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Be Ruthless In Pursuing Your Goals

When it comes to accomplishments, life seems to work against us.  Obstacles will always pop up in our way. Even more so when there are no deadlines and the desire is solely internal, like often happens with creative work.  It’s easy to let it slip another day, another day, and another day.

You must be ruthless in pursuing your goals.  This means two things.

  1. You will have to push past the laziness, the “meh,” the “I already worked 8 hours today and made dinner, what more do you want?”, the “I’ll start tomorrow,” and all the other excuses that will come up when it comes time to get to work.  This is pretty common stuff here.  Stuff that most “x help,” where x is whatever activity you’re trying to do, will talk about and help you beat.
  2. You will have to make sacrifices–and only you can deem what is an acceptable sacrifice and what isn’t.  This could mean cutting your TV time.  Or it could mean not going out with friends.  Or not taking on another commitment during the week.  It’s easy for us to get too involved in too many things and then find that we have no time for ourselves.  To yoink a phrase from Stephen King (with apologies), commitments are like dandelions: if you don’t keep them under control, you’ll soon find your lawn covered in them.  Note that the sacrifices could also be your other projects (see my post, “Murder Your Darlings“).

The hardest part of number 2 is the ability to say “no.”  I don’t enjoy telling friends that I can’t make it on a particular night or have to drop my commitment. But I have to be ruthless in ensuring I have the time necessary to get my work done.

“Isn’t that pretty self-centric?” some might ask.  To which I say: “Absolutely.”  You have to be.  The world will take whatever you give it and ask for more unless you put the brakes on.  Just like we don’t give away all our money so that we can pay rent/mortgage and so forth, don’t give away all your time.  Keep some for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

Life will encroach and the excuses will let it.  Stomp out the distractions without pity.  This is even more important at the beginning of any habit/process.  Later on, it’s easier to ease up a bit, but always be on the lookout for those stray commitments that pop up.  Don’t automatically say “yes” to them.

Be ruthless, and you’ll find that your goals are closer than you think.

Do It Every Day

One of the simplest secrets of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far–which, while not overwhelming, is at least something more than nothing–can be attributed to this paragraph I encountered years ago.

Do it every day.
Want to become a concert pianist? Do it every day.
Want to become a writer? Do it every day.
Want to become depressed? Think of depressing thoughts every day.
Want to become an optimist? Think of cheerful thoughts every day.
Do it every day.
–Robert Anton Wilson

It’s one of those things that’s simple but not necessarily easy.  I’ve kept a copy of that text in various places over the years.  It used to be my home location in my browser, so that I’d see it first thing when I sat down.  For a number of years, it hung on the wall by my work computer, so that I could see it every day and remind myself that my true work never happened at that desk.

Within it is the idea that we make ourselves.  That the outside only forms us up to a point–and the rest is up to us.  Also hidden in there is the idea that small effort, applied consistently over time, will get you where you want to go.

There are days when it’s hard.  And days when I missed it completely.  The important thing is to move on from there and make sure you do whatever-it-is the next day.  Don’t double up to make up for lost time.  Don’t let the guilt keep you from getting back to business the next day.  Just be there, do it.

Even if it was 500 words a day, I eventually ended up with stories.  Then there’s the whole “pyramids and bricks” thing.  Yadda-yadda.  You know the routine.

The only thing I would add to the above quoted text is this: every day, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  What makes it worthwhile?  Is it what you want to be doing?  This goes back to the mental aspects that Wilson included and can help you adjust your thinking.

The answer, along with the daily reminder to “do it every day,” will give you a good push in the direction you want to go.

Look At Your Past Without Guilt

A friend and I were talking yesterday, and she mentioned how so-and-so had done such-and-such by the age of somewhere-in-the-mid-20s.  This, she said, made her feel lame in comparison.

I replied with a few thoughts, and then, as usually happens, thought to myself, wait a minute.  That was a Thing. I usually forget stuff if I don’t write it down, so I tried to condense what I was thinking into a tweet:

Look at your past without guilt over what you haven’t accomplished. If you don’t like what you see, use that as fuel to change going forward.

The problem is that we often make the mistake of comparing ourselves to someone else and letting that form into a type of self-judgement, whether that someone is another person or some image of what we want to be or think we should be but aren’t.  What I was getting at in my responses to my friend and that tweet is that our past has passed, is water under the bridge, spilled milk, and so on.  When it comes to the accomplishments of yesterday, there’s no room for guilt. Any time spent sighing over what we could have or should have accomplished is a waste.

We also tend to underestimate our past accomplishments, but that’s the subject of another post.

What our past does give us, though, is fuel for changing our future.  If you look back and find yourself lacking in what you’d hoped you would accomplish, let that drive you to change what comes next.

Did you write that book / run that marathon / start that business?   No?   Then it comes down to the playground question: what are you gonna do about it?

Do you wish you would have painted more, photographed more, written more, traveled more, or, hell, I don’t know, collected more garden gnomes?

Now is your chance.

Our actions speak clearer than hopes and wishes. If you’re committed, you can do this.  It might hurt to give up whatever has consumed your time (ahhh, but something tells me you might not miss it as much as you think), but that’s where the whole fuel thing comes in.  Take that “Damnit, I wish I would have ________” feeling, and ride it like a rocket.  That “I wish I would have” feeling is what will help you cut loose from whatever holds you back.  Direct your efforts ruthlessly to your new pursuit.

Time will go by no matter what.  How will you spend it?

On The Fate of Paper Stories

Readers are passionate people who care about what they love. As such, the proliferation of ebook readers and ebooks has stirred up the readership side of the publishing industry as well.  People seem fairly divided along the spectrum: some have adopted ebooks whole-heartedly, others mix them in, and still others have drawn a line.  With the latter, the implication is that you can have their paperware books when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

But what these people I think are missing–and like I’ve explained to people who have asked me about my Kindle and what I think of it–is that paper isn’t going anywhere. For some books, I read them and forget them, and they stay on my shelf, sometimes shoved into the back or with other, newer books stacked on top of them.  These are the books that I can’t remember when I read it last, only somewhat remember what the story was about, and can’t see myself reading again any time soon.  This is one of the sweet spots for ebooks: the joy of reading it, immediately and at hopefully lower cost (here’s looking at you, publishing industry), and then it doesn’t clog up your shelves.

Then there are the books that I remember very well:  those old friends who I’ve read time and time again.  These are the books that ebooks will never replace, the ones with dog-ears, underlined passages, scuffs and scrapes, and so on, memories of buying it in high school or as a gift from a college romance, books where I’ve taped up the spines just in hopes that they’ll last longer.

As the future grinds on, bookshelves will become a showcase.  Not like the ones like Michael Nye mentions (bookshelves for show, to project a cultivated image), but rather an honest showcase of the stories and authors we hold most dear.  Our homes are full of the things that matter to us and the space we give to our books no less so.  The same drive that motivates readers to drive hours to visit an author signing or to locate and buy an old first-edition copy is the same drive that will ensure the acquisition of a paper copy of our favorites.  I have books that I would never consider an ebook copy “enough” and will always keep a paper copy.  There will always be a market for these paper stories, and where there’s a market, there’s a profit to be made and a company to fill it.  Papers books might just be tomorrow’s collector’s edition.

After all, I don’t own every single movie I’ve ever watched.  But I do own a copy of my favorites.

Responsibility Means…

My 365 image from the 27th reminded me of an old teacher that I had.  We were given sentences to write as punishment any time we did something wrong in class.

His default was “Responsibility means following directions,” but he would also adapt it to meet the infraction in question.

But they always began with “Responsibility means…”

There are multiple ways I could go with this.

The whole idea of punishment in schools (now versus then), that people rarely write by hand any longer, that it could be a good exercise for character-building in fiction or the feel-good sort of post that says “Responsibility means being true to yourself” or some such.

But those are all expected.  Boring.  Cliché.

Instead, I’ll just think about old times past and all the teachers who have made me who I am by being wonderful or terrible.  Images flicker by in my head.  Old Italian math and English teachers (one who once went on a rant about profanity in school and how we never respected it and instead reduced it to, “hey, are you gonna eat that f’ing sandwich?” ), a fifth-grade teacher who kept a pet hamster in his classroom, a high school English teacher who was a little crazy but loved my stories.