The Sticker System – Best Way To Write

A few weeks ago I saw a video blog about the best way to write.

This wonderful writer (whom I cannot for the life of me remember now) showed off her sticker system.

It’s a quite simple concept. You start by buying a calendar (I spent $3) and a bunch of multi-colored stickers (another $3 for day-dots in my case). Every day, you try to write a certain number of words and if you do, you put a sticker on the date. If not, you get no sticker.

I thought on the topic for a few weeks and eventually decided it was a good way to visually see how much progress I was actually making in writing. Especially me, the king of procrastination.

Also in the video blog, the writer mentions that her first month was basically garbage. She didn’t commit to the system as she had hoped but once she turned the page on a new month, her “practice month” ended up really driving her success going forward.

Personally, I still don’t know if I agree with all the cliche comments that you hear about writing. Things like “The only rule is writers write” and “If you don’t NEED to write, you’re not a writer,” ect. I think things have changed in writing, especially the speed at which books are written, but despite only producing two books, you’d have to be an idiot to say Harper Lee isn’t a writer… and I’m doubting the same standard was applied. No doubt TKAM was edited and rewritten and worked over more times than I could fathom, but still you get my point.

Now, before you rip me up in the comments, understand that I’m not saying writing is the enemy. I’m simply saying when you apply a formula to anything, you’re not accounting for the whole picture.

I digress.

Regardless of my animosity towards these simple “rules” that we bind to ourselves and use to make ourselves feel horrible when we fail, I still do think establishing a solid habit of writing is a very good thing. So I’ve implemented the sticker system.

For me it works like this –

I get a Green sticker if I write 500 words in a day. It can’t just be any 500 words, but it has to be a part of a book I am working on. I’ve got lots of projects that I have really no intention of finishing but just enjoy working on from time to time. And then I’ve got one “main” project that I have every intention of seeing to completion. I will, however, allow myself one caveat. On Sundays (the day before I try to post a weekly blog entry on Monday), I allow myself to call a blog entry worthy of a sticker. If I procrastinate and wait till Monday to write my entry? No sticker. Hopefully this will get me back on track with you all! ūüėČ

But that’s not all I need to build in habits. I get a Yellow sticker if I read 30 pages of something published. It has to be something in a genre I am writing, but I’ve decided I need to stop being so hard on myself when I get picky and put down a book.

And finally, I get a purple sticker if I edit at least 3 pages of either my own project or my critique partners project. If I edit my own too often, I’ll be imposing rules on how many purple stickers I can earn per week from my own work, or I’ll be adding both to the docket to get my sticker (i.e. edit 3 pages of my book and 3 pages or 1 chapter of a crit partners work).

My hope is to build good habits. And being that I’m all about accountability, I’m choosing to share my system with you all so you can ridicule me if I fail at it.

Actually I’d prefer not to be ridiculed. Maybe just pestered a bit.

What are your thoughts on the sticker system? Have any of you done something similar? Has it worked?

Lean In – Dealing with Bad Critique Partners

Lean In

When I was growing up, I played hockey.

Being a true-bred¬†Minnesotan, I played hockey when I was happy, when¬†I was sick, when I was throwing up, when I was angry, when¬†it was too cold, when it was too warm,¬†when I couldn’t feel my toes, and when I was bleeding after getting a stick to the helmet.

Because that’s how hockey is played.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. That’s what my dad used to say. He was full of old addages like this one. Quippy puns that told simple and straightforward truths.

You gotta lean in.

Unfortunately, in hockey, sometimes you have to really lean in.

There was a guy a year older than me who was always on my hockey team every other year. The kid had it out for me. He picked on me constantly. Coaches would say something to him while I tried not to let it bother me. I didn’t talk to my parents about it or to my coaches about it, because you lean in when you play hockey, right? If I had, it just would have made me more of¬†a target.¬†Well eventually, the natural order of male-ness within me took over, and I lost my mind as he took slap shots at the back of my legs. Hockey players don’t have padding in the back of the leg.

So nearly ten years of bullying, being pushed around, and picked on finally culminated in a single striking blow to my left calf, and I lost it. I turned on him, skating and screaming while everyone else just stood there staring at me, a kid who never loses his temper. I broke my stick over his face mask and threw him up against the boards, my eyes locked on his, and I told him to never do that again. And then I skated off the ice, took of my pads and went home, ten minutes into a three hour practice.

My coach never said a word to me about it. And that kid never picked on me again.

 

A Bad Critique Partner

The lifespan of a critique partner is often times pretty similar to my hockey overload in high school.

You begin your life as a crit partner, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, with high hopes and expectations.

The average author gets enough rejection letters to create their own encyclopedia set before landing on the right agent. But in the beginning, some small part of you dreams about how quickly you’ll be collecting your first royalty check, or whether James Franco will be free to star in your movie adaptation. You’re not dilusional, just excited about the possibilities.

So you send your manuscript out for review and get some great and honest feedback. And then it’s time to return the favor.

At first it’s easy. You read your crit partners manuscript and find good issues to bring up. You’re honest but not cruel. But over time, as the months pass and you get more rejection letters and send out a second book and get more rejection letters, something begins to change. All of the sudden, the little things start to bug you. Perhaps ending a sentence in a preposition. Or non-active sentences. Or maybe opening lines that just aren’t very strong or compelling.

And the more you critique, the more queries you send out and rejections you recieve, the more your hope can sometimes turn into anger.

Until you find yourself snapping anytime you see anything that breaks “the rules” of writing.

Because the rules are important. Because you learned the rules, and the rules will save you. They are what stands between you and getting published. And you’ll be darned if you’ll let someone else break them.

And you’re part right. The rules, they are important. But they’re not constant. Not absolute.

But¬†the next thing you know, you’re telling someone that they shouldn’t have a prologue because editors and agents hate it — only¬†your friend happens to actually need one. Or you’re telling someone to show instead of tell, when somehow they’re managing to tell with beauty and a unique voice. But the rules are the rules, and so you snap and start turning vicious, and you become the very thing you hated.

You become a writing robot.

You become “that guy/gal.” The bitter critique partner.

The guy who’s worked in the same job for far too long. Bad attitude Barry.

A terrible fate.

Now, if you haven’t yet become that guy or gal, that’s good. But if you’re not that guy/gal, then certainly you know who I’m talking about.

And man have they lost it.

 

The Best of a Bad Situation

But the truth — the truth is that guy or gal was created by being bullied and rejected and frustrated over a long period of time. They didn’t just appear in their vicious state.

They were made.

I’ve got a ‘that guy’ in my critique group. He almost drove me out.

For a month and¬†a half I’ve teetered on the edge of leaving, despite the other fantastic people who are participating in my group. I reached out to some of these fantastic people and talked to them about it, and their responses were enlightening.

They said that our terrible critique partner friend wasn’t always such a wolf. He didn’t used to tear people to shreds for using a ‘was’ instead of the active counterpart. He didn’t used to hate all prologues. He used to give good advice.

And that’s why his transformation had become so unsettling to them. Even they were frustrated by his recent tyraids.

Maybe this critique partner isn’t the problem.

Maybe I am.

Maybe I shouldn’t be taking him so seriously, or perhaps just vaporizing his emails after informing him that he shouldn’t trouble himself with reviewing further chapters of my novel.

In the internet age, it’s too easy to vaporize the enemy.

But I think it’s equally important to not villanize that guy/gal. They are probably a little more than frustrated with their situation. They probably forgot that they too were once wide-eyed and bushy tailed, and didn’t know the difference between showing and telling or when to use each. Maybe they’re trying to prove something to someone else or to themselves and they’re just not doing it in the best way.

Because in the end, I still feel bad for losing my cool on that ice rink. Sure, it may have been justified. But I’d bet money that I hit a kid in the face with a stick who was just as hurt and frustrated as I was. He just didn’t know how to show it. And my reaction probably didn’t help him. It probably reinforced the same idea he learned throughout his whole life.

So maybe I don’t know how to deal with a bad critique partner.

Maybe I’m still figuring it out as I go.

But I do know that people aren’t born in a vacuum. And I do know that the right way isn’t always the way that leads to shaming someone else — even when they deserve it.

 

Failing Well – Overcoming That Constant Feeling of Not-Good-Enough

The Monstrous Self-Imposed Bar of Success

Failure is inevitable.

It happens to everyone.

It’s as sure to occur as rain¬†and breathing, and stopping it is sort of like stopping¬†clouds from moving¬†or crushing coal into diamonds with your bare hands.

For the last few mornings I’ve felt its weight. You see, I made a habit — a good habit. I wake up every day at 5am, head to a local coffee shop and write or edit for two hours before work. Things were going swimmingly, and I got a lot done for the first two months, but a little over a week ago¬†I finished the project that was consuming me for the last two years. And now for two weeks, ten sessions and fourty cups of coffee, I’ve written maybe twelve words.

I can’t decide how to move forward, and I can’t help but feeling like a failure every single time I go through the motions of waking up, heading to the coffee shop, and staring at a screen for two hours. It’s not like its my job. Writing is something I do because I like it, one of my outlets for artistic creativity. And yet I’m falling short of my meaningless self-imposed bar of excellence.

Like Dr. Frankenstien, I’ve created a monster, and that monster is me.

 

 

 

 

Hi, My Name Is Brian – And I Am A ______

Fill in the blank. I know you’ve got one too.

Ball Dropper. Over-Promiser. Self-Criticizer. Poor Executer.

My personal favorite is the last one. I do it all the time. Establish a cool idea, something big and exciting, and then get the machine running. I hype up my audience, get my team put together, maybe even have an initial meeting… and then – BANG. I look up at the enormous mountain of work ahead, and I recalculate the data.

“Fourteen miles at a seventy degree incline… and I didn’t even bring shoes… This is NOT a mountain I want to climb. Anyone up for carrying me?”

This is a classic poor-executer. And I wish I could tell you I did it all the time. It’d be easier that way, to always and consistently run from mountains. But no. Instead I succeed at executing a plan MOST of the time. In fact, I almost always¬†reach the peak, which makes all those times when I don’t execute the plan that much more soul-crushing.

No matter what I do to better position myself – trying to only take on what I can handle – to only create plans for things that are humanly possible – it still happens. I still fail once in a while.

We all have our cross to bear.

But any good Catholic (or Christian in general for that matter) can tell you a thing or two about what happens next. There’s a confessional, an opportunity to be forgiven and to accept the forgiveness yourself, and then you end up rinsing and repeating. Over and over.

Fail. Confess. Forgive. Try Better. Fail. Confess. Forgive.

But the point of this process is not failure and redemption. As I mentioned above, failure is inevitable. The point of this process is learning how to fail well.

That’s right.

Because there is a difference between failing and failing well.

 

 

How to Fail Well

 

I love playing games with my nephews.

I’ve got a boatload of them, being the youngest of four with three older sisters, with a 10 year gap. Apparently after none of us killed one another growing up, we all decided big families were cool.

I remember what it felt like to be the youngest.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t good at it. I hated being left out and would generally get angry and go do my own thing instead. But one of my nephews, the youngest one, he was cut from a different cloth.

He’s three years old, four inches tall¬†and maybe ten pounds soaking wet. I’ve caught fish bigger than my three year old nephew.

So it should come as no surprise that when I brought the 5 year old, the 7 year old and the 8 year old into the basement to play some “tackle” football, I was hesitant to let my 3 year old nephew participate. Nonetheless, when he insisted, I put him on my team.

He got creamed at first. I tossed him the ball, he stood there wide eyed as the posse of older cousins came running, and he took about two steps before being dragged to the floor. He bumped his head, shed a tear, and to my surprise got back up to try again.

He played along for a while longer, timidly, not wanting me to pass the ball to him. I tied up the game by passing to myself and walking to the endzone, fully expecting to allow my nephews to win. They scored again as expected, and I was about to call the game when my 3 year old nephew told me he wanted to run it again. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He wasn’t done trying yet. I told everyone we were going to play one more down.

I tossed my 3 year old nephew the ball , and with a gutteral roar he ran as hard and fast as he could towards the other end of the basement. His cousins were unsure how to react to this little lion screaming and swinging his free arm while he sprinted full-boar down the hallway. They¬†snapped out of it when he got closer, and all¬†jumped on him but he just wouldn’t stop, barbarically forcing his way forward with an incredible force until he fell to the floor, a half inch from the touchdown line. He didn’t win the game, but he stood up and smiled like it didn’t matter.

My 3 year old nephew knows how to fail well.

Failure is inevitable.

But how we react when we fail is up to us.

We can let it crush us. We can let it stop us or control us. We can grow tired or timid or afraid and make excuses for ourselves. Or we can adjust the bar. Because maybe winning the game all of the time isn’t what matters most. Maybe getting close counts for something. Maybe waking up at 5am to go to a coffee shop and write 4 words in two hours is still worthy of a pat on the back.

It’s a starting point. It’s a position — ahead of where I was before, but behind where I want to be.

It’s a step in the right direction.

Because failing well doesn’t mean avoiding failure – it means reacting better to it. It means stepping, redefining where we are and being honest with how much further we have to go. It’s a process that doesn’t stop, never stops, can’t stop and won’t stop.

Failure is like the rain. It happens. But we can still choose to fail well.

And that’s what I aim to do.

 

Reliance and Self Control in an iPhone World

For the last few months, my iPhone has been getting progressively worse.

I’ve tried to clean out the dirt and grime in the charger port, but it still forces me to hold the charging cable suspended at an 87.54 degree angle with exactly thirteen tons of metric pressure pushing up to get a charge.

It all finally hit the fan last night when I couldn’t get the dang thing to work, and while trying to apply the metric tons of pressure necessary, the cable-head itself broke.

I’ve spent the first 45 minutes of my morning feeling frustrated beyond belief. I’ve been scouring the internet for simple fixes, researched how I might be able to tear my phone apart and replace the charging port, and come to the conclusion that I hate life. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It’s a phone.

Why do I care so much about a phone? You’d think I was fretting about a dying relative by my mopey nature and random outbursts of anger. But this phone has become so much a part of how I do things – of how I run my day and how I function in this world – that being without it for even a few hours or days makes me feel naked.

And now I feel a little disgusted with myself.

Because I am currently allowing a device that is literally smaller than my hand ruin my day. Because I let it get this far. Because at some point in my life I decided this small device was so necessary in fact that I would intertwine it with the way I do things. And for years I’ve reinforced this mentality until I find myself here, broken iPhone and irritated expression.

I fumbled through one of my favorite pieces of advice from a good book, and I found a list of things humans should try to embody.

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and… what’s that last one? Oh yeah…

Self Control.

The peace is hard enough to come by in this world of constant distractions. When’s the last time we even heard silence? I read a statistic that back in 1940 it took approximately 10 hours to record 1 hour of silence, of a complete absence of sound. In 2010 the same 1 hour of silence took 3.5 months to record. But even while I struggle greatly to find that quiet place, that struggle is microscopic in comparison to my lack of self control.

I can’t skip a meal without my day being ruined.

I can’t go a few hours without a phone.

I can’t skip Game of Thrones on a Sunday night (and literally watch it on Monday) because even this… a television series… is too great a sacrifice for me.

When athletes train, they spend countless hours preparing their body for the grueling season of activity ahead of them. They do this, put in the time and the work and the preparation, so that they can perform at the highest level possible. And all of that work comes to fruition when the season begins, and those who worked hard rise to the top of the ranks above those who didn’t give it their all.

It’s not about abstaining from things just to prove I can. Nor is it about feeling better when I lack something.

It’s about control.

I want to have control over my body and my mind, not the other way around.

So for today, I’m going to ignore the fact that my phone doesn’t work.

I’m going to turn it off because it won’t charge anyways. But I’m going to leave it off. And I’m not leaving it off because I want to feel better about myself for today. Or because I want to prove I can do it.

I’m going to leave my phone off because I need to learn a little more self control and a little less reliance.

Because there is no greater season than life. And we should all be training constantly for it. Trying to be better. Working towards the type of people we are capable of being.

And I think we could all use a little more self control. Don’t you?