Why I’ve Decided To Not Learn Anything New This Month

My inbox is full each day. It’s true for almost all of us. It’s also true that this is my fault, I signed up for most of these newsletters and let’s be clear I enjoy the content, for the most part.

I spend a lot of time tending my email garden. I also spent a lot of time reading books on creativity, how to become a better author, and the latest tips and tricks of blogging/email marketing.

But these actions are coiling the spring. I am learning. And there comes a point where the learning needs to end and action needs to start.

Graduates

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the benefits of being a life long learner and consider myself one. However, if you are cold, there is a huge difference between learning how to build a fire, and actually making one.

My life, much like yours, is crowded. There is only so much time in a week. And it’s time I started using what I have learned.

So I am putting the books away.

I am clicking on the delete or archive button and not opening that email.

Because July is dedicated to action.

To forward movement.

To getting out there and getting my hands dirtier than they’ve been this year.

After all, this is the intension of learning is it not?

To act.

To go.

To grow.

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How To Integrate Your Dream Into Your Busy Life

When I first started writing I had no children. I could get up as early as I liked and stay up as late as possible, as long as my full time job did not suffer. At one point, I got up at five thirty every Saturday morning and wrote for four hours. It was a magical time.

Fast forward to today, I am lucky if I get fifteen minutes each morning. So how do you balance that change? Going from four hours a day to fifteen minutes?

I like making checklists. I didn’t realize I did until I got further into my sales career. Before I leave for the day I write down what I need to accomplish the next day. This keeps me focused and on task no matter what happens during my morning commute.

How does this relate to writing? Because knowing what I am going to do with the brief block of time I have matters immensely. As a busy writer, I cannot approach time casually. I must be intentional about how I use it whether I am writing, doing the dishes, or relaxing. Having a plan on how I am going to use my time goes a long way to spending it well.

I wrote a checklist before I started my writing block this weekend. Then I listened to music on the way to my writing destination to get me in the writing mood and journaled as soon as I arrived. Usually, these are my first two actions before I have a writing session. They help me focus on what I need to do. Then I can attack the checklist. If you don’t like checklists, do any action that helps you track progress. For me, crossing items off a list is extremely satisfying.

When I create my checklist I start with writing first. I may need to send an email or tweak a portion of my website or do some research but I write first. I can do admin tasks on my lunch break during the week if I run out of time. On my checklist I put two hundred and fifty words or whatever I need to remain on schedule for my current project.

The reason I put a limit on my words is because my time is limited and I like a target to aim at. It also helps me not burn out. I cannot possibly sit down and write five thousand words and still be present with my wife, kids, friends, or work.

So I create a checklist, get my mind in the writing mood, and then do my writing first. I also limit the word count to feel accomplished and limit burn out. These three things help me be prepared, build momentum, and execute.

I would like to leave your with this caveat, however. If you chase a dream, you must be flexible by keeping your expectations in check. Life can change in a moment and we must be ready to leap forward and take advantage of a sudden gap in time, or throttle back as it requires.

Top Blog Posts From 2015

I love getting the yearly report from WordPress.com about my website traffic, top posts, and yearly insights. The most interesting part to me is the top five blog posts. The reason? Its a thread informing me what people coming to this little corner on the web are interested in.

Here are the top five posts in order. Some of these may be familiar to you, one may not be. It’s from 2012 and is still one of my top posts year after year.

Firework

1. Why You Should Keep Writing Despite A Full House (2015) – This post was about the birth of my fourth child and why it’s important for kids to see their parents pursuing their passions. (Click HERE to read it)

2. Are You A Writer Or Interested In Writing? Come to Jot (2015)- Jot is the free writers conference my writing group The Weaklings hosts around West Michigan. If you live in Michigan or even northern Indiana, check out this post. (Click HERE to read it)

3. Worldbuilding 101- Let’s Build a World Together (2015) – This is part of my workshop on building nominal worlds. I’ve taught it at two separate writers conferences. It’s strange to type that but I love that I’ve had that opportunity. (Click HERE to read it)

4. Use Dialogue to Advance Your Plot (2012) – This post is from 2012 and is still one of my top blogs. I plan to clean it up a bit and make it stronger to add more value to those to keep coming back to it. As it is from 2012, it’s not a very strong post but I wanted to leave it unedited for now so you may see how this site has changed over the years. (Click HERE to read it)

5.  What Do Your Kids See When You Write? (2015) – I am glad this one made it because this was my favorite post from the year. I write that not because it was wonderfully crafted, but because I lived this post. Read it again. You’ll see why. (Click HERE to read it)

Thanks for making 2015 a great year for Part-Time Novel. Stop by Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for more posts.

Join my email list at the top right of this blog to stay connected.

Live well this year my friends.

Books I Read in 2015

Four years ago, my friend Matthew Landrum told me he aims to read a book a week. I thought I would give it a try.

Since that time (2011) I’ve read 123 books. In 2015 I read 24.

Old BooksThat may seem like a lot or a little but that is not the point of this post. The point is that since 2011 I’ve had three more kids, written several hundred blog posts, started a writers conference, was asked to speak at another, and written several short stories and blogs for other sites.

Those accomplishments are also not the point. The point is that a simple routine helped me read a book roughly every two weeks for five years without even noticing it. It took work, but more like simple play than steely determination.

It’s amazing what a slow plodding pace can accomplish.

If there is something you want to do, don’t burn yourself out. Build longevity and go after a pace that integrates with your life.

Here’s my list of books I read in 2015. If you have a list or if you have a book you love that I should read, please post in the comments section below.

King Arthur and His Knights – Roger Lancelyn Green

Food A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan

Someday, Someday, Maybe -Lauren Graham

The Heart of the Sea – The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex – Nathaniel Philbrick

The Martian – Andy Weir

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling

Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

You Are A Writer – Jeff Goins

The Razer’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham

The Art of Work – Jeff Goins

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Do Over – Jon Acuff

Nemesis – Agatha Christie

Mr. Hockey – My Story – Gordie Howe

Quitter – Jon Acuff

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The In Between – Jeff Goins

The Back Reckoning – John Stephens

A Cup of Dust – Susie Finkbeiner

The 15 Success Traits of Pro Bloggers – Jonathan Milligan

Ashfall – Mike Mullin

Turing Pro – Steven Pressfield

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Hin Einsami Frelsarin – Agnar Artuvertin (with Translations from the Faroese by Matthew Landrum).

Make 2016 a great year!

Why I Am Doing The 30 Days Of Hustle With Jon Acuff

Over the last ten years I’ve written books and many short stories. I have gotten through beta readers and edits and have been told by writing professionals that they are ready to send to an agent. I sent a book to one, was rejected, then did nothing.

Why? Because I was scared to take the next steps.

We all get scared at the final push because this means the game we’ve been playing is for real. Now someone can look at all of our labor and tell us what you worked on is trash, it’s not good, we’ve wasted YEARS of our lives.

Today I am working towards unpacking that fear and working through it. Truly, there is only one thing we can do to destroy fear and that is to move.

Runners

Recently I signed up for an online course called 30 Days of Hustle with Jon Acuff. I paid $30 to join a Facebook group, get daily videos of encouragement, and a worksheet. Some may think that is a waste of money and time when you can do those things yourself.

The truth is I tried to do things on my own. It doesn’t work. I truly believe the key to doing anything extraordinary is to know why you are doing it and to be with people who are either doing what you want to do or going where you want to go.

Money is a decent motivator for me. Not that it’s all there is, but if I spend money on something, like an entry in a race, and then don’t invest in it, it kills me.

I wrote on Monday about being lazy and today I’m focusing on the mountain of fear we all have in our lives. As soon as we see it, we lose all motivation.

Knowing what we struggle with inwardly is a huge step toward overcoming the areas in our lives that we need to grow in.

Fear and laziness are some of mine.

What do you need to defeat this year? Are some of the same cycles in your life preventing you from your dreams? Plan a new attack to overcome them in 2016.

Are You In The Game Or Safe On The Sidelines?

I played soccer my freshmen year in high school and sat on the sidelines for most of the year.  I was short and thin and I’m fairly certain a small gust of wind might have blown me over.

I don’t remember feeling bad about it but I do remember that I always I tried to encourage the seniors, give them water, and pat them on back when they came off the field.

When I got into my first game I was terrified. I was certain every one of my opponents was faster and stronger and could jump higher than I could. I wanted back on the sidelines. It was safer there. There was no pressure and I couldn’t fail.

I believed these things because I was afraid. I didn’t want to let my team down or my parents down.

FC Barcelona Stadium

I think this application is true for our lives in any capacity of bravery. When we don’t get in the game and we stay on the sidelines we are safe and comfortable. If we get in the game, life becomes real. There are stakes now and people we can disappoint.

What if we launch that business and fail? What if we let our family down? What if this is the wrong promotion or job? What will other people think?

These are the questions that plague us. The negative side of the what if’s. But what if these are the wrong questions?

We should be asking these instead.

What would happen if we don’t launch that business? What if we don’t take that job? What if succeed, what would that mean for us? What if we never did ___.

The next time you start to become “sensible” make sure it is not a response to fear. If you are launching a website or book or business and start to give into fear, consider the flip side of the lies in your head. It may just give you the bravery needed to step on the field.

The Breathe Conference, Author Steven James, And Cutting Through The Woods

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Breathe Writers Conference. It was a great experience, presenting from the podium, having one-on-one meetings with aspiring writers, and connecting with publishing professionals.

Steven James was the keynote speaker. He has written numerous thrillers and the Writer’s Digest Book – Story Trumps Structure and he changed my perspective on writing.

He's the cool one on the right
He’s the cool one on the right

As writers, especially in the beginning, we find ourselves listening to rules or following methods that other established writers tell us are law.

Mr. James destroyed several of those for me and set me free to reach for something higher. He said that writing a great story should be our goal. Wonderful stories are better than following rules that others have laid down for us (hence his book Story Trumps Structure).

He also said writers are strange and he couldn’t be more right.

After all, who sits alone in a room wondering what would happen if we stabbed our protagonist in the back? Or for that matter, who lays down a gauntlet of torture chambers (figuratively, emotionally, and maybe physically) for imaginary people that they are quite fond of?

Writers do.

I was challenged to go deeper, to ask questions, and blaze my own trail. Be weird. Write for a good story, not for money, fame or fortune, or an aged writer who says I have to write THIS way.

What rules are you following now that may not be right for you?

No writing path is the same.

I hope you cut through the woods.

My Writing Update

This past week was a recovery of sorts because the previous week was crazy in my writing, personal, and work lives. I’ll finish up my Breathe Writers Conference presentation in the next day or so, and then it’s back to my stories. Here is a list of the blogs I’ve written this week.

If you have any blog posts you’d like to share please add them in the comments section below.

If you plan to be at the Breathe Writers Conference, see you there!

Monday’s post was about cutting out distractions. Click here to read 10 Tips to Cut Out Distractions And Just Write here. Please share if you have your own tips!

The beginning of and end of writing a novel tend to come easy for me. The middle is where my books lose steam. I suspect you’ve been there too. Click here to view Tuesday’s post and use it as an inspirational springboard.

If you write every day, refueling can be tough. Lately, I’ve replenished my creative well with podcasts. Click here to read Wednesday’s post of Top Five Podcasts for the Writer And Entrepreneur.

Thursday I wrote about my wife. She is constantly encouraging, reading my stuff, and spurring me on. Click here to read To My Wife On Her Birthday.

In life, we encounter stories that will either crush us, or cause us to look deep inside and ask what really matters in the end. Click here to read Friday’s post about a car crash, love lost, and a challenge.

I’ll be talking about Worldbuilding in a week. I’m thrilled to have been asked and even more excited to present and connect with other writers at the Breathe Writers Conference. Click here to read Saturday’s post which includes a short story that won’t be in my books, but one I wrote to help me understand a society pivotal to my story.

Write today. One word, one sentence, is progress. Also, we are all busy. I hope your work is important enough to find the time to work on it today.

Top Five Podcasts For The Writer And Entrepreneur

As a writer, I’m drained daily and I’m always on the look out for a fresh angle and new content to inspire me. Lately, this inspiration has come from podcasts.

Writing time is precious and I find I either have time to read or time to write each day, never both. This means I have to expose myself to new ideas in the cracks of life.

I listen to podcasts as I mow the lawn, drive to work, and quickly eat my lunch at work. It’s a time to be presented with new ideas so I don’t stagnate and keep rising.

Here are the top five podcasts I enjoy. They are mostly nonfiction and focused on writing as a sustainable business but also on the creative process. This can be a strange balance as an artist.

One – The Accidental Creative Podcast. This is about creativity, innovation, and doing brilliant work per the description. It’s updated about once a week.

Two – This Is Your Life With Michael Hyatt. Michael Hyatt is the former president and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. If you are looking to become a professional blogger you need to follow this guy. Updated about once or twice a week.

Three – The Portfolio Life With Jeff Goins. This is similar to Michael Hyatt’s and is non-fiction. I live in fictional worlds (of my books) and hearing how Jeff went from blogger to professional is inspiriting. Updated about once a week.

Four – Simple Life Habits with Jonathan Milligan. Jonathan is the founder if Blogging Your Passion. I’ve interacted with him on Twitter and he’s a super nice guy. He’s in the Jeff Goins breed where he went from a day job to professional writer/speaker through blogging.

Five – 10x Talk With Joe Polish And Dan Sullivan. I listen to this because it is challenging. It’s business related and that “b” word can be dirty for writers.

But for me, if I ever launch an e-book  or traditionally publish I want to have ideas for getting my work into the marketplace. I think that is the biggest difficulty we writers face upon publication. This is a podcast about growing your business 10xs from savvy entrepreneurs. Updated once a weekish.

If you listen to them, share what you think. If you enjoy a podcast that is not on the list, please post it in the comments section below.

Want more of Part-Time Novel? Follow me on Twitter @parttimenovel 

What Do You Need To Take Your Writing To The Next Level?

We’ve all said it. If only I had ___ then I would absolutely be a better writer. Come on, out with it. If you had more money to buy the tools, more education, less responsibility, didn’t have to work full time, had 29 hours a day.

What is that one thing you need to take your writing to the next level?

Photo Credit: Dave Catchpole via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dave Catchpole via Compfight cc

A lot of time we compare ourselves to the greats and that’s not fair. We say things like, if only I had the writing gumption like Stephen King, or if I could just live in Paris when Hemingway did, I’m sure I’d be able to write something grand.

The problem with this thinking is that we are not focused on what we can do right now. I am not talking about a can-do attitude, but more what we are capable of doing at this juncture in out lives. Could you write 7000 words in a week? Could you write 10,000? 2,000?

I’d like to circle back to the original statement above. What do you need to take your writing to the next level?

Does it have to be all or nothing or can you start with 200 words a day? Give up one TV show a week? Buy a portable keyboard and write in the notes section on your iphone at lunch? Can’t do an MFA what about a free Coursera class on story telling?

I believe, firmly, that you should begin exploring the path of the next level now so in three to five years to can be past that obstacle or more at peace with your schedule or financial situation. But it starts with knowing what you need or what your main challenge is. Then being creative enough to get around it or write within the confines of it.

My 7000 words in 7 days is what helps me. I needed a challenge to get me writing at full speed again. Thus far I’ve written 4113 in four days.

What do you need to get to the next level writer?