Simple Goals

An inspiring story:

When the award-winning actor Kirk Douglas presented at the Academy Awards in 1997, it was a huge triumph for him. Not long before, he’d suffered a serious stroke that left him speaking with a stutter. To his friend and family, this moment was the biggest comeback of his career, because his medical team had doubted he’d ever speak again.

How did Douglas beat the odds? What was his secret? He set a single, clear cut goal and kept moving steadily toward it.

“The most crippling thing about a stroke is the depression,” he told “The Spectator,” a daily London newspaper. “When I first had my stroke and couldn’t speak, I wanted to crawl up to bed and cry. And then you get to the point where you say, ‘Enough of the self-pity.’ Then you get to work.”

The first step to his recovery was honestly analyzing his situation. The second step was setting a single, simple goal. Four Douglas, his four-year-old granddaughter became his motivator. After three months, he couldn’t speak as well as she could. So his first goal was clearcut: He wanted to speak as well as a four-year-old.

One day, after many hours of hard work, he said “Transcontinental.” His granddaughter couldn’t say it. “I knew I was at least moving ahead of a four-year-old,” he observed.

After reaching his first goal, Douglas persisted, working on bigger, tougher words until he had resurrected his speech and his life.

It takes grit to do what Douglas did: To suddenly be faced with a losing a strength—his speaking ability as an actor—and get past it. This story also shows the power of a single goal. Douglas started small and gradually regained his speech.

Setting simple goals in our writing makes sense, too. We can focus on finishing one story that’s been languishing and sending it out. We can focus on fixing one chapter that’s giving us problems. Or we can aim to pull together a list of the top 10 agents we’d like to query.

Simple goals push us gently out of our comfort zones. They spark our energy because they’re reachable. And when we achieve them, they spur us on—they help us keep going.

So let’s think big and start small as we all write on!

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Unstoppable Momentum

Sometimes we forget that life is’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And to get where we want to go, we need to take one step at a time. We can get anything we want if we just keep going!

Here are 10 inspiring thoughts that will make you UNSTOPPABLE! They come to us via my wonderful friend and mentor, Dr. Rob Gilbert*

1. “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence— is they key to unlocking our potential.” Winston Churchill

2. “Everyone starts from scratch, but not everyone keeps scratching.”

3. “In never tried quitting and I never quit trying.” Dolly Parton

4. “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

5. “What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists…and it becomes available only when you are in a state of mind in which you know exactly what you want…and are fully determined not to quit until you get it.” Alexander Graham Bell

6. I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed. And the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep trying.” Tom Hopkins, sales trainer

7. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarding genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge, 30th U.S. President

8. Rule #1: Take one more step. Rule #2: When you don’t think you can take one more step, refer to Rule #1.” H. Jackson Brown

9. “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, until it seems as though you cannot hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

10. “Any place is within walking distance if you have enough time.” Steven Wright

And now, inspired and emboldened, let’s all “press on”—and write on!

* Be sure to check out Dr. Rob Gilbert’s “The Success Hotline Podcast” for a daily dose of motivation!

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Something Wonderful

Something Told the Wild Geese

Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, — “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring,
  Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
  Something cautioned, — “Frost.”

All the sagging orchards
  Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
  At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,–
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

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Inventing Life

“Evil is not something superhuman, it’s something less than human.”

“These little grey cells. It is up to them.”
Agatha Christie

Author alert: Agatha Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time. Most widely known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short-story collections, her books have sold a billion copies in 445 languages. She’s been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

A TV adaptation of And Then There Were None, a novel published in 1939, was recently released. The book sold 100 million copies and has inspired four films over the years. This isn’t unusual for Christie. In fact, a remake of Murder on the Orient Express is also popular. All this led me to troll around a bit to learn more about her.

Christie’s described on her official web site as “a writer, traveler, playwright, wife, mother, surfer” — she led quite a life, it seems, which is captured in a newly released autobiography that sounds fascinating. In it, she says: “Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop…suddenly a
splendid idea comes into my mind.”

Her second book, The Secret Adversary  was sparked by a chance encounter: “Two people were talking at a table nearby, discussing somebody called Jane Fish… That, I thought, would make a good beginning to a story — a name overheard at a tea shop — an unusual name, so that whoever heard it remembered it. A name like Jane Fish,
or perhaps Jane Finn would be even better.”

Agatha turned her ideas into novels by jotting down tons of notes in dozens of notebooks, just throwing down on their pages “erratic ideas and potential plots and characters” as they came to her: “I usually have about half a dozen (notebooks) on hand and I used to make notes in them of ideas that struck me, or about some poison or drug, or a clever little bit of swindling that I had read about in the paper.”

She spent most of her time working out the plot details and clues in her head or in her notebooks, before she started writing a book down. Her son-in-law Anthony Hicks once said: “You never saw her writing,” she never “shut herself away, like other writers do.”
 It took her a few months to write a story  and a month or so to revise. She’d write it down in long hand, have it typed up, and then make her corrections.

No fancy writing process or digital apps here: Just plain old notebooks, pens and pencils, a typewriter, and little grey cells firing. Something to ponder as we write on!

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Out There

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S. Eliot

Love this! For me, it calls to mind my major push to get my George Washington story about September ll, 1776 published. I felt it offered an inspiring message and really wanted it out in the world. So I spent three days sending queries out to different publications. Most people would probably have stopped at 10, and in the past, so would I. But I decided to be extreme, so this time, I kept going until I’d contacted about 25.

Ultimately, my story found a home at “American Heritage,” now an online magazine, which did a stunning photo layout. The story appeared in its 9/11 commemorative issue. I was thrilled!

This proved to me that being extreme works! You may also have learned what I did from your own moments of extreme determination and focus: You can always go farther than you think.

Once you take a risk, once you put yourself on the line, I believe magical things happen. The Universe supports you: the energy, willpower, and ideas you need show up because you are.

Risk taking often gets a bum rap. Many people think its rash, ill-advised, and asking for trouble to go out on a limb.

But as the saying goes, that’s where the sweetest fruit is.

And consider this: What’s the alternative? Sitting around waiting and wishing for something to happen? How well does that work? In my experience, inaction creates frustration, not fulfillment.

So what’s on your agenda today? What would you love to see in print? As much as anything, getting published is a numbers game—you have to get your work out to a lot of places in order to strike gold. You have to risk more rejection than you may feel comfortable with. So be it!

As my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert says,* “Winners lose more than losers lose.” Why? Simply because they’re willing to lose more often in order to ultimately achieve their goal, whatever it is.

So let’s “risk going too far” today and see just how far we can go! Write on!

*For a daily dose of motivation and inspiration, check out Dr. Rob Gilbert’s “The Success Hotline Podcast”—you’ll be glad you did!

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Catching Words

And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.”      Pablo Neruda

“COLLECT WORDS! Buy your own dictionary. Read your dictionary every day. CIRCLE exciting words. The more words you know, the better you will be able to express yourself, your thoughts.”       Gwendolyn Brooks

Bumptious. Scrumptious. Resplendent. Gobsmacked. Aura. There are legions of words ripe for the plucking and the page — and the more of them we gather to ourselves, the richer the language we have to share with our readers.

In her wonderful guide, Writing Toward Home, Georgia Heard suggests keeping a notebook and filling it with words you love . “Listen to words spoken around you,” she advises, “write down words from menus, signs, books, newspapers — the more you become aware of the words possible to you, the more abundant your writing will become.”

And to inspire us all, here are some beautiful words about words from the joyful poet Pablo Neruda:

“It’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…The unexpected ones…The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all in my poem…I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives…And then, I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word.”

Let’s all catch words “in mid-flight, as they buzz past,” and write on!

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Revision Revisited

“Half my life is an act of revision.” John Irving

Since rewriting is such a big issue for us as writers, some fuel for thought from other seasoned revisers might inspire us all:

“Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” Michael Crichton

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.” Vladimir Nabokov

“[A first draft is] just for size. That draft isn’t any good; it isn’t supposed to be; the whole purpose is to sketch out propositions….I rarely have a very clear idea of where I’m going when I start. Just people and a situation. Then I fool around—writing and re-writing until stuff gels.” Robert Van Gelder

“Writing is like everything else: the more you do it the better you get. Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. Accept imperfections. Get it finished and then you can go back. If you try to polish every sentence there‘s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.” Iain Banks

“Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never getting published.” Richard North Patterson

“On the third or fourth draft, pencil in hand, I reread my text, by this point practically a fair copy, and eliminate whatever can be eliminated, whatever seems useless. Each deletion is a triumph. At the bottom of every page I write, ‘crossed our seven words,’ ‘crossed our ten words,’ as the case may be. It gives me great pleasure to get rid of whatever is futile.” Marguerite Yourcenar

“Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in…the edit.” Will Self

“I rewrote the ending of ‘Farewell to Arms’ 39 times before I was satisfied.” Ernest Hemingway

“Accept imperfections,” “Sketch out propositions,” “fool around,” “get rid of whatever is futile”—we can do this! And now, emboldened and energized, let’s all write on!

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Loving Revision

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” James Michener

“I love that part; that’s the best part, revision. I do it even after the books are bound! Thinking about it before you write it is delicious. Writing it all out for the first time is painful because so much of the writing isn’t very good. I didn’t know in the beginning I could go back and make it better; so I minded very much writing badly. But now I don’t mind at all because there’s that wonderful time in the future when I can make it better, when I can see better what I should have said and how to change it. I love that part!” Toni Morrison

Rewriting, editing, revision—whatever we call it, this phase of a project can feel challenging. Sometimes we have to go back “under the hood” many more times than we planned. But some writers, Like Toni Morrison, love revision! time. She saw it as that time in the future when she could dive back into her work and make it better!

Let’s ponder this mindset for a moment and see if we can make it work for us. It’s all about reframing—thinking about revision in a fresh, new way. Can we do this? Sure we can! Here’s a start:

Revision frees us to get everything from our head onto the page.

Revision let’s us re-imagine what we’ve written—to see it anew.

Revision encourages us hone our words, to be sharper, economical.

Revision empowers us to improve our craft, to change and grow.

Revision rocks! It gives us the chance to do on the page what we can’t always do in life, to have a “do-over” —to fix and fine-tune, to make what we’ve written stronger and more satisfying. What a gift! Let’s accept it gratefully, with open hearts and hands, as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;

I keep it staying at home,

With a bobolink for a chorister,

And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplus e,

I just wear my wings,

And instead of tolling the bell for church

Our little sexton sings.

God preaches,– a noted clergyman,–

And the sermon is never long;

So instead of getting to heaven at last,

I’m going all along!

–Emily Dickinson

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Triggering Talent

Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” Horace (65-8 B. C.)

Horace was a poet and satirist. You can pick up a book of his poems written centuries ago and still find them fresh and exciting—he’s a poet for all times. That’s why his wise words about adversity jumped out at me when I read them this morning. Horace overcame many hardships: He knew a thing or two about struggle and tough circumstances. He also experienced abundance and prosperity, so he knew firsthand the ups and downs of life.

Adversity can trigger talents, while prosperity lets them lie fallow.

Mmmm. Let’s unpack Horace’s bold claim and see where it leads.

Adversity ignites talent when it pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to see that doing what we’ve always done no longer works.

Adversity ignites talent when it compels us to think and move in new and unexpected directions.

Adversity ignites talent when it leads us to fresh insights and actions.

Adversity ignites talent when it shows us a window into a bigger, more exciting world and challenges us to reach out for help.

Prosperity, on the other hand, tends to make us complacent and sometimes, even lazy. Things are fine, so we don’t stretch ourselves because we’re comfortable just the way we are. Prosperity strands us on plateaus—instead of climbing the next mountain, we’re content to rest and enjoy the view where we are.

Now, watching the passing scene from a comfortable spot can be engaging. And we all need plateau moments—times when we rest and renew ourselves. But getting stuck on a plateau can be stagnating.

That’s why we all need a shot of adversity to get our adrenalin pumping. Adversity can energize us and make us feel like we’re alive and kicking. It reminds us to be grateful for what we have and not to take anything for granted.

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,” as Shakespeare says so well. So the next time we hit a rough patch, let’s reframe this undervalued asset in our creative kitbag. Let’s see it as a tool for triggering our talents. Let’s welcome it as a friend, not a foe—as we all write on!

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