Monday, March 28, 2011

What I've Learned in Five Weeks

Ah, that point in time when habits are forming and results are actually starting to show. My word count has now reached the 30,000 mark on my novel although I must admit there have been a couple days I missed due to any reasonable excuse I can come up with. But one thing I have found is that I am able to sit down a write when I may be tired or just not feeling it. And that's only because I have learned that by the time I'm fifteen or twenty minutes into it, I'm enjoying it! So I sit and I write. I also know that there are times when what I'm writing is junk and probably wont up up being part of the finished product. But that's OK! That's what the writing process is about and most of all, what the editing process is about.

And the exercise program is going great! Those first four weeks are tough mentally. Probably the hardest part is putting in so much work and effort and expecting to see dramatic results that just aren't there. It's the paper towel theory! And I've said it before, I believe we are programmed to get things instantly and easily and that's just not always the case. Why else would people be making money off things like Thirty Second Abs or Fat Burner pills? Or how about Ninety Days to the Perfect Body? Think that would sell if it was Perfect Body In One Quarter of a Year, which is exactly what it is? But I digress. This past week I was able to look in the mirror and see changes and that is a huge motivator. But I have learned that in any long term program you're in, you have to have faith in the process and listen to people who have been there and know what the end result is. And based on what I've read, I'm not expecting to see the huge results until about the eight week mark. I also try to set up motivators to keep me going. In my writing that may be reading about someone from a critique site that actually has a novel completed or perhaps someone who was just published. And when it comes to exercise, believe it or not, those silly Saturday morning commercials with every gimmicky exercise device or program out there is motivational. Seeing people transform themselves helps keep me going and allows me a glimpse at what the end result of discipline and hard work will get you.

Finally, this week I learned to set small benchmarks and enjoy the ride. You never know where the little things will take you. I had no idea when I started this blog, what the goal was or what my focus would be. In fact, I still really don't! But I know it has kept me going and pushed me to write my six hundred words a day. And it really is rewarding seeing people begin to follow you and actually take time to write comments. And when I decided to really put an effort into studying nutrition and exercise, I had no clue about the world record spin class attempt I was part of this weekend. It was only because of what I started over a month ago and it led to such an amazing experience and I'm sure will lead to more. In fact, I met some people down there who are talking about participating in a sprint triathlon and it looks like I'll be trying it myself! There's a quote by Joseph Campbell that sums this up nicer than I ever could. “When you follow your bliss... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Guinness, Will You Count Again?

The day started with a four hour drive and a chance to make history. With an opportunity to mark something off my bucket list, I was heading to Houston City Center to participate in the worlds largest spin cycling class put on by Lifetime Fitness. The drive was a little too early for me but pleasant once I found decent radio stations. And on a side note, I never realized how many fishing talk shows are on Texas radio at five in the morning.

With the Houston skyline in my view I finally arrived and, after a couple wrong turns, found the event thanks to the nearly one thousand people walking around in the same blue and white cycling shirts and a sea of spin bikes parked on the outdoor plaza as well as the upstairs plaza of one of the hotels. I signed in and received my shirt and quickly headed inside to slip into it, eager to lay claim to my bike as I watched the plaza filling up. When I found a bike I started a few conversation with some of the people around me who were just as excited as I was to be part of this event. The weather was perfect and the people watching was fun. Costumes, such as the guys wearing seventies afro wigs or the man clad as a viking, were seen here and there and some parents brought there younger kids and made it a family event.

Finally, with bikes filled and a buzz filling the air, the DJ brought the place to life with, Lets Get it Started by The Black Eyed Peas and the place erupted. And for the next two hours we pedaled and sweat like we had jumped into a pool. Fortunately there were staffers passing out bottles of water and bananas for anyone in need. On prompts from the ten instructors spread around the event, we were up, then down, then tightening our wheels to make it harder to pedal, then back up again before sitting back down. This routine went on the entire time but the music and instructors were nothing but great and made the time go by quickly.

And so, after two painstaking hours, the news was out. News I wasn't anticipating and that was difficult to imagine looking out at the swarm of participants. We fell short of the record by a little over a hundred people. But what's interesting is that it really didn't make much of a difference to those who participated. We were all part of something special that brought so many people together. Shoppers at the outdoor mall stopped and watched with smiles, walking back and forth taking pictures or dancing to the music. People who had never met before were hugging and shaking hands, taking pictures together as news cameras and photographers captured the moments. And as much as I wanted to get that record, the experience was once in a lifetime and I was thrilled to be a part of it. And so, while I still have that item on my bucket list, I will search for another opportunity but treasure the experiences that I find as I search.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writers on Writing - Getting Past Writer Block

Great video from various authors on writing. Biggest takeaway in my opinion is one I always try to adhere to. Just write, regardless if you're not feeling it or you feel like what you're writing is no good. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Hard Would You Work For Greatness

I came across this video clip and thought it was truly inspiring. A must see that we can all apply to any area of our lives and truly a testament that greatness comes from hard work, determination and passion. What's funny is that I have heard similar messages from other people at the top of their game. Coincidence?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guinness Book of Worlds Records, Here I Come

Ever wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records? Well, so have I. Only problem was, I didn't have the talent (or some freakish abnormality) to make it in. As a youngster, my friends and I tried hundreds of acts of daring or skill we thought we just might be able to master. We caught coins off our elbow (world record is 338 coins), pogo sticked as long as we possibly could (world record is over 23 miles), and tried to catch a raw egg as far as we could possibly throw one (world record is 332 feet). Needless to say, we never came close but I thank you Mike, Jeff, Danny and Steve for all giving the effort.

Fast forward a few years and it looks like I will finally get the opportunity to fulfill this lifelong dream. It's rare that something like this comes along but when it did, I had no choice. And so, this weekend I will hopefully make that dream come true. There are factors that play into succeeding but the attempt will be made and hopefully, come Saturday afternoon, history will be made.

I will post the outcome this on Sunday along with a few pictures to document this momentous time of my life and in the mean time, wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

But I So Wanted to Believe It

In this day and age, with every technological advancement we make comes some a group of super nerds who can manipulate that technology for the good of evil. I now have to be careful of taking pictures with my phone because there's something called a metatag that allows people to see exactly where I was when I took the picture. And don't even try to log on to an un-secured wireless network or you risk having some evil hacker take over your computer, download all your passwords, empty your bank account, steal your identity, steal your wife, get you fired from your job and get your dog to turn on you.

But every now and then something comes along that you watch and say to yourself, how cool is that! Which is what happened to me this weekend as I came across an e-mail a good friend had sent me. The video showed a man hacking into the video billboards in Time Square and putting himself on the screens, using only his cell phone, a "transmitter," and a red balloon. I was amazed and applauded the genius of this man and immediately sent the video to other friends of mine to enjoy.

Well, turns out the whole thing was a hoax. You see, there's this thing called viral advertising that has taken off in the past few years. Ad agencies create something so unbelievable and stick it on the internet in hopes of it going viral and making news. Which is exactly what happened here. The video was all set up for the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper. There is no hacking into Times Squares video boards but rather the company behind all this paid to show the videos at specific times giving the impression they were being hacked. Twice in the clip, the mans broadcast interrupts an ad for the movie, something I caught the first time I saw it but didn't put two and two together.

And so, while I am somewhat dissapointed that there was know super technology allowing people with cell phones to hack into giant computer screens, I must applaud the genius of the advertising agency. And so to them I say, well played my friends.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dear Blank, Please Blank

I've often wondered how my kids can spend so much time on the internet, surfing page to page like a longboard rider off the coast of Hawaii. The number of times my daughter has stopped me in my tracks to show me the latest youtube sensation or a new game is too much to remember. And while I do admit I did sign on to play Words with Friends (isn't that really just Scrabble?) after being told about it by my son, for the most part I try and stay away from the mind numbing nothingness that is so prevalent on the internet.

But then yesterday I stumbled upon a site they had left up on my Ipad. It was a site called dear blank please blank and instantly I was hooked. I couldn't stop reading and trying to come up with my own clever messages. Basically it's nothing more than a site that allows users to write a simple note to a selected celebrity, politician, etc., followed by a brief, funny quip and then signed by the appropriate sender. An example I came across:

Dear Nickleback,

That's enough.

Signed, The World

And so for the next two hours I read note after note, running into the bedroom to make my wife listen to every funny message I came across. And each time she gave me the same look I give my children when they do the same...but that's different. And then I came up with a couple myself to submit with a little help from my children. If I make it on, I'll definatley post them. In the mean time, maybe I'll pay a little more attention to what my kids want to show me on the internet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I've Learned in Four Weeks - And the Paper Towel Theory

One month into my ninety day challenge (not P90X or any other pay through the nose programs but a simple somewhat self taught program I use for myself after doing a little research so I wouldn't have to spend the money and be mad at myself if I didn't complete it) I am starting to notice changes! Not only in my body but in how I apply the learning's to my everyday life and my writing. First off, one of the biggest challenges, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, is expecting to see dramatic results after putting in so much effort. But then I finally came to the realization that there's a reason this is supposed to be done over ninety days. If everyone were to see dramatic results in just four weeks, we'd have infomercials full of thirty day workout programs and that's just not the case. After going through a little self doubt, especially after gaining a pound one week, I consulted some blogs and forums and found that you really should start seeing the big changes after about half way through. And then I came across an interesting article by a dietitian that I thought summed it up and was so easily transferred into other things I my writing. He called it The Paper Towel Theory and it began with imagining you have two equally full rolls of paper towels side by side. Now, each day you worked out, you were to remove one sheet of paper from one of the rolls and continue doing this every day you work out. I related this to writing. Every day you write a certain number of words (in my case, I have a goal of 600 words each day I write) you tear off a sheet. After a week, do you really notice a difference? No. In fact, the rolls look pretty much the same. The same can be said for the second week. In fact, after a few weeks you maybe notice a slight difference in the circumference but you probably feel like there should be a lot more of a change! But then you get past that half way point and there you see the biggest difference. Finally, you are starting to see the hard work paying off. The sheets seem to be making a big difference with each one you remove and you come to the realization there is actually a finish line in sight and you can reach it.

And so, after this past week, I know I am getting closer. And despite the fact my hypothetical rolls of towels aren't looking that much different, I look forward to the day I tear that last sheet off, pick up that paper towel roll and blow into it like crazed soccer fan with a vuvuzela. I am approaching 25,000 words on my novel and I've lost over an inch around my waist and almost nine pounds. And so I keep on plugging away, pushing back thoughts of wanting immediate results and realizing with anything you expect out of life, sometimes it takes work. Hard work. But it can be done and I plan on seeing it through. Now...wish me luck!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Did You Notice the Lady on the Bench

One of the my biggest challenges in writing is doing just that. Writing! There have been so many days when I just want to turn on the TV and escape. The motivation is just not there and even though I know it will often take no more than an hour of my time to just sit alone with my laptop and write, it's hard. There are times I just don't know where my story is going and I'm not sure what to write.

I came across a great website filled with stories from writers on writing. One in particular (too many to read all at once) captured my attention so I thought I'd share. The author mentioned keeping a journal to capture those moments in time that make an impact. Now I'll admit I don't walk around with a large, leather bound notebook, jotting down copious notes as I capture my world around me. But I do use my phone (the notebook application) and as thoughts come to me, perhaps an appropriate metaphor or a description of a man I saw on a bus stop, I type them in and come back to them later. There is no better time than that moment in time to capture exactly what you're seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling. A great example of this was an exercise I once had in a creative writing class. We were told to think of a location near our home. A park, your front porch, your bedroom or maybe a tourist location. We were then challenged to write a descriptive piece and capture that location on paper using our memory. I chose a park I've been taking my dog to for years and included in my writing; kids playing, the trees that lined the walkway, the smell of eucalyptus trees and the other people walking their dogs. I felt I did a wonderful job of taking the reader to my park.

Now that we had completed our assignments in class, we were told to go to that same location the following week and sit for half an hour and do the same thing. And to my surprise, I had failed miserably at really capturing the feel of the park in my original piece. And so I wrote again, this time including the ping from the aluminum baseball bat a young boy made as his father pitched baseballs to him, the free standing restrooms in need of a new coat of paint, the sign posted on the recreation building offering yoga classes for people over fifty and a mother sitting by herself as her kids ran wild on the playground. She sat alone and deep in thought and I wondered what was going on in her head, making up stories in my mind of a fight with her husband, money problems or a sick family member.

The point was obvious. There is so much going on around us and too often we don't take the time to really look at what is happening. To take in the sights and sounds and capture that on paper to give the reader the feeling of actually being right there in that park with you. So since then, I always take notes and if I'm not able to I'll take a mental picture of exactly what is going on and when I can, put it in writing.

Give it a try one day! It really is a great exercise and I've found it helps get the writing juices flowing. Sometimes it's good just to write. Take a break from your manuscript but keep writing. I think you'll be surprised at how much you'll benefit from it and it may even improve your story!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tales of Success

Sometimes it's those stories of an underdog that help motivate and keep people focused on a goal. How one persons persistence and motivation helped them overcome the odds and make it. These stories allow us to take a peek inside the trials and tribulations they went through and let us know we're not the only ones facing adversity and that there can be a positive outcome. And one common thread that seems to prevail in all these stories is that it takes work. Hard work.

I came across one of these stories while skimming through posts on Critique Circle. A woman who loved writing and reading finally decided it was time to follow her dream and write a novel. And like any aspiring writer, she quickly learned it wasn't easy. After submitting some of her writing and receiving loads of feedback, she realized she needed to work at getting better. And she did. Chapter after chapter she wrote and submitted for critique, plugging along and making suggested changes. Until one day when it was finally finished.

Flash forward and this author self published her novel, selling over 70,000 e books on Amazon! And now an agent has queried her about representing her! There are talks in the thread about film rights, international publishing, etc.

And so I huddle behind my laptop, punching out plot lines and tightening up characters. Reading critiques and admitting there are areas I need to improve upon and keeping a goal in sight. Where it ends up I have no idea. But I know that my goal of putting together a readable novel is in no ones hands but mine and that it won't be easy. But it will be rewardable in more ways than one.

To read the thread I'm referring to, click on the link below:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What I've Learned in Three Weeks

Well, three weeks down (or should I say 21 days since it is a ninety day program and not a twelve week program!). So this is the point when things start to become habit and therefore should be a little bit easier, right? And actually, they are getting there. I'm finding the workouts I set for myself are not quite as difficult and I attribute this to knowing what my body can do. In other words, the first few workouts I would push myself to the burn and it was hard! But now I know what that burn is and that I am perfectly capable of doing it so it really has become easier. And the eating has definitely become more manageable. I find myself forgetting I need to eat. Now, on the other hand, there is that expectation of drastic changes taking place and that is not quite happening yet. You see infomercials and these little hard bodies running around talking about how they have the energy of a small nuclear plant and you want that energy too! Well, I may have gained a little but nothing really noticeable. And I really feel that after three weeks I want to see a six pack and Mens Health muscles. But, as you can see in the photos the difference isn't great but it is coming along. And besides, there's still sixty seven days to go. I can say I have lost just about an inch off the waist but unfortunately I am in a hotel as I write this and according to the scale in the gym downstairs, I now weigh 128 pounds. So I'll be waiting until Monday to get my actual weight.

But probably the biggest lesson is exactly what it is we are changing when we tackle something like this. Most people begin a weight loss program with the goal of changing their body shape. But really, we all can change our body shape but the only way to do that is by changing our mind set. Changing your lifestyle is not an easy task. You must look at developing a long-term plan that incorporates not just changing what you eat or how you exercise, but also how you respond to daily challenges. Because you may be dealing with lifestyle habits that are deeply ingrained, it may take some discipline, focus, determination, and above all, time to alter these habits. The good news is that you can change. Behavioral modification plays a critical role in any weight loss program and, if continuously practiced and applied, will arm you with the tools needed to achieve long-term success. And with these changes I've definitely noticed a difference in my work habits as well. Being in sales, there are many days (or weeks) when things just aren't going the way you planned. But taking what I've been learning in the few short weeks, I find myself pushing harder and keeping the negative thoughts out. So far so good but the real challenge is keeping this up for a heck of a lot longer than ninety days!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Truth Hurts

Well, chapter one was finally put up for critique on Critique Circle. And while I waited patiently to receive rave reviews, my curiosity grew as my story showed the number of critiques at zero after almost a full day. Surely someone must have skimmed the brilliant piece of literature by now and wanted to tell me I was the next big thing. Right? But the clocked continued to tick away with nothing. But then, as the day nearly drew to a close, I had a message. Someone had critiqued my story. So with nervous hands I opened the message and began reading. It started out well as penned by Uforia9:

I love this opening. It hooks me immediately— it shows that the narrator is not a believer in 'destiny,' if you will, and it makes me want to know about this Karen character. What has she done that has prompted the narrator to tell his or her story to us? I read on.

Ah ha! I was right! It's brilliant. Right? But then Uforia9 continued with small things like:

This reads awkwardly

You mentioned in the paragraph above that Brandon Tramble doesn't pay attention to fashion. Why is the narrator reminded of his own lack of fashion when he's around his roommate?

I'd suggest proofreading your next draft a little more carefully to reduce the amount of spelling and grammatical errors. Something that helps me with that (as well as discovering the flow of a story, and where things do and do not work) is by reading it out loud to myself.

Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of good that was found but my nature is to focus on the bad.

By the next morning another critique had come in. And Avengir thought:

Honestly, I'm a little bored here. I just want to get into the story, not get bogged down with a big block of text about coincidence and fate.

Again, some positive things but... And so I typed away with a painted on smile my thanks to both Uforia9 and Avengir for taking not only the time to read my story but to actually sit down and give some honest and helpful feedback. And the thing I finally had to admit was, they're right! Everything they said was pretty much spot on and I've learned that if you're going to be a writer, this goes with the territory. Regardless of who you are. After all, how many of our greatest modern day writers have been critiqued or turned away by publishers? This would be a great place to insert a number or a list of names but I won't. Mainly because I'm on a tight schedule today and have a five hour drive to make. But trust me, it's a lot!

And so I keep on, six hundred words today and then back to chapter one to work on some small editing thanks to my new friends Uforia9 and Avengir. I know there will be more critiques by the time the weekend is over but my skin has toughened and I have grown. And so I say to them...bring it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Ever since reading Hemmingways, The Sun Also Rises, I wanted so badly to go and experience Pamplona and everything he wrote about. And so, after years of saying, someday, I convinced my brother in law to take a trip to Spain with me and run with the bulls. All I can say is that is was one of the most memorable moments of my life and I could not stop talking about it for a month. And I touched a bull with my newspaper! The picture was taken once I made it into the arena. Thank you Ernest.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Perhaps a New Business

So this weekend while my wife was out of town, the kids and I decided to do a little project. My daughter suggested we do something in the kitchen to which my son reluctantly agreed. While my culinary skills would rival Betty White on the gridiron, I decided to put a little thought and research into it and came up with something the three of us would enjoy, frozen bananas. The directions looks relatively simple and a few dollars spent at the grocery store was all it took. That evening we sliced bananas into halves, stuck popsicle sticks in them and put them into the freezer for the next day.

Problem number one arose when I tried to melt the chocolate on the oven using a glass bowl snuggled into the top of a pan with water. The directions said to bring the water to a mild boil (is there such a thing?) and then stir the chocolate as it melts. Now, perhaps I didn't understand the term "mild" which resulted in a glob of goo that resembled a mud ball. So back to the store for more chocolate, a little more research on the internet and the decision to use the microwave. Ahhh, success.

The three of each took turns dipping the frozen fruit into the liquid chocolate and then had our choice of candy sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, nuts, or coconut to sprinkle on our creations. And when it was all said and done I was amazed at how professional our little project turned out!

Which got me to thinking (always the entrepreneur) this would make a great business! There are a number of these little shacks around town that offer snow cones, why not frozen bananas? Customers could choose their toppings to go along with regular chocolate, white chocolate or dark chocolate. And they are somewhat healthy! So why not get our own banana shack and get it going (I know this is somewhat a rip off of Arrested Development but who cares. It's a great idea.)

I know this will probably never come to fruition but there will probably be a day when I start seeing banana shacks pop up around town and I can say to the kids, "You know, we kinda started that."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What I've Learned in Two Weeks

Week two is now in the books on my body shaping quest. While I continue to abide by most of the rules, I have been guilty of having a couple cocktails on occasion. But I have greatly modified the amount of wine I was consuming during the week. I found that it wasn't so much that I was drinking for the effect, rather it was more like just the habit of pouring a glass every night around dinner time, usually followed by another one...sometimes two. And although there still is that temptation to pour a nice chardonnay, I find that a glass of soda water with a lime offers me something to sip on without feeling like I'm missing out.

The food part hasn't been too bad. The plan calls for eating six times a day, six days a week using mostly a combination of protein, carbs and veggies and having anything you want on the seventh day. And I mean anything. This is one of the things that makes this so appealing to me because I didn't go into this with the mindset that I cannot have pizza, ice cream or fried foods for the next ninety days. There is always a reward after six days.

Now, about that ninety days. That sure sounds a lot shorter than three months, doesn't it? I mean, I'm only two weeks in and I feel like I've been doing this for a month! But now is the time to fight through. Habits are formed after a minimum of twenty one days and I'm on day fourteen so I realize this is the hard part. But I have seen progress and that is motivating.

In most things I do I try to take something away that I can apply to other areas of my life and this is a big one. We are programmed to want something now. I get that. Having adhered to this plan I really want to start seeing the six pack and bulging arms. And I think that's where people get discouraged. They put the effort in for a short while and not seeing the results they wish, they abort. And I have come to learn that the only people who succeed are those that follow through. Simple as that. Any diet or workout plan out there will work...if you follow it. I look at writing the same way. To complete a novel is time consuming. In fact, probably one of the most time consuming things you can do! But if you set a simple plan and follow it, taking small steps the entire way through, it can be done. And realize there are going to be days you stray a little from your writing schedule, just like I did with the wine. That's OK! Get back at it the next day! Just know the end result. And speaking of results, I have lost six pounds and three quarters of an inch off the waist! I may not see it so much yet, but I know what lies ahead!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chapter One - Finally

I'm not sure why I took so long to post this other than procrastination and the fact I need to re-do something a dozen times before I'll even contemplate showing anyone. But in this case I briefly looked it over, checked for spelling errors and posted. I have been hard at work to keep up six hundred words per day, admittedly failing on a couple days but never the less, sticking with it. I plan on putting this up on Critique Circle for some good honest feedback but feel free to crit. I have thick skin and welcome any improvement. At this point I'm not sure if I'll keep posting chapters, maybe just a couple for feedback or an occasional random chapter.

As of now I am over a month into this adventure and the one thing I am noticing is slight habits beginning to form. I'll be the first to admit there is that wall to break through but they say it takes about twenty one days to form a habit. I've noticed my writing has increased tremendously and my eating and exercise has become more of a routine. And speaking of, I will post week two pics tomorrow. To quote a modern day poet, Charlie Sheen...Duh! Winning!!

Anyway, to view the chapter you can just click on "Fullscreen" and it should pull it up. I'm also keeping a sidebar link to it as well.

Dank Chapter One