Are Your Margins Too Thin?

sad businesswomanA curious thing happened as I was trolling Facebook one day–a fellow author had posted about what she wasn’t doing for Christmas. “I’m not baking the seven different types of cookies that I normally do and I’m giving you permission to do the same. What is it you would like to give up this Christmas so you can spend more time with family?”

Whenever the first of the year rolls around it’s always time for the dreaded excitement of planning your (cue the music) New Year’s Resolutions. Often, these resolutions and goal setting add more to our plate rather than simplify our lives.

We should absolutely make goals–I’m a big believer in them. But how can we make them reasonable, doable, and achievable?

You might have heard about margins. Leave one inch margins around your written page. This used to be so there would be room for others to make comments. It’s morphed into leaving room in your life for the important things. You might have also heard people call this work/life balance.

But how do you know if your margins are too thin? What might some of the symptoms be?

1. You can’t say no. This means you don’t have boundaries. It’s really not healthy to be the go-to person for everything. You can’t always be at another person’s beck and call. I think volunteer work is important but pick ONE thing you’re passionate about and make sure the hours are reasonable.

2. You’re always running late. This can be symptomatic of two conditions. One, it’s just the kind of person you are. You’ve always been late and continue to be late. But if you used to be on time for everything and now you’re always just a few minutes (or more) late, then you’re probably over-scheduled. Why is it you can’t make it on time? Too many appointments or it’s something you don’t want to do? You’ve lost passion for your job, perhaps? Maybe never had any? Can you change that?

3. Your children/family/significant other don’t recognize you anymore. I remember when my girls were infants that I’d bring them into the bathroom while I was taking a bath and set them on the floor with some toys so I could keep an eye on them. The first time their eyes witnessed me dunk my head and come up with my hair slicked back, their quivering lips indicated that they thought I was not their mom anymore. I spoke to them and reassured them it was okay. If your family is coming in dead last then definitely some re-prioritizing needs to happen. What can you change about your current schedule that would make more room?

NewYearDaySince it is the first of the year, I do still think that it’s a good time to analyze and focus, but maybe with these tenets in mind. The goal has to be reasonable to make it fun and achievable; otherwise it’s doomed to fail from the start.

So, instead of the goal being I’m going to write THREE great American novels when you’ve never attempted one, attend a local writers conference to see if writing is suited for you.

Instead of losing ALL the weight you need to lose in the first three weeks of the year, shoot for a small piece of the whole. I want to lose 2 pounds in January. Once you’ve done that, set the next goal.

Goals are about focus, but they need to be achievable. You’ll still need to live your life. Keep those personal relationships strong. That’s what ultimately sustains you.

What are your reasonable and achievable goals for 2014? Will they maintain your life/work balance?

Goals?!?

NewYearDayIt’s that time of year where we set goals to make up for the mistakes we made the previous year grow as people. Isn’t that really what New Year’s resolutions are all about? Giving up some of those vices (like eating too much chocolate) for better health or starting down a path toward a dream we’ve held maybe too privately close because speaking it out load would actually mean we would need to do something about it.

Hmm . . .

I have to confess . . . I do make New Year’s resolutions every year. I can’t say that I’m all that good working on them but I still try. Maybe less than doing a New Year’s resolution, I believe in goal setting. I think it keeps us active in this life to be shooting for something . . . whatever it might be in your world. But I’ve learned some things along the way about setting goals that might help you achieve your goal(s) this coming year.

1. Have an overall dream (I’m going to finish my novel!) but then set smaller goals along the path.

For YEARS, I said I was going to finish my book but until I sat down and divided up that elephant into smaller achievable steps, it didn’t happen. What would get you there? Sometimes it’s hard to know HOW to actually do the work of finishing a novel so here’s what I’ve found and I’m not a super-speedy novelist.

Writing 1,000 words a day (when I’m not doing a 12 hour nursing shift) is fairly easy. Writing 2,000 words a day is my general maximum before my brain starts to meltdown. This word count should happen in about three hours (if you stay off social media and generally know what you’re going to write about.) Aim to write 20,000 words/month. Really, that’s just 10 days staying completely on task and getting 2,000 words on the page. Four months of JUST doing 10 days of 2,000 word counts and you have a first draft! Don’t edit yourself. Just get the words on the page. You can’t edit an empty page. And now you have an 80,000 word NYT Bestseller document that will need a lot of work–but you DID IT!

2. Make the goal realistic for you and your life.

I’ve been working out with a personal trainer for a couple of years. I needed to lose some weight (a lot!) and knew I needed the accountability of another person to help me do it. I am almost to my goal and my trainer would like a much faster process than me. He set a CRAZY weight loss goal for December (hello, Christmas cookies) and in my mind I said, it’s not going to happen. And so, it didn’t happen. I did, though, achieve the smaller goal I set for myself. If what I outlined above makes your eyeballs glaze over, cut it in half or one quarter but just get started.

3. Have an accountability person.

It really does help. I’m not talking about a critique partner though those are good, too. What you need is just someone in your corner (thanks, Casey!) who will keep tabs on you and your goal. Send you an e-mail to ask if you’re making progress. Celebrate your victories by posting lots of these (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) on Facebook.

4. Don’t give up.

I was a person who used to give up easily. If I ate bad one day, the whole month could be shot. Everyone has bad days and doesn’t meet their goals. My trainer confessed to me just today about eating handfuls of chocolate covered raisins, pizza AND french fries which made me a little too joyful inside BUT he’s already back in the gym. When you fall off the path . . . the next day . . . sit back down and get back to it. Life happens but don’t let it run you over.

5. CELEBRATE!

As you’re traveling down whatever goal path you’ve set for 2013, celebrate the small achievements (making that monthly word count goal) and the big achievement (Yes, I DID finish that novel!) with lots of chocolate and responsible drinking exercise and then do it again.

Set another goal.

So, what about you? What’s one goal, writing or otherwise, that you have for 2013? How are you going to achieve it?

SEVEN TIPS TO MAKE THAT NEW YEAR’S WORD WORK FOR YOU

As a writer, the idea of designating one word for the New Year, in lieu of resolutions, appeals to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a bit lackadaisical when it comes to actually making those resolutions (not to mention keeping). 

Writers are wordsmiths and so it seems all the more appropriate. But wait. How does a writer select just one word for a whole year when there are myriad beautiful words floating around out there for the picking? Here are seven suggestions:

1) PRAY: After Christmas, I began tumbling words in my brain. I wasn’t sure how I would spot “my word”.  I wanted something with a ring to it. Maybe something catchy. Pretty, musical, a poetic word, I hoped. New Year’s Day arrived and I still didn’t have my word. Every time I gave it some consideration the word “return” popped into my mind. What kind of “word for the year” is that?  

As the end of January approached, I despaired of finding my word. And then I did what I always do when I feel hopeless: I prayed. I read my Bible. Of course, the answer I received was my word was there all of the time. And the lesson well learned? Don’t wait until you are discouraged to RETURN to our heavenly Father. 

2) USE IT: Once you know your word, use it. At least once a day. Include it in your prayer time and if by the end of the day you find you have not used your word try to think of as many ways it fits into a sentence. A favorite of mine is to write a short story, one paragraph long, using my word as many times as I can. How refreshing to give yourself permission to break the rules! 

3) SHARE: Don’t be afraid to tell people what your word is. You don’t really have to know how your word applies to you. Part of the fun is finding out why the word is “your word”. You will find your friends are curious about your progress and provide motivation to continually strive to decipher the meaning of the word in your life. 

4) REFLECT: At the end of each month, think about how the word worked in your life. Or didn’t. Ask yourself questions. Does it have a different meaning for you than it did at the beginning of the month? Did it make a difference in your life? In what way? Does it make you view your world, your writing, your family and friends in a new way? In a positive way? Great! If not, why not? What can you do to change that? 

5) REVISE: Begin each month afresh. Be flexible in your interpretation of your word and what it should mean in your life. That is the power of a word. It will not always mean the same thing to different people. And it won’t always mean the same thing to you. 

6) BE OPEN: This is so much more than being flexible. Embrace the possibilities. It’s amazing how much one little word can mean to you when you open your arms wide and let it flow over you. Sing it, shout it, whisper your word. Think musically, think poetically, draw your story out. Express your word in a way that really moves you. 

7) RETURN: This is your chance to shrug off those resolutions that frequently cause so much regret by the end of January and live your word. Then RETURN often with prayers of thankfulness and give the glory to God.  

I can’t wait to see how my word RETURN directs my life next month! Returning to my roots come to mind. Hmmm, I write historical romance, so maybe. And I really look forward to finding the meaning of RETURN this December. I can’t wait!

What is your word for 2012?

Rebecca DeMarino is a retired United Airlines Service Director and worked as an Office Manager at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency from March, 2008 until September, 2010. She currently works part-time as a Carnival Cruise Line representative from her home office. She recently signed with literary agent Barbara Scott with WordServe Literary.

A Writer’s Life: Resolved — Ban New Year’s Resolutions

I failed at New Year’s Resolutions.

For years I prioritized my dos and don’ts for forward motion in the new year. I was eager. Determined.

And I always lost my meticulously prioritized list by mid-February.

Sigh.

Now I am all about one word.

One.

The Why of One Word

I’m repeating myself for those of you who have read my other blog posts about my now-seven year commitment to selecting one word for each new year. Pardon the re-run. I want others to discover the benefits of concentrating on a single word for 12 months — or as a friend pointed out, the 366 days comprising 2012.

The How of One Word

I start mulling over my word for the next year in early fall, usually around September. It’s woven into my faith journey. My prayer time and significant Scripture verses play a vital role in directing me to my word for the new year.

I know some of you reading this would say faith isn’t part of your life. At all.

Can we pause for a moment, sit on the opposite sides of the supposed chasm that separates us? What I’d like to whisper across that great divide is this: I respect where you are. I’m not shoving anything at you.

Your “how” will be different from my “how.” Consider the circumstances of the past year. Can you distill down to one word the forward motion you’d like to experience in 2012?

The What of One Word

In previous years, my words were:

  • 2006: gratitude (a gratitude journal revolutionized my glass-half-empty attitude)
  • 2007: simplify (severe illness morphed this word into survival)
  • 2008: content (being content with what I had — and yes, I bought a lot less)
  • 2009 & 2010: forgiveness (had a lot to learn & unlearn)
  • 2011: hope (choosing hope no matter the depth of my heartache)
  • 2012: trust
My words are examples to consider, not a mandatory list to choose from. If you remember nothing else from this post remember this:
Life is complicated enough. We’re writers. We deal with deadlines and word counts and reviews and real life people and imaginary ones (and both are frustrating.) The New Year’s Resolutions habit/guilt trip/expectation is another unneeded complication.
 
Think like a journalist. Or an editor. Or a novelist instructed to cut “x” number of words. Distill your dos and don’ts down to one word and then focus on that for the next 366 days. You’ll be changed when 2013 rolls around. Guaranteed — or your money back!
 
Are you ready to walk away from resolutions and focus on one word in 2012? Are you a one word believer? Have you already pick your 2012 word? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
 

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.