The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni

This is a story about two characters on the outside, even in a city filled with outsides.  A golem and a jinni, one created to be bound to another as a slave, the other a creature of fire captured and held prisoner for centuries, both thrust into the strange world of New York City at the turn of the century.  An unlikely relationship forms as lives interconnect and spin around these two central characters until a surprising link between them comes to light.

I love the writing.  Helene’s prose is phenomenal, the book is very well written and deeply character driven.  My primary complaint parallels that mentioned by another reviewer.  The calm and measured pace chosen for the story is a bit too calm and measured in my opinion.  I like to be held captive by a story, compelled to turn every page and and consumed with concern for the plight of the characters, and nothing in this story did that.  The experience was more of a relaxed stroll through a beautiful garden – interesting scenery but not much that held my fascination.  This kept me at a distance from the characters, and worked at odds with the fiery passionate Jinni character.

The Golem and the Jinni is an exceptionally written book that is deeply character driven and is enjoyable and well worth a read for that.  However the story builds slowly and has little to offer in terms of any real action and some readers may find it a bit of a slog.



Generating New Ideas

film night | self portrait
IdeasAdam Foster | Codefor / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Working as a creative or running your own business means you are generating new ideas daily.  Running a blog requires you generate anywhere from 52 to 260 unique and valuable blog posts per year.  As fiction writer you also have to continuously generate story ideas as well as create the specifics of the story that inspire, excite and emotionally impact your readers from page one to page 275.  You need to come up with unique tweets, Facebook posts, and for your business, new strategies that differentiate you from your competition and make you stand out.

Creativity and innovation are critical to your success, and you must leverage both every single day to get to, or remain at, the front of the pack.

To stay creative and innovative daily it helps to utilize new tools to force you out of your comfort zone, to break through your thinking habits (we all have them, no sense denying it!), and force a change in your perspective.  Looking at things in an entirely new way is the root of creativity and the core of what it takes to generate a new idea.  Here are a couple of less well known tools or approaches to help you do just that.

Put on Your Thinking hats

Edward De Bono, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and faculty member at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, explores how deliberate role playing can make you a better thinker and generate creative and innovation answers to questions.  This approach encourages you to approach a question from six different perspectives as a way of exploring possible answers.  Most of us find ourselves utilizing one or two of these approaches in our daily lives.  By forcing ourselves to look at it from a different perspective you open the door for a more creative solution.

The White Hat involves a more neutral and objective approach focused on facts and figures.  The Red Hat takes the emotional view of a problem and is concerned with feelings over data.  The Black Hat is the devil’s advocate hat – poking holes in facts and figures, taunting the emotional responses, asking the difficult questions and pointing out assumptions.  The Yellow Hat is designed to take a sunny and positive approach to the problem, as if everything were rainbows and unicorns.  The Green Hat is concerned with creativity, breaking boundaries, focusing on the new and different and outrageous.  And finally the Blue Hat is concerned with organization.

Thinking about a story or a business problem from each of these six hats in turn can generate some serious creative energy.  You may realize a plot point cannot work as written when you spend some time thinking about it in a Black Hat.  A desperate situation  where you cannot fathom a next step to take may become a humorous interlude when you approach it from a Yellow Hat point of view and realize you’d just tripped yourself up by focusing too narrowly or too widely.  You may realize a new way of approaching social media when you consider your business from a Red Hat and realize ways to connect emotionally with your customers or readers.  Thinking about the world from these different perspectives might generate an outrageously fruitful story nugget.

Scenario Planning:

This approach is often found in the world of business, but I find this an excellent tool when working on plotting out a story.  In this tool you think about a particular problem you want to solve.  Perhaps your character needs some interesting way to defeat The Big Bad in your story, or maybe you are looking for a unique magical system that’s not been done before.  Whatever it is, state the decision that has to be made.

Once you have your question in mind identify the forces that have an impact on this.  These forces can be world based such as economic or technological, or they might be personal such as your characters penchant for sitting on the couch smoking pot and eating Cheetos rather that doing battle with a demonic army of animated blenders hell bent on eliminating all flesh-based life forms from the earth.

From here build for or five (or however many you want/need) based on these principal forces.  Develop those scenarios into stories by varying the forces that impact the decision, combine them into different patterns to describe the possible consequences of your characters decision.  The goal is to explore the opportunities within each scenario for your story, the linkages between these opportunities across the scenarios, which help generate new ideas.

Below is a simple example with some limited scenarios.  In your scenarios, go with extreme ridiculous ideas.  This is work only you will see, so be outrageous.  Oftentimes the most outrageous of ideas actually turn into uniquely creative and perfectly usable ideas with a bit of work.

Question:  How does Billy Bob defeat a demonic army of animated blenders hell bent on eliminating all flesh based life forms from earth?


  • Billy Bob’s desire to just sit on the couch smoking pot and eating Cheetos
  • Size of the demonic army of animated blenders
  • The depth of Billy Bob’s love of his fellow humans and his own skin
  • The depth of Billy Bob’s love of Cheetos


  • Billy Bob is so stoned he’s got no idea the world is being attacked by animated blenders.  When his blender comes to life and attacks him he laughs out loud at the creative force of his marijuana soaked mind.  When the blades first slice him his brow wrinkles in confusion as blood spurts from his dismembered arm.  His confusion doesn’t last long as the blender finishes him off with a few well placed slices.
  • Billy Bob realizes something is amiss when his the blender hops lightly from the kitchen cabinet and comes blazing toward him with its blades spinning menacingly.  He throws his still mostly full bag of Cheetos at the blender and uses the distraction to launch himself at the breaker box and flip every last switch.  The blender falls to the ground and, in relief, Billy Bob crawls back to his couch, takes another hit, and plucks a Cheetos from the floor and pops it into his mouth.

Generating new ideas can become difficult if we allow ourselves to become complacent in our approach to creativity.  Searching out and using different approaches can be an excellent way of combating the ruts we all find ourselves in from time to time.  Trying new approaches might feel uncomfortable in the beginning but the payoff makes them well work the effort.

If you give either of these tools a try in your writing or your business I’d love to hear how they work for you!  Shoot me an email, a tweet or leave a comment.

Happy Writing,



Create a Writing Groove

Bad Ass GirlsEric Langley / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  ~ Aristotle

When I was eighteen I had the terrifying experience of being attacked by a group of about fifteen young men while out with my boyfriend and another couple.  It turned out ok in the end but I was left with the harsh realization lodged in the pit of my belly that I was completely unprepared for something like this.  I had no way to defend myself, to protect myself, I didn’t even know how to throw a proper punch.  I could not live with that reality so that week I enrolled in a Martial Arts program, hell bent on learning how to beat the shit out of anyone who put a finger on me or anyone I knew without permission.

The thing is though… being a gangly and uncoordinated eighteen year old in a class filled with uber-athletic and highly coordinated eight year olds was embarrassing.  Humiliating, really.  Parents would line up along the walls watching class while I flailed and slapped clumsily at the air around me in a ridiculous attempt at ‘throwing a punch’.  Every time I caught a murmur of conversation or heard a laughter I was convinced they were laughing at me.  As well they should, I looked ridiculous.

Starting something new is hard.  It’s hard exactly because it is new.  We are not that good at it.  We feel stupid.  We can’t do it right.  We don’t know what we are doing.  People laugh at us.  In the beginning everything is hard.

Jeremy Dean, author of the book Making Habits, Breaking Habits found in a study on forming habits that it takes on average 66 days (yea, I said sixty six days!) for a new behavior to become a habit.  He also found that the harder the activity is for a person to do the longer it seems to take to become a habit.  Some behaviors in the study would have taken most of a year to form!  Now, to be fair, you won’t feel like a complete idiot for that entire time, but you will for a good chunk of that time, so starting new takes some serious chops.

Habits are important because they are actions that we take without conscious thought.  They are things we just do, like breathing or blinking.  We don’t moan and groan and say we are not in the mood to do something we are in the habit of doing.  It’s those things that are outside our habits that require so much effort to accomplish.  Therefore, if you want to be successful as a writer (or at anything else for that matter) you need to create a new habit.  Spending time writing has to be like breathing.  Like putting butter on popcorn or ranch dressing on your green beans.  It has to become something you do without conscious thought.  It must become routine.  It must become a habit.

“Oh great” You;re thinking.  “I have to push myself into this thing for months, maybe even a YEAR before this just becomes a part of who I am?”  Well, yea.  You do.  But it doesn’t have to be hard.  Here are some things you can do to diminish the idiotic flailing, the rampant sobbing, and the minutes you spend shaking your finger at your reflection in the mirror admonishing yourself for your disappointing lack of progress.

Think Small.  Nope.  Smaller.

Strategy is all about the big picture.  When playing a game of chess you must keep the entire board in mind when deciding on a move.  If you focus in on only one section of the board, or only one game-piece, you are destined to lose the game.  But when it comes to habit forming smaller is better.  Telling yourself you are going to write everyday for an entire year when you’ve never written a thing outside of a university class or work is much too big.  You might easily become overwhelmed with that ambitious task and end up shoving it all aside in favor of a bowl of ice cream and an hour on the couch with the crew of Serenity.  Instead, think small, and commit to writing maybe 5 minutes a day for five days a week.  Or even better, commit to writing for five minutes on Saturday morning.  As your staying power with this task improves, as your writing muscles get stronger and that five minutes easier to fill, you can bump up the time commitment.

Stick to Your Routine

Fitting something small into your existing routine is the easiest way to start.  It is far easier to begin writing for five minutes while you sip your normal cup of coffee on Saturday morning than is to decide you must write at that cool writing center you heard about from a friend of yours which is about a 30 minute drive from your house.  Your habit is a quiet Saturday morning at the house with your dog snoozing on your toes, not a hurried shower, grown up clothes right when you get up, and a 30 minute drive.  You are far more likely to meet with success when you anchor a new behavior into the comfortable groove of an existing habit.

Remember Your ABCs

Understanding motivation and desire is complex, but understanding behavior is pretty straightforward.  Behavior can be distilled down to three basic components – Antecedent, Behavior, & Consequence.  An antecedent is a trigger, something that makes you do something.  A stop sign is an antecedent to your slowing down and stopping at an intersection.  It triggers your stopping behavior.  Hunger is an antecedent to eating.  Work is an antecedent to drinking.  (What?  Are you saying it isn’t?  Let’s be honest here!)  Behavior is whatever it is you did, such as stopping the car at the intersection, eating a Twinkie, or mixing a cocktail.  And consequence is what happens to you as a result of that behavior (you don’t get a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign, you are no longer hungry and enjoyed a tasty Twinkie, or you get your buzz on with a delicious cocktail

What this means for forming a new habit is that you want to tie the new behavior to a trigger of some kind.  In the example above it is tied to your Saturday morning cup of coffee.  When you sit down with your coffee cup you need to write for five minutes.  Tying it to something specific like this helps you remember to do the new thing.  It allows you to mentally prepare for it because you know when it is coming.  Finally, it is a clear marker should you miss it for some reason.

Adding a consequence, something good that happens once you’ve done the new behavior, can make the habit form even more quickly and give it better staying power for the long run.  You get a second cup of coffee once you’ve written for five minutes is one example, another might be that you get breakfast as soon as you’ve gotten your five minutes in.  It can be anything, as long as it is something that is positive for you!

I stuck with the martial arts training for several years.  I felt stupid and idiotic for months, but by the time I stopped attending that school I’d advanced considerably.  I became strong, coordinated, I had incredible balance, and I knew how to throw a punch.  Those moves became as natural to me as breathing, and I could do them without even an instant of consideration.  Starting is hard… whether you are a new writer or a veteran starting on a new project.  But don’t let it scare you.  Swallow the intimidation, laugh about your complete incompetence and unskilled flailing, enjoy the the process of becoming  by using the tools explored here.  And always remember, there are many of us right there with you feeling just as idiotic.  Reach out and say hi won’t you?



You can read more about these ideas here:

Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness by Aubrey Daniels & James Daniels.


Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen is an action packed story of modern high technology mixed with ancient mysticism.  It takes place in an unnamed middle eastern security state where the main protagonist, Alif, provides protected virtual space to the highest bidder until the day a mysterious book is delivered to him by the woman he loves.  From that point on Alif is running for his life, putting the lives of anyone who attempts to help him at risk, as he tries to outwit the forces of government and more mysterious forces of darkness who are trying to stop him.

The story is action packed and I liked the blending of ancient mysticism with modern technology.  That said, I had difficulty with the book.  While one of the primary secondary characters, Dina, was written as a capable, courageous and strong woman, she was also written as a second class citizen in this world, who had few rights or options for herself.  Though she was almost the only character with a lick of sense her contributions were regularly discounted by the male characters who were often shocked when one of her ideas proved to great benefit.  Their constant attitude of “hey, not bad for a girl” was a constant irritation.  The author, by giving Dina wit and courage, was perhaps trying to make the case that the rest of the ideas in the book were not sexist, but for me, it fell far short.

I also felt that I was being preached too about the benefits and wonders of religion through the entire book, which I found irritating.  A nameless character (apparently unworthy of name due to her ‘outsider’ status), going by The Convert, lectures regularly on the merits of religion in general and Islam in particular.  I felt like I was in a giant advertisement designed to convert me to the authors way of thinking.  While the author can absolutely believe what she wishes and worship as she pleases, it made for a less than satisfactory reading experience for me.

For a book about an awakening, a revolution, it was surprisingly conventional when it came to social rules and mores and the momentous ‘change’ was not so momentous after all.

If you can set aside the sexism and the religious lecturing, and just let the story carry you, you will likely enjoy the read.  It is fast paced and has some great fun aspects to it.  Just don’t go in expecting hard tech, deep meaning, or real revolution.  You won’t find in in these pages.



Slaying The Blank Page

The tyranny of the blank page.

The tyranny of the blank page.

I hate when people ask me what I am thinking.  That whole ‘penny for your thoughts’ stupidness.  There is something about that question that drives all thought from my brain and leaves me staring dumbly at my questioner, a scarecrow-black-button-eyed blankness to my face, barely able to stutter out a ‘Don’t know, nothin’ in answer.

A blank page is that exact question.  That blinking prompt at the top of the empty page is not, contrary to what you may believe, blinking patiently for your brilliance to flow through your fingers.  Oh no.  It’s blinking a morse code subliminally into your brain that is saying sarcastically (yes, morse code can in fact communicate tone, I swear) “Ok genius.  What now, huh?  Whatcha thinking?”  And my response is often considerably less articulate than a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel could muster.

This seems to be a common issue for creatives.  We may have been itching all day to start a new story that’s been stewing in our minds for the last two weeks, but as soon as our butt hits the chair and we see that vast space of white punctuated only with a little blinking bar, all thought flees our minds and all that can be heard is the small sound of a tiny whimper.  No, not from the dog, from your own throat.

Fortunately there are tricks to slaying the blank page and the mind trap it thrusts creatives into when they look at its flat expansive whiteness.  Here are three creative ways to beat the blinking bar into submission and get your creativity all over that white page.

1.  Cast a Wide Net

Read widely, not just in your niche.  Read about politics, economics, psychology and computer aided drafting.  Pick up a magazine you’ve never heard of while sitting in the doctors office. Talk to creatives outside your genre or even outside of writing.  Seek out entrepreneurs, architects or film makers to discuss creativity, passion and process, or anything else that comes to mind.

New ideas are born at the collision of differing points of view, differing priorities, varying needs and unique backgrounds.  Research indicates that what makes a group truly intelligent and innovation is diversity.  The combination of different ages, skills, disciplines, working and thinking styles, social backgrounds create a sort of cosmic bank that birth entirely new ideas and new approaches.  Scott E. Page, a professor at the Center of the Study of Complex Systems has shown that diverse groups outperform like-minded experts.  ”Progress depends as much on our collective differences as it does on our individual IQ scores” he says.

I once solved a major plot block from an idea I got reading an obscure book called Sensemaking in Organizations.  No one was more surprised than I was that a plot problem in a fantasy novel could be resolved by something from a book like that!  Read widely, read from  differing points of view, and the impacts you encounter will generate new ideas to help you fill those pages.

2.  Reward Yourself

Reward is important, and while we all like to think that creativity is reward enough in and of itself, we all know there are times this is simply not the case.  No matter how much you love your work you will encounter days where it is a slog through the Swamp of Sadness instead of a laughter fueled skip through wildflowers and butterflies.  This is a job, and like any other job, there are days when you might rather lick a public bathroom clean than sit and stare at a blank page until inspiration hits.

One way to combat this is to craft a reward system for yourself that you can use on these days.  In the world of business they call it Performance  Management and it is an extremely effective tool managers can use to positively impact the performance of their teams.  We can also use it on ourselves to coax work out of our fingers when we only want to stop moving, revel in sadness, and sink into oblivion.

Think about things that you find incredibly rewarding.  Maybe it’s one of those Maple and Bacon donuts from Voodoo Donuts, maybe it’s a long hot bath, perhaps it’s time spent working in the garden.  Whatever it is make a deal with yourself that as soon as you get out one page of writing (or some number of words) that you get that rewarding thing.  The trick is the reward needs to be immediate – something you can get right after you finish writing – it cannot be something that happens at some vague point in the future (like a trip to Hawaii).  The other trick is that you must see this commitment through.  If you accomplish the writing goal and do not reward yourself as you promised you would, you kill the effectiveness of this approach.  Likewise, if you skip the writing goal and just go do the rewarding think you’ve also chopped off your nose to spike your face.  This didn’t work out well for Tyrion Lannister and it won’t end well for you either.

3. Wait Until Your Gonna Pop

Have you ever seen what happens to a banana that is left outside in the glaring summer heat for  days on end?  The skin turns black of course, but what you might not realize is that the flesh of the fruit actually liquifies within the skin.  Seriously, you could poke a straw through the skin and if the whole think didn’t explode in your face from the internal pressure you drink the fruit through the straw.  It becomes that liquified.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  The story is not really appropriate for polite company.

Most conventional writerly wisdom tells you to write down every idea as it comes to you and to never be without a notebook.  They tell you to write every single day, to take action action action at all times.  This has its place and I am certainly not saying this isn’t a good idea.  I do this regularly.  But there are times when it might be of benefit not to take this approach, and instead, to leave your story out in the hot summer sun for a week or so until it’s liquified and bloated to the point of bursting.  Then, when you finally sit down to write it feels more like poking the white head off an extremely swollen zit, or finally being able to pee when you’ve had to hold it way too long.  Your need will overwhelm the “whatchu thinking about” challenge of the white page.

Hopefully you will find some of these helpful in your own writing endeavors.  Happy writing people,


You can find more information from the following:

“Measure of a Leader” by Aubrey C. Daniels and James E. Daniels


Hello There, Happy To See You Again

I'm Back!

Originally from:

Well hello friends, happy to see you again!  The blog has been dormant but I sure haven’t been!  I was buried under an enormous pile of paper, I hear they call it “a thesis” (I just call it work!) but I’ve managed to dig my way out, finish the damn thing, and finally graduate!  A huge accomplishment and another item checked of the list.

I can’t wait to get back to writing fiction and blogging!  See you all next week. :)



Elfland by Freda Warrington

I am conflicted on this book and on writing this review.  The writing is solid.  The characters are well developed, imperfect, and interesting to spend time with.  The setting is wonderful, a touch of England with a fantastical flare that is fascinating to read, it made me want to visit and linger.  The concept is awesome, I love how Warrington created the Aetherials, explored their diversity, their similarity to humankind but also their sometimes marked differences, and the rivalry even amongst them between purists and those who’ve chosen to live on Earth.  The idea of a people so connected to a place, a place so deeply a part of them that they ache when they can feel it no longer, cut off from it because of a great evil, was incredibly interesting to me.  I even liked what that evil was and the resolution of that primary conflict of the story.

I enjoyed all the bits and pieces of the book, but I did not love the book, and therein lies the conflict for me in writing this review.  The plot did little for me.  Instead of reaching out of the pages, grasping hold, and yanking me in, I felt more like I’d waded into a slow moving (though warm and comfortable) river and floated slowly along without much to see but an overly blue (though quite lovely) sky.

I think the book is a better fit with a reader who more enjoys romance with a hint of fantasy, as opposed to someone looking for fantasy but ok with a bit of romance.  The problem for me was personal taste, not the book itself.

If you are looking for a well written interesting fantasy with a central theme of romance you will likely greatly enjoy this book.  If you are looking for more fantasy it might not be a great selection for you, unless you just want to experience the very cool Aetherial world Warrington created within these pages.


Gods and Monsters, by Chuck Wendig – A Review

Gods and Monsters popped my Chuck Wendig cherry. His writing style was excellent, words popped and sparked off the page, their energy infecting me and leaving a slightly charred smell in the room after I’d read the last page. I liked the concept quite a bit, and I liked the dark and gritty feel of the story. Another reviewer stated they felt the story was “just ok”, and despite all I loved about the book I felt the same way. It was a rollicking read, but it didn’t grip me the way I like to be gripped in a story.

I will absolutely be picking up another Wendig book, I liked his style too much not to dig a big deeper into this authors work.



A Year in a Life

2013 was one hell of a year for me.  Toward the end of 2012 I was feeling frustrated and limited in my job, felt I couldn’t progress further until I finished an MS degree, and was frustrated at how little I’d progressed in my writing career.  So my husband and I decided to make some significant changes for 2013, and I left my job at the end of December of 2012.  The idea was to allow me one year off work to get my MS degree and do everything I could to advance my writing career.

It has been one hell of a year.  Despite being incredibly busy writing and working on the degree I struggled with not ‘having a real job’ – a ridiculous notion but I truly felt that way.  I suppose I felt that ‘work’ equaled ‘income’ and since I had none of the later I really wasn’t doing the former either.

Though I am most definitely an introvert, after a few months, I also started to struggle with the lack of social interaction.  Prior to this it was hard for me to imagine ever feeling this way… but I missed people.  I missed talking to people.  Twitter saved my bacon on this one.

Day by day I worked on the degree and on my writing, and day by day I struggled with what felt like a lack of progress.  My husband would come home and ask what I did that day and all I could say was that I’d written 3,000 words, or read for class – accomplishments that felt so small they barely counted in the grand scheme of things.  In that moment, looking at it a day at a time, it felt as if I were making no progress at all.  In the workplace (at least in my workplace) things happen incredibly fast.  At home I felt I was working hard but barely moving.  I felt like I was in some campy horror film where I ran and ran and ran but the guy with the knife – walking slowly and calmly – was always right on my heels no matter how fast ran.

Looking back now, after an entire year, I can see how much progress I made after-all.  I have finished all of the coursework for the degree, leaving only the capstone which I will begin next week.  I have written two novels over the course of this year, and I’m just finishing a non-fiction e-book on improving productivity for writers.  One novel is in with an editor and the other two are lined up behind the first.  I also started a business focused on celebrating smart and independent women that I hope will lead to a foundation to help build the number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) career fields.  Day by day I felt I was accomplishing nothing – but in the rear view mirror I can see so clearly that those tiny daily steps led to dramatic changes over the course of just one single year.

I learned a lot about myself this year.  I realized I had some real hangups about the value of a person being tied to the money they brought into a household instead of the being tied to an investment in the future of that household, or even of a person herself.  The struggle with the pace of creation made me realize just how much the immediate gratification nature of our culture had invaded my consciousness.  And I’ve truly realized the value of the phrase that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I bravely murdered many dragons and demons this year – literally (in my books) and figuratively (in my life).  Taking only one step a day feels so slow. Agonizingly slow in our ‘get it now’ culture.  But I realized that it is truly the only way to accomplish anything of real worth.  Of Lasting worth.  This year changed my outlook on my life, changed how I thought about my life and where I put value.

On Monday I go back to go work, back to the daily 9a-5p grind.  I loose the flexible schedule, the ability to focus in on any one thing on any given day, the ability to spend an entire day doing nothing but creating story.  But in 2014 I get to look forward to the publication of both novels (if I can survive the editing process, this is my first time!) and a non-fiction ebook.  I get to look forward to growing my business.  And, looking a bit further into the future, perhaps a return to a full-time writer status – this time without the accompanying demons I had to slay this time around.

I wish you all a wonderful 2014, filled with magic and adventures, quests for buried treasures, dips into political intrigue, and much success in any dragons or demons you find yourself battling.




Fuck New Year’s Resolutions

Screen shot 2013-12-30 at 10.20.22 AMI’m all about New Years. The parties that is. Specifically, the champagne. Ok, really I’m all about the champagne, but New Years is a great excuse to swill far too much of the bubbly and gives you a built in excuse to kiss random strangers anywhere in your general vicinity.

But what I can’t stand is the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Every year everyone makes the same damned resolution… I’m going to exercise more, I’m going to loose weight this year, I’m going to go back to school… BORING AS SHIT. Two months in the whole thing is over, the resolution promptly forgotten, and the expensive gym membership either cancelled or tucked away in a dusty corner of mind labeled ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’ or ‘once things settle down a bit a work’.

Here’s the thing. New Years resolutions DON’T FUCKING WORK. They never have worked, they never will work, they are emptier than all those champagne bottles littering your countertops and kitchen table once 2am rolls around. At least those bottles have air in them. Your resolution doesn’t even have that.

The truth is change is hard. It pushes us out of our comfort zones, makes you do things you may not really want to do, it destabilizes and disrupts the status quo, blows you out of complacency and into uncertainty and this is tough. It causes anxiety, it forces us to wonder what our own futures might look like given the changes we are making. It makes things unpredictable. It is damn uncomfortable!

There are some things that can be done to make change easier… but it is not something that comes out of champagne bubbled delusion about how everything is going to be different this year. It requires thought, it requires commitment, it requires discipline (all bad, bad words in the world of ‘pop a pill and make it better’). In short, four small steps are all that are needed, but they will require some real sweat equity to work.

  1. Define the direction you want to go, and I mean specifically. EXACTLY what is it you want to do? Saying “I want to be a writer” or “I want to lose weight” is not enough. Rather, the level of detail must be “I want to write a first draft of a novel by December 31st of 2014″ or “I want to lose 30 pounds by June 15th”. They must be specific, and they must be measurable. The second part of this first step is defining exactly how you will measure your progress toward your goal. In the first example, the average length of a full sized adult novel is in the area of 80,000 words, so your measure may be to write 220 words per day. For the second example it might be to lose 5 pounds per week. Or, to take a more healthy approach, it might be to go to the gym at least once per week for the first 2 weeks, twice per week for the next 2 weeks… and so on, until you are working out at least four times per week. Regardless of how you MUST measure it, that is key.
  2. The second step is to honestly ask yourself if you have the competence to do the task at hand. It may be that you do not, and there is no shame in that – we cannot all be experts in everything. It may be necessary for you to do some research online, to hire a personal trainer, or to join a writing community to gain the skills you need to accomplish your goal. It is important to be honest with yourself in this step. Do not be too embarrassed to ask for help or to admit you are weak in a particular area. I am terrible at grammar. I freely admit this. I hire people to edit my books for that very reason.
  3. The third area of focus is to ensure you have the opportunity to do the thing you want to do. Are there barriers that need to be addressed? Do you need to arrange for a babysitter those nights you are hitting the gym or attending a writing group? Do you have the transportation you need to get there? Do you have the support of your partner if you live in a dual person (or more) household? Let your goals be known to the people in your life and ask them to help you achieve them in ways that make sense. You may need to set new boundaries, create new household processes (such as changing who picks the kids up from daycare). Try to identify as many of these as you can in advance, and address them before they become major obstacles.
  4. Motivation. This is often seen as the hard part, but if you do the work in the previous three steps motivation becomes much easier. You’ve already identified a very specific and measurable goal, and you know exactly how to measure your progress, so it is easy to keep track of how far you’ve come. You’ve eliminated obstacles and engaged the people in your life to help you clear a path to success. And you’ve engaged any help you might need in order to be successful in your endeavor. These are typically the items that cause motivation to flag and soon fail.

And don’t forget to reward yourself along to way. Have a celebratory dinner when you hit 10,000 words. Have a night out with the boys or a night out with the girls when you start hitting the gym twice per week. Celebrate the small victories, don’t wait for the big ones! And most of all, stop thinking this is something a champagne soaked resolution at midnight on 12/31/xx is all it takes to get you there. Change requires commitment every single day, one day at a time.

Wishing you all the best in 2014.