Browsing the archives for the Guest posts category.
Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      


Guest Post: The 8 Habits of Highly Successful Authors

Guest posts

Evan Marshall and Martha JewettThis guest post is a contribution from author/agent Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett, who together have created The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. You can find out a bit more about them in the biographical notes at the end of this piece.

Over the course of our careers working with authors, we have observed that the most successful ones share certain habits and attitudes.

  1. They work hard to keep their lives balanced. Balance between writing and promoting, because if you don’t write, you have nothing to promote. Balance between their writing career and their families and friends, because having a happy life fuels good writing and keeps you refreshed.
  2. They’re careful about building their “career dream team.” This includes their agent, their editor(s), their attorney, their accountant. Once a quality team is built, the writers have the peace of mind of knowing they are in good hands and can relax and do their best writing.
  3. They never stop learning and improving their craft. They strive always to come up with fresh new story ideas. They try new techniques. They’re not afraid to try new genres.
  4. They promote themselves, knowing it’s not enough to leave this to their publishers. However, they are selective about how they promote, knowing that a few highly effective promotional techniques have far more impact than doing it all helter-skelter. (See also #1.)
  5. They adapt. Trends in publishing are constantly changing, and these writers make it their business to know what’s popular at a given time and give this to their readers. Adapting also means being willing to try writing other kinds of books when necessary, and even to consider a pseudonym when a fresh new name is in order.
  6. They keep reading! That’s how they know what’s popular. Reading also enables them to know what other authors are doing in terms of story ideas, in order to avoid copying.
  7. They’re realistic. They don’t expect overnight success and are willing to work hard over a long period to achieve success. Being realistic also includes not watching constantly to see what other authors are getting—advances, bestseller placements, promotion, and so on. Every career is different, authors are each on their own path, and career envy is childish and fruitless.
  8. They’re professional. Sounds obvious, but many authors are so good at shooting themselves in the foot that you would think they do it on purpose. Being professional includes treating your agent, editors and other publishing staff with the same courtesy and respect you expect from them; delivering your manuscripts on time (or giving fair warning when you don’t); expressing gratitude when appropriate; and never whining.

The most successful authors we have worked with over our more than 30 years in the business have possessed all of these habits and qualities. Work to cultivate them in yourself and you will enjoy a long and satisfying writing career.

Evan Marshall is a fiction expert, mystery author, and former editor. For 30 years he has been a literary agent specializing in fiction. The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, co-authored with Martha Jewett, is based on his bestseller The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing. 

Martha Jewett is a memoir advocate, editorial expert, and co-author of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. She has worked as an editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and literary agent.

No Comments

In Which Elizabeth Shack Continues Her Quest for a Simple Way to Track Habits

Guest posts

Here’s a handy guest post from fellow writing and fellow Codexian Elizabeth Shack, originally published here. If you’re interested in the topic, you might also like my posts  “Harnessing a Winning Streak” and “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?

The apps here are all iPhone ones. If anyone has suggestions for Android, PC, Mac, or Web-based solutions, please holler them out (via comments)!

About a year ago, I was looking for a habit-tracking app and never found a really good one. I wanted to make a list of 2-3 things I want to do every day, and check them off, without cluttering up my to do list or my calendar. For example: writing new words.

Maybe I was using the wrong keywords, or maybe tons of app developers secretly read my blog, because now there seem to be a lot of good apps. I’ve been playing with three of them.

Good HabitsGood Habits (free) – This is the simplest and cleanest. It displays how many days in a row you’ve done each thing, and your maximum days in a row. Clicking on the name of a habit opens the calendar, where you can edit past days and see a monthly view of which days you did that habit. You can also set reminders.

That’s it. It’s almost exactly what I want, though it’d be nice to include things I only want to do once a week.

Habit ListHabit List ($1.99) – Not quite as pretty, but still nicely designed. It lets you set whether you want to do something every day, or on specific days of the week, or at a certain interval, or a certain number of days a week. That has the side effect of making me want to add more things to it, and it’s also a little confusing–my list for today includes everything that I’ve set to do only once or three times a week, so I see it on my list even if I don’t plan to do it today. (Setting something for a specific day like Friday makes it not show up unless it’s Friday, though.)

If you really need more specific habit scheduling than daily, this is a great app.

Habits ProHabits Pro ($2.99) – This adds more features and is the only app I’ve tried that has an export option. In addition to a daily checklist or monthly calendar view, it shows graphs by day, week, and month. You can also change the item type–instead of a simple yes/no checklist, you can have a counter (how many times you did something), a timer (how long), or a note (where you can enter details about whatever, like what book you read instead of just checking off that you read something).

It’s a little clunky to use and not nearly as pretty as either of the other two apps, but definitely more flexible in what you can track.

So after this research, what am I going to use? Well, I printed out some calendars that I can tape in my journal, where I can see the whole year on one page. If I want to stick with something electronic (and I haven’t quite decided), probably Habit List until Good Habits adds flexible scheduling.


Elizabeth grew up near Johnson Space Center and earned two physics degrees, so of course she writes more fantasy than science fiction. She now lives in central Illinois, where she performs cooking experiments, brings up the rear in 5k races, and does excessive amounts of yard work. 

1 Comment

Vicki Hoefle: If They Can Walk, They Can Work!

Guest posts

Earlier this year, my partner Janine and I had the chance to study with parenting educator Vicki Hoefle, whose Parenting On Track™ program, with its roots in Adlerian psychology, strikes off in a completely different–and more effective–direction than any approach to parenting I had ever come across. Vicki has kindly made some of her parenting articles available to me to reprint here. If you’re interested in the topic or have questions, please comment to help guide me in choices for future posts.

I don’t usually post guest articles that promote a particular product, but I do strongly recommend any Parenting on Track book, course, or media you may be inclined to buy, and I hope that if you’re not inclined to buy anything you won’t be put off by this departure from my usual way of doing things.

This article originally appeared at http://www.parentingontrack.com/2008/06/if-they-can-walk/ .

If you’re beginning to wonder if you’re the maid or the parent, then…

A) You’re not alone

B) Now’s the time to do something about changing roles, and

C) Believe it or not, both you AND the kids will be glad you did now, and for years to come.

I realized at an early stage in my pregnancy with my first child that I could either be the maid or be emotionally available to my children, but I could not do both. Since there’s a far greater payoff to being emotionally available, I decided to train my children early on to help with the household chores.

Now, if you’re at all put off by the word train, here are a few other verbs straight out of my thesaurus: teach, coach, educate, instruct, guide, prepare, tutor… and you’ve got to love this one… school.

I use the word train because that’s what it is. And let’s face it, training is useful – it makes us all better at what we do. And knowing how to learn from our training is a skill in and of itself. A skill, I might add, that will serve your children well as they go off to school, into the workplace… but that’s another topic for another day. Back to making everyone’s life easier and more pleasant by taking off that maid’s outfit and giving your children a chance to be part of the family fun.

Is there an optimal time for training?

The quick answer is YES! Over the years I developed a very simple answer for parents when they would ask me how young they could start training their children to help around the house. My answer is, “If they can walk, they can work.” That’s right moms and dads, it’s never too early.

There are two good reasons to start training your children in what is essentially the fine art of cooperation and contribution, as soon as possible.

1. The first reason is that, if children have been invited to participate in family chores from a young age, contributions will be a normal and routine part of their daily lives by the time they hit the pre-adolescent, “I am not interested” age. So, it’s actually less painful for both you and your kids if you start ‘em young.

Consider this. When our children are very small, they come to us asking to help and we are quick to reply with, “No, too hot; too heavy; too dangerous; too sharp; too fast; you are too little; too slow; too short.” And then we send them out of the kitchen and into the other room to play with the plastic kitchens and plastic food and say, “Now go play and have fun.”

We continue to do this, over and over, for years, until one day, about the time that same child turns 10, WE decide it’s time for them to be responsible for their stuff and we start in with, “Hey, pick up your back pack; unpack your backpack; put your dishes away; clear the table; pick up your room; do your laundry…” Sorry ladies and gents, but by then, it’s too late! We have missed the most opportune time for training.

You see, when children are very, very interested in just about everything around them – including mimicking mom and dad, you, as a responsible, pro-active parent, can use that natural curiosity to everybody’s advantage and get everyone involved in doing their part around the house.

2. The second reason to start training your children early to contribute to the household chores is a very practical one – kids need years of practice to become good at doing “stuff” around the house.

Just take a second and look around your home. I’m sure you’d agree that tasks which truly contribute to running even the simplest of households require some pretty complex skills, and developing any skill takes practice, more practice, and even more practice. The sooner you start practicing a skill, the sooner that skill develops.

So, just how should I go about training my toddler to contribute to the household chores?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An immaculate house is NOT the primary goal. If you want it clean to your standards, wait until the kids are in bed and clean it yourself – but for goodness sakes, don’t get caught!
  • Set reasonable expectations based on the child’s age.
  • Notice what your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Train in small time increments.
  • Start with something relatively easy, like putting back toys, then move on to more advanced tasks like picking up trash and helping with the dishes.

The following checklists should help you get started with your first attempt:

Planning Basics

  • What two jobs can my toddler attempt successfully?
  • When am I going to train him or her? (Pick a time in the day that works for you and your child.)
  • What are my expectations?

When Your Child Says, “No”

  • Smile and walk away.
  • Go do something more interesting like read your book, listen to music, paint…

It’s also good to keep in mind that training in the art of cooperation and contribution doesn’t have to be explicitly planned during the early stages of training. As long as you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself, you can instill this spirit at a moment’s notice.

When Your Little One Tugs On Your Pant Leg to Play

  • Say “Yes, I would LOVE to play with you, as soon as we use bubbles to wash the dishes!”
  • Ask another question like “Would you like to learn how to squeeze the dish soap or turn on the dishwasher?”

Above all, DON’T GIVE UP — the ability to cooperate and contribute is a life skill that takes practice. And, whether you know it or not, your little ones will notice that you never give up on them, and that means the world.

If you have stories about how life has changed, now that you have handed in your feather duster and started training your kids, please share your comments below!

For more information on HOW to stay patient, set reasonable expectations, teach in small increments, and encourage your child (& yourself) along the way, purchase our Home Program and join the forum — Today!

Photo by horrigans

1 Comment

Vicki Hoefle: End Temper Tantrums, In 4 Words or Less

Guest posts

Earlier this year, my partner Janine and I had the chance to study with parenting educator Vicki Hoefle, whose Parenting On Track™ program, with its roots in Adlerian psychology, strikes off in a completely different–and more effective–direction than any approach to parenting I had ever come across. Vicki has kindly made some of her parenting articles available to me to reprint here. If you’re interested in the topic or have questions, please comment to help guide me in choices for future posts.

This article originally appeared at http://www.parentingontrack.com/2008/06/end-temper-tantrums/ .

End Temper Tantrums, In 4 Words or Less

Vicki Hoefle

No, you are not going to “give in” to them! No, you are not going to “naughty chair” them. No, you are not going to “talk about it”. What you ARE going to do, is add three of the most POWERFUL words on the planet to the word YES and turn temper tantrum -ing toddlers (or teens for that matter) into patient, cooperative thoughtful family members.

Don’t believe me? Well here is a true story that demonstrates just how effective these 4 words are, when used correctly.

I was walking with my good friend and her two children ages 1 and 2, whom I absolutely adore, and the family dogs. The goal was to get some exercise and reconnect with each other while getting the kids out of the house for some much needed fresh air and sunshine. Unfortunately, once we started walking, the kids started in with some classic demands and, well, here is what happened…

It started out with a “Waaaa” from the one-year-old and several whiny “I waaaant toooo waaaalk” from the two-year-old. Like most parents, my friend eventually gave in and let the two-year-old walk, and, as you know, if you let one out, you have to let the other one out, right?

I was immediately impressed with my friend’s circus-like talent. She started by holding the one-year-old in her arms, trying all the while to push the stroller while keeping the other child on the sidewalk. Soon enough, she was juggling two kids, a stroller, and the dogs in beautiful, chaotic synchronization. Amazed… if not utterly stunned by what she had taken on, I remained quiet and observed. And yes, of course, I eventually offered to help.

No doubt some of you recognize this story and are smiling, nodding, or even shaking your head with that blank, shell-shocked look on your face. Well, keep reading because there IS relief to this timeless riddle.

Alas, the girls did not want to walk OR be held OR do anything else for very long. And, it soon became clear that changing their position up, down, over, around and through, wasn’t even their GOAL. What they really wanted was to keep their mommy busy with them, at the expense of everything else – including visiting with me.

Very quickly, neither my friend nor I were having any fun. I had lost interest in the endless circus act, and we were not able to talk and connect with these two ruckus munchkins demanding all of the attention. So, we soon retreated home and the walk was officially over.

The next day when my friend and I had a quiet moment, we discussed the events that had unfolded the day before. We talked about how quickly the walk had degenerated from a time for two adult friends to connect, into a circus routine with the children in the center ring, running the show.

As you probably know, this is a situation parents find themselves in quite often. If you’re just now expecting your first child, or are thinking about having children, all you have to do is look around the next time you are in the grocery store. You’ll see moms carrying the baby, cajoling the toddler, or bouncing the baby while trying to make it through at least putting the essentials in the cart.

And then there are fathers, gallantly trying to avoid a public tantrum by giving in to their little one’s pleading cries for gum, candy or treats. And, as in my dear friend’s case, there are constant accommodations in response to pleas for freedom from or return to the stroller.

In the Parenting On Track™ program we refer to this place as The Slippery Slope – that place where parents find themselves when they know at any minute things could go from good to bad, or from bad to really bad!

So, what’s a well-meaning, law-abiding parent to do?

It’s all about training. We can either train our kids to believe that life is all about them, and that it is their job to keep us busy with them, OR we can train our kids in the fine arts of patience, respect, flexibility, cooperation, and manners – arts that are also valuable life skills that will pay dividends faster than you can say “play date!”

OK, I get it. But just HOW does one do teach these fine arts?

Start small by creating opportunities from everyday life, and for those moments that catch you off guard try this simple Parenting On Track™ strategy called “Yes, As soon as…” Quick, easy, and highly adaptable, using this strategy results in simple, but effective exchanges like this:

Child: “Can I walk?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as we get to our road.”
Child: “Can I watch TV?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you finish your homework.”
Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you eat something healthy.”

The tantrums and the whining usually begin when we tell our children, “No.” And, it ends when we either give in or get mad. Neither one breaks the cycle or teaches our children anything useful. So, say “Yes,” instead, AND… make sure that “Yes” is part of an agreement between you and your child. You agree to let your child do something or have something they want, when they prove to you that they can handle the privilege.

If you have trouble getting started, remember this.

It may not work the first time, and is not intended to stand alone, so you should also:

  • Try to incorporate the Crucial C’s (Chapter 9, Parenting On Track™ Home Program) with all the strategies you use.
  • Have faith in your kids – they can handle both the disappointments and privileges.
  • Have your kids help you find solutions to problems if you are stuck.
  • And always, always, take the time to make a plan.

Now, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine what it will be like if, after 6 months, your family was tantrum-free. It’s all worth considering isn’t it?

Image by Susan NYC

4 Comments

Erik Calonius guest posts on Greatness and Luck

Guest posts

Today’s article is a guest post from Former Wall Street Journal and Fortune writer Erik Calonius, whose book Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us you’ll hear more about here in the near future. You might also be interested in reading his post on Jonathan Field’s blog, “What Lucky People Do Different,” which I recommended here about a month back. You can find out more about Erik at his Web site, Calonius.com.

I saw a lot of wisdom in Randall Munroe’s XKCD cartoon strip (May 16 post)—the one where Marie Curie is telling Nobel Prize wanna-bes, “You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.”

In our instant gratification society, too many people just want to be great. They don’t want to take the long, often-lonely journey to get there. They want to be a movie star, not an actor; an American Idol, not a singer; the next blockbuster novelist (interviewed on Oprah), not a writer.

These frothy ambitions are not restricted to the arts. I recently had dinner with two senior research scientists from Bell Labs. Bell Labs, you may remember, is the research lab that produced the transistor, the laser, the UNIX operating system. Among its many notable scientists, seven of them went on to win Nobel Prizes. So did these senior researchers (that I had lunch with) want to be great, too, with their pictures placed prominently on the walls at Bell Labs? Of course. Who wouldn’t?

People have always wanted to be great (that’s why Alexander wasn’t called Alexander the Mediocre). Truth be told, even Marie Curie wanted to be great. Proof of this: As soon as she discovered radium she reported her findings to the scientific community. She did it the next day. She wanted to be great, too!

Wanting to be great is only human, but it has become a runaway addiction in our modern society. It’s the result of living in a country where there are few ceilings, I suppose, where some people really do go from subsistence to the stratosphere overnight.

So it’s important, as Madame Curie (and cartoonist Randall Munroe) reminds us, “You don’t become great by being great. You become great by wanting to do something. And then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.”

There’s another element to greatness, however. It’s luck. Countless millions of people have worked hard and selflessly at tasks. And yet they have died in obscurity, at least as far as the newspapers and histories are concerned.

Why? Nassim Taleb, in his wonderful book, The Black Swan, explains it well: “The graveyard of failed persons will be full of people who shared the following traits: courage, risk taking, optimism, et cetera, just like the population of millionaires. There may be some differences in skills, but what truly separates the two is for the most part a single factor: luck. Plain luck.”

So where was Madame Curie’s stroke of luck? In her case it was being turned down by the University of Krakow where she was to study magnetism, and meeting her husband Pierre Curie.  Her luck continued when Pierre showed her a quirky device called an electrometer. Her husband and his brother had invented it 15 years earlier to measure electric current, and had essentially put away in the closet. Curie pulled it out, and using it, discovered that uranium caused the air around a sample to conduct electricity. No one had done that before.

Now you may say that those are circumstances rather than luck. But in many cases they are one and the same.  Orville Wright would not have invented the first workable airplane without Wilbur; Walt Disney would have been penning cartoons in Kansas City if not for his brother Roy, who encourage Walt to come to LA, and then kept Walt from running the business into bankruptcy; Steve Jobs, of course, wouldn’t have been able to start Apple had he not chanced upon Steve Wozniak as a kid.

But luck is more than the creation of dynamic duos. I’ve been working lately on a book about electricity, and what is surprising (dare I say shocking) is that as you look at the work of the pioneers–William Gilbert, Alessandro Volta, Luigi Galvani, Hans Christian Oerstad, Andre Marie Ampere, George Simon Ohm, Michael Faraday, Heinrich Hertz, and on up to the present day, nearly every advance has been a matter of luck. Yes, of course, hard work. But luck, too.

Take the basic element of the electronic world, the transistor. The Bell Labs semiconductor group of Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley (all of whom would win Nobel Prizes) thought the key to the transistor was in the extraction of an extremely pure slab of silicon, from which thin slices could be cut.

But it was only after a lab technician incorrectly cut a slab, so that a thin layer of impure silicon spread across the top, that their oscilloscopes leapt with a surge of electrons. Suddenly they got it—Eureka!—they needed this slice of impure silicon to make the rest of it work. Had the technician not made a mistake, they wouldn’t have realized it. Another group of scientists may have created the transistor first. Then that group would have been great. They would have had their pictures posted prominently on the walls—and the team of Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley would have been consigned to the dustbins of history.

So luck is the lightning bolt that creates greatness. It’s true of writers as well. Please remember that when Melville finished writing Moby Dick (and talk about sweat equity) he was rewarded in his lifetime with sales of about 3,000 copies. Or how about O. Henry? Went to his grave broke. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald found tepid reviews and no sales for The Great Gatsby. In their cases, they had to be dead before the lightning bolt struck. And, of course, there are countless other authors for whom the lightning bolt never struck at all. If you’ve been working away at a new book lately, this may be a bit of depressing news

But the upside of this is that since greatness is largely out of your control, you can relax. Just get on with your writing, for your writing’s sake. And keep at it, for goodness sake. “What I’ve learned, above all,” says scientist Leonard Mlodinow, “is to keep marching forward—because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at-bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”

Who knows–you may be next on luck’s gravy train. And don’t think you’re not good enough. As Taleb notes, “Luck is far more egalitarian than even intelligence. If people were rewarded strictly according to their abilities, things would still be unfair—people don’t chose their abilities. Randomness has the beneficial effect of reshuffling society’s cards, knocking down the big guy.”  So take heart.

No Comments

Guest Post: Tricia Sullivan – Butthead and Butthead

Guest posts

Tricia Sullivan is an American science fiction writer living in Britain. Her latest novel, Lightborn, will be published by Orbit Books UK in October 2010.  Her website is www.triciasullivan.com and she also administers the martial arts site www.morrisnoholdsbarred.com.

From Luc: The following is a post recommended by a friend last week; it does a great job of capturing the frustrations of competing priorities and competing parts of life. Having read and enjoyed it, I asked for (and received) permission to reproduce it here. You can see the original at http://triciasullivan.livejournal.com/97143.html.


One of the big frictions in my life arises from the antipathy between the damn Buttheads.  Butthead #1 is the creative bit and Butthead #2 is the bit that actually gets me by in the world.   These two posts, poles, blockheads, cannot seem to be in the same place at the same time.  They butt heads.  They’re Buttheads.  Either/both, as needed.

When Butthead #1 is in charge, I’m writing well.  There is cotton wool between me and the world.  I go glassy-eyed.  I cease to care about trivia like laundry, the bank balance, the calendar, anyone else’s problems, world affairs, or the clock.  If a thought about any of these things intrudes, I push it away, because thinking about anything real is a sign that Butthead #2 is gaining control.  Butthead #2 is always trying to steal my writing mojo so that my family can have clean socks.

Before I had a family, when in deadline mode I’d accumulate masses of laundry.  I’d eat whatever I could find, usually toast and canned soup and chocolate (of course) and I’d put everything else on hold while I wandered around in a thinking fog.  It was wonderful!

Now I’m responsible for a family of five.  Laundry, dishes, cleaning, meals, all have to be done every day without fail as an absolute minimum.  Business stuff with Steve goes on in the background constantly.  So Butthead #2 threatens to take over my life every day.  I keep her in her place in two ways.  First,  I do all the routine household work that I can on autopilot, in zombie-mode.  Second, I procrastinate.  Anything I can put off until school holidays, I put off.  Because during school holidays, I’m not going to be able to write much anyway.

When I’m writing, procrastination is my friend.  During the school year, I let Butthead #2 note down things that need doing on a list.  This list becomes the Epic List.  I save it up all year, and then in the summer I execute it.  This is quite brutal.

Butthead #1 pretty much gets executed for this time, too.  She’s shoved underground and told to be quiet.  Theoretically she is resting, but it never feels restful in my life because Butthead #2 has me running around doing the Epic List.

The interesting thing about the List is how every item on it glows with the energy of procrastination.  This year, some of the items were very minor tasks, but because I’d treated them like radioactive waste and refused to touch them while Butthead #1 was playing artiste, they began to acquire a creepy sort of power.  You know, they loomed.

And there develops an over-riding sensation that casts parenthetical arms around the whole list, an ozone smell.  It’s the humming power of procrastination.  With every act of procrastination, the List and every task on it become bigger, more difficult to surmount.  The List begins to whisper evil things.

I’ve been doing battle with this bloody list all summer.  At first I’d look at it and feel tired, faintly sick.  The items ranged from physical chores to administrivia to phone calls to big projects to shopping, and because its fields of control ranged from Steve’s business to my own to our household affairs to our kids, I felt like my entire life was somehow trapped in the power of this List.  Stuff seemed to be coming at me from all directions.

Every long-deferrred chore that I confronted provoked some kind of anxiety.  Resistance.  But then, when I started pushing through and seeing that I could get this stuff done and struck off the list, there came one zing after another: the release of trapped energy.  The list became like a video game.  Each task was another opponent, with energy crystal rewards.  Once she gets going, Butthead #2 loves this shit.  She’s been going medieval on the List all summer.  I think she’s a bit swollen with power, actually.

And that’s the problem with Butthead #2.  She doesn’t know when to stop.  I don’t like the person I become when my life centers on getting this stuff done.  I don’t like how I think or feel.  It’s all too…organized and efficient.

The writing has suffered, too.  Butthead #1 is getting bored and weepy, underground.  So, in a week, when the kids go back to school, I’ll start building a new list of stuff that I’ll refuse to do because it kills my work.

Being an artist is a lot like being a janitor.  Make a mess; clean it up; make a mess.  Procrastination is my friend in one part of this cycle, and my enemy in the other.  But the upside is that, once Butthead #1 gets back in the driver’s seat, she will be the procrastinated-upon one.  She will have the pent-up power.  Or so I hope.  Because September’s coming, and I’m getting increasingly agitated as I realize I’ve been procrastinating on my writing for several weeks now.

How about you?  What kinds of things make you procrastinate?


Some Willpower Engine articles that touch on  subjects in Tricia’s post:

No Comments

What in the World Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


Recently, Luc has been talking about broken ideas, his term for cognitive distortions. This topic falls under the general category of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) which is based on the idea that if you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.

psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who pioneered cognitive therapy

CBT began in the 1960s and is one alternative to your standard lay-on-the-couch-and-spill-your-thoughts psychoanalysis. For many specific problems, CBT can help you solve those problems in about four to six months of therapy while standard psychoanalysis can take years to reveal roots of problems.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and, for some situations (and some patients), one can be better than the other. As always, it is up to YOU to decide what method works for you.

-00-

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The main idea behind CBT is your feelings and thoughts need to be in accord with the events as they take place.

As PsychCentral’s introduction to CBT states, “it’s not events themselves that upset us, but the meanings we give them.”

If these meanings do not line up with what really happened, it can cause a cognitive distortion, i.e. Luc’s broken ideas. Cleaning up these broken ideas is one form of CBT.

-00-

What is professional treatment like?

Professional treatment usually consists of three main areas:

Structure. CBT sessions are highly structured, focusing on the best use of the time. Since the goal is for the process to eventually become second-nature to the patient, the therapist acts as a guide, helping direct the patient toward his/her goal in the beginning, giving up that role later as the patient learns to guide themselves.

Homework or exercises. As with most therapies, this is an important aspect of CBT. As the therapist and the patient discuss the problem, they talk about what’s going on and the patient receives exercises to do at home. This is where the patient begins to put what he/she is learning into action in his/her own life.

Therapists and patients are on equal levels. The therapist acts like more of a guide than an all-powerful solution-holder.

-00-

What kinds of problems can benefit?

According to PsychCentral, CBT can be an effective therapy for the following problems:

anger management
anxiety and panic attacks
child and adolescent problems
chronic fatigue syndrome
chronic pain
depression
drug or alcohol problems
eating problems
general health problems
habits, such as facial tics
mood swings
obsessive-compulsive disorder
phobias
post-traumatic stress disorder
sexual and relationship problems
sleep problems

Can it replace medications for these problems? Well, maybe. But that’s between you and your doctor.

-00-

Do I have to see a therapist to learn about CBT?

Well, no. Not necessarily. There are a lot of online resources that can help you get started in learning what CBT is.

Wikipedia: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

While you don’t want to necessarily take Wikipedia at its every word, it can be one of the best jumping off points to begin your research. But, take everything with a grain of salt and if you’re just not sure, check the page’s references.

Cognitive Behavioural Self-Help Resources

Lots of information from a UK cognitive therapist, Carol Vivyan.

Luc’s tag on broken ideas (AKA cognitive distortions)

Not to continuously repeat myself, but I have found that Luc’s articles on broken ideas, idea repair, and schema therapy (another alternative therapy that incorporate some CBT ideas) are FANTASTIC places to start. Not only has he explained these topics extremely well, Luc has used a great number of sources on each article as well–dig in however far you want.

CBT has also been adapted for numerous books in the self-help section of the bookstore.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

3 Comments

“I think I can.” vs “Can I?”

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


I can haz Thunderbird too?

Does it really matter how we phrase things when we think about them?

According to researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it matters.

Albarracin’s team tested this kind of motivation in 50 study participants, encouraging them explicitly to either spend a minute wondering whether they would complete a task or telling themselves they would. The participants showed more success on an anagram task, rearranging set words to create different words, when they asked themselves whether they would complete it than when they told themselves they would.

Further experimentation had students in a seemingly unrelated task simply write two ostensibly unrelated sentences, either “I Will” or “Will I,” and then work on the same task. Participants did better when they wrote, “Will” followed by “I” even though they had no idea that the word writing related to the anagram task.

Why does this happen? Professor Albarracin’s team suspected that it was related to an unconscious formation of the question “Will I” and its effects on motivation. By asking themselves a question, people were more likely to build their own motivation.

(Emphasis mine.)

Let’s look at exactly what the experiment was.

Instead of saying “I will complete this task,” half the students asked themselves “Will I complete this task?”

The students who questioned whether they would complete the task had a higher success rate than the ones who told themselves they would complete it.

Intuitively, I think this makes sense.

Questions allow us think about the reasons behind what we do. By asking ourselves if we will do a task, we realize that there are two answers to that question: either “yes, we will” or “no, we won’t.”

I have often heard it said you must have the ability to fail in order to be able to succeed. By asking ourselves whether we will complete a task, we give ourselves the opportunity to be able to fail. In fact, we can choose to fail, should we so desire.

Questioning allows us to list our own private reasons whether we want to do something. Those reasons, whether we choose to admit them to anyone else or not, are the most important reasons we have to do anything. Ultimately, they are what motivation is all about.

Exercise:

1. Think of something you want (or don’t want) to do. Write the task at the top of a piece of paper.

2. Write it in the form of a question, ex. “Will I finish my book in June?”

2. Draw a line down the center of the page.

3. List your own private personal reasons for doing the task on one side; on the other, list your own private personal reasons for NOT doing the task. Be honest with yourself–at least, in your mind, even if you don’t want to write it on the paper.

4. Do this for a stated period of time. (Personally, I find that deadlines–self-imposed or otherwise–help motivate me to write down what I’m thinking.) 10 minutes, 15 minutes… Even 5 minutes. Choose your own amount of time and set an alarm to ring when it is finished.

5. When your time’s up, finish up your last thought and stop writing.

6. Review your list and decide which side has the best reasons for you.

By listing those reasons, both for doing the task and not doing the task, we can strengthen our own thought processes where that task is concerned. We can stop and think whether our goal is even possible. If I haven’t started writing a book and I’m questioning if I will get it done by tomorrow, more than likely, most of my reasons are going to consist of the fact I won’t have time to finish it. Is it possible?

Having a goal that you want and that is possible for you to complete will help you be more motivated to finish those goals.

What do you think?

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

5 Comments

A Solution to Depression?

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


For years, I complained of back and knee pain.

For years, I received the same advice from lots of well-meaning friends and family: go on a diet, lose weight, breast reduction surgery, walk more.

I ignored the advice.  And my muscle pain became worse.

In April 2010, I started a 12-week-long session of physical therapy.

And everything began to change.

-00-

My assignment, should I choose to accept it…

My physical therapist gave me exercises to do, every night, six nights a week.  And I did my exercises.

Begrudgingly.

I did my exercises, focusing on the point where they would not only be done.  I stretched all the muscles that I needed to stretch, worked all the muscle groups I needed to work.

I’m still doing my exercises.

-00-

Well, while I’m working on this, I want to do this too…

Strangely enough, (I thought at the time, anyway) once I started focusing on my physical problems, I started paying more attention to my life.

I started focusing on an idea for a business.  My writing, both fiction and non-fiction.  I started looking for motivational material, books< and blogs, to read, to get my spirits up and centered on what I wanted to do.

-00-

Is there a solution to depression?

The solution to depression isn’t always a pill.  While medication can be helpful, it’s honestly not the “end-all, be-all” wonder cure for depression.

The downward spiral of depression can convince you there is nothing out there.  If you take a walk, you’ll just end up walking back.  If you exercise, you’ll look funny and people will laugh at you (my very own problem).  If you try to solve the problem, you’re going to fail.

Or if you have back and neck problems, what you really need is a drug to numb the pain.

I’ve been there.

-00-

My solution, thus far.

The solution to depression can be as simple as getting up and going for a walk.  Or starting an exercise routine.  Or tackling a long-existing problem and working toward it’s solution.  It’s not so much exactly what you do, but what you focus on.

Oddly enough, I think I like exercising when I wake up in the morning.  Yep, first thing.  Just don’t tell anyone.  Please–I don’t want to ruin my reputation.

Once my heart begins to pump faster and my physical needs (shhhh…) are met, I’m ready to rest for a few minutes and then start to take on the day.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

No Comments

The 5 Stages of Grief for a Parent

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


When you’re pregnant (or your significant other is), you spend a lot of your time thinking about the baby. You think about what he/she is going to look like. Will he/she look more like her father or her mother?

You think about what he/she will be like as a baby, how you will treat him/her. Are you going to co-sleep or have a bassinet and/or a crib? Are you going to nurse or use formula? What kind of diapers are you going to use?

I dreamt of giving my baby the type of education I wished I had. The best day cares, the best schools, the best teachers. The best programs. I wanted to give my daughter every opportunity in the world.

When you’re a mother, you can’t help but have these dreams and aspirations for your child. It’s part of your nature.

-00-

When Natasha was 18 months old, her father, Tom, and I started to worry. She hadn’t said her first word. When she played, she played in “her own little world,” paying no attention to the kids or adults around her. She batted and flapped her hands at toys she liked. She didn’t pay any attention to us–we could call her name, but she wouldn’t usually react.

Her doctor said for us to sit back, not to worry–this could be just a normal delay in her development. Not a big deal at this age.

He had her tested for autism at 2. We patiently waited a year, going to every therapy we could think of, hoping and praying maybe she was simply developmentally delayed.

She was diagnosed as having autism at 3.

-00-

In Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, the original first stage is denial. In the expanded stages, the first effect is shock.

In my case, my husband and I suspected there was something different about Natasha. We had seen it when we went to the playground or visited neighbors–there was a difference in the children.

I was at Starbucks, having a cup of coffee with a behavioral therapist, when she told me that Natasha might be autistic. Here was someone else, outside of the family, who noticed something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t have the education to diagnose; what we wanted was an educated opinion.

I was calm; after all, I knew what she was going to say. Mentally, I had prepared myself; however, my heart broke into pieces.

Watching as she went over the therapies Natasha should receive to help her with her social and communication skills, I froze, a black pit in my stomach growing with every thought and every dollar amount she mentioned.

I saw my dreams for my daughter, my hopes and wishes and desires, vanish into thin air.

-00-

When Natasha was evaluated at two-years old, the behavioral pediatrician spoke candidly about the likelihood of Natasha being autistic and the possibility of her symptoms being only a developmental delay. She gave us the option to have Natasha diagnosed as having a global developmental delay rather than autism then having her evaluated again in a year, and we took it.

I made appointments for Natasha’s occupational therapy and arranged evaluations for her to be seen by the early intervention people to be evaluated for state and federal programs for developmentally delayed and autistic children from birth to three-years of age.

She stopped going to day care because I realized the teacher-student ratio may have been great for typically developing children, but Natasha needed someone to guide her activities rather than to let her wander for herself. Not long afterward, I left school so I could focus on her.

-00-

The second stage of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief is anger.

It’s not fair. Why did this happen to us? Why did God allow this to happen?

I was angry at life. When I was alone, I screamed my anger out in the car with extremely loud guitars and a fast beat coming out of the speakers.  Sometimes I would rant and rave in the shower.

I was angry at myself because it was always possible that I could have done something wrong. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals–what if this was all my fault for not doing something I should have done? What if I didn’t spend enough time with her?

-00-

Bargaining is the third stage.

While Dr. Kubler-Ross lists anger and bargaining (“I’ll do anything if ___ wasn’t so.”) as different sections, it’s very difficult in my mind to separate the two. Mentally, I bargained with everyone. I would have made a deal with the devil, had I thought it might have worked.

-00-

The fourth stage is depression.

After I gave birth to Natasha, I suffered from post-partum depression. My OB/GYN prescribed an anti-depressant and told me to consult with my family doctor.

Due to Natasha’s developmental delay and subsequent diagnosis, my family doctor would increase that dosage twice in three years.

For me, this was a much-needed part of the solution.

Throughout my entire life, I have had problems with depression. The anti-depressant helped me have the willpower to overcome the despair and the apathy I felt when in a stage of deep depression. Six months ago, my doctor lowered the dose after I felt that I didn’t need quite as much anymore.

Of the stages of grief, I believe this is the one that can be the most harmful. You can stagnate. Depression can lead to inaction–in my case, that was the last thing I could do.

** NOTE: Please don’t think I’m advocating a particular method of dealing with or working through depression. This is what worked for me. The best way to determine what is right for you is to discuss your options with a therapist or your doctor.

-00-

The first year of Natasha’s occupational therapy was my redemption.

Weekly, Natasha and I would go to the clinic where our therapist, L., would take us to the sensory gym. She would show Natasha how to take her shoes and socks off and we would go play on the trampoline, in the ball pit, or on the swings.

My mother tells me that teachers would talk to her during parent-teacher meetings and tell her she needed to get me to play. I didn’t play–from the time I could read, I’ve had my nose in a book.

L. taught me to play while teaching me how to help Natasha get the sensory information she craves. Not only was L. Natasha’s therapist, but she counseled me when I came to the appointments heart-broken and lost.

During this time, we saw all sorts of kids, some with autism, some with other problems, of varying ages and abilities. I watched the kids as they played and the therapists as they interacted with the kids and the other therapists. Some of the kids had problems that seemed to me much worse than Natasha’s–kids with feeding issues, sensory avoidance, physical disabilities. Watching them gave me hope.

Sometimes I talked with the parents of these kids. We would share stories and progress reports. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

Through this year, we played games, bounced on the trampoline, jumped or swung into the foam pit, and surfed in the ball pit.  Slowly but surely, Natasha began to progress.  She started to sign “more,” “open” and “all done.” After a year of what felt like no progress whatsoever, she started to communicate with us.

My heart began to mend.

-00-

The final stage of grief is acceptance.

It’s been a very long, rough road, but I’m mostly there. Sure, I have my moments of sadness that Natasha is autistic–but I’m realizing more and more that being autistic isn’t the end of the world.  It felt like it in the beginning but, through listening to Natasha’s therapists and seeing Natasha making progress in things Tom and I questioned whether she would ever do, I’m learning that it’s not.

It’s still hard.  I still have problems when I talk to mothers of children who are around the same age and they tell me their child never stops talking.  They inevitably always ask if Natasha does the same thing. Part of me knows it’s just making conversation, small talk–but it doesn’t stop a little pain going through my heart.

Natasha is in hippotherapy (therapy performed while on horseback) for occupational therapy, soon to be for speech therapy, and the stimulation she receives from riding a horse has been extremely beneficial to her. In the past few months, we have seen her go from not really wanting to pay attention to saying her alphabet and drawing smiley faces to actually beginning to mimic the words her father and I are saying. She’s beginning to understand we want to communicate with her and she’s beginning to want to communicate with us as well.

And acceptance seems a perfectly natural thing after all. This is who Natasha is and neither her father nor I want her to change into something she’s not.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

12 Comments


%d bloggers like this: