Habits to Excel

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Confession: When I wrote the title, I did a spell check to make sure the word meant what I thought it meant.  I play with Microsoft Excel so much every day I never actually use the term for its regular use.

I read High-Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become that Way by Brendon Burchard on the recommendation of the same friend who recommended Captivate.

THESE HABITS WILL MAKE YOU EXTRAORDINARY.

Twenty years ago, author Brendon Burchard became obsessed with answering three questions: Why do some individuals and teams succeed more quickly than others and sustain that success over the long term? Of those who pull it off, why are some miserable and others consistently happy on their journey? What motivates people to reach for higher levels of success in the first place, and what practices help them improve the most?

After extensive original research and a decade as the world’s leading high performance coach, Burchard found the answers. It turns out that just six deliberate habits give you the edge. Anyone can practice these habits and, when they do, extraordinary things happen in their lives, relationships, and careers.

Which habits can help you achieve long-term success and vibrant well-being no matter your age, career, strengths, or personality? To become a high performer, you must seek clarity, generate energy, raise necessity, increase productivity, develop influence, and demonstrate courage. This book is about the art and science of how to cultivate and practice these proven habits.

Whether you want to get more done, lead others better, develop skill faster, or dramatically increase your sense of joy and confidence, the habits in this book will help you achieve it faster. Each of the six habits is illustrated by powerful vignettes, cutting-edge science, thought-provoking exercises, and real-world daily practices you can implement right now.

If you’ve ever wanted a science-backed, heart-centered plan to living a better quality of life, it’s in your hands. Best of all, you can measure your progress. A link to a free professional assessment is included in the book.

This book was an enjoyable read, and with less fluff than some of the books of the same type.  I liked how it was organized, and I highlighted a lot more passages than usual.  As it states in summary, he identifies these six habits for increasing performance:

  • Seek Clarity
  • Generate Energy
  • Raise Neccessity
  • Increase Productivity
  • Develop Influence
  • Demonstrate Courage

My favorite chapter was the first one, on seeking clarity.  It could be I enjoyed this one most because it was my high score when I took the free assessment.  It seems I’m doing okay in that area.  It still held many practical steps I can take to improve, some of which I’ve already started to implement.

I was less excited about raising necessity and developing influence, which also happen to correlate to my low scores.  There are a lot of tips in the book on how to improve these areas, but the problem is I don’t care enough to pursue them.  And I think that is ultimately the one flaw of this book – it appears to assume you want to do ALL THE THINGS.  I don’t mean do all the things in life, just the things in the book.  It is clear you can’t do everything, but also seems to promote doing more steps in the book.

I’ve tended to see diminishing returns in my own life when I start attempting to do ALL THE THINGS.  Perhaps some people would find more success.  It seems the author has.  I think a critical factor is knowing when you’re happy with your performance, and then maybe playing Zelda instead of adding more.

So why am I reviewing this book here and recommending you read it?  Because there is a plethora of practical advice and a lot of things to think about.  While I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with some aspects of the book, I’ve been thinking about it all week.  The process of identifying what I do and don’t agree with, as well as why, is educational on its own.  Nobody is going to test you in a month to see if you’ve implemented everything so you can pick and choose what you’d like to work on out of the many excellent ideas.  I’ve already had good success implementing just one of the tips.

I think it is particularly valuable to writers, as it seems we are prone to many distractions that keep us from our goals.  Or perhaps we haven’t even set goals.  Most of what I highlighted was tied to my writing in my head as I read the book.  I’m looking forward to implementing more of the ideas shortly.

Learn More Writing

When I google how much authors write, I usually end up with word counts per day.  This page states Ernest Hemingway did 3000 words a day, for example.  They have 38 other authors and their counts, as well.

This was a fantastic metric during NaNoWriMo when I attempted to complete 50,000 words in one month.  I succeeded, and now I am editing that same story.  Editing = not pounding out 3000 words per day.

Scrivener may think I type that many on any given day, but it was probably from copying and pasting from Draft #2 into Draft #3.  Not new words.  One day this week, it clocked me at 118 words total.  I may have written 2,118 words but in the process of revising deleted 2,000 and dropped the total.

As a result, I’ve switched to tracking time spent on the novel.  In addition to helping me keep tabs on how long each step takes, it may help me spend more time writing.  This week wasn’t a great week for a few reasons, but I still averaged 52 minutes of time on the novel each day.  That’s working on my actual story, to be clear, not writing here or elsewhere.

I’m setting a goal for next week of 60 minutes, on average, per day.  I think I can get in another eight quality minutes per day without dipping too far into my Zelda time.  Those extra minutes per day will equal a whole day in this week’s time!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Have you seen those ads for the Best Self Journal?  I liked the idea but thought I could do something a little easier on my own.  I ordered a Moleskine notebook (Star Wars, of course), and have been trying to use it daily in a similar manner as other productivity journals.  I’m terrible at doing it in the evening, but after breakfast, I try to identify three things I’m grateful for, three goals for the day, and a prayer intention.

This week I read High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard.  Look for a review soon, but one quote I’d like to share today is “Everything is trainable. No matter what skill you want to learn, with enough training and practice and intention, you can become more proficient at it. If you don’t believe this, your journey to high performance stops here.”

What are you training yourself to do today?  This week?  This year?  In what area are you trying to become more proficient?  I’m learning how to write a book if you missed my blog post announcing my adventure.  I’m glad you’re here.  Let us know what your goals are in the comments.

 

 

War of Art

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War of Art Cover

Upon Jennifer Fulwiler’s recommendation in One Beautiful Dream, I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later turned into a movie. He also wrote Turning Pro, which is on my list of books to read.

The War of Art is about the Resistance we all face when we try to move forward in life. I read it as a writer, but there are plenty of examples for others such as artists and entrepreneurs and even people who attempt to become healthier. Why? Because we all face this thing he calls Resistance, or the force that works against our endeavors.

In my case, I feel it as writer’s block, or boredom when I sit down to write. I see it when I feel like perhaps I should sweep instead of open my laptop, or I remember I have that shiny new Zelda game to play instead of editing. You may feel it when you commit to a diet but encounter an opportunity for ice cream two hours later.

This is one of those books it would be easy to respond with, “Oh yes, I knew that already.” Many of the examples are easy to identify with because we’ve all been there. Yet for some reason, we forget when we encounter Resistance. The book is therefore a good reminder and perhaps even a kick in the pants.

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art . Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. It is indeed overstatement, but the idea is right on. We can always find other things to do besides our work when presented with Resistance, if we allow it to win.

I enjoyed the first two sections of the book but found the third part to be odd. I suppose it varies on your worldview and what you think of muses. It is a far more artistic line of thought than I use when approaching my work, but even if I didn’t find it useful, you may.

The book is a short read and very encouraging for those of us pursuing something a little more epic than the daily grind.

Sunday Update

Isn’t that a creative title?  They tell me I need creative titles to attract people to my webpage.  If you’re here, I assume it is because you like to follow my writing adventure, which you probably didn’t find on google.  So I’m not going to sweat the title.

Last week, I did a short road trip to see Matthew Kelly speak with my sister.  He is funny and engaging, and we had a good time.  This did prevent me from my weekly blog update though, so here we go!

It is still slow going here at Julie’s apartment.  I’m quite happy with how the novel is turning out, but it can sometimes be challenging to avoid frustration.  Patience isn’t something I’m good with most of the time.

This week I read two books which I found helpful for this frustration.  I didn’t expect One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler to be so motivating, but there are so many good ideas in the book.  Also, if a woman with six kids can write two books with her crazy-awesome mom life, I can finish my novel.  Look for a review on this one sometime soon.

She recommended The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  He writes the idea of Resistance or the force that stops us from taking that next step.  It keeps writers out of their chairs as we find ways to avoid our work.  Resistance also battles everyone else, of course, but I see it most in my writing.  I highlighted this passage, which speaks of patience.

The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art (pp. 75-76). Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

I don’t agree with everything he says regarding muses, but the short book was an excellent reminder of the struggle we all face to achieve, and how to overcome it.

 

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View on my Nature Center walk

 

As for education this week, I headed out to a friend’s property to learn more about trees.  I’m told some people enjoy more specificity when reading than simply “trees,” and so I’ve been learning about the oaks of Missouri.  We also looked at cedars, blackberry bushes, and moss.  Walking around in the woods was a good reminder my heroes will not have an easy time tromping about unless they find a trail!

I also spent some time at a local nature center, watching the squirrels and listening to the birds and breeze.  There are a lot of noises in the woods we don’t think about in the city.  It was incredibly peaceful and helped fight any frustration I might have over my writing speed. Even if you’re not writing a novel, you should go sometime.

Unique Magic

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I read the first of the Runelords series by David Farland a week ago, and I thought it was a lot of fun.  “But wait,” you say, “didn’t you go to a class he taught in Dallas?  You hadn’t read his book before then?”  He has a lot of books!  I’d read Million Dollar Outlines before I attended, and I recommend that as well.  It just isn’t as fun as Runelords.

Young Prince Gaborn Val Orden of Mystarria is traveling in disguise on a journey to ask for the hand of the lovely Princess Iome of Sylvarresta when he and his warrior bodyguard spot a pair of assassins who have set their sights on the princess’s father. The pair races to warn the king of the impending danger and realizes that more than the royal family is at risk–the very fate of the Earth is in jeopardy.

This clip gives very little away, and I didn’t know what to expect going into the book.  It jumps right into things with a fight and intrigue as we dash about the world watching our heroes try to stop the bad guy.  And he is a terrible guy, for a variety of reasons.  Taking over the world is only one of them.

The setting is pretty standard fantasy fare with woods, hills, horses, swords, and kings.  But the magic system sets it apart.  The magic is impressive and comes with a ridiculously high cost, though not always to the user.  The system that develops around it is fascinating and disturbing in some cases and left me thinking about it long after I’d set the book down.

By the way, I like woods, hills, horses, swords, and kings.  I didn’t even know fantasy could exist without those things until Mistborn, so we know how I like my stories.  This was right up my alley then, and I probably would have enjoyed it even with a lesser magic system.

The one problem I could identify is I cared more about some of the side characters than the main characters, which still isn’t a big issue since I still enjoyed the main characters.  I found myself worried about the side characters though, perhaps because we didn’t know what they were up to all the time.

You can find it on Kindle here, and it is very reasonably priced.  Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Lady Assassin

I entered a short story contest last month.  They’ve announced the finalists, and I’m not one of them, so I’ve decided to put the story here for your enjoyment.  Or at least for you to read; as it didn’t get very far I have no idea if it is enjoyable!  I had fun writing it though.

The rules were the story must be less than 750 words and include the prompt of “Was I ever embarrassed.”  My comments follow the story below.

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Lady Assassin

Robin smiled when Valinda glanced at her, as did the other ladies the higher ranking woman had managed to attract. She could have snuck into the king’s castle, but attending the party proved more efficient. The daintily clad nobles annoyed her, but etiquette demanded she remain until Valinda finished. Making a scene would impact her mission to the stables.

“I had assumed the servants put the forks in the right order.” Valinda’s voice reminded Robin of an excited child spying a dragon egg for the first time, only less adorable. “Was I ever embarrassed! Jared didn’t notice, thankfully.”

The other women nodded their heads, but gasped as the first dragon thundered past the massive open windows lining one side of the hall. Glassware rattled, and at least one goblet crashed to the floor as a second dragon’s flight path sent a gush of air into the room.

Valinda caught her gloved hands to her chest before she moved toward the viewing windows. “Oh, they’ve started!”

Robin waited as the others scurried away to watch the first of the demonstrations. A bead of sweat rolled down her head under her dark hair, wrapped tightly in a bun. The ankle length ice blue dress had enough volume to hide her vials just under her waist, but didn’t impede movement. The hair and the dress were both too warm though, and she ached to go outside into the breeze.

She pulled the skirt up slightly and turned to the back of the room. The dragon display meant the stables were empty.

Servants attended the grand hall through several discreet hallways and doors. She kept her eyes straight ahead as she walked into one of the service halls and left the roars of the dragons and crowd behind.

“My lady?” A servant in black paused when he saw her.

“I’m looking for my mother’s attendant,” she said. “Have you seen Solea?”

“I’m sorry but I haven’t. I’ll send him to you if I find him.”

“Thank you. I’ll continue myself.”

She strode away without glancing back. You can go almost anywhere if you look like you know what you’re doing, the prioress always said.

The prioress had many sayings. The Order overlooked her odd mumblings due to her skill in alchemy. You can get away with annoying quips if you can make a poison absorbed through the skin, Robin thought.

Torches lit the first set of stairs down, throwing light on the immaculate steps and highlighting their wear from over a century of use. At the bottom she headed right and ducked into a room as she heard two voices from the hall.

“I don’t understand why he didn’t hire more staff,” a passing woman said. “With all the houses here, we need hands.”

After the servants passed, memory directed her through another hall and down another set of stairs. Maps rarely changed for a stone building, and the Order had several. She lifted her skirt further to avoid the increasing grime.

The stench rising in the stairwell confirmed her path. She sped down the final few steps, excited to find her target.

“Can I help you, my lady?” A dragonhand leaned against the stone wall next to the stairwell opening.

She lifted her skirts up higher and scrunched her nose at the hay below as she turned. Robin attempted to emulate Valinda’s high pitched speech. “I’m looking for Lord Jared. I’d hoped to wish him luck before take-off.”

The dragonhand paused, but young noblewomen did ridiculous things to catch their men. “I’m sorry, he’s already left.”

She huffed and stared out the stable doors.

“You could wait for him. Fourth one from the back, third row.”

“I will.” Robin blessed the gods for her luck. Jared’s stall was only one row from Lord Barry’s.

Lord Barry’s dragon, Taston, whirled above the King and nobles outside. His stall remained empty except for hay and the buckets of water dragonhands would use to wash the beast down after his flight.

Robin pulled a hidden vial sewn into her dress waistline and poured the contents into the largest bucket. Once on Taston’s skin, it would seep into the dragon’s blood. He’d cramp on his next flight, sending him and his rider to the ground.

Enemies of the Order ought to be careful, the prioress also said. She replaced the vial in her dress and smiled; another job complete.

 

Thoughts

I did not expect to win the contest.  This was the first contest I remember entering.  It may also be my first attempt at a short story since college when I wrote some terrible fanfiction.  I don’t read much short fiction, so have even less knowledge than I do about longer stories.  750 words were probably too few for this plot.  I had not yet learned all the fancy comma rules I’d forgotten since school.  In short, I didn’t know what I was doing.  Additionally, I knew the judges (members of the writing group) aren’t normally fantasy readers.  This story was the wrong genre for the audience.

The best way to improve my writing is to actually write, so regardless of the story’s standing in the contest, this exercise was productive.  It was also a lot of fun, as my work in progress doesn’t include dragons.  Who doesn’t like dragons?  Productive + fun = success.

I also learned I have no idea how to paste in a story to WordPress and retain all the formatting.  This seems a good topic to Google for next time.

Let me know what you think down in the comments.  Have a wonderful week, readers!

Sit. Stand. Cat.

Another non-book review on “Stuff I Like!” This is for my desk, which goes from sitting to standing in a matter of seconds via a crank on the side. I have the 48″ model for home and the 60″ model for work.

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60″ desk at work

Sitting all the time is bad for our health, so adding the ability to stand is an excellent option. Most of us don’t want to stand the whole day though, and that has its concerns as well, so it is nice to crank it back down and sit.

Another great feature is the different levels for the keyboard and monitors. We want to make sure both our hands and our heads are in the right position for typing. This will help avoid neck and arm problems. The desk came with caster wheels, but I left them off so the unit is the right height for me, both sitting and standing.

I’ve had the desk at work for several years and it still holds up well. It seems very sturdy construction once built, and I expect to use both desks for many more years.

The only downside to this desk model is the instructions. There’s a very good risk of punching a bolt through the desk surface if you’re not careful, and the directions for attaching the legs are confusing enough I put them on backward. This may sound like a deal-killer, but now that you’re aware of the problems you can look for them. Also, the customer service was excellent and they replaced the desk surface immediately when called.

When upgrading to the standing desk, I also purchased a mat for standing. This helped reduce joint issues when spending more time upright. It is more comfortable. This model also comes with the most hilarious request for feedback I’ve ever seen.

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48″ model at home.  Mat also shown.  Cat not included.

Do you sit at a desk all day? What do you to avoid the health issues associated with prolonged sitting?

Zelda Makes Me Faster

If you’re wondering where my post was on Thursday, fear not.  User error is the cause.  I failed to actually click “post.”  Look for it this week!

Progress
Progress remains slow on the plan, but with the adjusted schedule in mine, I’m a lot happier this week than I was last week.  I have almost 20,000 words of the third draft complete.  Scrivener tells me that is 53 pages, for those of you who have asked.

I’ve sped up some since I purchased a Nintendo Switch.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m more productive now that I have some quality bait.  The key is to set a goal for writing and play Zelda only after that goal is accomplished.  I’m writing this blog entry after a 45 minute foray into the game, which followed 45 minutes on the novel.

Commas
This week in Julie’s glamorous writing adventures: the comma.  I had no idea how many rules existed for commas, and might never have known if not for Grammarly.  The tool continually found errors in my comma placement.  I’d put a comma in a sentence, and it would tell me to remove it.  Or I wouldn’t have a comma, and it would want me to add it.  The commas in this paragraph are brought to you by Grammarly.

I knew of the Oxford comma debate.  I knew I needed commas.  The only rule I followed was to put them where I paused in a sentence, though, and apparently, that isn’t sufficient.   I’m sure somebody told me the rules earlier in my life, but that was at least twenty years ago.  As an engineer, putting commas in the pauses has worked out just fine.  Yet here I am, looking up comma rules.

Grammarly wanted me to know that “glamorous” and “comma” in the first sentence of the paragraph above is an “unusual word pair.”  Thanks, Grammarly.

Some Comma Resources
Grammarly – Commas in Complex Sentences
St Petersburg College Libraries – Compound Sentences
The Punctuation Guide – Comma

I’ve been home from the Writing Enchanting Prose class for a month now, and I’ve been busily working on my third draft. The goal was to have it finished sometime in May to send out to some readers at the end of May or in June. That timeline isn’t working. Of the seven scenes I’ve worked on, four have labels of “NOT WORKING” or “BORING,” meaning I did all that work and don’t intend to keep them. At my present rate of revision, I’ll be done with this draft in October. That’s quite a change!

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On the one hand, since I don’t really know what I’m doing, it shouldn’t be a surprise my plan was wrong. I plan every day at work and it is all based on what has happened before. Novel writing is a new adventure for me, so I don’t have any information to go on for my prediction. The story is much better for my efforts though, and I’m still having fun.

On the other hand, this is hard. I like my book, and I like writing, but I also want to put it aside at some point to move on to the next project. I was moving along at such good speed that this has been somewhat depressing. If I step up my rate quite a bit, I can still aim for July. Hopefully, things speed up as I progress. I hope?

My friend left me this on Twitter at a low moment this week.  It explains a lot.

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The internets tell me this should be attributed to this artist.  I know nothing about art, but they have some pretty things there.  You should go look.

I did receive some positive news this week.  The writing group reviewed the revised first chapter of the third draft, and they labelled it a significant improvement.  That’s four people who think I write gooder! 😉

Off to write, my friends.  Have a fantastic week!

Bacon and Reading

WoF

No post on Easter Sunday as I was far too busy enjoying family time as we ate our way through a brunch buffet of epic proportions.  To (loosely) quote my nephew: “Jesus didn’t just die on the Cross so we could go to Heaven, He also made it okay to eat bacon.”  Amen to both, Jacob.

My epic adventure to Dallas last month left me with more than some new writer friends and some new writer skills – it also gave me some new ideas on books to read.  David Farland, the instructor of the Dallas class, is the Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future contest.  I’d heard of the contest but hadn’t given it much thought, but upon my return home I downloaded two of the anthologies.  I just finished Volume 32.

The 32nd edition of Writers of the Future may be the best new book yet! Brand-new adventure through space, time and possibility.

Along the way these new authors will introduce you to fascinating characters such as Nate, a very loyal companion—like most werewolves would be. Keanie has a parasite that lets her morph and so transform into anyone. Liz owns a dinosaur maker, but raw ingredients can be a problem. Anna slaves away in a factory but her magic leaves her unfulfilled. These authors take creative writing to a whole new level!

The answers, the stories, the visions, and the mind-stretching possibilities are all waiting inside.

Welcome to the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It gets better every year. These are the award winning short stories of the international contest that have launched the writing careers of some of the best new books!

BONUS stories and articles on how to write by New York Times best sellers Tim Powers, Sean Williams, Brandon Sanderson, Sergey Poyarkov & L. Ron Hubbard.

This is a little harder to review since it consisted of several shorter stories instead of one long novel.  I’ve not read a lot of short stories, so I didn’t know what to expect.  There were a few I didn’t like, but I enjoyed most of the stories and found a few to be excellent.

My favorite was probably “Swords Like Lightning, Hooves Like Thunder,” written by K.D. Julicher.  I thought one of the major reveals was a bit too obvious, but I was having so much fun I didn’t care.  It was a fun little adventure with romance and a world and characters I wanted to learn more about before it finished.

I also enjoyed “The Sun Falls Apart” by J.W. Alden.  This was a different type of “enjoyment,” as I couldn’t put it down before I found out what happened, and then I was too terrified to sleep.  I woke up thinking about it the next morning.  In other words, it was well written!

The anthology includes the winners of the Illustrators of the Future contest, hosted by the same organization.  I don’t normally go for art, but these went with the stories and were so good it made me wish I’d purchased the hard copy instead of going with the Kindle version.

You can find Volumes 32 and 33 on Kindle Unlimited.  If you’ve never tried short fiction, this seems a fine way to start!