Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TWAP: Twitter Writer Acronym Primer

Twitter is a wonderful place to meet new writerly friends. I regularly connect with people in such exotic places as Glasgow, London, Sweden, Japan, and Arizona. I follow international bestselling authors and hopeful wannabes. Some of them even follow me.

We discuss Important Writer Things like:

* How much coffee is too much?

(Answer: Define this foreign concept of "too much.")

* Does the Crap Writing Muse have a name?

(Answer: Yes. It is "Latrine." This exchange gained me several follows by potty-bots. No sh*t.)

* If there were a group of publishing industry superheroes, what would they be called?

(Answer: the Literati. Duh.)

So you can see why it is imperative to a writer's career that Twitter be a part of one's daily routine. Like coffee. Or Nutty Bars. Or trolling the internet for news of one's favorite celebrity crushes. (Oh, Rob, when will you realize that Kirsten just doesn't deserve you?)

Because of the 140 character restriction, writing-related acronyms crop up with enough frequency that they have become part of my normal typed vocabulary. But I often find someone new to the medium who, upon reading something like:

"Yay! Today my YA WIP super-bad MC meets LI!"

reacts much like a tourist turning a map in a new city: "Huh?"

Twitter is not a "Let's Keep 'Em On the Outside" clique for the Chosen Few. Rather, it is an all-inclusive community who welcomes all with equal enthusiasm. (Unless you're an SEO spam-bot. Then: get lost!) And so, in the interest of open communication, I have begun to compile the T.W.A.P.: The Twitter Writer Acronym Primer.

The list that follows is by no means conclusive or exhaustive. Or even well-researched. If I've made a mistake, please alert me to it. Or, better yet -- let's keep it our little secret and start a trend! If I've missed one of your favorite writer-related acronyms, let the world know by dropping a comment below.

(For non-writer-related acronyms dealing with aforementioned celebrity crushes, just DM me... I'd like to maintain the illusion of professionalism here.)

The T.W.A.P Thus Far:

WIP – Work in Progress

Common uses: “Off to work on my WIP." “WIP is kicking my butt.” “I did 2100 words on my WIP today! Virtual mocha lattes for everyone!”

MC – Main Character

As in: “MC continues to amaze me & do stuff I never intended.” “My MC needs a better arc.” Or, in my case, “Am madly crushing on WIP’s MC…”

POV – Point of View

“Story is muddy. May shift to alternate POV.” “Diving into deep POV for better insight into MC’s motives.”

(Warning! Using the #POV hashtag may garner you a whole passle of p0rn bots & followers of a questionable ilk. Evidently, it’s a particular filming style for adult-movies. This, I must stress, was news to me.)

LI – Love Interest

A must for romance and, often, for YA. “Help! LI is currently more interesting than MC.”

YA – Young Adult

Not just books for ages 12 & up, but books that speak to the perpetual teen in all of us. From “Tom Sawyer” and “Pride and Prejudice” to “Artemis Fowl,” “Harry Potter,” and “Twilight.”

MG – Middle Grade

Books for kids 8 – 12 years old. Classics of the genre include “Nancy Drew,” the “Hardy Boys,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

SF/F – Science Fiction / Fantasy

See? Now “Worried about nailing the drones’ POV in SF/F WIP” should be readily understandable.

NF – Non-Fiction

Or Newfoundland.

RWA - Romance Writers of America

Also Risk-Weighted Assets. Which may have more to do with one's friends than one's writing...

PW - Publisher's Weekly

Affording bragging rights to published authors & their agents everywhere.

ARC – Advance Reader Copy

The pre-release prints of a book distributed to reviewers. Generally used by excited agents & publishers. “Want to win an ARC of my @greatnewauthor’s #greatnewbook! See my #blog for contest details!”

And that, dear readers, is all the TWAP that's fit to print for now. My job here is done. Coffee calls! Now back to work on my WIP. I'm feeling lonely for my MC...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lessons Learned While Walking in an Agent's Shoes

Don’t judge a person, the old adage advises, until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Or her heels.

I recently experienced, on a small scale, what was very close to a mile in an agent’s life. I confess my eyes were opened to nuances in the submission process that escaped me while walking in my regular Writer’s Shoes. It’s amazing how quickly one learns what makes a submission stand out, what rubs one the wrong way, and what is clearly a waste of everyone’s time when the shoe is on the other foot.

Walk with me, if you will, and I’ll share the lessons I recently learned.

Lesson 1: My Loyalties Lie With Those I Know

Before beginning the jaunt, a bit of backstory is warranted.

For the past two years I have been involved in creating a Major Project for a Major Client. This is the client who has kept food on my table and gas in my car. The client who kept me from wearing a “Will Write For Food” sign while lurking around Wal-Mart. The client is classy, solvent, and at the top of its field.

Because of my work on this project, I have been fortunate to work with absolute legends in my client’s industry. My client has been very happy with the work I’ve done thus far on the project. I will do everything in my power to keep the joy alive.

The completed project is a 200K word document chock-full of educational material for several stages of an industry-wide certification process. The client wants it indexed. Since this is patently NOT my specialty, I began the Great Indexer Search. I mentioned on Twitter that I was looking for experienced indexers. A freelance writer friend posted a short ad for me on a professional writer’s site. I asked the managing editor of a publisher I’ve worked with for recommendations.

Throughout the entire process, though I was looking for a great indexer – one who could do the job and do it well – my loyalties were firmly in the client’s camp. My client pays the bills. My client has the need. My client is my priority.

If I happen to find a brilliant indexer and we hit it off; great. But my first concern is not in building a long-term relationship with an indexer or in furthering an indexer’s career. It’s keeping my client happy.

This is akin to the agent who has spent years forging strong working relationships with editors and publishers. The first priority is in sending the publishing professionals material they can use: salable, marketable projects. Finding new authors is part of the job. But the loyalties must lie with those who pay the bills. New people will only enter the mix if they can contribute in a significant way to the success of those with whom the agent already has a history or an obligation.

Lesson 2: Square Pegs Don’t Fill Round Holes

The submissions came rolling in.

Most were professional and, to some degree, addressed my indexing need. A few of those bidding mentioned that they also offered other services: editing, proofreading & the like. This was fine, but it didn’t elevate them above those who only indexed. I didn’t need other services. I wasn’t looking for other services. I didn’t ask for other services. So I didn’t care about other services. I only cared about providing the service my client needed.

One submission, however, was clearly inappropriate. And the job-hunter knew it. “I know you said you needed an indexer,” the query letter began, ”but if you need (insert completely different and unrelated service here), please consider me.”

It took time to write that e-mail. It took time for me to read it. It took time for me to write back (nicely, of course), “Thanks, but no thanks.” Wasted time.

This person could have been the best (insert unrelated service provider) in the world. But that doesn’t help me or my client. So it does none of us any good.

The analogy is obvious. If an agent says he wants YA or MG books, don’t fill up his in-box with adult sci-fi. You can be the next Isaac Asimov. If he only has working relationships with YA & kidlit publishers, he won’t be able to sell your stuff. Brilliant writing will get you nowhere if the agent doesn’t rep that genre.

Lesson 3: Make It Easy For Me To Do My Job

Within an hour of posting the opening, I had over 15 submissions.

• Some were so generic that they quickly got lumped in the “adequate” pile.

• A few included links to websites or work samples. This worked in people’s favor IF the links were to relevant materials. It worked against them, however, if the links took me to sites that were clunky, cluttered, vague, unprofessional, or (there’s that word again) generic.

• One attached a 3 page “information sheet” that was intended, I assume, to help bid out the project more accurately. However, no one else included such a thing. Filling out the sheet would take a good ½ hour – and I’m not convinced that would be a great use of my time. Especially since other indexers were able to estimate both time and $$ bids based on the information I provided to all.

• A few asked for specific additional information in order to give a more accurate estimate. In each case, I was able to comply. In no case did the request for more specifics or for clarification negatively influence my opinion of the job seeker.

I want to find a great fit for my client’s needs, but I don’t have hours and days to do it. The submissions who stand out are the ones who clearly show that they know what I need and are capable of filling it. Those who apologize for their inexperience, point me to irrelevant work samples, or ask me to invest significant amounts of my time up front to determine whether or not we’re a good match don’t leave me with a Happy Tingles of Joy. It’s more like Irksome Grumps of Annoyance.

Lesson 4: Brevity Trumps All

Most of the people responding to my job post had no experience whatsoever in the rather rarified industry that my client rules. That’s fine. Expertise within the field was not a pre-requisite.

One person, however, had some personal experience in the area. She mentioned it in passing – 5 words politely embedded at the end of her submission. Had she included several paragraphs of her background, it would have worked against her. However, the few words that let me know “Hey, I know a bit about this!” made her stand out among the others and moved her near the top of the Strongly Consider list.

Keep submission letters short. Sweet. And relevant. That is all.

It took me quite some time to read (and weed) through the submissions. The ones that caught and kept my attention, that made me want to take a chance on recommending them for consideration, were professional, succinct, and on target. They made it EASY for me to recommend them.

As I put my own writer’s shoes back on and tie the laces tight, I’m seeing my own submissions to agents in a whole new light.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Using What You've Got

or, In Praise of Simple Tools

Once, when I was "between books," my publisher asked me to edit a manuscript that had come in rife with holes. Shortly after submission, the expert who wrote it took an extended break with reality, sequestering himself away from the world and refusing to respond to the publisher's requests for changes.

Since it is widely known that writers will do anything for money, and since the book's publication date loomed on the imminent horizon, I agreed. I focused all of my initial efforts on a particular chapter that the publisher felt had a hole in it. What an understatement. It turned out that the "point" of the book -- the obvious reason why someone would buy it -- was missing.

And so, rather than begin my edit at the beginning, I started with a chapter in the middle, looking for ways to plug the hole.

Only after working on the mid-book edit did I go back to the beginning and start critically looking at the work as a whole. While the project was rife with mistakes -- spelling errors, usage errors, incomplete sentences and sweeping generalizations -- I was unprepared for the magnitude of the problem. (In all fairness, the publisher had warned me before I began. It is my fault that I didn't grasp the enormity of what I agreed to do.)

For instance: the very first word of the entire manuscript was misspelled!

And that's not all. The very first sentence contained two usage errors, an agreement error, and a flat-out sloppy workmanship error.

Here's the thing: I don't mind. Things like this keep me in business. But it can quickly put you out of business if you're submitting manuscripts in this condition. Sure, the occasional mistake might make it into the final draft. But shoddy workmanship shows a disregard for the editor that publishers don't find amusing. It can also drastically slow the book's progress into print.

The moral of the story? Use what you have. A simple spell-check could have taken care of the basic errors in this manuscript. (If you think a word is spelled correctly, but there's a little wavy red line under it, take the few seconds necessary to have your computer look it up. That's what the little wavy red line means: "Check me!" The person who wrote the original manuscript evidently thought it meant, "Get more Twizzlers!")

Running a grammar check would have highlighted most of the usage problems and misspellings that made "real" words. Now, I loathe grammar check. It annoys me beyond words. But that's not the point. If you're not sure of your spelling or your grammar, use the tools widely available to you before sending something that represents you off to someone who is going to PAY YOU to put it in print.

Then, if doubtful of your abilities, ask a friend with a good grasp of the written word to do a read-through. Your manuscript will need edited before it goes to print. However, it behooves you -- and will only strengthen your relationship with your publisher -- to make the in-house edit as painless as possible.

The book in question required a complete re-write. I ended up putting my life on hold in order to beat the manuscript into publishable shape in time for the publisher's deadline. Though the final product came out rather well, I feel it is safe to say that the expert will be hard-pressed to find a publisher who is willing to work with him again.

We can all use a little help from our friends. In the writing world, spell check, grammar check, and beta readers are our friends. If you want a career, instead of a single-book debacle, don't hesitate to use them!

Friday, June 18, 2010

When Fiction Masquerades as Fact

or, Make Certain Your Sources Ain't Lion

In I Kings 13, there is a story I have always found profoundly disturbing. Only recently have I understood a part of it. And I have not-yet-made-it writers to thank for it.

(Understand, this is not the only Old Testament story that disturbs me. The one in Judges 4, where Jael hammers a tent peg through Sisera’s head and nails him to the ground while he sleeps is more than a little eewwy. But I digress.)

Quick 3-Act Recap. No, It’s Not a Bible Study

For those unfamiliar with the tale: an unnamed “Man of God” is instructed to deliver a prophetic message of doom to King Jeroboam who has strayed from the straight and narrow and erected altars to other gods throughout Israel.

The MoG does his job so completely that the King’s hand & arm shrivels, the altar is destroyed, and the King begs for (& gets) his body restored. The King invites MoG to come have dinner in the castle. The invitation is declined, because MoG has strict instructions not to eat or drink anything and to travel a different road home.

The King and the Man of God part ways. End of Act I.

MoG heads home after a job well done, thankful, no doubt, to still be alive after confronting the King.

Meanwhile, an old prophet in Bethel hears from his sons what has transpired. News travels fast even without the internet. The prophet has his boys saddle up a donkey, then he starts down the road, where he discovers MoG sitting under a tree.

The prophet invites MoG home to eat, saying that an angel came and changed the original message. MoG goes to the prophet’s house, eats bread and water –

And immediately the prophet yells at the MoG for disobeying the Lord’s instructions! End of Act II.

By the end of the day, the MoG is dead: killed on the road home by a lion, who stands guard over his dead body, but doesn’t touch the man’s donkey. (My daughter is currently reading The Chronicles of Narnia, so it’s impossible not to see Aslan here.) The prophet who lied to him goes and picks him up out of the road, carries it to the grave he’d intended to use himself, and has the whole city mourn for the MoG. End of Act III.

The denouement is that King Jeroboam returns to his evil ways.

There’s a Point in All of This

This story has always bothered me. The Man of God did what he was told, right? He followed the instructions he’d been given, right? So why should he have to pay when the prophet (who clearly had some spiritual awareness) deliberately led him astray?

Shouldn’t the story have ended with the prophet in the ground?

The answer – then as now – is a resounding “no.” You see, our success ultimately comes from where we get our information. Not all instruction is created equal.

When we choose to follow just any old advice, we put our feet on a slippery slope. When our feet shoot out from underneath us, we can’t blame the bad content for our downfall. We must blame ourselves for blindly following an unworthy leader.

This tenet holds true in all areas of life. Lately, however, I’ve been musing over how pertinent it is to the writer. Nearly every day, I read several blog posts and articles about the craft and process of writing. Some (like those by literary agents Scott Eagan, Susie Townsend, Rachelle Gardner, and Chip MacGregor and writers like Terisa Green and Roz Morris) are consistently informative.

All too often, however, I find fiction masquerading as fact. Articles and blog posts abound from writers who have yet to sell a single piece, who have not yet finished a book, and who have never worked with an editor or publisher.

Now please do not misunderstand me: I am all in favor of writers who have not yet broken into publishing documenting their journey. Everyone is at a different rung on the ladder. Everyone is capable of finding a way to make the climb easier for the next person. But because of WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter, it is now possible for the amateur’s words to appear to have as much – if not more – merit than the pros’.

Case in point: earlier this year, I was asked to write a monthly column of screenwriting advice for a well-respected writing blog. Me! Un-optioned, un-repped, un-produced me.

I replied that, while I was flattered, my screenwriting expertise and experience was limited to only winning a few contests. I declined the column and, instead, helped the blog owner to connect with a very capable script consultant. It’s not that I don’t think my theories of screenwriting are sound. It’s not that I haven’t had some measure of success. It’s just that I have yet to “make it.” And until I do, I feel that I have no business offering advice on the industry to others.

Would that everyone agreed with me.

Lately, I’ve been seeing articles on writing tweeted and re-tweeted on Twitter and touted as the gospel truth. These articles, however, when followed to their sources, originate from newbies. If written on subjects I do know something about (non-fiction publishing, ghostwriting, making deadlines, working with publishers, editing), I often find glaring inaccuracies, na├»ve advice, and outright misinformation.

We writers are responsible for our own careers. We devise, revise, craft, and create. We are responsible for our research, our writing, our editing, and – to an increasing degree – our marketing. It only makes sense that we go looking for advice on how to improve the process and wear all the hats the industry requires.

“Does this character arc make my butt look big?”

But when we go looking for advice, it’s up to us to vet our sources. Not everything that sounds good is. We don’t need to accept every offer of a free meal that comes our way. It’s our career on the line. Our integrity. Our professionalism.

I’d never suggest that I have nothing to learn from the unpublished. However, when it comes to improving my craft, I vet my sources in an ongoing effort to avoid becoming lion-chow.

What writing sources do you find most reputable and useful? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 14, 2010

20 Writing Secrets My English Teachers Never Told Me

When I went to University and got my degree (English & Education majors, Communications minor. Notice a trend?), I labored under the impression that Life would be much like Academia.

Concerning things like social relationships, employment opportunities, financial responsibility, and nutritional needs ("You mean one can't survive on a diet comprising solely of Coke and Doritos?"), I confess to a certain naivete on my part -- a naivete that is to be expected of one in her late teens.

However, when it came to my writing, I wish my professors had done a bit more to prepare me for the Real World.

You see, in University, my writing endeavors went very much like this:

  • Receive assignment.
  • Research as necessary.
  • Write paper.
  • Submit paper.
  • Receive "A."
While in school, I worked as Managing Editor of the student newspaper, won a contest or two, and sold a few pieces to some magazines. None of these experiences did anything to alter my viewpoint that the life of a Working Writer wouldn't be significantly different from the life of a Student Writer.

How very silly of me.

You see, there is nothing like having one's writing be the primary source of family income to give the phrase "publish or perish" a whole new relevance.  Similarly, there is nothing like actual real-world experience to help one discover the secrets that power a career.

What follows are things I learned only after leaving the hallowed halls of higher education and entering the Pit of Despair -- er, the publishing industry.  Each one was a hard-learned lesson.  In some cases, the lesson is still gelling.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of such Writing Secrets.  It's a decent start, though. 

1. If you don’t love it, don’t write it.

2. Respect yourself. Respect your characters. Respect your readers.

3. Breathe life into your words. The writer helps words to find their soul.

4. Write every day. Stories are like boulders: It’s easier to keep them moving than to than to get them restarted after a stop.

5. Expect millions of readers. Be content to read your words alone.

6. Write like you mean it.

7. Write with intent.

8. Write until it’s finished. When you stop, your characters become trapped in amber. Wait too long, and the story’s heart hardens.

9. Your writing is like your child. The world will judge your viewpoints and attitudes from your words just as they will from your parenting. If you don’t like the assumptions being made – change your approach.

10. The first draft is never the final draft.

11. Words hold the potential of immortality. What you write may well outlive you and speak to future generations of readers. Every word you write should reflect your awareness of its power.

12. The edit will often take just as long as the draft.  Occasionally it will take longer.

13.  Winning a contest does not necessarily equal an immediate career boost.

14.  Getting published is not the writer's equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.

15.  If giving your work away, do so advisedly.  Writing for free does not always mean you're getting shafted.  Nor does it always mean you'll eventually get recognized or rewarded.  Know what you get out of the deal before you agree to it.

16.  Nothing fuels creativity like a looming deadline.  (Ok -- this one I DID learn in university.  And it still holds true...)

17.  Talent is not the determining factor of success.  Many many writers less talented than you will be published and find a following.  Accept this and move on.

18.  Networking with industry professionals is imperative.  If connecting with people does not come easily to you, study those who do it well and emulate them.  No one is born knowing how to market themselves.  This is a learned skill, just like all others.

19.  5 D's separate the pro from the hobbyist:  Drive.  Dedication.  Determination.  Desire.  And a slavish adherence to Deadlines.  If even one is missing from your make-up, you will not succeed.

20.  There is no such thing as an overnight success.  In publishing, every New Bright Light that enters your awareness represents a writer who has been polishing his or her craft -- sometimes for years -- in obscurity.

There you have it:  the Writing Secrets I never learned in school, humbly proffered for your consideration.  What are the Writing Secrets that you had to enter the Real World to learn?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ghostly Thoughts on Money and Approval

From the In-Box:

Advice, Please, on Ghosting Payment & Copy Approval!

”I recently bought Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers and read your article, "Exploring Ghostwriting, Co-Authoring, and Collaborating."

In the article, you mention some pointers about the writing contract used by ghostwriters etc. I have just ghosted a book with a contract that unfortunately now requires going to court to collect. The expert I wrote for seems to have no money to pay for my six months of writing, even though the book is completely finished.

Can you provide a copy of the contract you use? I am particularly interested in the clauses for gracefully exiting (in case I see this situation coming on another project in the future) and on defining what "satisfactory copy" is. This is the sticking point on this project.

I have been a writer for more than 25 years, with several trade paperbacks and a new one coming out in October. I've had some other experts look at what I've written on this project and they all say that it is highly professional work with a high sales potential. The expert has just said "I'm invoking the right to cancel the contract" (which is in my current contracts) and believes he is no longer obligated to pay for any of the work I've done on the book.

I want to make sure I don't repeat any mistakes in the future, so changing to a more iron-clad contract is the best solution.

Many thanks for any help you can give.

My Response

(Insert “Thank you for contacting me. I hope I can be of some use to you” introductory verbiage and cautionary words stipulating that I am not an attorney and am completely unqualified to give contract advice here.)

I don't use a standard contract. Each project I do has its own contract -- and no two have been the same.

Advice on Payment: Get Paid in Pieces

Most of the time I write under contract from the publisher. I share in the book's advance and in the royalties. My contract generally stipulates that I get paid in increments:

• Sometimes my payment comes in thirds: 1/3 of the agreed-upon advance monies upon signing, 1/3 upon ms. delivery, & 1/3 upon final sign-off of the galley proofs.
• Sometimes the pay is split in two: 1/2 upon contract signing & 1/2 upon ms. acceptance.

I never begin a job for a publisher without $$ up front and an at-will exit clause (which usually states something to the effect that either of us can get out of the contract for any reason w/ a 30-day written notice). I have never had to invoke the clause & have been fortunate that the publishers who've hired me have been financially solvent.

It sounds as if you have been doing work for hire. When I do that, my contract specifies EITHER my hourly rate with an estimated number of hours expected for project completion OR our agreed-upon price for my services.

If I am working hourly, I bill the client with an itemized statement twice a month. If the client has not paid before the next bill comes due, I re-bill. If that goes unpaid, work on the project comes to a screeching halt until the client’s check is received and has cleared the bank.

If I'm working on a flat rate, I get paid in pieces. I always insist upon a significant chunk of the price (usually 1/3 of the total) as a retainer up front. That eliminates the deadbeats fairly quickly. When the ms. is just over 1/2 done (according to word count or deadline) and the client has approved the project up to that point, I get another third. I get my final third when the ms. is done, but before I provide the client with the finished file.

I have no qualms about holding the entire manuscript "hostage" until I have been paid. But I've never had to do so.

Advice on Copy Approval: Spell Out What “Satisfactory” Means

As for "satisfactory copy," I provide clients with completed chapters or portions as soon as they are finished. I give the client a deadline for responding to the proposed copy.

Every e-mail I send with new chapters or sections contains some form of: "Please let me know what changes you would like made either to the content or the execution of the text. Text not specifically tagged for changes shall be considered satisfactory, and no further changes shall be made to it without the client's express approval."

I keep a copy of every e-mail I send in a project-specific file. I've had lots of lazy clients who didn't want to read what I'd written, but I've never had one who quibbled over what "satisfactory" meant. (Knock on wood...)

In short, my advice to ghosts and writers-for-hire is to never have a huge balloon payment looming on the horizon. Get paid in stages, in smaller amounts, throughout the project. That way, if a client is a deadbeat, you know quickly, and aren't out hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. Also, throughout the project, stipulate that unless specific changes are requested, the client is accepting your work as satisfactory.

Are you a ghost or a freelancer? Care to share what works best for you when it comes to both keeping your clients happy and putting food on your table?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Simple Way to Make Your Goals Reality

At Christmas time last year, a blog post by literary agent Nathan Bransford invited readers to comment with a wish for 2010. For every comment, he pledged to donate $1 to Heifer International.

Mr Bransford invited others to take the ball and run with it. I took him up on the challenge. So did at least 22 other bloggers (according to the links on his original post). And ::bam!:: -- just like that -- a bit of writing that I did, coupled with a bit of writing that others did, resulted in a real benefit to real people. (The comments I received were enough to buy some bees!)

How's that for a warm, fuzzy feeling and for knowing that your writing is doing something worthwhile and making the world a better place?

The experience made me think about how I can make my dreams (and the dreams of my clients) have a more positive impact.

I wanted to come up with a way that would not only help clients, friends, and others reach their goals, but that would also make the world a better place as those people were reaching for their goals. So My Goal Posts was born.

It’s simple, really:

Step 1 State what you want to do.

(If you, like me, have several big projects you want to tackle, then each major project counts as a single goal. This keeps you from than loading up all of your dream projects into one big pile and calling that your goal.)

Step 2: Choose a time frame in which you will make it happen.

Step 3: Divide your main goal into 12 quantifiable sub-goals.

(For instance: If your goal is to write a novel, the following sub-goals might make sense:

1.) Outline entire project and begin required research.
2.) Write the hook, complete required research, create character notes.
3 - 7.) Write 20,000 words (5,000 words per week) until project is completed (100,000 word total).
8.) Read and edit first 50,000 words. Solicit criticism on the edited draft.
9.) Read and edit second 50,000 words. Solicit criticism on the edited draft.
10.) Incorporate necessary changes.
11.) Polish prose until squeaky clean.
12.) Edit for grammar and punctuation.)

Step 4: Determine your favorite non-profit charitable organization. Set up a way to donate to them and post it on your website or blog.

Step 5: Identify at least 10 people who love you and who want to see you succeed. Write their names down, contact them, and ask if they will help support you in your quest to reach your goal.

Ask each supporter to pledge a total of $60 to help you reach your goal.

Every time you make a stated sub-goal, each supporter pledges to make a $5 donation to your chosen charity.

Important!: If you do NOT reach a stated sub-goal, your supporters are not required to donate. However, you (and no one else) are responsible for committing to your dreams.

Failing to meet a sub-goal is literally taking money away from your selected charity. That's not fair! So it is YOUR responsibility to pledge to make up the difference that your missed sub-goal has cost the organization. If you have 10 supporters, and each is happy to donate $5 / month for each goal you make, that means that you are responsible for a $50 donation for every month you miss your goals.

How's that for incentive AND for knowing that your dreams are as important to the world as they are to you?

At the end, you will not only have reached your Big Goal, but you will also have raised at least $600 for your favorite charity!

I would love for this to take off and inspire tons of people to reach for their goals. It's on my Stuff That Would Be Cool if it Happened list.

Imagine: if only 1,000 people committed to their Goal Posts in this way, not only would those people make major strides toward making their dreams come true, but they would raise over $600,000 for charities around the world! How cool would that be?

My friend Kelly and my husband are working with me to develop My Goal Posts. Throughout the month of June, our idea is in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Everything grant. If we win the grant, we’ll receive $5,000 to put into developing and maintaining a killer website that can help inspire people, track their progress, put them in touch with others who are willing to support them in their goals, and more.

You can help! Log in to the Pepsi Refresh Everything site and cast a vote for My Goal Posts.

While you’re there, check out the other cool ideas in the running this month. You can vote for up to 10 different ideas per day. But PLEASE – come back every day and cast a vote for us.

Then – why not get started on your Big Goal? Get some friends to pledge their support, pick a charity you’d like to benefit from your efforts and make it happen!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tales From the World Steam Expo

IMG_1665My family, a friend, and I spent Memorial Day weekend at the in Dearborn, surrounded by all manner of people who happily put their normal lives on hold in order to dress up in top hats, corsets, bustles, leather, feathers, & brass.  We spent four days feeling geeky nostalgia for an era that never was -- but should have been. 

(Thanks to Arty Dawg for taking this pic of me, Wunderhusband & Kelly & graciously allowing me to use it.  See more of his Steampunk pics from the weekend.) 

When I told people where we were going, I discovered that I had to speak slowly and enunciate clearly: "Steam. Punk. Con."

This still generated blank looks, which led to a rather inarticulate (on my part) explanation of what steampunk was, what a Con was, and why I would be interested in attending any such event.

The blank looks sometimes -- but not always -- shifted to veiled "I've-always-thought-you-were-insane-and-now-you've-verified-it" expressions.  Or they stayed blank.

Finally, I started telling people that we were taking our daughter to Henry Ford Museum over the weekend, which elicited smiles, nods, and no askance glances whatsoever.

We had a ball.  Here in no particular order, are the Top 10 Things I enjoyed about attending the Con:

1. Seeing My Husband in a Whole New Way
My guy in a vintage top hat & cape = Mmmmmmm!  Such class!  Such presence!  So glad I got to go home with him!

2.  Playing Dress-Up
Corsets & bustles, bloomers & boots, silk & satin, brass & leather.  We mixed and matched our costumes, creating new combinations all weekend.  We swished and sashayed with bellydancing belts at our hips.  We made bustles out of curtains and tractor cogs.  We improvised slips into skirts.

When it was time to eat, we stayed in costume while patronizing restaurants in the Real World.  Because dressing up is more than half the fun!

3. Dancing on Stage with Tartanic
Our friend Kelly is a big Tartanic fan.  In fact, the fact that they were playing at the Con was one of the main reasons she went.  She got to be Tambourine Girl for Monday's concert.  She went up on stage with the band and played for awhile...  Doesn't she look like she's having a ball?

Then Adrian issued a general invitation to the crowd, so we rushed the stage and boogied through a way cool drum solo.  Can't say that I've ever been on stage in leather before.  It was a blast!

4.  Going Back in Time... the Henry Ford Museum.  We saw biplanes and steam trains.  We looked at ancient bicycles, carriages, and cars.  We watched a century-old steam engine fire up (with compressed air) to turn a monstrous 24-foot fly wheel.  And we spent an afternoon surrounded by machines built before computers -- when as much architectural attention was given to aesthetics as to efficiency.  Some of the machines we saw were things of beauty.  So it only follows that they are destined to be joys forever.

On Monday, we were treated to an antique airshow right over our hotel.  Very cool indeed.

5.  Teeny Tiny Top Hats
Teeny tiny top hats were everywhere.  We all liked them (Kelly had made her own and wore it proudly), but the 7 year-old in the group loved them.  We attended a T3Hat how-to workshop, where we came up with all kinds of design ideas for our own projects.  I'm envisioning a summer of T3Hat creations on my daughter's part.

6.  Peoplewatching
From steampunk Boba Fett to "the Guy with the Cool Wings," from floor-length brocade gowns with full bustles to daring leather micro-minis, the Con provided a never-ending parade of fascinating costumes and characters.  Ostrich feathers in frilly taffeta!  Giant Mad Hatter-inspired top hats!  Brass bazookas with nifty light-up power-packs that were at once retro & futuristic!  Leather shoulder braces for Wild-West style artilery!  And goggles of all shapes and styles!  One of the best places to be was in the hotel lobby, just to see the creativity of the people who attended.

On Saturday evening, I wore a blue satin gown w/ vintage shawl, violet belly dancing belt, black crinolines, bloomers, & knee-length black leather field boots.  "Don't people look at you funny?" a rather anxious-looking lady asked me on the elevator.

"Not really," I told her.  "Most of the people I've met have been with the Con.  I'm pretty tame compared to some..."

7.  Flat-Out Fun Concerts
Tartanic, of course, was cool.  How can one not love performers who are so obviously having the time of their lives up on stage?  But I liked Abney Park as well -- and my daughter really liked their concerts.

The bands played several times, were open and approachable, and were dressed just as nutty as the rest of us.  What's not to like?

8.  Dance Lessons
Kelly and I attended a session of dance lessons which, to be honest, was not period-accurate, as swing dancing was not "in" at the turn of the 20th century.  However, the teacher (who was conscripted at the last moment) was a good sport.  And it was fun to get a closer view of the various costumed gents who practiced with us in a round-robin learning session.

9.  Creative Vendors
The vendors ranged from self-published authors to antiques dealers to leather artisans to superlative seamstresses.  Each booth's merchandise invited you to try it on, heft it, polish it, look through it, or otherwise engage in a tactile experience.  Rich brocades, shimmery silks, melodious beads, redolent leathers -- all gave the vendors area a "bazaar by immersion" feel.  I tend to loathe shopping.  But much of the merchandise was handmade one-of-a-kind stuff that made browsing fun.  It was pure paradise for my shopaholic kid.

10.  Unlimited Research Opportunities
I don't write steampunk novels, but... I might.  I've been kicking around an idea.  I have the set-up, the plot, and the characters.  Even have an outline started.  There's nothing like a working vacation to submerge oneself in the genre and do what I call "lurker research." Because -- you know -- a writer is never not working!