Starting

I read an excellent blog post today about starting at Six Degrees of Separation.

Hard as it is to create tangible goals, it’s even harder at times to actually BEGIN… both setting the goals and then doing the work to accomplish them.

We all have tricks to getting moving. My best trick is time blocking… which is to block out a certain amount of time and then start the computer or whatever, and then fill that time.

I also have a set of songs that I call Pavlov’s Writing Mix. The first song is Praise You by Fat Boy Slim. That song has an interesting tickety-ticking sound at the beginning that reminds me of writing at a keyboard. I’ve listened to this song mix so many times, I really am like Pavlov’s dog. I hear it and I start writing. If I am doing businessy type stuff, I listen to Jazz Canada live stream on music.cbc.ca.

So, the combination of 1) a goal, 2) a block of time, and 3) the right soundtrack seems to do the trick for me.

True, there are times when not much gets done. But usually one small things gets done and that’s one small step forward.

Best of luck with your beginnings.

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A fresh start

It’s been a long while since I’ve given this website much attention. Life has been busy. Projects have popped up. I’ve tackled things that come up as they come up, but haven’t been following a specific plan. Planning takes time, and a vision, and to be honest, I didn’t really get that vision nailed down.

But recently, I’ve been taking stock. Where am I heading? What do I really want to accomplish?

This morning I heard actor Danny Woodburn interviewed on CBC radio (Day 6) about casting regular actors and using special effects to “scale them down” rather than using actors with dwarfism. He said something I thought was fantastic. He talked about actors making choices in their business and went on to describe how those choices differ from actor to actor. He has a very clear idea about the roles he will take on. This makes it easy for him to say “no” to roles that are not in line with his vision and his business. (It’s a great interview, so give it a listen!)

The takeaway? There are so many directions we can head off into, so many opportunities to explore, so many methods for going about it. It does make it easier when the vision is clear. We can straightaway eliminate all those paths and activities that are won’t take us to where we want to be or let us travel with our integrity and character intact.

I had a choice to make regarding this site. Do I take it down? Do I revive it? Is it in line with my vision, vague as it is? The answer, I guess, is pretty clear since the website is still live. I still am very passionate about planning, strategy, vision and helping writers get where they want to be. So, I’ll see you around!

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First things first

This afternoon, I was sitting on a park bench, catching some spring sunshine, and skimming through the book by Stephen Covey and Roger and Rebecca Merrill, First Things First.

The book talks about determining what’s really important to us and ensuring that we spend our time accomplishing these goals and not wasting time on things that either a) aren’t important and b) aren’t moving us in the right direction.

The book is packed with all kinds of fantastic information and tips. Also worth a look-see, is Appendix A, which is 15 pages dedicated to creating a personal mission statement.

When working with the Writer’s Plan, setting a mission is key. Everything flows from your mission. Once you know where you’re going and why, it’s easier to figure out how you’re going to get there.

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What are you working on next?

This afternoon, I talked about my experiences as a professional writer with a few participants in a youth literacy project called “In Our Own Words”, held at Alexandra Neighbourhood House in White Rock, BC. At the end of my talk, which ran through my experiences with screenwriting and comic writing, host Lois Peterson asked me “So, what are you working on next?”

I didn’t have an answer.

It’s not like I’m doing nothing. There’s lots I’m working on… work work (aka the day job), stuff related to this site, reading a draft manuscript for a writer friend. But my own creative project?  Several strong possibilities; nothing I’ve settled on.

Which got me to wondering, where DO people get their ideas and how does one know whether the idea they have, is what they should focus on? What if a writer sat down and spent a few days brainstorming, visualizing, dreaming, showering (I get lots of ideas in the shower!) but still, nothing jumped out and grabbed them by the throat and demanded to be pursued? What then?

My suggestion to that writer — and to myself in this particular case — would be to start with a win. More specifically, a win that can be won within one month.

In other words, take one small step. Take one of the ‘possible new ideas’, then… doodle a short comic, record yourself talking through a scene and listen to it, write a flash fiction, create a visual collage, find five news articles that relate or put together a playlist that puts you in the headspace to write.

What if when that’s done, still no bolt of lightning? Try something slightly bigger. Take a slightly larger step in one particular direction. See how it feels.

True, you may not be moving fast. But at least you’re moving forward. If you’re on the right path, it’ll become easier to see where it is you need to go, where to step next. If you’re still in a clump of bushes, you now know what path you shouldn’t be on. Sometimes, that’s as valuable as anything else.

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Begin with a bang; end with a bang

Boom! It’s the New Year! The world is awash with new goals, new plans.

Want to know how to end the year with a bang as well? No, I don’t mean at a big bash on News Year’s Eve. I mean ending the year, satisfied with what you’ve accomplished, knowing you’re about to start a new year strong, confident and moving forward.

Three simple tips:

1. Pick your goals and write them down. Use one of the templates here. Or use that new notebook you got as a holiday gift.

2. When deciding what to spend your time on, look at your goals. Do they match? Great. No? Maybe take a pass.

3. Track your progress on a regular basis. Jot down your accomplishments along the way, even the baby steps. It’s encouraging.

At the end of the year, I guarantee you’ll be in the mood to celebrate your accomplishments.

Happy 2010!

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The hedgehog and the fox

I’m currently reading the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, a gift from the new Executive Officer at work. I admit, I am not reading it in chapter order, as I have a few things on my mind lately at work, such as how the communications department I manage can become more agile while delivering the information our association members most need, in the most effective and accessible way. (My goal for 2010!)

There’s lots of useful information in the book. However, one of the anecdotes struck me. It was in regards to an essay called The hedgehog and the fox, written by Isaiah Berlin, based on a Greek parable. In the parable, the fox tries a multitude of clever techniques to capture the hedgehog, but the hedgehog always wins. The hedgehog apparently is successful because of its  simple, organized  focus: it goes about its daily business and when attacked, the hedgehog curls into a ball, spikes outward. The fox is foiled, apparently because it is scattered and lacking a unifying vision.

Perhaps because I see myself as more of a fox, this rubs me the wrong way. Clearly, the hedgehog has a highly advantageous defence system. But there are some truths I can buy into.

For example, it’s true that as a fox, I have many ideas, some of which IMHO, are very clever, and a few, ahead of their time. And if I simply chase after each idea as it appears, it is true that I won’t make much progress on anything. The answer then, is to create a unifying vision. The Mission.  The Plan.

By creating the vision, I can sort through my many fox ideas and determine which are in line with where I want to go, and which I need to discard or set aside. If my vision is to get a tasty dinner each night, after a few failed attempts at dining on hedgehog, I can discard that strategy and move along to easier prey. Perhaps I could even save some time and effort by observing and learning from a fellow fox’s failed attempts.

I can also learn from the hedgehog, who keeps things simple. A plan need not be complex to be successful. It only needs to be well thought-out, focused and attainable.

More goodies from the book another time. Before heading off though, I can’t help but wonder, is this fable the basis for the Road Runner and the Wiley Coyote cartoon?

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Why tracking results matters

The final step in The Writers Plan is to ‘evaluate your results’. But in many ways, it sits at #3 is the ranking of importance, after creating a vision and determining the steps to achieve that vision.

Let’s say your vision is to have a wildly successful books series. Forget trilogy; you’re thinking multiple trilogies. The first book has been published and you want to create a space where your readers can share their thoughts about the first book and learn about the second. You also plan to add some dynamic content, perhaps a video promo of your books or an audio clip of you doing a reading. You decide to create a Facebook or MySpace page to facilitate this.

This is a valid strategy for engaging and growing your audience. But how will you determine whether your efforts are worth it?

You can measure your success in a number of ways: friends or fans, number of messages, discussions, etc. on the page. Or, off the site, how many hits to your official website are driven from your MySpace page or whether there is an increase in actual book sales or pre-orders for your next book in the series.

For some, reaching 5,000 fans or friends within six months would be a massive success. For others, 500 would be the marker. Perhaps 50,000 views of your book trailer. Perhaps a 5% increase in online books sales.

Keep asking yourself, are your efforts helping you to achieve your vision? If yes, you know you are on the right track. If no… then it is time to rethink.

If your concentrated efforts over a month net you only a handful of new fans, it it worth the time and effort? If so, then keep at it. But if not, perhaps a different tactic is required.

We all face limits to our time. Evaluation tells you whether it has been time well spent.

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Welcome writers!

The Writer’s Plan site is dedicated to helping writers create a personalized business plan. To succeed in any endeavor, we need a vision and a series of steps to take towards that vision.

The first step begins here.

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