When Competition is Motivating

I’m a very competitive person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up.

I’m beginning to realize that rather than discourage me, the success of others motivates me to work harder, to reach farther, to branch out into areas I otherwise would be afraid to go.

A few years ago, my fellow Scribe Emmie Mears had a run of great news in her career, securing four book deals in one summer for both fiction and non-fiction books. At the time, I was 1.5 years into being on submission for my first book, Daughter of Destiny, and I was starting to see cracks in my relationship with my agent. So while I was happy for Emmie, I was also feeling insecure, which led to me being VERY jealous.

Not long before Emmie’s announcement, my agent had told me the editor who had my book at the time was so certain we were going to get an offer that she wanted me to write a non-fiction book about the Celts so she could tie it into my Guinevere books. I thought she was nuts. Me? A non-fiction author? Right. I didn’t think I had the education or skills for that so I dismissed it out of hand.

I was in Chicago on vacation when I found out about Emmie’s good fortune. Of course, I stewed for a while, but then I thought, “If Emmie can get a non-fiction book deal, why can’t I?” Over the next two months, I researched my little heart out and ended up with a proposal and a 50,000 word book. Sadly, we never got to send it to the editor because the publisher ultimately passed on Daughter, but it made me do something I never thought I would. (I never have published that book. Maybe someday. I have since published non-fiction, though!)

Then just last week I found out a second author I know online, Chanel Cleeton, had her book Next Year in Havana chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick. When this happened to the first of my friends, Kate Quinn (for The Alice Network, such an amazing book), I wasn’t jealous, just very, very happy for her. But for some reason, Chanel’s announcement really got to me. (My best guess is I am feeling insecure again and that is probably right because I’m looking to go back to traditional publishing for my next few books after three years as an indie author.)

But again, after a few hours of being jealous, during which I created the graphic to the right, it energized me. I thought to myself, “well, if that’s going to be me someday, I better get a move on.” Now, at the time I was editing one book (fiction) and working on a proposal for another (historical non-fiction). What did I do? Began putting feelers out for yet another non-fiction book to determine if there is enough information on my subject to warrant a biography (I can’t find evidence that one has ever been written on this woman, but there might be a reason for that.)

My point to all of this is that you can take a negative emotion like jealousy and turn it into something positive. It just takes a little creative thinking. If I can use all the success of my amazingly cool author friends to power me on, I should be to the moon in no time!

Now I need one of you to do something else really awesome so I can get my butt in gear for the historical non-fiction proposal I really want to get out to agents soon. All I have left is researching and writing the sample chapters. Go! Do! Succeed!

Back to School

Summers growing up were, to quote Nat King Cole, lazy-hazy-crazy. Relaxing days filled with sunshine and the all-consuming joy that for three whole months, school was out. Sure, I might have a week or two of soccer camp or an art class once a week, but summers were not the time for hard work. My summer memories: Sleeping till noon. Sunbathing by the pool. Driving to the beach. Sprawling out on the warm grass at dusk listening to the hum of cicadas. Fireworks like champagne flowers blooming across the sky. Hot sweet corn and ice-cold watermelon. Reading deep into the wee hours simply because I could.

I haven’t been to school for years now. But for some reason, when the first week of June rolls around my work ethic just plummets. Rationally, I know that grown-ups don’t get summer vacation, but those three months of freedom have been so ingrained into my psyche that getting work done during the summer is truly a struggle. I try to lock myself away, to focus on my personal deadlines and goals, but I can’t quite shake the reality of beautiful weather and popsicles and bare feet waiting just outside.

That’s why I’m glad September is finally here. Sure, it’s sad to see summer end–it’s not always easy to say goodbye to beach days and tank tops and barbecues and day-drinking (oops!). But as the days begin to cool off and the breeze starts to carry the crisp tang of autumn, I breathe a small sigh of relief. Because just like the first day of June makes me feel like I’m on summer break, the first day of September makes me feel like I’m going back to school.

Yesterday I bought myself a brand new notebook and a nice pen. Today I cleared out my inbox and made myself a to-do list complete with personal goals for the autumn and winter. And tomorrow, maybe–just maybe–I’ll sit down at my computer and feel focused and motivated to get some real work done. Not the slow, tortuous slog of doing the bare minimum so I can justify going outside, but the quickening of heart and mind when I know what I want to get done and plan on enjoying the journey.

The excitement I always used to get on the first day of school, when I marched through those doors and vowed to work hard and do my best.

Productivity is, of course, a process. My creativity ebbs and flows with the seasons, with my own state of mind, and with the events happening around me. That won’t change. But sometimes knowing when to relax, and when to buckle down, is half the battle.

Do you have a summertime complex? Does September make you feel like going “back to school”? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Five Ways to Refuel Your Tank

torch, flame, creative commons
CC Image by panther40k.

We all get a little drained sometimes.

Sometimes work or life or circumstances can take a deep toll on your psyche, your creativity, and your energy in general. Another way of putting it that’s a little less New Age-y is: stress sucks.

There’s not much we can do to completely avoid stress. Some things are out of our control, and even things that are within our purview to change can sometimes cost us energy and focus. The best we can do sometimes is to deal with it. As I’ve been going through a bit of a time of stress in the past few weeks, here are a few ways to recharge your inner battery.

1. Spend time with a friend.

Even as an introvert, sometimes the best thing I can do for myself is get out of my own head and spent time with someone who really gets me. With the internet, it’s even possible to do that long-distance, with Skype or Google Hangouts. When I doubt myself or need to remind myself of who I am, I look to the people closest to me. In fact, my long-held tradition of long-distance movie nights with fellow Scribe Kristin McFarland are one of my best secrets to dissolving stress.

Whether it’s a day out of the house or a night on the town or an afternoon in pajamas, spending time with friends can help you relax, recharge, and get back to yourself.

2. Do something for you.

Been eyeballing a spa day? Dreaming about seeing a certain band? Sick of telling yourself you’ll go to that museum? Or hell, maybe you need to go to the shooting range and blow off some steam.

Whatever activities make you happy, do one. Or several. I’m not going to judge anyone for going to the shooting range before they go to the spa and the opera.

3. Block out some quiet time.

This can be a good exercise for introverts and extroverts alike. Giving yourself a set block of time where you will leave your problems outside can be a challenge. Curl up with a book or take a bath. Escape into another world for a few hours. Give your brain the time to breathe away from the constant stimulus of stress.

4. Make something.

You don’t have to be Martha Stewart, but creating something from scratch, be it a new meal or a painting, can help you feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe you haven’t picked up your knitting needles in a while. Or you feel like returning to the joy of macaroni art. Or you want to build a birdhouse. When the stress in your life feels nebulous and out of control, doing something creative is a task you can finish and admire. Creating something uses different parts of your brain, and when you’re done you have something tangible. Plus, if it’s food, you get to eat it.

5. Sweat.

Exercise is good for a lot of things. It releases endorphins, helps your body, and can help clear your mind. It’s also another thing that can help your sense of accomplishment and adventurousness. When life is doling out things you can’t immediately conquer, taking to the treadmill or lifting some weights is a small thing you can do to take control. You’re only competing against yourself, and if you feel like adding another layer to it, picture that stress coming out through your pores as you sweat. Each burn of the muscle burning through an obstacle in your life.

None of these ways are magic elixirs that will restore you to 100% mana and health; unfortunately those tend to be limited to video games (video games can also be great stress release!). But making sure to take care of yourself and recenter yourself in times of stress can allow you to get through a day at a time with a little more woo-sah and a little less frazzle.

How do you refuel your tanks when life gets you down? 

 

Living the Dream: What Does it Mean?

Double Rainbow, rainbow, alaska, landscape, sky, mountains, hills, green hills
By Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia (English Wikipedia)

The other day, I was at a friend’s house, and he asked me if being able to quit my day job was my endgame for writing. I answered in the affirmative; my sort of basic goal is indeed to be able to write for a living.

I also wrote recently about how sometimes for dreams to come true, we need to funnel them into the concrete solidity of goals, break them down into their composite parts, and learn how to build them into the success we want.

But when my friend Matt asked me that question, I realized that there’s a whole other question buried into it. What does success look like? How do we know we’ve achieved it? Will we know? What comes next?

I was listening in passing to one of the Nerdist podcasts (I’m not even sure which one), but I remember Chris Hardwick saying something to that effect. Goals are great, but they are also an odd moment in time when you achieve them. “There, that happened. Now what?” was the gist of what he was saying. So it got me thinking.

Sometimes our goals are so lofty that they take years or decades to reach, if we get there. Reaching them is at once a tremendous boost and a teetering precipice of “what next?”

You can’t define success as a moment in time.

That said, you can pinpoint a moment as when you first felt successful, but if nothing builds upon it, that same success you strove for can become stagnation and dissatisfaction.

Way back in the 90s, there was this early social website called Bolt. (Anybody?) On the personality section of the profile, there was this list of questions, one of which was, “What do you most want to have ten years from now?” It was followed by a dropdown list of answers. One of those was “a passport full of stamps,” and that’s the one I chose. Ten years later, I did indeed have that. I had that moment of success when I realized I had almost no room left in my passport, and it was followed by me asking myself what my next passport will look like. It’s up for renewal this year.

Right there, bottom left, is the first stamp that landed in this passport.
Right there, bottom left, is the first stamp that landed in this passport.

Sometimes when you accomplish a goal, like I did with this passport, the next goal can be much the same. More. For me, that’s it. I haven’t seen all of this world yet, and there are still countless places I want to visit and learn from.

It’s much the same with publishing. Getting published this year, getting that first book deal, all the firsts that come with it — those things are a big accomplishment for me. But they’re not the end of the road. I’ve had a couple people legitimately ask me if I plan to write more books after this one gets published. If getting published were something that was the end all for my writing goals, perhaps I wouldn’t. But because writing is part of my identity and what I plan to try and make into a long career, my road doesn’t stop there, and I’m not about to kick off my boots and salute the past.

So what will signify success to me?

I’m not someone who craves diamond sunbursts or marble halls. Much like Anne Shirley, I want to have a life that reflects who I am. I want to travel, even if it means living modestly when I am in this country. Someday I want to see my books on the NYT/USA Today bestseller lists. I’d like to earn enough from my writing to write full time. I want to pursue acting as a hobby or more. I want to go to conventions and create some fun costumes. If five years from now those things are happening, I’ll feel successful.

What will denote success in your life? How will you know you’ve gotten there? What have you achieved so far?

NaNoMotivation

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month

All the cool kids are doing it. Well, except for me. I’m in the middle of a couple big projects, and trying to start something new might make my head explode. But I’m cheering from the sidelines, and taking advantage of all the opportunities to twitter sprint with friends who are cranking out the word count.

For those of you who haven’t heard of NaNo, you sign up and promise to draft a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

That’s all.

Just 50,000 words. They don’t have to be particularly good words. In fact, you should save any and all editing for later. Just put ’em down and count ’em up.

Now, when you take on a big project, it always helps to have a little musical motivation. To that end, I created a playlist, dedicated it to everyone who has signed up for NaNo. These are songs to get you pumped, excited, motivated, or – if you need a break from the laptop – just plain dancing around the room.

Jump here: NaNoWriMo Motivation
Seriously. Do it.

🙂

Enjoy the music, keep writing, and if you’re doing the NaNo thing, come find me on twitter – @LivRancourt. I’m a great cheerleader!

Best,
Liv