This week, I'm proud and excited to announce my very first guest blogger: fellow author Ellen Seltz! She's got a fierce love of mysteries, and does a regular series of reviews on her website. I wrote a guest post of my own for her, which went up a few weeks ago. You can read it here... but don't forget to stay a while and check out what else she has to say! Without further ado ... take it away, Ellen!
Roald Amundsen, Dr. Who and Me: Why Resilience > Consistency
At least, according to the prevailing wisdom, I am. I'm going to die alone in a frozen wasteland of blighted dreams, because in order to be a successful writer -- or a productive writer -- or even a marginally-respectable writer, the one thing I absolutely must practice is consistency. And that just ain't gonna happen.
The preponderance of writing advice out there follows right along with mainstream goal-setting advice. It's often based around the concept of the "20-Mile March." Briefly, you set a daily progress goal and finish it. Every day. No matter what. Even if a competitor seems to be pulling ahead in the short-term, your regular incremental progress will get you to your goal quicker and more reliably than making hay while the sun shines and conserving your energy when chaos hits. Jim Collins, who popularized the term, calls it "fanatic discipline."
The 20-Mile March is usually illustrated with the story of the race to the South Pole between explorers Amundsen and Scott. Have you ever read it?
Freaking terrifying, man.
Amundsen (spoiler alert: the winner!) had his men travel by one degree of latitude every day, in all conditions. Scott (in case you hadn't guessed, the frozen corpse) traveled as far as possible in good weather, and slowed down or stayed put on rough days. Amundsen planted his flag first, and returned safely with his team to international accolades and undying fame.
Scott and his last 2 teammates got dug out of a snowbank eight months later, and buried on the spot.
Oh, fantastic. Thanks so much for that great motivational snippet.
See, I don't know about you, but I have a lot of rough days. I'm a mom. I run a freelance business from home. I have an unlovely string of health issues that limit my daily spoons, and an array of elderly relatives in various states of sanity who call me up at inopportune times for help with their head-wounds, legal paperwork, and WiFi passwords. Nothing in my world is going to happen every single day without fail, and that includes food, sleep, and showers.
It's at this point I start really panicking. Because I've done fanatic discipline. I spent my 20's doing it for an acting career, and wrecked my body. As a writer, I've done "make wordcount no matter what," and wound up with the NaNoWriMo Horror Show of 2014. Fanatic discipline makes my life miserable and unsustainable, and doesn't even produce good art as an excuse.
So that's it. Mottley and Baker's complete series will never see the light of day. My chick-lit serial will shrivel up and get frostbite. I'm doomed.
Fortunately, I did what I always do in the face of panic and doom: research. (No, really. It helps. Even if you don't fix anything, it's like a brain vacay so you can chill the heck out.)
I discovered there's more to this South Pole story than first appears.
Right off the bat, Amundsen was focused on a single goal: get to the Pole and return safely. He built his team for that purpose, and kept it small: 5 guys.
Scott had an elaborate agenda of scientific observations and experiments, specimen-gathering, fundraising, and political payback. His squad? 17 guys.
For transport, Amundsen used a well-tested, low-tech, low-input, multifunctional system: sled dogs. They are bred to run on snow, dig their own shelter, and can eat nearly anything, including each other. If they don't work out for transport, they can be lunch.
Scott set up a fancy, complicated, high-maintenance system combining horses and motorized sleds. Trying to make them work consumed time and resources, and their failure left him depleted and behind schedule.
For supplies, Amundsen calculated a large margin of error, and doubled it. He brought enough food for the journey that he could have missed every waystation and continued another 100 miles before resorting to any desperate measures. Altogether, 3 tons for 5 men.
Scott brought 1 ton for 17 men. No margin of error. Things got desperate real quick.
Finally, that consistent daily distance? One degree of latitude is approximately 15 nautical miles. They could make it in 5 or 6 hours in good weather and have plenty of time to make camp and rest. If the day went badly, it was still a manageable distance.
Scott went as far as physically possible, pushing his team harder and harder, with no set rest point to look forward to. Some days they'd travel 9 or 10 hours. Remember, this is Antarctica, and they were pulling the sleds by hand. You ever walk an hour in deep snow? How about 10?
That's when I realized that consistency is the "B" storyline in the tale of Amundsen Takes the Pole. The real driving force here is resilience.
Amundsen created a process that could absorb multiple levels of failure without jeopardizing the mission. Like a Time Lord with two hearts, he had a spare for everything.
He respected the size of his goal and the extreme conditions he'd face, and left space in his schedule and resources for the unexpected.
His "fanatic discipline" was not fanatical about pushing harder. It was fanatical about when it was time to stop, even when he felt like he could do more.
So will you join me in fanatical resilience?
Let's respect the extreme conditions we face, whether that's physical, mental, financial, or time limitations. Let's respect the size of the goal we're shooting for -- making a life of our art. It's huge! Let's tell ourselves the truth about our very worst day, so we can find a target that's doable even then. Let's simplify -- simplify our process, our goals, and our materials. We make stuff up! All we really need is paper, ink and the inside of our own heads. Let's give ourselves the gift of knowing when to stop, of saying, "you've done enough today."
And let's make sure to build a little extra margin into our schedules, our budgets, and our hearts - not just so we can absorb our failures, but so we have something to give our people. They have needs, too. And we want to still have them with us at the finish line. Right?
I'll do it if you will. Ready?
Ellen Seltz writes good old-fashioned mysteries with a big shot of humor, described by one reviewer as "Dorothy L. Sayers having drinks with P.G. Wodehouse."
After working in the entertainment industry for twenty years as an actress, producer, comedy sketch writer, librettist, and script doctor, she turned to fiction writing in the vain hope that the performers would do as they were told.
Joke's on her.
You can find Ellen on Facebook (Ellen.Seltz.7), on Twitter @EllenSeltz, and on her blog, EllenSeltz.com.
Before I delve into this week's blog post proper, I have some amazing news: the official results of Metamorph Publishing's Summer Indie Book Awards are in! I'm proud to announce that From the Desk of Buster Heywood ultimately won 2nd place in the Thriller category! My sincere thanks to each and every one of you who voted ... I couldn't have done it without you!
Music is always an integral part of my writing ... I construct a soundtrack for each novel as I go along, with a little help from music cloud sites like Pandora and Google Play. They help me set a mood, and then as I refine the novel, I also refine the list, choosing songs to fit characters and scenes. Last year, I shared my list for From the Desk of Buster Heywood, so it seemed only fitting to celebrate In The Cards' release with its own soundtrack. If you haven't yet grabbed a copy, it's $0.99 on Kindle until September 25th! The reviews on Amazon are already phenomenal... but you're here for the music. Go ahead, punch play and follow along ...
1. Fall Out Boy - Fourth of July
This is one of my favorite songs for Ral, and his failed relationship with Natalie. He can't deny that he's still attracted to her, and there are a lot of regrets ... but there's a lot of anger surrounding how it all ended, too.
2. Nina Gordon - Horses In The City
A great, lovely, lonely song that captures Beatrice's mood on her first few weeks in Aviario perfectly.
3. The Bangles - Walk Like An Egyptian
This has been June's theme for many, many years, ever since I came up with the concept of a perky goth with a love for all things 1980s. It's what's playing in the Balefires the first time Beatrice sets foot inside.
4. John Mellencamp - Small Town
This is the Weldyns' theme, and the perfect music for writing Ral's visit to their house for dinner and conversation. I have always had this song as part of a generic Aviario playlist, and it's likely to stay there.
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Messiah Ward
The Bad Seeds are my go-to music for writing Dr. Feistus in any stripe, but this serves his therapy sessions with Troy almost too well.
6. Oingo Boingo - No One Lives Forever (Live, Farewell Tour)
Dr. Jon Knight is filled, heart and soul, with the essence of Danny Elfman in the '80s. It's only fitting that this is what he's rocking out to when Sam comes to visit him in the morgue.
7. Peter Gabriel - Sky Blue
I had this song on loop while writing Beatrice's visit to Louise's house. For me, it has always been a song connected with magic and serenity.
8. Christophe Beck - Suite from Restless
Ral's nightmare about his initiation was inspired by this piece from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and as such it was constantly playing as I wrote. It captures the sacred, ancient nature of the ritual along with the frenzied, wild panic which ensues as it all begins to go wrong.
9. Rasputina - The Olde Headboard
Melora Creager's violin-infused goth rock is my go-to music for writing Natalie ... her signature tune is "Things That I'm Gonna Do", but this one seemed to fit a little more with what happens to her during In The Cards. I put this one on while writing her breakfast date with Ral at Somethin' Brewin'.
10. Peter Gabriel - Cloudless
A song without words for the loss of a lovely character.
11. John Fogerty - Premonition
I was at a loss for any music for Troy until I heard this gem. It has a rustic soul like Troy's, and ties down into everything that's plaguing him by the time the plot really begins to gain ground.
12. Collective Soul - Where The River Flows
I wrote Troy's premonition at the bank of the Housatonic to Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain", but Pandora fed me this song one day while I was editing, and it seemed so much more gritty and visceral. (Besides, this was already a pretty Gabriel-heavy soundtrack.)
13. Florence & the Machine - Shake It Out
Ral lets go of his hang-ups, and it's about damn time.
14. Team Fat - Funky Tubes
What better music for the novel's final confrontation than a piece from something that inspired it all?
15. Cher - Heart of Stone
Just because Ral's decided what's best doesn't mean he's happy about it. I wrote his visit to St. Dymphna's with this playing ... in fact, it was the very first song I ever chose for him.
16. MGMT - Kids
As all-out terrifying and trippy as the video for this song may be, its bouncy, upbeat tune is a perfect match for the Fire Gang's gathering at Madie's in the final chapter.
17. The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want
It may be a little cliche, as final songs go, but I can't think of a better fit for Troy's last few moments on the page ... and for the man who sets him on the next branch of his path.
BONUS: Linkin Park - Waiting For The End
Heart of Stone may have been Ral's first song, but this was the song that helped me really get under his skin and connect with him. It got me through a very difficult part of my life, and I tapped into that to find his feelings and his thoughts about his uncle, Duncan. I'd be doing both of us a disservice if I didn't give it some form of mention.
That's all for this week, folks! I hope you enjoy the soundtrack and will come back next week, when I'll have a review of indie author L.M. Bryski's spectacular debut novel, Book of Birds! Until then, I remain your hostess,
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