Friday, March 30, 2012

If you want to be successful, make yourself accessible to others

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about using social media.

This is a must, nowadays, as more and more people want to connect and interact with others.  Once again, I know how overwhelming it all is.  Start with one and master it.  Master it through excellence.  Then, when you feel you can add another one, do it.

It doesn't take up that much time, but you have to make the committment to do it.  Make yourself accessible through various social media means.






Even blogging and podcasting and posting videos on YouTube will get your message out there.  Do what you feel is right for your message.  Do it with excellence.

For me, you can follow me on Twitter @MarkSRPeterson and I am also on Facebook at

You can also e-mail me too at

What other suggestions do you have to make yourself accessible to others?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Successes in self-publishing

In the past few years, self-publishing has taken the world by storm.  One such author is Amanda Hocking, who hails from my home state of Minnesota.  According to her Wikipedia page, Amanda started self-publishing her books in April 2010 after several failed attempts at publishing.  By March 2011, she had sold over 1,000,000 books and had made over $2 million dollars from those sales.

What followed afterwards was a flood of people who tried to duplicate her success, only to find they could not because they wanted to just "get rich" while Amanda had a true love of books and writing.  Nowadays, her books are published with a traditional publisher and her success is only going to grow.  Very impressive.

Another success in the self-publishing world is J. C. Hutchins.  He took a much different approach than Amanda as he offered his books through podcasts.  And for free!  His podcasts have been downloaded millions of times, and his first novel 7th Son has been optioned to be made into a movie by Warner Brothers.

If you're frustrated by not getting published, please keep in mind others have taken the reins on their life and have just done it on their own.  You can too.  It's a lot of work, which I can truly sympathize with as I also have an ebook coming out in less than a week--a nonfiction book that's been brewing in my mind for the past decade or more, and have been working diligently on putting it together in the past two months.  There's a lot to think about and do, so don't think this ebook business is easy.  Then again, getting published in general isn't easy either.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #16

You wake up in the middle of the night.  You can't seem to sleep.

Then, there is a knock at the door.

Happy writing.

Simplify your life

How many of you feel like your schedule is so full with commitments, that by the end of the week, you feel like you've accomplished nothing towards your goals?  Between church council and sporting events/practices and piano lessons and various civic group activities, our time is slowly stripped away from us.

Each week, every single person on the planet has 168 hours to do with whatever they desire.  The excuses many give for not accomplishing what they want are plenty: they don't have time because of their kids or because of their work or because their favorite sports team is on the TV or they just have to watch the latest reality show (which is typically a far cry from reality) or ______________________ (you fill in the blank).

Keep in mind, these people also accomplished their dreams with the same 168 hours:

Albert Einstein

Mother Theresa

Abraham Lincoln

The Wright Brothers

J. R. R. Tolkien

Donald Trump

Stephen King

Bill Cosby

Jerry Seinfeld

Jay Leno

Brad Pitt

And the list goes on . . .

If you feel like a hamster on a wheel, running and running yet going nowhere fast, stop and look at your life.  Prioritize what's important vs. what's unimportant.  I know what it's like to be stretched in fifteen different directions at once.  Been there, got the T-shirt.

But there comes a point where you have to stop the madness and simplify your life.  This is exactly the dilemna I've been facing this past year, and I've finally cut something from my life in order to have more time for my writing and my family--even though it was only on a part-time basis, I had to draw a line in the sand and focus on what's important for my family and my career.

Do you have any examples of activities you've cut from your life in order to simplify it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How are you doing so far this year?

It's nearing the end of the first quarter of 2012.  How are you doing?  What have you accomplished?  Have you achieved any of your goals yet?  How close are you to achieving your goals?

Keep in mind, these goals don't have to be earth-shattering.  They could be as simple as reading 1 nonfiction book a month.  If that's a goal of yours--and statistics show that the average millionaire reads at least 1 nonfiction book a month--then you'll have read three by now.  I've actually read two nonfiction books and three fiction books so far this month, aside from the countless podcasts I've listened to and videos I've watched (see my Recommended Reading page for the list of videos/podcasts I frequent).

Goals can range across seven areas.  They are:
  1. Financial
  2. Physical
  3. Intellectual
  4. Career/Job
  5. Family
  6. Social
  7. Spiritual
In fact, if you set goals across these seven different areas, and write them down--this is key, to actually write them down--then a more rounded life you'll have.

Goals should also be:
  • specific, not general (to lose weight is too general but to lose 10 pounds in a month is specific)
  • measureable (same example as above)
  • has a time limit (want to write a 400-page novel in six months)
  • written-down.
If you're just coming to this and realized you haven't set any goals, now is the perfect time to do so.  You don't need January 1st to always be your starting point.  Start today.  Write your goals down.  Dream.

Then, go forth and live your dream.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What are you doing tomorrow?

I read a lot about successful people.  And one of the reasons why one becomes successful while others do not is because successful people are more in charge of their time.

Successful people, for the most part, know what they're doing tomorrow.  They've planned it out ahead of time.  People who just wing through life, without a plan, are flying nowhere.  They have no destinations in mind.

Oh, sure, they may say something like, "I want to be rich someday" or "I want to be published someday" but never sit down and figure out when that day will come or even plan how they're going to do it.

If you want to be successful, before you retire to bed tonight, sit with a blank piece of paper and write down five things you need to do tomorrow.  Then, number them in the order of their importance.  When you awaken tomorrow morning, look at the list and do the #1 thing.  Not the #4 or #5 thing because they look easier.  Do #1 until it is done.

As a writer, most of the time my #1 item is write X amount of pages or words.  Then, once it's done, I read (for both pleasure and research) and even research what the market is like.

Do this for a week and then reflect back on your week.  You'll be amazed at what you've accomplished.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Editing is not always about taking things out.

The majority of the time, editing means removing the fluff--getting rid of unneccessary words, sentences, and paragraphs (or, in my case, the occasional page or chapter).

However, there is a point where too much can be taken out or you need to enhance a passage to enrich the story.

My first piece of advice when editing is what I've called macro-level editing.  How does it look?  How does it sound?  Does it make sense?  This is where large block of writing can be eliminated.

Macro-level editing is also where block of writing can be added.  Do you have any descriptions?  Are you telling instead of showing?  How about dialogue?

Micro-level editing involves the intricate pieces of your writing.  The individual word or punctuation.

What I recommend is to read slowly, out loud, and continuously ask yourself questions like:

Is what I'm thinking about in the story being drawn out in the words?

What could be done to enhance the story?

Where is the story lacking?

These questions at least could help in editing your story.  Does anyone else have any tricks they'd like to share, on what's worked for them?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writing a novel, one page at a time

Writing a novel (or any other complex task) isn't as daunting a task as you may think, if you learn how to break it down into pieces.

It's like the old saying that says, "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."

Writing a novel is no different.  The simple act of writing a page a day as your goal is one a set back when I was in college.  It's also worked well for me in the post-college years, when I had two or three jobs going on at once and three kids (the kids were not all at once, they gradually popped out into the world over the course eight cumulative years).

The key is to have a goal, even a small one, that you can accomplish everyday.

Let's take this one step further: let's say your novel will be 400 pages long.  With the goal of one page a day, that novel should be done in a little over a year.  But what would happen if you increased your output to two pages a day?  You'd finish in 200 days.

Four pages a day?

A little over three months.

That's it.  Well, for the first draft, of course.

But a first draft is better than no draft.  Once your first draft is done, reward yourself.  You are now an elite warrior in the field of writers.

After the week-long inebriation is over, set aside the first draft.  For how long, you ask?  Each writer is different.  It could be a few weeks or a few months.  It should be long enough for you to

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #15

Do you have a favorite restaurant?

Take a character experiencing this place for the first time.

Another lesson in descriptions.

Happy writing.

Was the John Carter film a failure?

I will admit, I haven't seen the new John Carter film.  Not sure if I will--in the theaters--but it'll be one that I'll rent.  And if it's good enough, I'll buy the DVD.

I don't go to a movie simply because of a review, or a set of reviews, and yesterday seemed to be the day of "John Carter Sucks" news.  Here's one such post from the Chicago Suntimes, which tells the world that John Carter may be Disney's biggest flop of all time.

I'm sorry, the movie hasn't even been out two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!  Are you kidding me?

Okay, Mark, why aren't you seeing it?  I haven't seen many movies lately in the theaters, more or less due to economic reasons and also because I'm caring for my wife, who's still recovering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  I have to really pick and choose the movies I go see.

Prior to all this, there was a lot of talk about Disney mispromoting the movie--okay, it's based on an old Edgar Rice Burroughs series "John Carter of Mars".  I never knew this when I saw the movie trailer.  I thought the trailer was cool--granted, it's nothing more than a selling tool for any movie--and it was clearly a science fiction/fantasy type movie, which is right up my alley.

I'm not sure if I agree that Disney mispromoted it.  They should've just promoted it as the next biggest sci-fi movie, and in the credits just mentioned that it was based on a series by Burroughs.  That's it.  Leave it at that.  Fans of the movie would've undoubtedly searched out the books on Amazon.

For crying out loud, give a movie more than two weeks to prove itself.  I know many movies that were considered flops at the box office but got the bulk of their revenue from the DVD sales.  That may happen here, because after yesterday's series of bad reviews, not many theaters will probably carry it after that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Want to change the world? Change yourself first.

"I want to change the world!"

Many have probably heard such proclamations--typically from those running for Miss America or political office--but let's break down how that could happen.

In order to change the world, you need to do one thing first above all else.  Change yourself.  It all starts with you.  If you want to make yourself valuable to your employer, go out and learn something.  Take the initiative.  Don't wait for someone to enroll you in a class or give you a book to read.

Take the class (if you need to).


So much of it is free too, with the advances in technology.  I love learning by watching videos and listening to podcasts.  Spend 30-60 minutes a day learning something, and within a year you'll practically be an expert in that subject.

One place to start is TED Talks.  These are thousands of videos (or varying length, from 3-18 minutes on the average) on a variety of topics.  One recent one by Larry Smith had me almost rolling on the floor, as he talks about why one will fail to have a great career.

In a nutshell from Larry, nobody will do it.  They'll say, "I want to change the world," but will fail to do so.  Why?  Because they'll fail to grasp that they need to change themselve first.

Because if you change yourself, you'll change your family.

Then, it'll affect your community.

Then, it'll affect your industry.

Then, it'll affect your state . . . country . . . world . . .

And it all starts with YOU.  So, what are you waiting for?  Do it.  It'll take a while.  No amount of success happens overnight.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Where in the world is Marilyn Hagerty?

You've met Carmen Sandiego.  Then there was Waldo.  Now, someone new has stepped up onto the scene.

Marilyn Hagerty

Hailing from Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she works for the Grand Forks Herald, she took the world by storm by a review of the local Olive Garden restaurant.  She was just doing her job, something she's done with passion for . . . well, decades.  How many can say that?

And, in watching or reading her interviews, she says that she'll continue to do it next week and the week after that . . .

So, where in the world is Marilyn Hagerty?

As of this writing, she's probably in Grand Forks, doing what she loves.  Okay, the better question is: where has she been?


She was recently in New York City, Manhattan, for a media whirlwind tour.  She was even interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Through it all, she's telling it like it is.

The truth.

As she sees it.

Maybe a detour into politics is in order.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Start with the basics

Back in college, I obtained my second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.  From the very beginning, Grand Masters Spencer and Cindy Brandt taught the importance of basics.

One of their frequently repeated sayings was: "Perfect practice makes perfect."

This is easily transferred to writing.  Using punctuation correctly, with complete sentences, and correct spelling makes for a better piece of writing.  Sure, there are rules of grammar that can be broken, but you have to be skilled at the rules of grammar first in order to know how to break them.

If you question something, open a dictionary or grammar book and look it up.  Don't rely on the word processing program's dictionary feature to help you out.  What if you misspelled the word loose with lose.  They're both correct, even though they have different meanings.

Always start with the basics.

Then, once they're perfected, you can move on.  But always remember this: a complex piece is only a long set of basic pieces.

A house is a mere set of boards, nails, insulation, and sheetrock (and others) put together in a complex fashion.

The same goes with a book.  It's nothing more than a bunch of words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters put together for a mutual benefit.

Need some assistance with grammar?  Check out Grammar Girl for some amazing tips.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Turning the tide on negative thoughts

In January I wrote a blog piece titled Watch Your Language.

As a continuation of yesterday's blog, besides watching who you hang around with, you need to also make sure you're not speaking like a negative person.

If someone were to ask you, "How are you?"

How do you answer them?

"Oh, I'm okay."

"Fine.  Just fine."

"Had better days."

"Would be better if it was Friday."

Do any of those ring a bell with you?  If so, change it.

"How are you?"


"Fantastic!  Just finished a chapter in my book."

"Truly awesome!  I had over 500 hits on a blog I wrote yesterday."

Okay, okay, there's some self-promoting involved with the last two, but so what?  If you're going to be a writer (or just in business for yourself), you'll need to start getting used to promoting your work.  Tell others in your writers' group about your blog.  Encourage them to start one too, if they already haven't.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #14

Imagine you're in your backyard, getting a garden ready for planting, when your shovel hits something solid.

But instead of wood, it's metal.

Happy writing.

What are you attracted to?

This has nothing to do with being heterosexual or homosexual.

This has to do with the people you hang around with.

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "You are what you hang around with."  It's probably not the true quote, but the meaning behind it asks us what type of people we are surrounded by?

Positive people are attracted to positive people.

The same goes with negative people.

It's true you may be one of those positive people whom negative people cling to, but watch out so they don't bring you down to their level.

I know a number of people who seem to have such a negative energy about themselves that just standing next to them sucks the life right out of you.  Don't let this happen to you.  There's nothing wrong with cutting them off and saying something like this: "Sorry, I've got to get going."

Or you could just walk away from them.  I know that's a hard approach for many but try it if you find it difficult to break away.

What about trying to change them?  You may have a better chance at winning the Powerball.  If you want to give it a shot, you could try flipping everything they say with something positive.  Try this exchange:

Negative Person: "I can't believe it.  The unemployment rate is 9%.  No wonder I can't get a job."

Positive Person: "9%?  That means there is 91% employment."

Or for those writers out there . . .

NP: "I sent out ten query letters and they all came back rejected.  What the hell am I going to do?"

PP: "Ten rejections?  That's great!  That means you just found ten agents who weren't good enough to represent you."

This last one may be a little play on words, for there could be other reasons why NP got ten rejections, but you see my overall point.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Using social media

There's Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, Digg and Tumblr, LinkedIn and Blogger . . .

Head spinning yet?

Don't worry, it's normal if you've looked at the number of social networking sites and wondered, Which one should I use?

It doesn't matter, as long as the social media you're using is furthering your message and you're using it with excellence.  Don't worry about trying to do them all.  If you tried, you'd probably spend most of your time trying to learn and use them all and not accomplishing any writing at all.

Okay, so which one should you use?

I'm a little partial to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Blogger, but that doesn't mean you have to be.  Use whichever you're comfortable with.

Then, use them consistently and with excellence.

Don't have any?

Start with one.  Then, when you're comfortable with it, add another.

I read an interview once with a literary agent, who said that when she's researching a new client, she actually searches out to see if they're using Twitter and Facebook.  She also said that every author should be using Goodreads too, so that might be another one to add to your arsenal.

But if you're going to do it, learn to do it well and with excellence.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't think "Why I can't" - think "How can I?"

Ever come up with an idea for something and thought, "Oh, it can't be done.  I can't do it."

You think of a hundred ideas on why you can't do it.

But what would happen if you reversed your thinking and instead thought, "Oh, how can I do it?"

With this change in thinking, your mind quits thinking of excuses and comes up with a plan.  For years, I've met countless people who've been amazed that I could even stick it out enough to write a book.  They'd always say to me, "I had a book idea once."

"Great," I'd say back to them.  "Have you started it?"

They would then shake their heads and say, "Well, I wrote five . . . maybe six pages.  That's it."

When pressed on why they quit, they'd come up with a myriad of excuses: ranging from having no time to they just forgot about it.

Do you have an idea for a book (or an idea for anything else)?

Tomorrow morning, take a blank piece of paper and write down your idea at the top of the page.  Then, sit and brainstorm on how it can be accomplished.  This reversal of thinking that you can't do something to how you can accomplish it will work wonders.

Please let me know how it works out.  What are your success stories?

Ideas are great.  But without a plan to put them into action, they'll sit in the darkest recessess of your mind forever . . .

Friday, March 9, 2012

The difference between winning and losing

At the last NASCAR race, what was the difference between first and second place?

At the last PGA tournament, what was the difference between first and second place?

At this year's Academy Awards, what was the difference between winning an Oscar and not?

What was the difference between winning a gold medal or a silver medal at any Olympic event?

The answer: not much.

But when was the last time a silver medalist got to pose on a box of Wheaties?

None, if I recall.

The difference between any of these isn't much in terms of time (or strokes, when we're talking about golf).  But the time and improved excellence that the winner strives for is much greater than those who did not.

If you want to win, do whatever it takes (with integrity, of course).  If you feel that watching the latest news broadcast or reality show is more important than achieving success, then you value that news broadcast or reality show over your own life.

What's holding you back?

My guess is the person looking back at you in the mirror.

Change your destiny.  Do it today.  Achieve what you were meant to achieve.  Don't wait until tomorrow . . . because someone is out there working hard too.  Someone who could be the next Tiger Woods or Jeff Gordon.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What are you filling your toolbox with?

No matter if you're working for yourself or for others, you should always be contributing to the maintenance of your toolbox.

Not a literal toolbox, filled with wrenches and socket sets and screwdrivers and hammers and pliers and wire cutters . . . I mean the toolbox between your ears.

What are you filling your mind with?

If you're feeling like the economy is to blame for everything and Washington can't seem to find the right people to take up a post for two or four or six years (or for a lifetime, if you're talking about a Supreme Court justice), then I'd suggest quit watching the news.

If you want to be successful, follow the advice of those who are successful.  I've read a lot of books on success, and it really all comes down to a simple formula:

Do something you're passionate about.

Do it with excellence.

Do it well enough over time, constantly excelling and learning, until you're past competent.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, calls this the 10,000-hour rule.  He describes the success of the Beatles and Bill Gates (and others) by specifying that once they did something that they were passionate about for roughly 10 years (or 10,000 hours), that they achieved a level of competence that soared them to the top of their game.

What was the last nonfiction book you've read that had an impact on you?

What are you filling your toolbox with?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday- Episode #13

Write a character driving through your hometown for the first time.

What do they see?

Who do they talk to?

Use as many senses as possible.  This is a lesson in descriptions.

Happy writing!

Celebrate milestones

Don't be afraid to reward yourself once you've accomplished a goal.

Break your larger goal up into smaller pieces, then celebrate those milestones.

Finish a chapter?

Surpass the 100-page (or 200 or 500 or 1,000) mark?

Surpass 25,000 words?

Great!  Then it's time to celebrate!

It doesn't have to be a big thing, like a street parade or taking a week-long cruise.  Reward yourself with a little treat, like an hour playing a video game or watching a movie or heading out to your favorite restaurant.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What's your legacy?

Last week, I experienced the passing of a great mentor.

As I attended the wake this past Sunday, and was humbled by the incredible turn-out, many spoke of this great man and his teachings--which, I may add, is only one half of the team as his wife was just as much an influence as her late husband.

Hour after hour passed with stories being told.  In the midst of it, I couldn't help but think of the fine thread that connected us all.

What's your legacy?

What influence have you been to others?

Better yet, what would your obituary say?  If it would only consist of a few lines, you've got some word to do.

But for Grand Master Spencer Brandt (and Grand Master Cindy Brandt), their teachings and influence could fill volumes, if not libraries, worth of books.

Start your legacy today.  Have a positive impact on the lives of others.  Do it unselfishly.

Then, your legacy will turn into a legend.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Phantom Menace 3D - a unique 3D experience

A few weeks ago, I took my son to see the latest re-release of Star Wars The Phantom Menace in 3D.

The last movie I ever saw in 3D was UP, so that goes to show how long it had been since I'd seen a 3D movie.

The first thing were the previews, one of which was The Hobbit.  Another 3D movie they previewed was Wrath of the Titans, a sequel to Clash of the Titans.

Right away, I have to say that I love all of the Star Wars movies.  All six take up the top spot for movies, in my opinion.  Some of the acting makes me want to shake my head but storywise, they're great.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I also have to say that I watched the movie through rose-colored glasses--3D rose-colored glasses, mind you.

I expected the 3D images to jump out of the screen, lightsabers seeming to swing right past my head and laser blasts to leap from the screen.  That wasn't the case.  Watching George Lucas's latest 3D creation was mind-boggling.  Instead of images leaping out at you, the screen had a depth-perception that felt like I was right in the heat of the battle.

I'd have to watch the "regular" version of Phantom to be sure, but I'm almost positive there are extended scenes and added features in a number of the scenes to add to the depth-perception illusion.  In one scene, while our heroes are on Coruscant, the camera angles down and you find yourself looking almost straight down into the seemingly bottomless depths of the city--I actually clutched the sides of my seat because it felt like I was going to fall.

The lightsaber battles were very cool, and the pod races . . . well, you'll have to see it for yourself.  Thanks George.  Can't wait for Attack of the Clones.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The only time to open a thesaurus

I have a thesaurus (Roget's 21st Century edition) but I can honestly count on one hand the number of times in a year that I've opened it to look up a word--quite unlike a dictionary, which is a few times a day it seems.

My reasoning is simple: many times the first word that comes to mind is the one I should write.  But those rare occasions when I want a word that's like something, but not that exact word, and I can't quite think of what it could be, I consult Roget's.

For example . . . is the word example.  Roget's lists some of the following: archetype, case, citation, copy, exemplar, for instance, lesson, ideal, prototype, sampling, specimen, and standard.  But if I really want to use the word example for example, then use it.

How often do you use one?

Better yet, do you even own one?  Microsoft Word has a thesaurus feature, so you might use that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The true face of wealth - it's not what you might think

Get-rich schemes are everywhere. And it's not a twenty-first century thing, it's something that's been around for a long time. I fell for just such a scheme (an MLM named Equinox International) in the mid-1990's. I went broke.

The majority of the time, the only ones who get rich are the ones selling it, the ones at the top.

Pop culture portrays success in the youth, glamorizes it to the point where everyone seems to believe that once you've hit the ripe old age of 25, you might as well quit.

Mark Zuckerberg is just one such fellow.

It's not Mark's fault. He just saw a need in the social media, and filled the need. He just happened to make a lot of money doing it.

The reality is that most people who obtain any high level of success are in their late 40's and early 50's. Why is that? Typically, these people spent their earlier years trying out different things until they discovered what worked.

But can success happen after you've officially retired? Perish the thought. Colonel Sanders started his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise when he was 65, using a portion of his first retirement check to do so.

What are you waiting for?

Do what you were meant to do.