Success – step by step


It’s good to have goals.  Sometimes, no matter what we do, we fail at them and don’t think we can succeed. How does a person deal with that? We try and try and never get anywhere. This can happen with weight loss, creating a business, kicking a bad habit, writing a book. I’ve found that large goals are pretty hard to achieve unless you do it the right way.  I call this Incremental Success.  Here’s how.


Shift your Mindset

If you are going to succeed, it’s very important that you shift your mindset. You knew that, though, right? Easier said than done. The simplest way to do that is to take extra time out to focus on the successes you have made. Get better and better at doing that and soon it will be more natural to think of solutions before roadblocks, strategies instead of why you can’t do something.


Make Small Goals

Finally, keep your goals small. Keep your efforts incremental. That way you can notice and mentally celebrate whenever you achieve a step. Also notice those little non measurable aspects of success. In weight loss, for example, how it’s easier to get up off the floor after a few days of exercise, or maybe you are less winded after your walk.


Enjoy the Process

While you are not giving up and focusing on success, there’s a way to make it fun! Get interested in the process. The journey is as important as the destination. When you encounter a roadblock, you can almost make a game of thinking of ways around it. Get creative whenever possible. Accept that you will have failures and decide you will learn from them.


Don’t Give Up

Most successful people will agree that the main key to achieving goals is not giving up. That sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s also rather easy to do. Many of us give up by default. But persistence is the one thing that the greatest people in the world, past and present, share.

To continue with the weight loss example, here is how you might follow the incremental plan under this circumstance. It’s easy to see how this could translate to any long term goal.
First, shift your mindset and decide that you can lose weight. Focus on times in the past where you have shown self control. Prove to yourself in this way that it’s possible.

Next, instead of deciding “I am going to lose ten pounds” which seems like a reasonable goal, decide “I am going to cut 100 calories a day.” Or “I am going to take a fifteen minute walk every morning.”

Then, as you do this, notice all the small ways your new habit is benefiting you. Maybe you breathe a little easier. Maybe you feel a little better. Continue with new goals and keep them small.

Don’t give up. If you have a bad day, or even a lapse of a week, get back to it. Just stop giving up. Keep on doing it.

That is how you can achieve incremental success.


“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”

Sir Winston Churchill


“It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.”

Sir Winston Churchill

Tips for Bloggers – a great ‘lede’

The key to capturing your readers’ interest is a great ‘lede.’

Sometimes referred to as a “lead,” a “lede” is the first sentence or paragraph of a news article. Secondary only to the headline, the lede describes the most important parts of the article. Read some newspaper articles and observe how the author tries to hook your interest with the first sentence.

You can use this in your blog, as easily as in a news article. A good lede highlights what’s important and encourages the reader to continue. It also directs the reader to the thoughts you want them to have. Just like with a news article, you only have a few seconds to interest your audience. A lede helps you do that so people are less likely to click on by.

I recently wrote an article where I was trying to lead the readers to a conclusion – but made the mistake of doing that in a high volume venue where everybody skims things. My plan backfired because everyone read part of the first paragraph, responded to that, and moved on.

I should have picked a good lede, one that indicated the direction I wanted things to go in.

For example, in a blog entry about a famous badger race, this might be a good lede:

Sir Fluffbottom is the new world champion in the exciting Beetle Cup race!

Much better than:

I think you’ll love finding out who one the latest edition of the Beetle Cup!

The second lede has no real information, isn’t specific about the Beetle Cup being a race, and makes the reader work for their answers. Many will move on – or click by. Better to be short, punchy, specific, and work into the details in the body of the work, after the reader knows why the article is relevant and interesting to them.

If you haven’t done this yet, try it out. Also, practice picking out ledes in news articles. It can be fun and educational. And who knows, you just might get more people reading your blog.

Blog your way to a book

Blogging can be a great way to get enough material to turn into a book. I have seen people stitch short stories into a book, poetry, anecdotes about life, webcomics of course, and several other topics. The excellent blog and website “The Art of Manliness” has spun off into several books, all of which are truly excellent reading.

I’ve done this too. In fact, my novel “The Dice of Fate” was largely published on a blog, in its rough draft form, before I polished it and made it into a full length novel. The short format of the blog was accessible enough that I wasn’t daunted by the writing, and I found that I’d written the whole story, in little chunks, in just over a month. It took a couple of months to polish and much editing, of course, but it can be done.

Your blog will give you the most bookworthy material if it’s all centered around a theme. For instance, if I were going to turn this blog into a book, I might pick two or three of my categories. For instance, I might pick “life,” “life and love,” “life hacks,” and “randomness” if I were making a book about my thoughts and observations.

I might pick “art,” “art tips,” “writing,” and “publishing” if I were making a book about art and improving your work.

Making your blog entries into a book doesn’t mean you have to leave them as they are, either. You can go back and edit them, restate things in a better way, expand on points, and more. It can be a lot of fun seeing how you’ve grown, and giving your original thoughts the advantage of your increased knowledge and perspective!

Then, when you have everything polished, you can self publish as well as make your work available as an ebook. This kind of book is a natural for that.

Don’t forget to have someone else (or several someones) read your new book to make sure it’s interesting, topical, and flows well.

Happy blogging!

Lifesaving Tips for Self-Publishers

Here are some hard-won lessons I’ve learned and want to share with you.  They will make your life much easier!

Make your work available as an e-book. This can be easy if you use an outlet like or CreateSpace. Some places, like FastPencil, will let you create and edit online so you don’t even have to stay at home with your word processor.

Price your e-book fairly low.  Remember that you don’t have to work at all when you sell one.

Be aware of current costs of books and don’t price too much below or above the going rate. Above and people won’t pay, below and they’ll say “what’s wrong with it?”

Use a beta reader. The more eyes, the better. You will ALWAYS find something that needs fixing.

When formatting, use full justification when you write. If the print lines up nicely on both sides of the page, it will give a cleaner, neater look. If you don’t know what this means, find out.

When submitting your work, pay attention to the final size of the page and pick a font size that will be readable.  Also, pick a font that is easy on the eyes, such as Times New Roman. A common size for books is six inches by nine, it helps to set your page that way in the beginning so you don’t have to make a bunch of changes later.

Use good word processing software so you can make your work look its best, such as Libre Office. That’s free to anyone with an internet connection.

If you are designing your own cover, avoid clutter and make sure you use an image that is high enough resolution to look good in printing. The company you are working with will tell you the minimum resolution required for images. There’s free image editing software out there, it’s called GIMP and it’s excellent. Like Libre Office, it’s open source and virus free. Both programs come in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions.

Don’t forget to leave room for the barcode and ISBN on the back of your book, if you design that space in, it will look much more finished.

Write what you love, write what you know, and never ever write something you don’t know about without expert help. That is, talk it over with someone who knows the subject and then listen to what they have to say!

And finally, don’t pay for any services unless you know exactly what you are getting!

How to publish a book without paying a cent

You can do it with all the equipment you are currently using at this very moment.

That’s right, just a computer, an internet connection, your brain, and your fingers. Let’s say you have a manuscript. It could be a novel, non fiction, book of poems, biography, cookbook, or whatever. If it’s polished and ready to see the light of day, you already have everything you need!

How can you do this without fancy software or paying publishing fees? Read on.

If you have your text ready, the first thing you will want to do is format it and make sure it includes all the bits you need. Author’s note, copyright, acknowledgements, etc etc. That’s not bad. Then you need to be able to convert it to PDF. One free software program can do all that and it’s called LibreOffice. It’s available for free, and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Just gGoogleit!

Many self publishing places want you to put your book in 6 by 9 inch format. That’s easy to do with Libre Office, you can set up the page size so it will automatically be in that size. And when you have your file exactly the way you want it, you can convert it to PDF through the “export to PDF” in the file menu. PDF format is good because it makes sure the book prints out exactly the way you have it set up.

But what about the cover? If you have some artistic or creative talent, you can do it in GIMP, another free program that works for Windows, Linux, or Mac. When you are done setting up the titling and everything, it will also export to PDF format.

Don’t want to draw your own cover? No problem, both of my favorite print on demand sites have a cover wizard that help you make a nice looking cover with very little work.

My favorite print on demand sites are CreateSpace and Lulu. Both support print on demand and ebook options. CreateSpace takes a bigger cut of the profits than Lulu does, but at the same time it gives you much wider distribution options. Both places will assign you an ISBN and let you keep all your own rights in case you should make it big. And neither charges anything for basic set up, they only make money if you sell a book. How much you need to charge to make a profit will depend on how many pages your book is.

My own novel, that I published last year, is 250 pages that are 6 by 9 inches in size. If I charge $14.99 for my book I make just over $5 in profit. That may not sound like much, but it’s a lot better than most authors get with traditional publishing. The Kindle edition makes me more, as I get about $4 per book if I charge $5.99. I like that anyway, because ebooks are great! If anyone would like to see my book, they can search “The Dice of Fate” in the CreateSpace or Kindle eStore.

So there you have it. I published my book and I didn’t pay a cent, and you can do it too.


Dice of Fate cover small

Surprising Benefits of Handwriting

Did you know that writing by hand, rather than typing or printing, might actually help your brain?

I recently read about a study that was conducted on kindergartners. In learning, the kindergartners who wrote during a learning activity had more active, adult like brain patterns than the children who didn’t. The same researchers looked at adults and found that not only did adults who wrote have more brain activity as well, but it was of a different kind, and apparently more beneficial, if they wrote in cursive rather than printing or typing.

There’s another benefit, too.  Cursive, or is that cursed-at? and even the dreaded Palmer Method or later D’Nealian Method, is designed to reduce hand fatigue.  It’s meant to help you write a longer time with better legibility, while still making your handwriting look elegant.  I’ve found this to be generally true, depending on your taste.

This is why I have started to write more letters and in my diary again. I also practice my handwriting with inspirational quotes or whatever poem I am currently memorizing. I find that handwriting puts me in a much more meditative frame of mind than when I print or type. I also find that my words tend to be a bit more poetic and eloquent, as if the beautiful letters demand more beautiful words to go with them.

As old fashioned as it may be, I am having fun with this and am really curious to see where it will go.

Writing tip: Scintillating Articles

This tip may be a bit basic but I think you’ll all agree that there are many authors who could use this advice.  So, as a public service, I repost this tip:


It’s not so hard to write a fascinating, informative article or blog post if you organize it right.

All you have to do is use the “inverted pyramid” writing structure that journalists do. Basically, you start with an eye catching headline, hopefully relevant to your content. Then you write a short introductory paragraph outlining your main point.

After that, you expand upon your main topic, giving detail and supporting evidence. There is where you would use the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of journalism to best effect.

If you want to make it really great, use interesting, descriptive words to draw your reader in and really illustrate your different pieces of supporting evidence.

When you are done, sum your subject or facts up again, make an interesting point about it or underscore your conclusion. This will keep the idea fresh in your reader’s mind. And it will make a coherent, very readable post!

There’s extra credit these days if you add an eyecatching picture.

Who knew you’d find something useful in high school writing class?

Writing Tackle

If you are reading this, you are have a high probability of being a writer or aspiring writer. So I think this subject is near and dear to many people here.

For artists or for writers, a small pocket sized notebook can be a real best friend. Author Robert Michael Pyle (known as “Butterfly Bob” to his friends) says that he is never without his “writing tackle.” He’s a real character. He’s an outdoorsman, scientist, folklorist, and grandfatherly eccentric. His writing tackle consists of a nice leather bound notebook, a refillable fountain pen, and an ink bottle. He carries them everywhere, so he’s always ready for when inspiration strikes. When I saw him at a book signing, there he was, filling his pen from the ink bottle.

What kind of “writing tackle” or “drawing tackle” would you like to carry? Is there a set of writing tools that would make you feel more creative, or possibly give you incentive to write more often? Would you use your smartphone? A tablet computer? A batterd spiral notebook? A nice hardback sketch diary? Backs of envelopes? Napkins and borrowed crayons? Do you think that inspiration might strike more often if you took notes more often? One thing is for certain, carrying a little notebook helps you remember whatever ideas you do have, so you don’t lose them.

I have different levels of “writing tackle” and “drawing tackle.” I try not to go anywhere without at least a pen and a few scraps of paper. I have a small lined notebook that fits in my pocket along with a writing pen or two. For drawing I have a tiny sketchbook, maybe the size of a stack of index cards, that I use along with three technical pens and a mechanical pencil. That’s pretty easy to pack. I also have a bigger sketchbook with a long rectangular tin that holds several woodless graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser. If I really want to go all out, I can take my wooden sketchbox easel… with an even bigger sketch book, and room for ALL my pencils and pens!

Whether you call it Writing tackle, your emergency creativity kit, or portable memory, be prepared!

Character and Plot Development

Last year, I wrote a piece about finally finishing my first novel.  At the time, I focused on the ability to type because that was the single greatest determining factor in being able to complete the novel. As a child of two writers, coming up with characters and stories is really second nature to me. But it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to talk about that process as well. Even though it’s simple for me, it might be helpful to others.

A lot of my storytelling ability has been honed by running tabletop roleplaying games for a decade. I get plenty of practice coming up with characters, including looks, personality, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Often I just start with a name, a character trait, an occupation, or even a color and let my imagination wander from there.

For example, when I wrote my novel I wanted it to be about a modern person who had a similar job to mine. That way I could write what I knew. But the story wouldn’t be as interesting if I made her just like me. So when I was building her character I made her like me, only Japanese American. I started with the basic concept of the story I wanted to write, then created a character who would work well within that. Sometimes I’ll do the opposite, create a character and then design an adventure for them. Or I will create a character, imagine a situation, and then just think logically about what they would do in that situation with the skills and experience they have, and work from there. That last method comes straight from my roleplaying games. We are taught to decide what a character knows and can do, and operate entirely within that. It makes for more interesting characters and better stories.

As a game mistress, I also have to come up with stories all the time. I often take a story element from one plotline and weave it into the larger narrative, so that my player has mysteries to solve and new things to explore based on what they have already seen and done. Say there was an oddly dressed stranger the player noticed two weeks ago? Perhaps they are a part of a secret society- dovetailing with the character’s suspicions of being abducted by aliens- and the story could go anywhere.

Gaming has made me write stories that have far more internal consistency. I’m used to having a player picking holes in them all the time, so I am sure to make my stories interesting, internally consistent, and well described. A roleplaying game isn’t worth beans if your player is left wondering what their environment looks, sounds, feels and smells like. This transfers very well to stories and leads me to show, rather than tell. Though I still stray at times, it’s still more natural for me to say “Sanae walked up the tree-lined street as plum blossoms drifted down. She smiled at the happy squeals of playing children as the sunshine warmed her” than “It was a warm spring day and Sanae was happy.”

If I could give one tip to writers, it would be to describe your story and your characters well. Details matter. Which is more interesting, “a bowl of soup,” or “a pottery bowl of tomato soup?” Without using too much purple prose, try to immerse your reader in your story and situations. Take them away from the everyday with your vivid descriptions.

Improve your stories with Loss

One of the common themes in stories, both short and long, is the cycle of loss. The character starts out with something. It might be knowledge, a home, a location, a thing, a person. The bulk of the story consists of the character dealing with the loss or change, adapting to it, trying to get whatever it was back, etc. The end of the story, if the story is good, shows the character come to some kind of resolution – growng as a result of the loss, learning something, getting something, having an insight. A good story is not a circle but a helix. The character ends up in a different place than where they began.

This is why some TV shows and book series can be unsatisfying! If everything has be put back the same way it began by the end of the episode, the character can never experience true loss or true growth. Have you ever watched or read something and thought “they can’t get rid of that character so I know they will get out of this somehow.” That’s what I’m talking about.

It’s interesting to look at different stories show what parts of the loss cycle. Cinderella, for example, goes from a bad but normal state, gains something, loses it temporarily, and eventually ends the story in the “gain” part of the cycle. It wouldn’t be as interesting a story if there wasn’t that temporary loss part of the story, where the prince is looking for her and she’s having to deal with her sisters.

War and Peace starts in a time and place of relative prosperty, moves through many phases, most of them involving loss of one type or another, but eventually ends up in a happy place again. The characters grew and changed through their losses and gains.

Black Beauty starts with a place of peace and happiness, goes through loss and troubles, and ends up happy again but with the main character being much wiser.

Most sit-coms start from a place of gain, move temporarily into fear of loss, then go right back to the happy ending without learning anything.

What are some stories you can think of that are like this? Do you ever consider this type of thing in your writing?