Why coaches are necessary

One of the most impressive things my husband has ever done was take apart his old 300ZX and put it back together again. And when I mean take apart, I mean every little nut and bolt that comprised the underbelly of his car–and what essentially made a car, a car–was all spread out on his parent’s garage floor like a jigsaw puzzle pieces. Two days later, after he fixed whatever it was he needed to fix, it was all put back together and running. Minus a handful of bolts.

All of the bits and pieces boggled my mind. (And I’m sure boggled his parents, who were hopeful to get their garage back sometime soon.) But what was most impressive was that he didn’t use any special tools. Just the same old lifts and toolbox tools he and his dad owned.

The husband isn’t just car-handy, but everything handy. He doubled the value of our house and land with all the upgrades and renovations that he installed himself. And I’m not talking the stuff you see on HGTV. I’m talking all the dirty, grimey, tedious behind-the-scenes stuff that they cut out of the shows, like installing an HVAC system, creating a proprietary whole house water filter, rebuilding an entire bathroom from the 2X4s up…all with the same simple tools that anyone else would own.

THE PROBLEM WITH TOOLS

I have access to all my husband’s tools. They’re racked neatly in my basement on industrial shelves. They make a great backdrop while I workout next to them.

Yet, I would not have the first idea how to build a car or build our house. I know their intended purpose, of course. I’ve been able to function OK following DIY manuals. But to have the vision to know what other potential the tools have and use them to fill that purpose? Uh, no.

This same kind of ambiguity plagues me when I see people or businesses selling tools. Instead of screwdrivers or wrenches, they’re selling software and automation systems for businesses. They’re all there to help the business professional and entrepreneurs create simple and intuitive processes.

But there is a missing component to many of these sales pitches and that’s the how. How do I use these products in my business? How does this fit my specific gap and need?

I’m looking at it all and I’m seeing the gap. I own and can competently use all the common business tools out there from email marketing to social media to web design. But at the moment it’s very much how I’m looking at the tools that are in my basement: I know how each tool works. I don’t know how to use them to build a house.

For that I need a house-building expert.

FIND THE RIGHT PERSON, NOT THE RIGHT TOOL

It turns out that I’ve been seeking information from the wrong side. I didn’t need the developers to tell me how to use their tools or ask them how this will help my business. I needed to ask a business professional how they used the tools in their business. What are their best practices, how do they unleash the tool’s potential?

That’s exactly how I came to realize that I needed a business coach, even though I’ve been in business for years. I know how to run a corporate business, but I’m a new entrepreneur. I have always used a system already working. I need to be able to design the actual system I need for my own business.

(This is probably the frustration people feel when they see all the food choices and workout choices available. They see it all, and have the information in front of them, but don’t know how to put it together to create a lifestyle and system that works for them. Enter Certified Personal Trainers and Coaches!)

This is also the plot twist in Tools of Titans–yes, they are awesome interviews and life stories about different successful people. It also shows you that ANYONE can become successful given the right mix of tools and drive. But the one thing they also ALL had in common (but were referred to more subtly) were mentors, coaches, and guides to make them effective. They all had someone whom they admired, who had walked the path ahead of them a bit, and helped steer them in the right direction.

Do you have a coach or mentor that you use and admire? If so, why? Or how have they impacted your life? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Thank you for reading!

xoxo

Liza

This Week

This week had started out hopeful. Even though I spent a part of a “day off” on Sunday at The Job, I still spent most of it with the hubs. We even went out to both lunch and dinner–amazing!

We spent the 4th mainly indoors. Even though it’s a national holiday, it was basically the only day off I had from The Job to catch up with my writing projects, and also finish one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time: Healer, starring Ji Chang Wook and Park Min Young.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it is easily one of the best “TV” shows I’ve seen, hands down.

I say “TV” because I stumbled upon it on Hulu.com and it was like a gift! A beautiful, amazing, shining beacon of happiness and positivity that I can look back on for this week. Because after Monday, the week slowly crumbled and devolved.

(That’s saying something when Monday was the highlight of an entire week.)

Local tragedy where two coworkers died in completely unrelated circumstances days apart…National news coverage of needless, inexplicable deaths…International news coverage of militant attacks in Bangladesh and Baghdad.

My heart is heavy. My eyes are hazy. My mind is numb.
These are not the best conditions to write.

I know I should focus on the positive…that I should count my blessings…that I ought to be grateful for what I have…tragedy happens all the time…etc.

I know all this.

But sometimes, it’s OK to shut down my brain and just sit and feel.
So I read. I’ve been listening and soaking in others’ stories, and pray that others have love, support, and light that they can huddle around to give them a semblance of peace at this time.

Hopefully, next week will be a little bit brighter. As for this week, I’m done.

WIPWednesday: Pictures

I love visualizing. I think it’s a great tool to really get after your goals. It helps that I’m also a visual learner and have a great photographic memory.

I’ve been using Pinterest as my virtual WIPspiration since its earliest beta-testing days. I don’t necessarily need to find the perfect picture for my characters or settings; I look for images that capture the feel of my WIPs for that time when I can finally draft and polish them. (Until then, my WIP ideas are outlined and are kept in various writing diaries until they’re ready to be drafted!)

But! I’d been lucky to find some really cool pics that capture a couple of my characters and settings.

First, here’s my MC:

Ren WIP 2 Writing Character

 

And here’s another major character:

DanielHenney as Gage

Aren’t they adorable?? When I stumbled upon these pics I was like “OMG THAT’S THEM!”

And, here’s a setting that I never knew could exist but totally fits in my WIP:

Cave island

I think I want to travel the world just so I can keep taking pictures of random stuff to WIPspire me. I have a few trips this year that’ll help me out with that. I’ll eventually post them throughout my blog as featured images.

And, for the curious, CLICK HERE to see the rest of WIP2’s Pinterest board!

WIPWednesday: The Revision Cave

My current novel looks like this now:

WIP 2 Revision Writing

 

I love drafting novels. Love, love, love them. I love being swept away with the story. I love how my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love the fugue state I go into where the external world just drops away, and all I see is my internal world.

Reading what I’ve written, however, is something…else. There are moments that surprise me, of course, flashes of brilliance and heart that make me smile and make me all warm and gooey inside.

But most of the time, reading through one of my first drafts is like trying to glean poetry from vomited up alphabet soup. Not pretty. And, the Not Pretty keeps me from working my revisions as eagerly as I do my drafting.

I can do a whole rabbit trail about mindset and motivation and mental bracing to accommodate the new skillset of revisioning, blahblahblah, but I’ll just cut to the chase: I found a way to get over my issues.

I realized that:

  1. Everyone’s first draft sucks. They are ALL filled with plot holes, dropped characters, extraneous plot devices, and so much more. I know no one exempt from this universal fact.

2. The effort that goes into revision is ten times harder than writing a first draft, so brace yourself. The revision process is the actual “go to work” version of writing, at least for me. Sure, it could be fun, but it’s still a Responsible thing to do, up there with Eating Kale, Paying The Bills, and Taxes.

3. The work of revision is simply finding where the story dropped the connection with the reader. That’s it. I didn’t need to rewrite from word 0, add multiple subplots, and untwist/retwist the ending. For sure, I’ve done all those things and more over the years, and yes a story may need those things…but it may not. It may just need an extra scene or sentence for clarity. There’s no extra credit for rewriting and reinterpreting your previous draft(s) when the original vision was perfectly serviceable and just needed tweaking.

Revisions always feels daunting to me because I made The Crappy First Draft, so how do I get from CFD to that fun, beautiful, action-adventure that I see when I close my eyes?

This is where my INTJ brain comes in handy. We INTJ-ers love to create systems and make processes more efficient. (This is a pastiche of revising strategies I gleaned from other writers that I made work for me. If you’re familiar with Holly Lisle’s strategies at all, this is basically like that.)

What Did I Want to Write?

First, you can’t hit a target you can’t see. I spend months thinking about my story, dreaming it up, loving it…remembering why I love it and wrote it in the first place. I condense all that love into a  series of index cards.

  1. WHY I WROTE THIS STORY
  2. Story in a nutshell
  3. MC story arc
  4. Themes–major and minor

I eventually transpose those snippets into my writing diary (I have a different one for each WIP) so I’d have them to look back on, but the index cards were important to help narrow my focus and scope. Those who know me well know how I can ramble on and on because I find everything fascinating and pertinent. Index cards don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If I can condense my story on to the front of one index card, then you can too!

I also write a synopsis page of sorts, hitting the high points of the novel so I know which scenes are part of the DNA of the novel–part of the reasons why I wrote the story in the first place.

What I Actually Wrote

Then, I read through the current spine of my novel (about 40-50K words) and print it out, each scene on a new page. I divide the story into scenes, number each scene from 1-infinity. Then, another read through on paper, this time with a spiral notebook where I note all the issues–plot holes, convenient plot devices, characters that jumped to just the right conclusion, etc–including scene and page numbers and reasons why it’s off.

When I finally figure out what I wrote, I line it up with the story I want to see, aka my Ideal Story. The comparison is often brutal, but also reality, and the sooner I get over how wide the gap is between the two versions, the sooner I could work on narrowing that gap.

Prioritizing the Story Problems

I find that the most efficient thing for me to do is to work through Big Picture/Plot issues then work my way down so that the very last thing I worry about is polished prose and Oxford commas.

With that in mind, I make sure each scene gets its own index card scene summary. For easy cross reference, I put the assigned scene number and page numbers on the card. All the issues that I noted in my notebook get assigned a color (Blue for Plot, Pink for Character, Yellow for Setting, whatever) and an alphanumeric label (P1 for the first plot issue in my story). I write that alphanumeric label and page numbers on the corresponding colored post-it tabs, and stick it to that index card.

WIP2 Writing Revision

When I finally have my story condensed to color tagged index cards I spread them out and see what I’ve got. Based on the colors, I can see at a glance where my WIP needs the most help, where there are plotting issues or characterization issues. (I recently added a subplot flag to my process, so I can see where I can weave the plot lines together to help with the pacing.)

This is where I can move scenes around and shuffle them up a bit. (Scrivener is a program that I know and love and use…but I enjoy the tactile sensation of literally feeling out my story. Plus I’m convinced that the brain-eye-finger connection works at a different level off screen than onscreen. Not saying it’s better, just different.) When the rearranged scenes look closer to my Ideal Story, I read through the cards again. I use a different color index card to add in new scenes if needed, writing out a summary sentence on the card with elements I need to see in there to make it flow with my Ideal Story.

All of the above sorting and organizing and reading through basically takes me two days. The long part, the hard part, THE STRUGGLE is the long slog of actually making the words better. This arduous march is made so much easier with a clear guide of what was wrong and what I want to see. This process makes revising the content so much more efficient, and I don’t end up wasting countless hours and words on following shiny, exciting rabbit trails.

Beware of Shiny New Ideas

I love to ideate, it’s one of my top five strengths, but I have learned that I need an exceptionally fine filter when it comes to ideas at this stage, and which idea will stick.

Most of the time, it’s my muse BORED TO DEATH and wanting to play with a shiny new idea. I honor the idea, recognize its cool factor, jot it down in my journal, and continue the march onward through my WIP.

Be honest and critical with yourself–Would this new idea really serve the story you want to see, or are you finding yet another reason not to finish this novel?

Editing the Content 

The actual edits I do by hand on the printed out version of the ms. This is easy because each scene is paper clipped together, so I just go to my scene card, look at the issues there, reread what’s on the page, and make the words better. Most of the time, it requires giant X’s, squiggly arrows, and just writing stuff out on another piece of paper. (When that happens, I go to the working draft version on my computer and input the changes immediately and print it out again.)

Each scene gets edited until every issue on the scene card is addressed. I do not move on until I do. Once it’s finished, I paperclip the pages together again, and they go into the done pile.

This is the most time consuming aspect but I’ve learned to look at each scene like a micronovel so instead of figuring out how to describe setting, I look at conflict–what are the obstacles here, how is the MC going to overcome those obstacles, and will the MC be successful? Even if it’s a bullet point summary in the margin, at least it helps me grease the groove into crafting better words for my reader.

I’m still going through each scene for WIP 2, weaving the story together. I’ll be done soon. I’ve crossed the tipping point where momentum is taking over, and the flywheel is basically running itself.

It’s all pretty exciting, considering this story has lived in my head for five years. Some day soon, I hope to share it with the world.

If you have any revision tips of your own, I’d love to hear it!

SciFridays: Jules Verne

From the Earth to the Moon

Image via Wikipedia

Jules Verne is my parent’s favorite science fiction author, and though it’s not obvious, is a partial namesake of mine (the other namesake being Liza Minnelli, which I hope is kinda obvious).

For most of my life, I didn’t appreciate my name as I should. Chalk that up to the constant butchering of said name (correcting people who think they’re pronouncing my name correctly gets really tiresome), and also that dreadful Ernest TV series/movie(s). However, the older I got, the more I appreciated my parent’s thoughtfulness in naming me. I like having an instant connection to the foundation of science fiction.

A little too recently (*cough like a few weeks ago cough*), I’ve come to admire Verne’s science fiction because his stories go a step beyond extrapolating current scientific trends to an imagined, yet inevitable, future. Verne seemed to prophesy when he wrote his stories. I mean, come on, From the Earth to the Moon? He practically predicted (or paved the way for?) the international space race that would come 100 years later, even placing the rocket’s launch site in Florida. In a world before gas-powered automobiles were invented and mass-produced, he imagined a story wherein his characters manned a rocket into space and orbited the moon, somehow navigating the gravitational field.

Of course, Verne didn’t just dump a bunch of scientific facts into his works. He wrapped them nicely into charming adventure stories, sprinkled with bits of romance and intrigue. Actually, the adventure aspect of his stories is really what hooked me to read his work, especially since several of them are similar to some of the motifs that run through my current work in progress (WIP2). Notably, The Child of the Cavern, The Propeller Island, The Aerial Village, and The Mysterious Island*, which also happened to be the main inspiration to my beloved TV series, Lost.

I’m happy to know that I have a lot in common with my namesake. Even though I’ve only scratched the surface of his life and works, it’s somehow motivating to me to know his writing journey and career. And, I’ll admit, even though, for all intents and purposes, we have no other connection other than our names, I’m oddly proud of the fact that Jules Verne is my namesake.

Has anyone else experienced this? Have you ever felt proud of a connection to someone you didn’t even know, yet has inspired your life choices?

{*I put links to these works just so you can read their summaries. And, I also thought WIP2’s alpha readers would get a kick out of it. Or not. *shrugs* 😉 }

Do You Have Any Writing Advice For Me?

 Writing Advice

I was deleting old emails from this blog’s contact form, and stumbled upon an email from a young lady stating that she hoped I was a friendly variety of writer, and asked, “Do you have any writing advice for me?”

I checked my email archives, and was happy that I wrote her back. Her question, after all, was very easy to answer, since I feel like I have to continually advise myself every day I write. My emailed response to her was this…

 I don’t really have much advice in the way of writing, since I’m still learning myself!  The best advice that I’ve read for any writer is something that Stephen King said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” That’s pretty much all you need to know and do, especially while you’re still in school.  Read as much as possible.  Read read read.  While you’re reading as much as you can, write write write. When you surround yourself with words, you’ll be able to use them more creatively.

On my blog, I chronicle my writing journey.  Feel free to poke around there, and glean any learnings as I stumble around on my own writing path.  Though my goal is to be a published author one day, the skill/art of writing is a talent that I believe needs to be strengthened and sharpened continually.  It’s like a muscle that way.  You use it or lose it. My blog is my way of keeping myself accountable to “using” my writing skill.

Oh, one more thing: as you write, remember why you’re writing.  I truly enjoy creating stories, and I love getting lost in the creative process.  Sure, it gets frustrating sometimes, and I get tired, but in the end, I write because I love it.

…and re-reading it now, my advice wouldn’t change if she asked me again. The best part? Seeing my old words, “Sure, it gets frustrating sometimes, and I get tired, but in the end, I write because I love it,” and knowing they’re still as true today as they were six months ago.

Friendly Variety of Writer

There was one point in her email that stuck out to me that I didn’t notice the first time I read it six months ago. (Possibly because I was still amazed that anyone would ask me for writing advice, and was distracted by making sure my answer made sense.) (Also, what a great argument for letting a manuscript rest before revising it.) The young lady hoped that I was a “friendly writer.”

Of course, because I’m me, I’ve wondered all morning if she had encountered many unfriendly writers to have phrased her sentence that way, and moreover, if I lived up to her expectation of being a friendly writer.

Anyway, I didn’t write this last part to garner any words of sympathy or encouragement. Only that the realization gave me the opportunity to reflect on my writing journey and public persona, and to hope that I can be a support to my writing peers. (After all, writers provide me with books, my drug of choice, and I need to support my addiction.) 🙂

So, what one piece of writing advice do you share the most? What recent epiphanies have you had that caused you to reflect on your writing journey?

PS: One of my favorite author role models is Beth Revis, and she wrote a blog post HERE that stayed with me long after reading it.