writing

Align Your Purpose(s)

In my last post, Become a Master of Time Management, I discussed how to organize your schedule for maximum efficiency. Not only that, but I gave advice on how to incorporate your “sub-goals,” or daily habits, into your schedule in order to work towards achieving your life goals. But what do you do when you have multiple life goals that all seem to conflict and collide with each other? How do you move forward in all areas when you seemingly need 28 hours in a day instead of 24? Read on for some tips on how to Align Your Purpose(s).

For me personally, I have always been double-, triple-, even quadruple- and quintuple-minded. As a musician, writer, and business entrepreneur, I have always had many goals and ambitions for myself and my life. In addition to my professional goals, I also wanted to prioritize the more common and widespread goals of living a long life and being a responsible person. As a result of this, I have always found it hard to focus on and prioritize just one thing.  So confusing! No wonder I had issues fitting everything into the same day.

To make matters even more confusing, when I first started thinking about goals and time management, I was trapped in a standard 9-5 corporate job which actually ended up taking over my entire life. I therefore had no time or energy left over to actually work on my goals at all. In spite of this, I stayed at my job because “I needed to earn money to pay my bills so that I could work on my passions, goals, and dreams.”

Unfortunately at that time, I did not understand the vital flaw in this logic. Maybe I did understand it on a subconscious level, but that didn’t mean that I actually knew what to do to fix it. The result was increasing frustration, irritation, and helplessness with my life on the surface and not understanding what was causing it.

Step #1: Prioritize Your Values

The first thing I did solve this problem was to compare my ideal list of values (how I would like to spend my time) with my actual values (the way that I was actually spending my time). My lists looked like this:

My ideal values:

  1. Living a long life
  2. Music
  3. Writing
  4. Business
  5. Job
  6. Housework

My actual values:

  1. Job
  2. Living a long life
  3. Business
  4. Housework
  5. Music
  6. Writing

Writing these lists, as you can see, was pretty jarring. It woke me up to the fact that I was, for the most part, prioritizing all the “responsible” aspects of life and was not really delving into either of my passions. No wonder I felt so frustrated and unfulfilled! I decided to do something about it.

Step #2: Quit Your Day Job

I know, this decision is not for everyone. That being said, it was definitely the right decision for me. I realized that if I wanted to live a life of true authenticity, I needed to make my music and writing more of a priority. So I rid myself of the largest time-sucker of all: the 9-5 job. Once I quit my job, I decided to earn money as a professional musician and as a business entrepreneur.

Once I quit my job, I felt much more comfortable and secure in the fact that the life that I was living was far more in alignment with my values than it had ever been previously. That being said, I still struggled with music goals vs business goals, and I hardly ever had time to write.

What was causing this problem? Each category had its own goals, sub-goals, and daily habits, there turned out to be not enough hours in the day to prioritize everything at the same time. Even though I tried my best to streamline, combine, and shuffle things around, I still felt too overwhelmed to fully focus on everything at the same time because I felt like I was way too overly extended to be successful in everything.

For example, I would make some success with my music in piano, but then my viola would suffer. Or I would prioritize my viola and my piano would suffer. Or I would have it on track with both instruments, but then I would never go to the gym. Or I would have the gym on track at the same time as the housework, but not do any music. Or I would have the gym and both instruments on track but neglect the housework. That’s not even mentioning my writing or my business. Sheesh.

See? Too many variables. No good. All it did was make me upset with myself for not being able to consistently follow through on anything because I had too many things going on at the same time. Because of this, I still felt deeply unsettled and unsatisfied. While I had made a large amount of progress, I had not yet achieved perfection (lol).

Step #3: Establish Mutual Purpose

Next, I decided to really look into each category and see if they were all truly important to me. Then I asked myself why they were so important to me and what was my purpose that was driving me towards completing goals in each area.

When I answered these questions, I still said that yes, all of these things are f*cking important. Clearly. Even though I still wished that I could hire a personal assistant and/or marry a hot husband who did all the housework, so that *I* didn’t have to be the one to do it, it was still important to me that someone did it.

Housework aside, what was really interesting when I completed this step was that I actually did manage to establish a mutual purpose behind my goals of living a long life, music, writing, and business.

My Mutual Purpose:

  1. I want to overcome to become. I want to overcome the negative, toxic, and scarcity experiences from my past to become a happy, healthy, and wholesome person who lives a life of abundance.
  2. I want to use my knowledge and experience to help others overcome negativity and toxicity and also live happy, healthy, and wholesome lives. I want to break others out of scarcity mindset and help them also live lives of abundance.

I was both relieved and pleased to discover that I was actually using three different channels to achieve the same mutual purpose. However, this still did not solve my problem of not having enough hours in the day and not being able to achieve long-term consistency in any category.

Step #4: The One Thing

While I had established that all of my goals were noble and that they all did serve the same mutual purpose, I had to take a good, hard look at each category to determine the order and the level of impact for each. Which one category allowed me to facilitate success in the other categories? Which category helped me the most in my own overcoming and healing process? Which category helped me the most in my quest to help others?

Another way of thinking about it is like a row of dominoes. Which domino is the most powerful that, if you could knock it down, it would result in the others also falling down? This is what I set out to find.

When I completed this step, the results were pretty shocking. I realized that while in the past I had achieved great success in my overcoming and healing process through my writing, I actually was now currently achieving better results with my personal growth through my business opportunity. While I still enjoyed writing, I realized that it no longer served me to write novels the way that it did in the past. Thus I decided to put novel writing on-hold for the time being and instead write about personal growth in this blog. See what I did there?

For my music, I realized that while I am currently making a difference with my students and with my performances, I will be able to make even more of an impact when I have the funding available to create my own Grand Performance Academy. In starting my own music academy, I will have control of the environment and culture, so that I can ensure that I am only teaching students (and parents) with the right attitude and mindset of abundance. Therefore, in order to become more selective with my music, I realized that I needed to first focus on building my business. The change and movement that I will make in the music industry will therefore be a byproduct of the results of building my business.

As a result, I decided to focus and concentrate first and foremost on building my business. Not only does building my business help me with my first goal of overcoming to become, but it also helps me in my quest to help others overcome to become. Not only that, but down the line I can make an even greater impact and change in the music industry once I have the finances in place to be able to do so.

Therefore, my order of priorities has now shifted to the following:

  1. Living a long life
  2. Business
  3. Music
  4. Writing
  5. Housework

Which therefore made it possible to streamline all of my daily habits and fit them into a 24-hour day, actually even less-than. Ironically, since making the decision to focus more on my business, I have since spent more time playing my instruments, going to music concerts, and writing. I call that a triple-minded success!

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New Publication

Hi everyone! I am very pleased to announce that my scientific article has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Earth Sciences. Check it out here:

Porous Media of the Red River Formation, Williston Basin, North Dakota: A Possible Sedimentary Enhanced Geothermal System
      -International Journal of Earth Sciences (2016)
The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00531-016-1398-9.

I am very pleased that my research has been published in such a prestigious journal. It took a lot of work and a lot of revision to do it, but in the end, I succeeded! I am very proud of how well the final article turned out. I can only hope that my article will be useful to other scientists who are completing similar research!

Now that both halves of my master’s thesis have been independently published (the other half was published by the Geothermal Resources Council in 2015), I want to switch gears and focus on writing my new-adult fiction novels.

I feel a calling in life to help other people. My goal in writing new-adult fiction is to talk about struggles that other people face, but that they are too ashamed to talk about. There is no shame in anybody’s struggles, regardless of whether or not they are “big” or “small,” or regardless of what those struggles even are to begin with. I want people who are struggling and suffering to know that they are not alone out there, that other people go through similar situations as they are, and that there is a way out of those situations to the other side.

I can’t wait until my novels are published. I know that I can impact a great many lives with my writing and that my writing can help to make other people’s lives better. I am still putting the final touches on my first novel, but stay ‘tuned for more updates about that!

Submissions

Hello everyone! It has been a crazy few months, but let me fill you in on all the exciting things I’ve been up to.

First, I completed a second round of revisions for my scientific article. I just finished these last week. I’m not sure how many rounds of revisions there will be before my article gets published, but IJES is very prestigious and thus there might be more revisions to complete in the future.

That being said, the revisions I made in this last round resulted in a very cohesive piece. The article now reads very well, being both concise and informative. So hopefully this set of revisions will be the last before publication, but we will see!

After I submitted my article revisions, I started working again on polishing up my novel. I actually found a new place to submit my novel unsolicited! From my preliminary research, the publisher seems to offer good contracts to their authors, so I figure it’s worth a shot!

Before I submit, I am going through the novel again to make sure that everything is on-point. I have to say, I am really digging this intro with the prologue! It’s funny how when you put something away for a few months and then work on it again, you can see it more clearly with fresh eyes for what it is. This opening works very well!

Last night I polished up the introductory frame, so now I’m working more on the middle section. From the part I read last night, the work I had done a few months ago really paid off! You would never have guessed that the main character had sounded flat at one point. Now she has a really strong voice and a lot of attitude (lol).

Anyway, with the long weekend ahead I am going to work on my novel as much as possible. I will submit very soon! I foresee lots of coffee in my future as I prepare my manuscript. 😀

More Articles; More Revisions

After I finished my scientific article revisions, I decided to write an article for Cosmo. This article is a short piece (about 800 words) on the subject of body image issues. I submitted the article to them last Tuesday, so keep your fingers crossed for me! Hopefully it will appear in a future issue 🙂

Once I was done with the Cosmo article, I started working again on polishing up my novel. I am still fixing up the middle section of it so that it’s less flat when written from the first-person perspective. Another thing that I’m doing is organizing the whole section so that it has improved flow and clarity. This is proving to be more difficult than I realized.

Much of the difficulty lies in the fact that there’s a lot of flashbacks necessary for the middle section to make sense to the reader. I had been incorporating the flashbacks as I went, as the info became pertinent to the story. The result was a layering effect in which the narrative delved deeper and deeper into the emotions of the main character. This is exactly what I was going for. This sort of emotional layering is very powerful for readers, as it provides them with an extra level of rawness and intensity that really helps them to identify with the main character.

For instance, imagine that you are telling a story to your best friend. In the middle of your story, he or she interrupts you and asks you to clarify something. You tell the back-story to your best friend, which helps him or her to understand your current story and helps him or her to understand your feelings. This is exactly the effect I have in my novel.

While this is a cool effect to have in a narrative, one drawback of it is that the time travel with the flashbacks can seem kind of jumbled and confusing to the reader. I had contemplated changing the organization of the middle section so that it would be chronological; this would eliminate the confusion from the time-traveling flashbacks. That being said, doing so would totally kill the layering effect that I have created. Also, making it chronological might actually be more confusing to the reader, because the reader wouldn’t understand why those details are even being discussed in the first place.

The other thing that I had considered doing was taking the info out and putting it into prequel(s). However, doing so would also eliminate the layering effect. In addition, it would drastically reduce my word count, which I can’t afford to do.

At 41,000 words, my novel is currently too short to be published. I need to add more to it to make it longer (a novel is typically no less than 50,000 words). It is actually kind of funny that I have this problem, because I have literally always had the opposite problem. My work has always been too long, which means that I have had to spend time streamlining it so that it becomes shorter. For instance, my Cosmo article started out being 1800 words; then I had to cut it down to just 800 words to meet the word limit. I’m really not used to adding material because my piece is too short to meet the requirements.

But, I will see what I can do. Maybe by adding more information here and there, I can simultaneously  increase the flow/transition of the novel to make the flashbacking more clear and natural to the reader.

Article Revisions

Hi everyone! Sorry to have gone MIA for the past few months. I have been working diligently on my revisions for my scientific article that will be published in the IJES special geothermal edition that is due out in 2017.

The good news is, I’m done (yay!). Well, almost. Tomorrow I need to read through everything one last time before I submit. Also, I need to update my annotated list of corrections with the most current info.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with scientific article revisions, here is what happens. After the article is submitted to the journal, two or three reviewers edit the article. They then provide you with a list of corrections that you must fix within the article. In addition, you must provide an annotated list of corrections that addresses every issue raised by the reviewers; here, you must list either your correction or your rebuttal, if applicable.

So, scientific revisions can take a long time. I decided to tackle the revisions by going through the list of corrections methodically, item by item, and then updating the annotated list as I went along. Some things were quick fixes (such as changes in semantics/word choice, deleting sections, etc.), but others took much longer (such as figuring out how to make a new map when your student edition of the software has already expired).

That last one was fun. Luckily, I remembered that ESRI has an online version of GIS on their website. The information I needed to include in the map was easily found on the online version, so I just did the map that way. The downfall of doing the map online is that you have no control over editing the symbols or colors in the legend or in the map itself (#GISCertNerdProblems). Unfortunately, this was a choropleth map that used varying shades of color to symbolize different categories… yet the online version decided to make the colors into shades of yellow. Yellow! Also, it chose some funky pastel purple color to represent electrical lines. I had to work some Photoshop magic and enlist the help of others with better Photoshop skills than me to help me out of this one. At least the end result shows very nice shades of red for the choropleth part and a solid green color for the power lines.

Anyway, aside from the map SNAFU, the rest of the revisions went pretty smoothly. The revisions that took the longest had to do with fixing issues with the actual content, rather than fixing syntax issues. Once I made my way through the list of revisions, I then went back and edited the article as a manuscript. This took me a bit more time to figure out, because I ended up having to combine two sections together for improved clarity. Finally though I did figure it out and it turned out great!

That’s about it for now. Once I submit my revised article, then I can go back to working on polishing up my novel. I figured out that I can get a lot of writing done if I bring my Surface to work and use my lunch break to write, so I’m going to continue to do that and make more progress!

Opening Scene

After many revisions, I have finally settled on an opening scene for my novel that works. Yay!!!

The first thing I did was to answer all of the agent’s questions in the very first page. This was very difficult; it took me a long time to figure out how to do this correctly. It was very difficult because I liked the way that I had presented the answers to these questions in my earlier draft (meaning, I had become attached to the language and the phrasing that I had used in my earlier draft). When I subsequently moved up these sections to occur earlier in the story, the language and phrasing no longer worked and I needed to change most of it. This was a bummer, but I finally got the revision to work with new language and phrasing that I like.

After I reworked the content of the opening scene, I had some guinea pigs read it and give me feedback. Even though I had answered all of the agent’s pertinent questions upfront, my guinea pigs still thought that the main character was a nutcase. Geez, this problem was a tough nut to crack! (lol)

It turns out, a large part of the problem was that I had used the wrong syntax for indicating that the main character was thinking to herself. Because I had used quotation marks instead of italics, my readers thought incorrectly that my character was talking to herself out loud. No wonder everyone thought that she was a nutcase! She was seemingly talking to herself out loud and yelling at herself out loud in every other paragraph…

That part was an easy fix, but it did not solve the problem entirely. There was also a line at the end that set the wrong tone for the rest of the novel. People read it and thought that my novel would be like a slasher/revenge sort of novel, which is not what I had intended at all.

I revised that section and had people reread it until it gave off the correct tone. What I ended up doing was having the narrator talk about something that the main character did not yet understand, telling the reader about the problem vaguely without actually giving any concrete details. My goal for this part was to be mysterious in a good way, to intrigue the reader so that he or she wants to read more and wants to find out what happens next.

Finally, what really helped to fix the opening was adding a prologue. The prologue I added is short, sweet, and in all italics. It is a flashback to the middle section of the novel, detailing an abusive scene. The prologue really helped set an ominous tone for the rest of the novel, as well as provided more sympathy toward the main character.

So that’s it for the opening scene! Up next: fixing the middle section.

When I referenced the middle section to write the prologue, I realized that my middle section is very flat. The reason for this is that I have a tense change into the first person. In order to properly engage the reader while writing in the first person, the writing must be extra dramatic and over the top. So, this is what I will be tackling next.

Room For Improvement

Last week, I received my literary agent’s feedback on my query letter and on my first five pages. For those of you who don’t remember, I took a Writer’s Digest webinar last month about the querying process; as part of this webinar, my assigned literary agent critiqued my query letter and my sample pages with suggestions on how I can improve.

My agent gave me many comments. I was overwhelmed and shocked by what she said. I needed to take some time to absorb her comments before writing about them and before forming a plan of action. At first I took what she said very personally, but I realize now that this is just an opportunity to improve my writing.

I mentioned before that my novel is written in “frame” style. In other words, there is a large backstory in the middle that is “framed” by a dark romance that occurs in the present time. During the webinar, my agent told me that according to standard protocol, I needed to start my sample pages from the very beginning of the novel. Thus, I had followed her instructions and had done exactly that.

However, as a result of this, the agent became VERY frustrated with my novel. She wanted me to reveal ALL of the important details upfront, instead of “hiding” them from the reader. She had many questions about the motives of my main character; she wanted many of these questions to be answered right away in the very first page.

I did not know how to precede after she gave me this suggestion, because the answers to her questions are very complex and simply cannot be explained in one page (let alone in the very FIRST page). The main character with the extremely complicated past cannot just reveal ALL of her personal details upfront, because the reader needs that understanding of her past events before the answers to the questions will make sense. Plus, not knowing ALL of the details upfront keeps the reader engaged in the mystery and in the surprise of the story as it unfolds.

Therefore, the way that the novel is currently set up is that the questions are slowly answered throughout the novel, once sufficient explanation of past events has occurred. This way, the reader can properly sympathize with the main character before the darkest details are revealed.

In spite of this, without enough explanation up front, the main character comes across completely wrong to the reader. The main character has extremely odd behavior at the beginning of the novel because she is an abuse victim; thus she is working on overcoming that abuse and acts strangely.

However, not knowing any of this, the agent read my sample pages and came to the conclusion that my main character is a nutcase.

Clearly, I need to make some changes so that the main character does not come across as a complete psycho. I’m flirting with the idea of adding a short prologue that contains a flashback to the abuse. I also need to add in more foreshadowing in the first few pages to help the main character seem more frail and fragile to the reader. Hopefully, this will help solve the problem.

Also, I need to more clearly articulate the structure of the novel in my query letter so that the agent will have a better understanding of how the story will unfold after the first five pages. I need to clearly specify that this novel is written in “frame” style and I also need to spoil the mystery for the agent. I had thought before that the book summery that is included in the query letter is the same one that will be written on the back of the book or on the inside jacket, but that is wrong. Unlike the reader, the agent needs the story to be spoiled with more details of what actually happens in the novel, so that he or she can properly understand the structure of the story and think about how it might unfold later.

So, I have lots of things to improve with my novel. Time to get started!

Be Master Of Your Query

As some of you already know, I am currently seeking a literary agent to represent me and my work. Once I land an agent, he or she is then going to pitch my novel to the Big Six (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, Hachette) and negotiate a deal for publication. Most authors– myself included– dream that one day, their work will be published among the Big Six. I figured that now is the time for me to turn this dream of mine into a reality, so I say bring it!!

Before querying literary agents, it is essential to do your research. This includes finding out 1) the attributes that agents generally look for in their clients, 2) the places that you can find an agent whose goals are similar to your own, 3) the points that you should include in your query letter, and 4) the qualities that will make your sample pages captivating.

For anyone who is just beginning this process like I am, it can be very daunting. What I would recommend is that you check out all the tools available to you online to find out as much about the process as you can.

I would also recommend checking out Writer’s Digest, because they have already helped me out a lot with this process. I just completed a WD boot camp about finding literary agents that was filled with a lot of invaluable information. Similarly, I just bought some WD books about literary agents, which I can only imagine are going to be filled with lots of informative and helpful information.

Equally important to doing your research is to read your work again with fresh eyes. You need to be able to self-identify your own weaknesses so that you can improve yourself as a writer. Before this boot camp, I had let my manuscript sit for 8 months or so without even looking at it or playing with it once. When I then went back and read it again with clear eyes, a few things jumped out at me as being my weaknesses:

  1. Weak overall story structure,
  2. Overly-detailed back story, and
  3. Telling instead of showing.

My novel has a kind of a unique story structure called “the frame.” Essentially what this means is that there is a story within a story, similar to the movie Titanic or The Princess Bride. The majority of the novel occurs within the inner story of the past, but it is “framed” by the aftermath in the present time.

Because the “frame” is not very common, it needs to be pulled off with grace and confidence. It needs to work very well, by really adding validity to the inner story. In my case, that would involve clearly depicting the change in the protagonist’s character, to create a “before and after” effect that resulted from the past events.

Another thing that I noticed was that my transition from the start of the “end frame” into the actual ending of the novel is not believable. I need to somehow think of a more believable way to shift gears at the end so that I can still achieve my surprise ending.

Getting into the overly-detailed back story bit, I clearly have too much back story inside the novel for it to just be one novel. Because of this, right now I’m in the process of cutting some of it out and turning it into a prequel (or 2, or 3…)! As I’m doing this, I need to make sure to leave in some parts of the back story that are absolutely essential for enhancing the plot of the current novel. I’m also trying to leave in some of the parts that will give the reader a little bit of a taste of the prequel(s).

For those of you who don’t already know, it is generally not a good idea to have a lot of detailed back story in your novel. If you have too much back story in your novel, then your reader can easily become annoyed that the plot is not advancing quickly enough and can soon become bored. So therefore, it is best to avoid this as much as possible.

Lastly, there is the problem of telling instead of showing. I remember struggling with this concept of “show, don’t tell” that my teachers would always stress in English class growing up. Along the way, I have learned to “show” by using very active, personifying language as well as by using other literary devices like similes and metaphors. Furthermore, I have learned to “show” by describing the characters’ appearances or by describing the landscape setting.

However, there is always room for improvement! What I just discovered is that it actually works extremely well to describe the character’s body language! For instance, instead of just saying that a character lied, you can show that the character lied by describing how his eyes shifted and how his feet shuffled while he spoke. You can also show that a character is anxious and insecure by describing how she is trembling and how she has her hands stuffed all the way inside of her pants pockets. Ingenious!

Anyway, it is really important to identify your own flaws as a writer. I know that doing so will not only help me land a literary agent, but that it will also help me become that 1% better at writing.

Welcome!

Hello everyone! Welcome to my website. Feel free to sit back, relax, and make yourself a cup of coffee. Or three.

My name is Caitlin Hartig; I am a new-adult fiction writer who is transitioning from a scientific background. Just last May, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Geology (Geothermal Energy) from University of North Dakota. In May 2013, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Geosciences from Penn State University. My research has been published in several scientific journals.

As far as fiction goes, I specialize in novels and short stories. My first novel, Smash, has been completed and is awaiting publication. My first short story, Blue Sparkles, has also been completed and is awaiting publication.

Though primarily in the new-adult genre of fiction, my work contains elements of dystopia and dark romance. My writing style has been described as raw, explicit, intense, and dramatic.

In this blog, I will share information about my search for literary agents, my publication information, and of course my writing samples. Stay tuned!