Thursday, January 31, 2013

Goals and Gaols

Many folks have goals—lose twenty pounds, exercise more regularly, write a novel every three months—but when's the last time you hit a goal? (Okay, so I finally made some recipes last night that I've been meaning to for a while, but that's more needing to use the food before it goes bad and your money is wasted.)

You can probably think of some goals you've hit—small ones, perhaps—but likely, you can think of more that you've failed to hit, or that you faltered in and gave up on.

One…trick to goal-setting is to set gaols, too: accountability partners, personal punishments, and the like. But the trick mainly works when that the punishment has to weigh heavily enough that you'll take it seriously and endeavor to avoid it—which can cause problems if you have something like a family emergency and need to postpone the goal for a week.

Permit me my word fun, and I'll permit you to mock it, kk? ^_^

Personally, if a demand is made, my instinct is to dig my heels in and refuse. (Requests are another story.) My natural response isn't always appropriate, so I've learned to curb that instinct. I'm not perfect, but I do my best.

Unfortunately, that instinct also applies to when I make demands of myself.

If I make a demand of myself and set a punishment, I will flunk the first test. I will. I'm not fond of that about myself, but it's something I've not yet figured out how to break.

Thus why, when I've tried using StickK recently to set monetary penalties for failing to hit a goal, I set the goal low and for little more than a month (so I wouldn't be penalized too much in case of illness, emergency, or need to revise the goals). I flunked the first week, as expected, and I've actually hit every week since, much to my surprise.

See, the goal didn't hurt much at the time. But now, due to some minor family emergency stuff, I can't comfortably afford the goal I set, which is some incentive for hitting my goals. It'll hurt if I flunk.

When the time comes to renew, I'll be revising the goal: to be more specific. Because I have a project that I very much want to get done, but I'm currently fighting the "fear of finishing" blues. I need a good kick in the pants.

I'd like to even set the goal to hit harder, but I expect I'll chicken out when the time comes.

In any event (and I am loving those introductory modifiers, this morning), StickK is working for me, so far, for goal incentive. Much more effective than accountability partners, for me.

What do you use to encourage yourself to hit your goals? Do you use anything (and do you hit those goals)? Does StickK sound like something you might like to try?


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cooperation, Not Capitulation

I've recently been seeing some…interesting blog posts about the editor-writer relationship—and even Kris Rush is talking about it, this morning.

Kris's post is a fantastic breakdown of the types of editor and what they do.

As anybody in the industry should know—and as many folks who chat with me end up learning—"editor" is a vague term. There are so many different types—that actually do disparate jobs—and for some of them, the job description actually depends on whom you ask.

I've seen more than one argument be caused by two folks using "editor" in different ways, or assuming the job description for "X editor" is always the same, everywhere, as it is in their experience…

But for more on the different types of editor and what they actually do, check out Kris's post.

As for me, I've seen some…troubling blog comments, forum comments, and even client comments. Troubling because the authors involved sound as if they think that an editor has the final say. (Or, at least, they think I want to hear them talk that way.)

Note: If you're my client and you did this, you weren't alone, and I'm not picking on you. These things seem to run in packs, from multiple sources.

Publishers have content requirements. An author with a publishing contract might discover that the publisher, for example, doesn't allow trademarks. In that case, the author has to change the trademarks if they want to be published with that company. An editor might go ahead and change the trademark to a generic. The author might prefer to remove the reference altogether.

The author should feel free to use their preferred method to repair a problem.

Or let's say a character says something that that doesn't make sense, in context. An editor might go ahead and delete it. The author might prefer to put in transitions so the line fits.

Cooperation, see? Fixing the problem…

But not necessarily capitulating to everything the editor says.

Maybe the editor's missing your point. That happens, and it isn't always your fault. If an editor flags something as, "Hey, when did he enter the room?", maybe she forgot and just needs the author to point out the line ten paragraphs up. In that case, nothing's actually wrong. But when the person entered the room ten pages up and just popped up again… That's a problem.

Maybe you're missing the editor's point. Maybe you're using "bemused" as "amused" because that's its common usage, though it actually means "confused" or "befuddled". Even if you're aware of that but prefer the common usage, an editor might be concerned about how your use of it would give vague, confusing, contradictory images to the reader.

We're all human. We're all imperfect.

Now, let's go back to the trademark example. Maybe your story really, really, really needs Kleenix in it. Removing the Kleenix or replacing it with "facial tissue" would completely ruin what you were going for in a scene.

The answer isn't for the publisher to capitulate to your demands. They have a content policy. If you want to be published through them, you'll have to abide by it.

If your contract includes an out, you'll want to take it.

If it doesn't have an out, you'll have to figure out what to do without the Kleenix.

Let's go back to the "bemused" example. Maybe your editor really, really, really doesn't want you to use that word. Let's assume it isn't against the publisher's content policy, and the editor can't strong-arm you into it. Maybe the editor nags, begs, and recruits help.

If you just want to convey something, why not change the word to something that won't stress out the editor?

If you very much want the word, why not see if you can add something to specify what you meant by it?

Now, if you're cutting the editor's paycheck—say, you're self-publishing and you hire an author—you're in authority over the editor. While the editor should know what they're doing, and an author should respect their expertise—at the end of the day, you're the one responsible, in that situation. If you want to give a guy more than one wife—something that's really easy to do, just by removing a few commas—then you're the one responsible for that, as long as the editor did her part and tried to put them in.

Assuming that the editor knew it was an error. Editors aren't telepathic (in my experience), and when things are done consistently, the editor won't always know that what's on the page isn't what the author meant to say.

Some editors are unreasonable, sure. So are some authors. But I can't control that; you can't control that. All we can do is seek cooperation, as best we can, and know our boundaries for where we'll put our foot down.

What are your thoughts on cooperation vs. capitulation? Do you think me overreacting to a tongue-in-cheek word choice?


Note that this post is not talking about ghostwriting or work-for-hire.

Those two are an entirely different matter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How I Schedule Productivity

Work expands to fill the time available.

Ever notice that?

If you have very little to do, it'll take you forever to it done. If you have too much to do, you can get overwhelmed, and then nothing gets done.

And then there are the schedules that are perfectly reasonable…except you get influenza for two weeks right when you have a minor family emergency that interferes with the time available for recovery naps right when you need those naps most…

This is why I make tiered schedules. I find I get more done, this way.

What do I mean by that?

Every week, I create four schedules, as follows.

Alpha schedule: What *must* get done.

Beta schedule: What I *intend* to get done.

Gamma schedule: What I *would like* get done.

Delta schedule: What I *could theoretically* to get done.

Once I have all those schedules figured out—takes ten minutes tops, and that's on Monday, when I'm planning the week—I ignore the alpha schedule.

Unless I hit a life roll—as in the aforementioned influenza + minor family emergency. In that case, I focus on knocking the items on the alpha schedule out of the way. That's what the alpha schedule is for: to direct me in what to do on those days and weeks that sabotage my intentions. Figuring out that schedule ahead of the emergency really helps eliminate the panic and stress levels, which helps the health. ^_^

Otherwise, which schedule I focus on—beta or gamma—depends on my health and commitments in a week.

And the delta schedule gives me things to do on those weeks I'm really productive and get everything done early.

But whichever schedule I focus on determines how much I get done in a week. So if I get stuck thinking about the alpha schedule…that's all that gets done.

Ergo, why I find it best to ignore that.

Do you have any scheduling tricks to share?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV

I'm of the opinion that, while there's such thing as a story or book that's unique to the reader, there is no genuinely unique story or book. What makes a story "unique" is the writing style and handling that the author does with it, and even then… If you look hard and long enough, you'll eventually find comparable authors.

Frankly, I've been thinking it would be fun to put together an a challenge wherein the participants would all start with the same premise or tagline or some such thing, as a case in point, because I'm ornery like that. But then I consider the details of how to set up the contracts and payments (and of finding folks who'd want to join in under such an arrangement) and decide the idea can wait.

But "There is nothing new under the sun." Take Lisa Shearin's upcoming SPI Files, which she describes as Stephanie Plum working for the Men in Black. I've not read the Stephanie Plum series, but from what I've heard of it, that basic description sounds like it'll be comparable to my unreleased "Buzz and Bunnies" short story and the series I eventually plan to write from that.

I admit, I'm a little down that she's going to get there before me, but I'm sure other comparable series are already out there. It's too fun a premise to be left unexplored.

Even her Raine Benares series could be compared to my own Chronicles of Marsdenfel in style—though I admit it isn't obvious unless you filter your consideration to world type, tone, and POV—although her books are kinda focused on epic battles and steamy love triangles. (I do enjoy them, but sometimes I feel like it enters TMI on the romance. Note that I am what some would consider a prude.)

But my point isn't that Lisa Shearin and I could be compared, if you squint. My point is that there is no objectively "unique" story.

Readers—and especially writers—usually don't like to think that. Readers can get tired of the same old, same old, and get annoyed when they think one author is ripping off another. (Which isn't necessarily the case… I've had a teacher tell me of students who complained about how the Lord of the Rings ripped off of Harry Potter.)

Writers… Well, we can get defensive when someone tells us our Preciouses pet stories aren't unique. Or we might be reluctant to write because we feel that we have nothing unique to bring to the table of everything that's published.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV

Sure, there's no objective uniqueness, but that's okay.

It's okay.

Because there is subjective uniqueness—unique to the writer, unique to the reader—and that's what writing is all about. The bigger the pool of what's available, the more folks can find what they want to write and read.

And I do believe that's a good thing.

What are your opinions on objectivity and its subjective or objective reality? You have any fun story comparisons to share?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the News and Subjectivity

I'm what some folks call a conspiracy theorist.

I disagree with that label, since my view isn't exactly "This is what happened! Everyone's wrong!" I'm more…open-minded, I guess you can call it. "Skeptical" can also apply.

Because when I see something on the news, I assume the information is skewed if not outright wrong.

I have reason for my skepticism. See, a few years ago, one of my cousins, a minor, murdered a parent and nearly killed his other one. News stations universally released his name illegally, pulled photos from the church website when the family and friends refused to give one, and misreported what happened.

Some news sources even misreported which parent was dead and which was hospitalized.

I've talked to others who were personally involved in news events. From using the wrong jargon (and therefore completely changing the what presumably happened), to reporting specific details and omitting important ones (therein displaying bias)… The news is not an objective paragon of fact.

Between my own experiences and those of others, I'm fairly convinced it doesn't even give enough facts to be accurate.

But the thing is, I also believe that, for the most part, the news can't be objective.

Consider the speedy deadlines. Consider that the corporations do have to make money, and propaganda (which is what all incomplete information effectually is) catches attention and notice far better than thorough, complete facts.

What do the speedy deadlines have to do with the news necessarily ending up subjective?

Subjective writing is easy and quick.

Truly objective writing is difficult and takes time to write.

Don't believe me? When I was in high school, one of my writing assignments was to write two surveys. One was to be biased, innately seeking specific answers. The other was to be completely objective—and things like what order in which you ask the items and what answer options are influence the objectivity of a survey.

I'm sure objective writing gets easier with practice, but there are so many land mines. Word order, word connotations, sentence structure… I doubt most people could (or would want to) learn to consistently write objectively.

So I'm neither surprised when the news is subjective, and nor am I dismissive when I hear from someone that the news was outright wrong.

And to be frank, I'm puzzled by the folks who insist a specific news source or news story is necessarily accurate and complete. Even if you believe everybody in the news industry wants to be accurate and objective, they're still human and fallible. People can be wrong.

So… That's my opinion on the news industry. Lord willing, I'll be able to get to writing something in the next year or two that'll build on that for dramatic effect. ^_^

Wait, you want to know one of those "conspiracy theories" I'm more inclined to believe than the official story, though I wouldn't be hurt or offended to learn neither were right?

Okay… Twin Towers: two towers, hit by planes—but three towers fell, all the same way. Also, some things I noticed when I first saw the video when it happened: The towers fell straight down, rather than at an angle as should have happened if the plane had been what weakened the supports. The Pentagon was lacking any sign of the plane's wings. (And my father, a former pilot, frowned at the screen and said "That's the wrong engine!" for the type of plane that presumably hit the building.)

You probably disagree with me.

And you know what? You're allowed to disagree with me. I'm allowed to disagree with you. Our disagreement in no way invaliadates either of our opinions.

I welcome your disagreement or your own opinion in the comments, but please leave the logical fallacies (namely ad hominem—attacking someone as a person) under the purview of the Delete key.


Do you have any relevant opinions or tales of news subjectivity that you'd like to share?


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