“I’m not dead yet!”

(Bonus points if you can finish the quote)

So, final exams for grad school, combined with the strange disease known as teachinginaprilitis, knocked me on my rear end this past week/week and a half.

In retrospect, I may have chosen a bad time to start sharing out the whole goal-progress-tracking thing #learnfrommymistakes

But, any motion forward is better than no motion at all!  And, now that my grad school load has eased up for a bit, I should be able to blog and write more diligently.

Stay tuned, dear readers!

*Announcer Voice* GOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!

(I can almost guarantee that I know what voice you read the title in…)

Ready to begin the journey into goal setting, tracking, and achievement? I’ve been itching to, and as a way to hold myself accountable, I’ll be blogging my progress as I go. But that’s not the only reason I’ll be posting here – I also know how daunting it can be to go through the whole S.M.A.R.T. goal process if you’ve never done it before, and this blog will function as a “how-to” for those of you who fall into that category.

I’ve heard S.M.A.R.T. defined a few different ways over the years, but it essentially boils down to the same concepts. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific – Make sure your goal is well-defined.
  • Measurable – You have to have some way to track your goal, or else you won’t know when you’re making progress!
  • Attainable – Your goal has to be something that is possible for you to achieve.
  • Reasonable – Even if your goal is attainable, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is reasonable. For example, losing 50 pounds is attainable, but doing so in 3 weeks is not reasonable.
  • Time-bound – You need to have a target date for your goal. If you don’t set a deadline, your brain will subconsciously put the project on the back burner because it isn’t urgent enough.

(If you’d like a more in-depth history of S.M.A.R.T. goals, check out this article. It’s a quick and interesting read.)

To help me reach my goals, I add two additional dimensions onto the goal-setting process: action steps, and rewards.

Action steps are essentially your “Plan for Success” – the little things you’ll do to help structure your progress. For example, if your goal is to run a 10K after 2 months of training, you could have action steps like, “Run at least 5K every other day for a month.” These steps don’t have to be huge, as long as they help move you toward your goals.

I added the reward step to my goal-setting process after I joined the Nerd Fitness Academy. NF uses what they call “loot” to help people learn to incentivise goal setting and tracking. Personally, I’m not the most reward-oriented individual, but it is a useful tool to have in your kit. It’s important to scale the rewards to match the significance of the goal – a big reward for a challenging, long-term goal and a smaller prize for a smaller goal.

What does this actually look like?

Now that you’ve got the basic terminology down, let’s take a look at what this looks like in real life. I’m including pictures of my own, actual journal to help illustrate the process.

Now I know that a lot of you are going to look at these and think, “Wow, this doesn’t look Pinterest-y at all. They kind of look…messy.”

And they are messy, sometimes. There are places I’ve crossed things out or – perhaps – misspelled something. But you know what else is messy? The whole process of success. You will make mistakes, or take a couple of steps back in terms of progress, or decide that your goal isn’t what you thought it would be, and that’s ok. The path may be long and winding, but as long as you keep moving, you’ll get there.

Without further ado…

I sat down with my trusty mug of golden milk and my journal and started at the top – my big goals.

I’ve got three major challenges I’d like to tackle this year. For those of you who have read previous posts, you’ll know that one of those is writing – and publishing – my second novel. Here’s what I wrote for my big writing goal:

As a teacher, my pay is…less than optimal. I’ve been looking into the experiences of Jason Bond and Kyle Dennis, and I plan to start swing trading to help make ends meet. Thus, my second big goal:

Notice how there isn’t a reward for this one yet. I haven’t thought of something that would be appropriate, so I’ll come back to that later.

My health is one of my top priorities, and I have to wear a bridesmaid’s dress this fall. This leads to my third big goal:

Now it’s time to break each goal down into manageable smaller goals for the month. Each smaller goal needs to play into the larger goal, but can be much more specific and much more targeted. Here’s my April goals:

So what now?

Now comes the actual work. Stay tuned as I go through the logging and tracking process, and as I share out results.

“I want in!”

If you want to follow along with your own goals, check out the previous post to get started.

Feel free to share out your goals in the comments for (positive) feedback and support!

Hitting the Mark

The past couple of weeks have been a special kind of crazy, so I’m just now getting a chance to get back on my feet (end of quarter, end of semester for my Master’s classes, plus the usual post-spring-break ennui).  Even though I’ve been silent on here, I have been working on a project that I’m finally ready to share with all of you!

Before I got into teaching, I worked in retail management.  My job was to make sure that the store maximized profits by preventing as many losses as possible.  One of the skills that job taught me was how to properly – and effectively – set goals, in a way that has stuck with me through the years.

When I moved into teaching, goal-setting came up again.  Now I was helping students learn how to set their own goals, and how to track their progress.  The goal-setting process was the same, but the goals themselves were different.

I’ve also applied these skills to my own life.  Like many people who transitioned from fairly active youth to fairly sedentary adulthood, weight became an issue.  Using the skills I acquired in terms of goal setting and tracking, I was able to lose about 45-50 pounds from my max weight, and I’m still working on getting that number down (though my focus has shifted from “weight loss” to “health gains”).

When I took the leap and published A Lady in Rogue’s Clothing, I didn’t really have a plan for where to go from there.  It took all of my courage to put my work out there, and I frankly didn’t expect anything to come of it.  However, I was floored when I started receiving messages asking for the second novel in the series – the possibility had never crossed my mind.

I started thinking about next steps, and the next book, and where to go from here.  I found myself needing to organize my thoughts and plan out my approach.  I knew what I needed – a way to scaffold (teacher word!) my work, to take this project in chunks rather than as an overwhelming whole.  I hunted for the “right” writing tool, the right journal or notebook or whatever that would help me be a more effective and efficient writer.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, nothing fit the bill.

So I decided to make my own.  But I realized rather quickly that I didn’t actually want something to help me specifically with writing – I was looking for something to manage all of my goals and track all of my progress.

I’m rather pleased with the end result – take a look:

I was so pleased with how the project came out, that I decided to share it with all of you!  At the bottom of this post is a link to the page for each of the two sizes of journal, mini binder and full-size binder.

In order to keep myself accountable – and to help those who have never seen this particular method of goal setting and tracking before – I’m going to be sharing my logs and notes with all of you.

Expect a post later today to get us started!  I would love it if you followed along with me and tracked your own goals using this system.  Feel free to share out your progress either here or on Facebook!

Without further ado, here are the links:

smaller cover image v2Cover Image Full Size Binder


Thoughts on Publishing

Publishing A Lady in Rogue’s Clothing has been one heck of a learning experience.  In three short months I went from complete self-publishing novice to fairly adept author-publisher.  While I’m sure that there is a metric tonne left for me to learn, I have picked up some important tips along the way.

So, if you’re interested in self-publishing, here’s what you can learn from my experience:

  1. Set up your author identity first.  This allows you to run marketing on the day you debut your book (or before), rather than after the fact.  Some places you should consider having an author profile:
    • GoodReads – Not only the biggest social network for book lovers, but has a host of great author-specific tools!
    • Facebook – Even if you’re not a big fan of the site itself, it is worthwhile to have a page set up for your author identity.  It’s a great way to coordinate across multiple different platforms (including Instagram), plus it has lots of nifty business tools.
    • WordPress (or other personal website) – Having your own personal website makes you look that much more professional.  Plus, blogging helps you keep in touch with your readers and build buzz!
    • If you need stock photos, Pexels is an awesome source.  It’s where I get most of mine (excepting the ones I take myself!)  All the images there are Creative Commons licensed, which makes it so much simpler!
  2. If you aren’t a graphic designer by trade or by hobby, buy a book cover!  People really do judge a book by its cover, and trying to go back and update all your GoodReads/Amazon/etc listings after the fact takes a ton of time and energy.  The Book Cover Designer is a pretty awesome site, with some great deals – well worth the money spent!
  3. Publish through IngramSpark.  Yes, it will cost you quite a bit up front (somewhere higher than $130, for ISBN+Print+eBook), but it will be worth it for the distribution opportunities.  There are a lot of things to know about before you get started with IngramSpark, but here’s some of the things I learned:
    • Make sure you have a version of Adobe Acrobat that allows you to create and edit print-ready PDFs.  Exporting as PDF from Word won’t work (it doesn’t flatten the layers properly), and if you print to PDF from Word, your page size will not line up properly (unless your book is 8.5″ x 11″)
    • Make sure you have an image editing software of some sort available.  Even if you buy the cover art, you’ll have to fit said art into a template, along with any text you want to have on the spine and back.  Currently, I’m using GIMP for this, but something like Photoshop would be ideal.
    • You’ll need to think of a name and logo for the “imprint” you want to publish your title under.  If you don’t have one, your name will be your imprint.  This is why I came up with Rose Bridge Publishing.
  4. Once you publish, make sure you take advantage of all the advertising opportunities that are out there!  This part is super important to spread the word!
    • GoodReads – They have a pay-per-click mode, with a maximum budget (instead of maximum time), and you can target your ad to specific readers.  Plus, you can have multiple variations of your ad in any given campaign, so you can see which taglines/images get more clicks!
    • Facebook – You can set up an advertising campaign for as little as $3.  Granted, that won’t get you much reach, but it does make publicity a lot more manageable.  You can customize your ad’s audience, but be careful – the customization isn’t self-explanatory, and Facebook gets sneaky about how they try to convince you to pay for more ads (they’ll make it look like you’ve not finished submitting your ad).
    • IngramSpark Advance – This one’s a bit pricey, at $89 (as of this posting), but it’s worth it.  IngramSpark sends out a monthly flier to libraries and bookstores around the world, called the Advance.  If you pay for an ad, your cover will be included along with a short description of your novel.
    • Local independent bookstores – In Portland, we have Powell’s bookstores, and self-published authors can submit their book to be considered by the store’s buyers.  This part might take some legwork, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll buy your book, but it’s worth a shot!
  5. One word of caution – advertisements have diminishing returns.  After your initial advertising blitz, let it ride for a while so that you don’t end up pouring more into your ads than you’re getting out of them.
  6. Join a writer’s group.  I joined two – Romance Writers of America and Rose City Romance Writers.  These groups offer lots of opportunities to network and to learn, and they’ve got a whole host of resources available to you (including peer editing and contests).
  7. Use something like QuickBooks Self Employed to keep track of your expenses and income.  It’ll save a LOT of headache come tax time!

I’ve never been one to have a whole lot of patience (between that and being terminally klutzy, I sometimes wonder if my life is being written by a particularly cliche writer), so self-publishing worked out well for me.  Is it for everyone?  Certainly not.  But it boosted my confidence and taught me a lot of new skills, so I’m happy with my choice.

(Plus, this way I avoided writing a bajillion query letters!)

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or thoughts about the self-publishing process!

Spring, Sprang, Sprung!

Spring!  Such a lovely time of year, full of blooming flowers, singing birds, and the inescapable itch to make progress – any progress.  There’s an energy to spring that drives us towards ticking off the to-do list, getting the dust out of the attic, finally finishing that project that was started in the summer and abandoned by fall and the onslaught of holiday obligations.

The coming of spring also signals the wrapping up of the courses I take, and the steady approach of the end of the school year – a light at the end of a tunnel filled with stress, deadlines, grading, communicable diseases, and the occasional life-affirming moment when you make a difference in a student’s life (generally followed by said student throwing something at a peer or such, because teenagers).

This coming summer won’t be a break at all for me – it is the final semester of my graduate degree, and I will be working odd jobs on the side – but it will allow for more time in my day to both read and write.  My spring-inspired itch to just MAKE PROGRESS is getting my brain cells jumping about Michael’s story, and I’m pleased with how it’s shaping up so far.

As I write, I find the plot of my novels stretching out before me in a vast web of potentialities.  There are some roads that I won’t go down, simply because I abhor those plot devices as a reader and would therefore struggle to write them.  But there are others that I am aware I love, while others might find abhorrent.

One of my biggest pet peeves, as a reader, is when the Big Misunderstanding could be handled with a 5 minute conversation, and the reasons that the mains don’t have said conversation aren’t terribly compelling.  That won’t make me rage-quit a book in disgust, however – but “forced seduction” absolutely will.

What are your pet peeves, as a reader?  What will make you slam down the book and stop reading?

Vacation, all I ever wanted…

One of the perks of being a teacher (my normal job, outside of writing) is having regular breaks throughout the year.

One of the downsides of being a teacher is that the students inevitably give you some kind of germ RIGHT before said break.  Wash your hands, people!

Despite being laid up with some kind of pernicious malady,  and a busted leg, I am still bound and determined to enjoy my time off!  My plans include lots of reading, relaxing, and writing – the “Three R’s” that really matter!

What are your favorite ways to unwind on vacation?  What do you do to relax?

I’m Seeing Green!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!  How do you prefer to celebrate?  Do you go to a local pub for a pint of Guinness, or make corned beef and cabbage at home?

Personally, I prefer to quietly sip on some Bailey’s and listen to Flogging Molly in the privacy of my own home.  While I enjoy going to a proper pub on occasion (I’m not much one for bars, in general, but the few pubs I’ve been to have been nice), I generally don’t care for huge crowds.

On a completely unrelated note, congratulations to UMBC on winning the game yesterday!  For my friends and family that are UMBC alums, it must have been a wild night!