Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sticking to it

Almost everyone has something he or she is working toward...whether it's finishing (or submitting) that novel, losing 10 pounds, cleaning out the garage, or trying to excercise more/eat healthier.

But how many of us actually reach the goals we set for ourselves? We do reach goals set by our bosses: finish that report by Friday. Because if we don't, there are getting fired. For personal goals, often the only consequence is how unhappy you're going to be with yourself if you don't succeed. Many of us have no qualms saying, "I'll just work out tomorrow," or "I'd rather do X, I'll get to that thing Y I want to do another time."

What makes some of us stick to our goals while others don't?

--careful planning is the key...breaking a big goal, such as writing a novel, into small, doable steps. Say you'll complete one page (or 250 words) per day, instead of letting the mind boggle at the thought of finishing an entire book. Or decide to clean one drawer at a time instead of letting the messiness of an entire room overwhelm you and stop you from getting started.
-- there's a discipline gene...what if some people have it and some don't?
--some want to be the Red Hen, not the other barnyard animals: wishing they could reap the benefit eating the bread without having to participate in the baking
--there are those who enjoy talking about what they will do, rather than actually investing the time and effort into making that dream a reality...and end up failing. The hope of "I could have..." vs. the defeat of "Now I know I can't."
--they need a motivational buddy, a coach, a supporter, so they know at least one person is recognizing and encouraging their efforts.

--it's fear of success, how their lives will change if they do succeed.

Are one of these reasons or something else holding you back? Figure out what's holding you back and take steps to remove or overcome the hindrance(s).

Now you've set another goal...will you reach this one?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Customer Service...Take Two

Everyone with DSL service pays his or her provider for reliable, 24 hour Internet access. Those of us who work at home and need to upload files to industry professionals in a timely manner rely on being able to get online whenever we need to.

My building used to have Comcast cable, so having Comcast Internet led to cost savings. Last summer a neighbor and I experienced Internet that came and went. Both of us spent hours on the phone trying to troubleshoot, and both awaited technicians who never arrived. And at least once, I received a recorded message that the technician was cancelled because the problem had been resolved. Not.

So when my building switched to DirectTV, I switched my Internet to AT&T. I was surprised by how easy the transition was and AT&T's much lower monthly rate. I was able to install the new modem and connect to the service by my un-techy self. The speed was amazing compared to Comcast, service consistent. All was well.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when my AT&T service started getting spotty. Of course, pinpointing why is the challenge. When you call, of course you don't get a person right away. The annoying auto attendant voice asks you to say a variety of commands, which he rarely understands. "I think you said ____," or "Sorry, I'm not sure what you entered." And there are those long pauses while he processes whatever you've said and moves to the next prompt.

When you finally make your way through the maze to a person, he or she starts all over, confirming your phone number and then collecting your complete name and address, last 4 digits of your SSN. I understand the need for security, but this takes too long. Then they want you to trouble shoot a zillion things, even when you know the problem isn't from your end.

"Turn the modem off. Check the cables." Like I hadn't already done those things. "Remove the filter from your DSL phone line." Ok, hadn't tried that one. No change. Your account doesn't show up as registered. So you shouldn't be getting service at all." Well, I don't recall being asked to register and I've used AT&T since last November.
That took around 26 minutes. Then a few hours later I got a recorded message that the problem had been resolved. Not.

Even when you call a second time the same day, and when you have a ticket number to refer them to, they insist on starting all over and walking you through every single step. Resolving that, then trying to get a credit on my bill for the time I'd wasted and loss of service took 39 minutes. However, I got transferred from department to department because DSL said Phone had to issue the credit, and Phone sent me back to DSL where I didn't get to a person but back to the auto attendant and would have had to start all over.

Then when I tried to call to reschedule the technician using the phone number in an email I'd recieved, it turned out to be the wrong number so that took more time than it should have taken.

On another note, why do the numbers you need on the bottom of the modem have to be so tiny?

While each AT&T employee was friendly as he/she read her obvious script, each seemed to have access to different information and advice. The last guy I talked to seemed the most knowledgeable and did some troubleshooting on his end to resolve my DSL issue. Time will tell.

But why does this process have to be so painstakingly frustrating? Can't customer service departments find ways to simplify and speed up incoming calls? At the very least there should be a way to allow callers to provide each piece of info once, and to track issues so when you call back you can either 1) talk to the same representative who is already familiar with your issue 2) know that the next representative can easily retrieve whatever has gone on before so you can start where you left off.

Now, back to getting that credit...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When are you done?

These are common pieces of writing advice:

--Allow yourself to write a bad first draft. Get something down, because you can't revise a blank page.
--After completing a manuscript, set it aside for a few weeks. With fresh eyes, you can revise.
--Have critique partner(s) or beta readers let you know what does/doesn't work for them so you can revise.

So when ARE you done? When is a manuscript finished? I've heard many published authors say even if they reread one of their books already on the shelves, they find things to change or improve.

And then, of course, even when you think you're done, agents and/or editors may ask for more revisions, before or after you sell. On the one hand, having an industry professional point out what she considers to be a weakness is a great thing. Some authors take offense that anyone would dare to criticize their carefully crafted tomes, but most know that revision requests are often another step on the road to publication of that book.

The industry professional is interested enough in your writing and story to take the time out of her busy day to work with you. And at least now you know what to fix. But the mind boggles as I consider the advice of critiquers and work my way through requested revisions. The hard part is applying a suggestion you understand intellectually to your characters and plot.

Take, for example, the suggestion to add more motivation for a character. How much is enough? Do I need a whole new scene, or can I add to an existing one? How do I trust my gut, which obviously wasn't right in the first place or I wouldn't be revising?

One way, for the first 20 pages at least, is via my Romance Writer of America chapter. We give critiques at our meetings. You bring in copies of your first 20 pages and read them to the group. Then the 20+ people attending make written comments and provide an oral critique.

When I review the comments at home and see a bunch of smiley faces on a page, I'm confident that section resonates. If many members mark that don't like something, it's easier to accept that element should be changed than if only one person disliked it.

I used to think I knew when I was done. Maybe, as some say, the answer is you're never done. So how do you ignore the urge to go through the pages just one more time, looking for everything from typos to missed opportunities for emotion?

Maybe the question is, "When do you let go?"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Back from San Francisco

Just got back from the Romance Writers of America conference in San Francisco. The Today Show stopped by...

If you watched the video, please recall that the reporter says something like "500 authors attended the convention." Actually, 520 authors autographed books at the booksigning for literacy shown in the story, which raised appx. $58,000 in two hours. Almost 2,000 authors and industry professionals attended the conference (not convention). A big difference, don't you think?

Comfortable shoes and stamina (and sweaters to combat the air conditioning) were a must. Attendees had at least nine events per hour to choose from...workshops on craft, publishing, research, career and the writer's life to chats with best-selling authors, publisher spotlights, editor/agent appointments, and publisher sponsored book signings.

I played the tambourine in the opening session, attended events hosted by special interest chapters I belong to (including Hearts Through History Romance Writers and Chick Lit Writers),
participated in a panel workshop with four fellow American Title II contest finalists on the importance of promotion before you sell, did a lot of networking and catching up with friends, and even left the hotel several times to go to restaurants and parties. I participated in the Golden Heart/RITA awards ceremony by handing the awards to the presenters.

The view from the hotel:

Now...back to work!