It’s not a one-off, not a fluke, not a one-hit wonder. I got confirmation today of upcoming payment for my words by a “real” publisher. In a couple months I’ll get a small check from Simon & Schuster, and one of my stories will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone, due out on Halloween.
While a short story submission like that doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, it represents the return on investment, the proof of growth and progress in this self-proclaimed writer status.
A second story published is a signal that I’ve done something with the last several years of “taking writing seriously.” It validates the advice and constructive criticism I’ve received over five years of participating in critique groups.
For most of us, nothing worth doing comes naturally or easy. Talent won’t make the difference; it’s what we do with our opportunities. Motivation doesn’t make magic happen; small, incremental efforts repeated daily or at least frequently will create results over time. We’re trading a little pain now for something important later.
Learning to play the piano took eight years of lessons, and over thirty years of ongoing effort… but it’s a skill I get paid for now. Becoming a Spin instructor wasn’t easy, but overcoming the challenge of each session gave me deep satisfaction… and also a paycheck.
A friend of mine fought his debt and financial status for the last few years, chipping away at the bills and pumping money little by little into savings. He’s getting ready to move, and we talked for a while at the grocery store while he picked up some lunchmeat, some cheese, and some wraps with which to make meals. He chooses to live comfortably yet below his means in order to manage his money better, and now he’s putting half his paycheck into investments every month. By the time he retires from the military, he’ll own a few properties with a plan to purchase more–his invested money earning enough to pay for all his expenses. It took time, discipline, and some pain… living like no one else now so he can live like no one else later, to quote Dave Ramsey.
I read a challenging quote from motivational speaker Jim Rohn yesterday which reaffirmed the thoughts behind this blog: “We all must suffer one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
After a long workday of chaos, I want nothing more than to log into Warcraft, rip open some bag of junk food, put something on the TV, and shut off my brain.
Instead, I came home and headed out the door for some sprints around the neighborhood and gradual climbs on nearby hills. I’ve got a PT test coming up in a month–probably my last one in the Air Force–and I can’t afford to fail. That means putting in the work now so I can see and enjoy the progress later.
Despite the ache and soreness in my knee.
Regardless of the arthritic throbbing in my fused ankles.
Despite the stabbing pain in my big toe for the last few days.
Regardless of what other things I could or should be doing with my time.
Effort leads to results… eventually.
What are the goals and aspirations that float through the void of “someday I’d like to” in your mind? What small steps can you take today to advance toward them?
This year I aimed to log a daily word count, and this blog post will place me right above 215,000 for 2016. (I should go home and write a thousand words or so, in order to get 216K for 2016… Obviously!)
The management principle is you can’t achieve higher goals without changing what you do, you can’t change what you don’t measure, and you can’t measure what you don’t track. Hence the love-hate relationship many office minions have with spreadsheets, trackers, databases, and anything involving counting beans.
215K per day divides up to under 600 words a day. I know there are programs dedicated to encouraging a minimum 500 words per day, so yay, I met that (on average). Of course my goal–realistic or not–was to hit 1K per day, so I’m way off.
The other day, I went to the gym with a couple co-workers, and made a suggestion. “Whatever else we do, let’s try a pyramid of push-ups and sit-ups,” I said, since those are two of the four components of the Air Force fitness test. If you haven’t done a pyramid before, it’s one push-up, one sit-up, then two of each, then three… Up to some number (ten, I suggested) and back down to one.
I hadn’t done one of these in years, and honestly wasn’t sure how well my ponderous flesh-husk could handle the challenge. The answer was “not well.” I found out right quick where my limits lay.
In the writing arena, much like that pyramid, maybe I bit off more than I could chew by setting a goal like 1k a day. I don’t know, because I never tracked my word count before. Now I have data, so at the end of next year, I can see “Am I doing better? Am I doing about the same? Did I slow down?” To be fair, I understand there can be explanations and reasons for those ups and downs, and I’ll take those into consideration. But having some baseline gives me something to compare against.
It’s the same reason I do well on a diet or fitness plan when I log what I’ve been doing and eating. “I walked the other day, and I did a sit-up of sorts when I got out of bed. I only ate half that pizza. Doin’ pretty good!” I’m far too kind to myself when I don’t have the harsh reality of data challenging me.
Sometimes the word count tracker showed the results of a tough effort. That’s great–part of the benefit. NaNoWriMo of course is a good example (58K in November), and when I tried Camp NaNo in April, that momentum carried into May, my second best month (just under 24K). Sadly, those months of “high” effort are offset by too many relaxed months where I barely topped 10K. I’ll log word counts again next year, even though there are swaths of blocks with a big angry 0.
I know this is a time for new resolutions and personal commitments. A big part of setting that goal is finding a way to track progress — the ‘M’ in the SMART goal setting acronym is ‘measurable.’
Whether you aim for something new, something familiar but better, or simply contentment with where you are right now in life, I wish you a happy 2017 and thank you for hanging out with me here throughout the year.
Work is doing its best to get in the way of my NaNoWriMo effort, but so far I have been successful.
If you’re not aware, the goal of National Novel Writing Month is to create a 50,000 word (or more) novel within the 30 days of November. The site for the event encourages the mathematically reasonable daily word goal of 1,667 words, because if you do that every day, you will in fact hit 50K.
Of course, that assumes you never have a bad day, or take a day off. Thanksgiving? You will write. 15 hour work day? You still have to write.
It’s fairly unrealistic (or I make lots of excuses).
So my peers and I discussed aiming for an average of 2000 words per day, because this gives a little bit of buffer for those bad days when life says NO to your writing plan.
I’m happy to report that I’ve passed 8000 words after four days’ effort.
Maybe I’ll save up enough time that I can play around in the new World of Warcraft expansion when it hits on the 13th. Maybe I’ll even have enough time to enjoy Thanksgiving with the family. (“Go away! Writing! Turkey was supposed to make you all sleepy!”)
I’ll get a snippet or three posted here in the near future. For now, I left off in the middle of a scene…
Does one of your New Year’s resolutions have something to do with fitness?
Are you out to achieve a specific number of pounds off the scale or inches off your waistline?
There’s an old adage that the true magic occurs not in the gym but in the kitchen.
Diet has a great deal to do with fitness… not “diet” like “planned starvation” but diet like taking into account what all you’re eating and making healthy choices.
While counting calories is never fun, I suggest taking advantage of useful resources like the MyFitnessPal app or sites like www.sparkpeople.com to track food consumption.
The app gives you a calorie goal based on your activity level, current weight, and goals. There’s a database of foods, you can scan UPCs to make entries, and you can create your own recipes for future use. Sites like sparkpeople have similar capabilities along with resources and articles.
Even if I don’t make my goal on a given day, entering everything keeps me honest and conscious of what all I’m taking in. For a non-marathon-running, non-Crossfit-joining average guy like me, the key to any fitness success has been regular exercise combined with calorie counting.
Give it a shot if you’re not already doing it. I’d love to hear how you like it.
Also, if you already have a tool or method, I’m curious what works best for you.
And best of luck meeting those goals, whether it’s a New Year resolution or a simple desire for a fit lifestyle.
A lot of the Air Force courses I’ve attended include lessons about the importance of setting goals in order to succeed.
Today, we’ll talk about setting goals in your tabletop game. But we’re not talking about incorporating player goals into your campaign (that will probably be another post). We’re talking about giving goals to your monsters!
Everyone needs a goal in life, even your fangorious gelatinous monster. (Okay, maybe not everyone.)
In a tabletop game, your players’ characters are probably going to spend a lot of time fighting against a host of sentient creatures. They may be not be the brightest creatures, they may be evil through and through, they may be tools of some higher villain. But they will have objectives and goals they are trying to achieve.
Make your combat about those goals instead of about the monsters themselves.
Let’s face it, the “kill everything burn everything and die trying” monster makes very little sense. Villains have their own interests, their own purposes. Usually, they have some decent or even good motive that has been twisted around or blown out of proportion into a terrible evil.
“Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet… and it’s remarkable how like an egg is the human skull.”
This guy is going to have a different set of goals and plans than these two.
Your villains’ minions need not line up like a Revolutionary War battle and march to their deaths in the hopes of defeating the heroes. Setting up a fight with no goal means setting up a long, drawn-out slugfest where the two sides try to bring their enemies to zero hit points. Yawn.
Give the monster team a reason to fight. You can speed up combat and you can make the combat matter to the story. Double win!
Perhaps they simply have to delay the heroes from an objective. They can capture or kill particular innocents or valuable NPCs. They can hold a position or activate some magic artifact or complete a ritual. They can make off with a critical object, or damage a strategic location.
“Good job, heroes… you slew fifty goblins but failed to stop the saboteur who destroyed the bridge. Now our army is stuck on this side of the river while the city is under attack.”
When you do this, mindless evil can have a place in such a setting. It stands out precisely because it has no plan, no motive, no ‘higher’ purpose than carnage and destruction. It can be the enemy that simply has to be brought to zero health, something that has to be put down. And then that combat goal tells a story different from all the others, instead of every combat feeling exactly the same.
So, what does the big bad evil guy (or girl, or gelatinous monster) want? Give your villains some goals. Your heroes will thank you for it.
Today has been a bit of an off day. I don’t mean a vacation. I mean crazy schedules.
Nonetheless, I still have to work out, so I walked into the gym today, feeling stiff and sore from my last workout, knowing I was about to make those same muscles cry once more. But I had a day to rest in between, so I had a chance to recover a bit.
That’s the kind of off day I want to talk about.
Last week, I recounted a mantra one of my favorite Spin instructors would repeat almost every class. “Your mind gives up before your muscles do. Be strong.”
I would always give another reminder at the beginning of class. “If you feel discomfort and soreness in muscles from being challenged, great. That’s where we want you to be. If you feel pain and discomfort in joints, stop pushing yourself. That’s not safe.” Sometimes you get people who are new to cycling, or people who are so eager that they are pushing themselves too far beyond their present limits.
There’s a balance between these two statements, an comfortably uncomfortable and somewhat challenging place where you are pushing yourself beyond your present fitness level, while maintaining your overall health and wellness. You’ve got to be strong at times, breaking through the “I give up” in your mind. You’ve also got to be smart, able to identify when enough is enough for a day or two.
Your body needs time to recover, to adapt to everything you’ve done to it. Your muscles need to repair themselves so you can get stronger. This is of course why you see people rotating through major muscle groups when they go to the gym. “Today is legs, tomorrow is arms, next up is abs and core,” and so on.
Cardio exercise is similar. Repetitive motion with no recovery leads to those joint issues I mentioned earlier. Sticking to the same exercise over and over with no breaks is a risk to your body.
You’re not a robot. You need a rest day.
You’re not physically made for long durations of constant repetitive motion every day like some automated factory machine.
You’re not mentally or emotionally made for repetition either.
Give yourself a rest day from the menial tasks, the unending cycle of mundane labor. We are not made for monotony. Take time to let go of the mental weight of responsibility now and then. If you’re in a position where playing hooky is not an option, like a single mom or a caregiver for a close relative, then see if you can at least coordinate getting a break from a friend who can help. You’ll come back fresh, renewed, ready to take on the challenges once more, stronger than you were before.
I’ve had coworkers who simply will not stop until all their tasks are accomplished, no matter how overwhelming. My friends and I have tried to explain our concerns, to no avail.
Discipline is great, but be smart about it. When you work constantly at a task – physical or mental – you begin to slow and tire out. You start missing important steps. Your form becomes sloppy, if it’s physical activity. If it’s mental, your product ends up with flaws. This all starts small but builds up quick.
A boss reminded me about this today:
“Slow is cautious, and cautious is fast.”
It takes time to do a thing right. It takes even more time to go back and fix something when you’ve made mistakes. In physical exercise, you risk hurting yourself and derailing your efforts to improve. In mental exertion, you may end up creating more work for yourself, or failing to accomplish the goal you set out to achieve.
Stop, catch your breath, grab a cup of coffee. Take some time off from that particular task. Then jump back in, ready to give it another shot.
You’ll probably have less of those chaotic off days once you schedule some restful ones.
In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
The view is worth it.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.