Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting it Done: What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended Monday at midnight. The challenge? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. According to the NaNoWriMo Web site, about 19% of the 150,000 participants (about 30,000 people) won the challenge. I'm delighted to report that on my second go at NaNoWriMo (I tried and gave up in 2007), I'm one of the winners. I crossed the finish line at 50,316 words around 11:00 AM Saturday morning. Here's what I learned about Getting It Done from the NaNoWriMo experience:

1. Get A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Research has demonstrated that we have a better chance of achieving goals that are both challenging and specific. 80% of Americans SAY they want to write a book someday. In order to actually write the book, they need to shift their vague goal (I want to write a book someday) to something more specific (I am writing a novel about Ninja Warriors ). You want to get something done? Dream big and put it in writing. Make your goal specific and measurable.

2. Get a Deadline. Your big hairy audacious and specific goal means nothing unless you also have a deadline. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, says that the deadline separates most authors from getting their books written. I believe it. It's too easy to give up on something that you do not have a public, accountable deadline for. National Novel Writing Month provided a deadline for me and thousands of other writers this past November. What's your deadline for achieving your BHAG?

3. Add Mile Markers. Marathon runners keep track of their progress by watching for the mile markers posted along the marathon route. You can up your chances of achieving a goal if you have your own version of mile markers. During NaNoWriMo, I measured my progress by keeping track of my word count at the NaNoWriMo site. I did not have to worry or guess if I was on the right track. I knew what word count I needed to achieve each day, and the counter helped me stay honest about my progress. How will you measure your progress toward your goal?

4. Buddies Help. My gym buddies make it impossible for me to skip a day at the gym. They notice and comment on every missed session. Having NaNoWriMo buddies—fellow writers determined to win the challenge—helped me through the month. Knowing that they were knocking themselves out trying to finish gave me courage, hope, and the energy to keep going. Social psychologists have proven that we tend to achieve more if we hang out with high achieving friends. If your friends are achieving their BHAGs, you will be more likely to achieve yours, too! If you want to get it done, get connected to people who are getting it done.

5. Dump Your Excuses. Despite my track record of disciplined writing, I can throw out excuses with the best of them: I'm too tired. I'm sick. The kids are sick. I have too much work to do. I can do it later. (Can you hear the whine?) I can fool myself into believing that these aren't just miserable little excuses but real reasons I cannot get to my BHAG just yet. This past month, I wrote through a cold, my kids' colds, my children puking, work deadlines, and more. All good excuses for not writing. Not one of them good enough reasons to dump this project. If you're passionate about getting something done, wrestle those excuses to the ground. Don't let them get in your way.

6. Let Go of Time Wasters. You do not need to put your life on hold to achieve the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You can still play with your children, have coffee with friends, and go to work. You will need to clear out some of the activities that waste your time. You'll be amazed at how much more time you have when you aren't surfing the net, playing video games, texting, or watching television. Want to get to that big hairy audacious goal? Give up just one time-waster a day. Spend that time working on your goal. See if it makes a difference.

7. Hurting? Worry Not: No Pain, No Gain! It is not easy to write a book in 30 days. By the end of the month, I felt like I had run a real marathon. I was ready for a rest. According to recent research, when we exert energy to master a skill, we will experience stress. BUT, in the long run, we will feel healthier and happier because we stretched our intellectual and emotional muscles. So even if you feel a little bit stressed as you work toward your goal, know that you will feel happier when you finish!

8. Get Connected to the REAL REWARD! When I finished NaNoWriMo, I got a few prizes: a certificate and the funky little NaNoWriMo winner badge you see above. Several friends and NaNo buddies gave me virtual high-fives. But mostly, the world kept spinning without any notice of me and my big achievement. And guess what: that did not matter. The joy I felt in achieving my goal came from achieving my goal and not from any kudos I collected from others. Achieving your big hairy audacious goal IS the real reward. You feel proud of yourself. You stand up a bit straighter. YOU did it!

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I'm looking toward setting my next BHAG. NaNo taught me a lot about how to do it, so I have no doubt I will succeed. Now it's your turn. Go forth and set big goals! You can do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How to Become a Writer

Following me will make you rich.
—Twitter Post

I received the above message from a colleague on Twitter. I admire the person's moxie. That's quite a claim—big riches for the simple act of following another.

I wish I could offer similar sentiments for my own field:
following me will make you a writer.

But here's the deal: following me on Twitter, reading my blog posts, or even subscribing to my Write Now! Tips will NOT make you a writer. (It also won't make you happier, richer, or give you whiter teeth.)

Following me might make you a better writer. I offer lots of tips and advice and resources about writing. But following me will not make you a writer any more than watching the olympics will make you an athlete.

The only way to become a writer is to write. Write a lot. Write every time you have a free second. Write even if you don't get published. That is how you become a writer. As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

By the way: I've been a twitter follower of the person who promised me riches for over a month now. I'm still waiting to get rich. That's okay. I can write while I wait.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Search the Net, Get SMARTER!

Did you hear about the big study that came out of UCLA today? Scientists have discovered that in middle-aged and older adults, searching the net might just improve brain function. (Who said an old dog can't learn new tricks???)

Here's what happened. Participants had to do Web searches and read books while getting functional magnetic resonance imaging scans. The scans recorded what was happening in the brain during the participants' activity. Everyone who participated showed significant activity in their brain while reading a book. But only the web-saavy participants showed activity in the decision-making and complex reasoning parts of the brain.

Cool fact #1: The scientists found that Internet searching engages—in their words—"a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading."

Cool fact #2: Those participants who had some experience searching the Internet had a twofold increase in brain activation when compared to those who had little or no experience online.

Key learning: Our brains can grow and learn new things as we age.

Read the whole press release online.

Then go do an Internet search. Just think: you are growing your brain while you surf!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Right Now! Notes Book and Music Issue

Actually that's THE GREAT BIG RIGHT NOW! NOTES BOOK AND MUSIC ISSUE. Because it's all that—great, big, and filled with books and music. If you need a book to transform your life, a good beach read, or a song that will rock your world—click here to read my summer book and music issue! Enjoy!

(And, by the way. If you want to get my monthly newsletter—filled with tips to transform your life Right Now—delivered into your email inbox, visit my Web site and sign up. You'll get a cool little ebook as my gift to you!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Smarter than a Scientist: What NOT to Do with a Feeding Tube

On February 1, 2008, our daughter Elly was put on a feeding tube. She has failure-to-thrive, and the feeding tube would help her reach a healthy weight. We thought this would be very temporary. Eighteen months later, she is still on the tube. We have great hopes that she will be off this thing within the next six months. In the meantime, we are finding ways to cope.

A few weeks ago, as summer moved into high gear, we started talking about life with the tube. Elly came up with the idea of writing a list of things NOT to do with a feeding tube. We've been working on it together ever since. Elly decided that it would make a great entry for her "smarter than a scientist" blog post. So here is our list—complete with pictures—about what NOT to do with your feeding tube (if you should ever have one). I hope you'll enjoy reading the list of naughty acts as much as we enjoyed imagining them. As we chose the pictures for this post, Elly said to me: "It's fun to work on projects together." I agree.

What NOT to Do with a Feeding Tube
by Elly and her mom

1. Mow the lawn (see photo above).
2. Jump off the sofa.
3. Jump off your mom or dad who is on the sofa.
4. Be wild.
5. Run around your brother, wrapping him in the feeding tube.
6. Play jump rope with your feeding tube!
7. Knit your feeding tube into a scarf.
8. Pull your feeding tube like taffy!
9. Squeeze the bag like a tube of toothpaste.
10. Detach it and drink out of it.
11. Detach it and make your brother drink out of it.
12. Ride your scooter with it attached.
13. Tease the bees with the Pediasure. (They'll chase you!)
14. Ride your bike with your feeding tube attached.
15. Use it as a glasses case for your mother's glasses.
16. String your brother's guitar.
17. Cut it up and cook it. (Eek!)
18. Use it as a flotation device.
19. Wear it as a necklace.
20. Use it as a pillow.
21. Wear it as a headband.
22. Eat the tube (or the handle)!
The End!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walking Graces

If you are walking to seek, ye shall find.  
~Sommeil Liberosensa

Feeling overwhelmed by the daily demands of life—and who doesn't???—I picked up the book Sabbath by Wayne Muller. I'd read it ten years ago, when it first came out. Back then, I raced through the book, gobbling up the ideas like hot popcorn. Now, I am taking my time with the book. Don't assume that I'm reading more slowly because I'm wiser. Hardly. It's that I rarely have time to read. In other words, I need a sabbath to read Sabbath.

I did get far enough in the book to read about the Sabbath Walk. According to Muller, this is a slow and silent thirty-minute walk. He says this about the practice, "Follow your own timing and curiosity. When you are called to stop, stop and investigate. When you are called to begin again, simply move on. That is all."

I love the idea of wandering for thirty-minutes, on the lookout for miracles. I'm enchanted with the thought of walking without purpose. But I need a guide. Left to my own devices, I will always be intent on getting somewhere or becoming fit or, at the very least, thinking over big ideas

I live with a couple of children who are happy to wander aimlessly through the world. Thankfully, they are still willing to let me tag along. When I allow my children to take me on a walk, I am surprised by the miracles they find. Dogs, dandelions, rocks, and (as you can see above) another family out for a walk. But maybe the biggest miracle is this: instead of moving onto the next big thing, we stopped and watched. We took a sabbath moment.

This week, take ten minutes to wander around the block or through a park. See what you uncover—in the world and in your soul. 


Brandi Carlile's song, Have You Ever, provides a wonderful soundtrack for the wandering walk. Take a moment to listen to it. It's a catchy reminder to get out and walk!

I've also provided a link to Wayne Muller's wonderful book Sabbath. A must-have for the world-weary among us!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Skating Lessons

My daughter just started taking skating lessons at the Petit National Ice Center. Can you guess what the instructors teach first at this Olympic training center? They teach the students how to get up

I love this. We all fall. What separates those who succeed from those who don't? Getting up. Those who succeed get up over and over again. The rest sit on the ice and whine: 
"It's too hard."
"No one supports me."
"Why do I keep falling?"

Last week I listened to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk. He said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

In other words, those who succeed are willing to create something that others may mock (or worse). Scary! Most of us want the approval of other people. Once we know (or think we know) what pleases our audience, we do it over and over again. 

This week, try something different. Take a risk with your work. Get curious. Be willing to produce something you cannot use. As Samuel Beckett said, "Ever tried? Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Just remember this: get up and try again. Like the old proverb says, "Fall seven times. Stand up eight."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Smarter than a Scientist

We'd had one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (thank you Judith Viorst for creating that amazing phrase). 

In the midst of this, my seven-year-old daughter piped up: "When you are having a bad day, do something you love. You'll feel better."

She's right, of course. Participating in activities we are passionate about DOES help us to feel happier. But most of us slog through life checking chores off our to-do list and forget about the stuff that once delighted us. When we get to the end of our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we pour ourselves a glass of something, dig into the chips, and veg out in front of the television.

In honor of the first day of spring, I'm challenging you to do something different. Make a list of ten activities that engage and inspire you. Think about the last few times you felt that first-day-of-spring, new-possibilities feeling. What were you doing? Wandering around an art museum, digging in the dirt, working on your car, or walking in the woods?  Put it down on the list!

The next time you're having one of those days, stop working and do something that delights you. As my daughter says, you'll feel better! 

Speaking of my daughter. After she gave her sage advice, I asked if she would help me out with the blog. She suggested I call her blog posts, "Smarter than a Scientist" because—as she said—"I am."  

If you are looking for more young wisdom, check out young Alexander in Judith Viorst's book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Good News

I woke up this morning feeling uneasy. It took a few minutes to figure out why. And then I remembered. I'd broken my long-standing news fast. On Friday, I checked into a hotel to work on my new book proposal. This hotel had two perks I don't get at home: a daily newspaper and cable television. On Saturday night, after a day and a half of work, my daughter joined me for a night of girl time. While she watched The Disney Channel, I read the paper. Bad idea.

After all that news, the words in my head this morning were not the usual hopeful ones. Instead of thinking about my morning writing work, I was recalling dire predictions. As I drove my daughter to school and lifted weights at the YMCA, my brain kept remembering phrases like:
  • dismal possibilities
  • difficult publishing landscape 
  • staggering losses
  • lowest since ...
  • worst in 34 years ...
Before long, I was beginning to think, "Well, why bother?" Why bother writing a book, why bother building a business, why bother doing ANYTHING when the economic climate is so tough?

I'm not going to tell you that the economic climate is peachy. It isn't. It's a mess. Not an unfixable mess, but a mess.

But I am going to answer the question, "Why bother?"

Why bother?  Because the world needs you now more than ever. In difficult economic times, the world needs you to speak your hopeful words, write your books, play your music, make art, bake bread, and work on that business dream. 

The world needs some good news. Why shouldn't it come from you???

I'm creating my own antidote to the daily dose of bad news. On Sunday morning, my daughter and I each wrote down five things we were grateful for about each other. You can see her drawing above. The practice helped us both to feel better. So now I am expanding it. Every night I write in my journal three pieces of good news—ideas, people, places, or events that brought me hope that day. 

I'll let you know how that goes. But right now, I need to get back to working on my book. After all, the world needs more good news! :-) 

In the meantime, check out the movie Seabiscuit. The movie was a great reminder that the situation does not have to be perfect (the economy, our health, our age, or experience) in order to achieve success. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What's YOUR biggest goal?

Last week I received an email from one of my Mastermind partners, Caroline Miller. She asked, "What's your biggest goal for 2009?" 

I have goals—plenty of them. I even have a priority system for my goals—so I know which ones I want and need to accomplish first. But I hadn't thought in terms of size. I hadn't decided which of my big goals I absolutely positively wanted to accomplish this year. Caroline's question changed that. Now I know—I want to finish my book proposal and get it to an agent. 

That question changed the way I function in my daily life. Once I had my big goal in mind, I blocked out daily calendar time to work on it. I gave myself a due date. Both of my mastermind partners, my family, and a few friends know that I'm hard at work on this goal. They hold me accountable to it. 

Daily, I do what I can do toward accomplishing my goals. Not every day is perfect. Sometimes I'm worried about my kids or working on another deadline. I'm cold or hungry or tired. (Or distracted by Facebook and Twitter.) 

In the midst of life's imperfections, I hold in my mind the picture of my daughter above, working in what she calls "her office." She gets lost in making art—even though she is on a throw rug on the floor, with her brother cranking up ACDC's music. Watching her, I let go of my expectations for the perfect writing day. I put my butt in the desk chair and write—no matter what. 

So how about you. What's your biggest goal for 2009? Name it, claim it, and get going!

If your biggest goal has to do with writing, join my new Write Now Mastermind Group

No matter what your goal, check out Caroline's new book, Creating Your Best Life. It'll help you set the big goals and achieve them. Promise!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


About a year ago I bought this PAUSE mug, to remind myself to do just that. On most days, my work and family life are so busy that I don't have time to pause for coffee with a friend or beading a necklace or even to engage in my passion—creative writing.

Oh I write—every day. But most of my writing falls into the professional, have-to-do-it-for-work category. Don't get me wrong: I love every minute of it. I also love the work I do with clients. And I love connecting with people from all over the world online—it rocks. But still, I long to work on my memoir and to finish my novel. 

As a coach, I know that the person who needs to be most committed to getting to this work is ME. So this year, I decided to make it happen. Today I mailed in my application for an artists' residency program. If accepted, I'll get to put my work and family life on PAUSE for two weeks and finish writing my memoir. And I'll be able to connect with other writers, visual artists, and musicians who are doing the same.

But that's just the beginning. I'll be applying for other residencies this year, as well. The list is made, and the deadlines are on my to do list. 

What if I don't get in? Then I go to PLAN B. I'll rent a friend's vacation home. Or do a Priceline bid at a hotel. However or wherever it happens, I'm taking the time to finish my book.  As with many writers, I write because I need to. It's how I figure out life. 

Last night, my daughter was singing with joy. She said to me, "Mom, singing gives me so much energy!" That's how it is with passions. They energize us.

Now it's your turn: what is your passion? How will you PAUSE and pursue your passion in 2009. Make a plan! And then leave a comment. I'd love to hear how you are making your dreams come true.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How to Read More in 2009

I've been faithfully keeping track of the books I've read since 1993. Most years I manage to log two books a week. Some years, I've been able to read three books a week.

How about you? Is reading a book—or just reading more—one of your New Year's Resolutions? As a lifelong and persistent reader, here are my tips on how to get more reading done right now

First, make sure you have books! Support and use your public library. It offers all of us equal access to books. That said, it’s helpful to have a few books of your own for snowstorms and sick days. I encourage clients to develop a small library of must-read professional books and resources and a stack of fun or interesting books. If you don't have a lot of cash to buy books, shop your library's annual book sale. You can get the best bargains on books! If you have a Half-Price Books in your town, check out their large selection of clearance books at $1-$3 each. 

Second, make your books accessible!
• Keep your books in sight—seeing reminds you to read. I try to keep a book in every room.
• Always keep a book in the bathroom.
• Keep a book in the car (or on your person) for the times you end up waiting. This turns the dentist’s waiting room or the time you spend waiting for kids at soccer or ballet into reading time.

Third, find the time to read. 
Here are some tricks that work for me and my clients:
• Get up 30 minutes earlier than your family and use the time for a quiet breakfast and reading.
• Read while you exercise. But be safe! Though I’ve seen others read on treadmills and elliptical gliders (and while walking outside! Yikes!), I only recommend reading on a stationary bicycle.
• Commute to work and read on the bus or train.
• Read during your lunch hour.
• Set aside work time each week to catch up on the reading you do for your profession.
• Replace one hour of email or computer time with reading.
• Tape or TiVo all television shows—and get back 20 minutes per hour show to read!
• Stop watching television a little earlier (or start watching a little later), and take back an hour or more for reading.
• Dedicate one afternoon (or day) per week (or month) as a reading retreat—and head out to a coffee shop, park, or library to read.

Consider the audio option. Audio books make it possible to “read” while running, driving, cleaning the house, crafting, cooking dinner and more.

Give it time. Reading is a habit that takes time to establish—like exercising and eating well. My final bit of advice will help you ease into it: start with a book that rocks your world. Don’t try to devour War and Peace if you haven’t read anything since college. You’ll just get frustrated. Instead, pick up a book that makes you forget the time. You’ll get hooked. I promise!

Need more help?
Buy my favorite new book: Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. Full disclosure: this book was written by my longtime friend, colleague, and mastermind partner, Caroline Miller. Although I like most everything Caroline writes, I think this is her best book so far. She combines solid information from her study of positive psychology (she has a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology from Penn) with great coaching tips. Creating Your Best Life is jam-packed with information on on how you can achieve your goals and increase your feelings of happiness, whether you want to read 50 books or run a marathon (or both) this year! If you want more help achieving your 2009 goals, pick up this book right now. You won't be disappointed!