over 50% right now) and then…drops out after one semester and joins the Navy. The story was submitted before the boy finished, but supposedly he was working on college classes while he was in the Navy. (This story is on page 251)

This story just breaks my heart. It’s not a triumph. This kid was on a path to go to a good school in his state, but his parents dropped him rather than let him take on a loan. As a result, he is working on a ship somewhere far from home. I have a dear friend who went to the Navy, and…it’s not easy. It wasn’t this kid’s real choice. He learned that his parents won’t support him in his future. I feel sorry for him.

The mom says “saying no to college was hard, but it turned out to be a good thing.” Yeah. A good thing FOR HER.

Mistakes
I found copy editing mistakes a few times, which always makes me leery, but then I found a glaring error of fact, which scares me more–a book is a big investment, so the time should be put in accordingly. When it isn’t, it makes me worry about the rest of the content (the mistake is this: Ramsey cites the New King James Bible as the “first in the English language.” It wasn’t. It’s the third, and was created not as a way for folks to access scripture but as a political move to consolidate a divided country.)

In Sum…
This book has exceptionally good advice to help people get out of debt and establish new patterns. It’s written for those who don’t know much of anything about financial planning or organization. The basics are sound, and I found the chapters on insurance and investing basics to be the most informative and helpful. I also like that it comes with budget worksheets in the back.

That said, this book is not for everyone. And I would say that it–and all the rest of the Ramsey brand–absolutely should not be the exclusive place you get advice.

It comes down to what you value. My impression is Ramsey values money (the having, and the dispensing of it) above all else. In order to have money, he advocates sacrificing time, personal interests, sleep, a diverse diet, and educational opportunities for your children. Me? My values are a little different than his. Take his advice, therefore, with a grain of salt.

View all my reviews

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews

The Burning Jealousy of the Not-Quite-There-Author

Let’s talk about jealousy. I have it.

Of course I have it for the biggies, the JK Rowlings and the Stephen Kings and the Shakespeares and the Jane Austens of the world. That’s a given, but that kind of jealousy is motivational: those are the success stories everybody looks up to.
To a lesser degree, I’ve got that for the Hugh Howeys and the Suzanne Collins’, our most modern wave of authors who, one way or another, adapted to the changing face of publishing and owned it.  But even so, that’s not the kind of jealousy that seeps in under your skin and makes your heart clench up.
No, that kind of jealousy is more intimate… reserved for the people who you (or, at least, I) think I’m at least on par with, maybe in terms of skill, or concept, or–mostly–in terms of starting point. The other newbies; the ones who get just ahead of me.
The shoulda-been-me’s.
I feel spasms of jealousy periodically on twitter, when someone I don’t even actually know announces a book deal or landing an agent or winning a contest. But lately, I am struggling with a big weighty ball of jealousy brought on by a real-life connection.
See, someone I have known pretty much my whole life has just self-published. She wrote the book in less than a year. Months ago, she asked me for the basics on advice for how to get published, and I gave her the Cliff Notes version: you can do the long slog or you can self-publish. She said self-publishing sounded more like her speed, and I pointed her to some resources and offered my editing services at a “friends” price. She turned me down, and I didn’t hear much about it, until she asked me to be a beta reader on short notice. I’m a little overbooked right now, so I declined and wished her well.
Two weeks later, BOOM, there’s her book out on Amazon, and she’s promoting it like crazy. She’s doing interviews, working her contacts, shilling that book everywhere on Facebook–you know, the stuff you do when you’ve just published a book on Amazon and you’re trying to get the numbers up.
But, oh, does it burn me.
I’ve been to the conferences, I’ve read the books, I’ve built a blog and joined Twitter like I was told. I’ve gone the traditional route because of promises of greater potential. I’ve entered the big open submissions opportunities. I’ve written the succession of query letters and dutifully waited while working on something else.
In other words, I followed “the rules.”
It feels like a sharp and painful contrast to this woman, who right out of the gate “broke” the rules: she compares her book to a game-changing classic; she didn’t have any internet or social presence before publishing; she never did a contest; she’s never written before at all!; she didn’t get a professional editor to work on it; and, of course, she self-published.
But people in our circle are talking about her. She gets glowing praise on her Facebook page. She can call herself “an author” and not be questioned.
It burns me right up.
But I realize this kind of jealousy isn’t helpful. This is my problem, and her being different doesn’t mean I’m illegitimate.
(However, I will say that much of the claptrap super-small authors or aspiring authors pump out about “there’s room for everyone” and “your time will come” and “celebrate everyone!” feels like a lie right now. I have a hard time believing “anyone” can be an author…)
So I need to get over this. I may have to start by buying her book.
How do you cope with author jealousy?

7 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing

A Few Suggestions To Help You Complete Your Resolutions

I said on Tuesday that I’m one of those “make a resolution” people. I totally am. I just printed off a list of 5 goals, some with sub-goals to help me achieve the main goals.

But what are these goals? I’m not telling.

Why? A TED Talk told me not to.

Basically, the speaker says that we get such a mental “hit” from talking about our ambitious goals that our brains get confused and feel like we have actually achieved those goals, making us, weirdly, less likely to actually complete them.

BUT! It’s still a good idea to have goals, even if they are tiny. I really love this talk about SuperBetter, a “game” that helps you improve your life.

So that’s pretty cool.

How do you make resolutions that actually stick? NPR can help you out with that.

And then, if you need a little burst of inspiration, check out long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

I mean, your resolution probably doesn’t involve sharks, now does it?

Just keep swimming, folks. And good luck with all those goals!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

2013 Unresolved

I am one of those people who makes resolutions.

I think most people “become” a resolution person for at least 2 hours around New Years’ Day, and stop being a resolution person, definitely, but January 3.

But I make resolutions and actually try to do them; at least, I have for the past few years. I contemplate the year ahead, write out some goals, and stick them on the door to my closet, where I’ll be forced to look at them every stinkin’ day. For the most part, this keeps me on track and I feel like I’m accomplishing something, so I like it.

Last year, I made a swath of resolutions, but three are particularly pertinent.

  • Build a website.
  • Send out queries for my most recent book.
  • Devote 4 hours a week to personal writing or editing.

The first one,  you’ll note, went pretty well. I launched this blog on February 12, 2013, and I have more or less stuck to a schedule of publishing at least two posts a week since then. WordPress tells me I’ve written 138 posts this year. Not too shabby, and I’m still proud of my little self-made blog. Not too bad at all.

(As a corollary, I launched my official Twitter presence at about the same time, and I’m up to 629 followers, utilizing my “don’t follow any particular strategy” strategy. However, this factoid is depressing when I realize that literal spambots have more followers than me, by the thousands. At that point, I start to hate humanity, give up on counting followers and go eat some chocolate or something.)

For the second goal, I … I was doing pretty well until May, then it came to a screeching halt. But I swear that is for a good reason. In May, that book I was sending query letters out for received two full manuscript requests. Courtesy says you are expected to stop trying to solicit other agents when this happens, so I stopped, completely. Which…maybe I shouldn’t have been courteous, because one agent declined the manuscript because she was switching agencies and the other, even now, hasn’t responded to me. Ah well. Perhaps next year.

However, I did learn that all the massive failures of my query to attract attention was, most likely, not because my book sucked, but because my query did. I had gotten a little overeager and tried something “different” in my query, which seemed brilliant at the time, but I found, at DFW Con, that it was getting me insta-rejected. So have heart! It may not be your book that’s the problem; just your query.

Finally, the writing goal. I was inspired by Stephen King and his dedicated blocks of writing time every week. Four hours a week was pretty ambitious for me, but I “allowed” myself to count blog-writing time as that personal writing time. At first, I was doing pretty well. In fact, here’s the chart I used to keep track:

2013goals

Each little X after the first two columns (used to track a different goal) represents 30 minutes of writing time. Each row is a calendar week. So from my helpful fridge chart, we can see that I did a damned decent job of writing or editing for myself for… half a year.

And then it’s blank.

I got some bad and stressful news in June, and basically lost the willpower to keep up with this fairly difficult goal. But I didn’t entirely quit writing (after all, blog posts continued to flow!). I lost the gumption to keep track of my writing, and to motivate myself to try more personal work, more flash fiction, or working on my novel. If I had to guess what the remaining six months would have looked like, had I bothered to keep track, I’d guess there would be a few blank weeks, but most of the weeks would be at least partially filled in. (Especially November. I wrote like a demon in November in order to win NaNoWriMo).

Even though I did an impressive pratfall on my writing resolution for the year, I found it to be a very helpful goal. It was too hard for me, regardless of what Stephen King manages to do, and I’ll have to recalibrate for next year, but having that little chart to remind me was a good way to get that “butt in chair” part of the equation going. I’m still figuring out what I want to focus on for my already-busy 2014, but I know that should be in there somewhere.

What are your writing/publishing goals for the coming year? How will you keep yourself on task?

4 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing

A Year in Books

2013 in booksAt the beginning of last year, I had just finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he, among other fascinating things, discusses how gargantuan of a reader he is. He said he read 80 books a year, easily, which I found mind-blowing.

I wanted to see how many books I could read this year. Thankfully, Goodreads has a Reading Challenge Widget, so this was easy (plus it reminded me to write a review after I read something).

I have a day job, a small business, a fiance and a small social life, in addition to any personal writing I want to get done, so King’s goal was stupidly out of reach. No, for me, I needed to lower that bar a little bit. So I picked a goal of 26 books, a book for every two weeks.

The other day, Goodreads let me know that I had met my goal! (Hey, Goodreads, the year isn’t actually over yet…?)

In 2013, I logged 27 books, and if I finish The Shipping News by the first, I’ll have 28 official books for the year. Of the 27 books logged in Goodreads, that is apparently 8,479 pages.

That’s pretty good! But it’s not actually the full picture.  The Wool Omnibus would have otherwise counted as three novels (or novellas; I’m not sure how Goodreads makes that distinction). I also read two books for work that I didn’t log, because they were poorly written business aphorisms that I was forced to read and never want to acknowledge actually existed. Plus I read a sizable stack of comic books (Star Wars, four issues of the Avatar comic, and Saga. Go read Saga. It’s amazing.) and I felt like it was weird to log comic books because they are generally only 12 pages long (I finally included Saga in my reviews, sort of, after I had read the whole first collection, making it sort of book-length.)

That means, without changing my habits at all, I read about 35 books in a year (and that includes some stupidly thick books like Leviathan Wakes and The Forgotten Garden. Don’t read those if you’re going for a speed challenge, kids).

35 books a year? Not too shabby!

I really enjoyed logging my books. It’s a good way to reflect on what I’ve read and what it means to me, so I’ll definitely be participating in the reading challenge for next year. Let’s clock it at officially 30 books this year.

Will you join my reading challenge? How many books would you like to read in 2014?

2 Comments

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Filling Buckets

It’s been an emotional year. I’ve attended two funerals, and wasn’t able to go to two more. These deaths were all unexpected, even for the elderly man and the friend who had cancer. No one was ready.

I’m not very good at talking about what these deaths have meant to me. Even though I know I should have gone to the receptions to support the families of the deceased, I couldn’t make myself do it. What could I possibly say? Instead, after accepting the well-intended but poorly timed greetings of those I hadn’t seen in a long time, those people who were brought back into my life only by our mutual sadness over the life of a friend, I retreated to my car, where I cried big hiccuping tears until my heart stopped hurting and I could breathe again.

I wasn’t particularly close to any of those who died this past year, but I cared for them, and those who loved them, deeply, and sometimes that empathy was like a knife to my heart. I continue to mourn for the sadness of those families still trying to recover from that pit of grief, some nearly a year later.

I don’t know if I am alone in this, but the thoughts of those who have, to put it euphemistically, passed on linger always on the edges of my mind. Sometimes I close my eyes and can see, perfectly clearly, my cousin, who died in an unnecessary and completely preventable drunk driving accident several years ago, lying unnaturally still in the coffin surrounded by perfumed white flowers. I’m starting to feel crowded in by thoughts of those who have passed; I think of them in the grocery store, in the morning as I get ready for work, in idle and unexpected moments.

I say all of this by way of explaining that I’ve been thinking about death a great deal this past year, about what causes it, whether we can understand it, what it means.

My Netflix DVD of “The Bucket List” arrived the same day that I was notified of the death of a family friend. Considering the content, I put it on a shelf and ignored it until I could wrangle my feelings.

As movies about an impending death go, it was pretty terrible. (Last Holiday was excellent, though, and I highly recommend it.) It was trite and predictable and completely lacking heart. But it, coupled with the weight of the funerals I’ve recently attended, did make me think about what things I want to do before I shake off this mortal coil.

One of those things was “write a book.” By now, fueled forward by NaNoWriMo, I’ve written three. I find it curious that, while I would like to be published — I would definitely like to be published! — that doesn’t make my list. I don’t feel like my life will be any less fulfilled if that doesn’t happen. Other things matter more, like seeing Ireland or getting married or controlling my career’s path. Writing the stories, that was the important thing.

I need to keep working on my bucket list; so much of it right now is very vague and undetermined. But I’m curious as to where ‘publishing’ falls on other writers’ lists?

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll change my mind about the importance of publishing when I’m not as melancholy. Maybe.

Is publishing an important life goal/bucket list item for you?

6 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing