Category Archives: indie

Taking the Leap, Scheduling the Exam

Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith...I’ve been sweating the PMP credential for at least the past nine months, and it’s been something vaguely over the horizon for me since… approximately 2008. I have 15 years of project management experience, but I also have a lot of friends and colleagues who’ve taken the exam and warned of how difficult it is: A 4.5-hour test involving frequently semantic details about the esoterica of project management… from the perspective of a mythic entirely by-the-book, perfectly ethical, absolutely legal, morally upright, considerate, well-mannered, politically correct, and socially acceptable uber-mensch. I sat through the two-day capstone class Thursday and Friday this week and can highly recommend Carl Pritchard‘s approach to engaging with the material, but my brain still felt like mush at the end of it–even if I was somehow managing more right answers than wrong. I’ve heard the recommendation several times to Take The Exam as soon as possible after one of these reviews, so I’ve plunged in and scheduled my test date for THIS WEEK. We’ll see whether all this studying and stressing gets me across the finish line. It’s a leap of faith for me, although I have invested significant study time and expect to be able to at least replicate my practice exam results. (Ifย  you want links to decent test prep question sets, pmstudy.com and oliverlehman.com are two I’ve used–aside from those Pritchard included in his course materials and what’s available in the Rita Mulcahy Exam Prep book.)

Cross your fingers that it’s sufficient and I only have to go through the exercise once… Several people I respect did not manage it in the first go.

This week also wraps up Round 2 of ROW80 for this year. I’m glad I had the PMP on my list of goals, because other than having committed to finishing the writer’s workshop, walking, and time nurturing my relationship with hubs, I’ve managed only a small fraction of the writing I had expected. That won’t change this week with the necessary last-minute cramming, either. Walking fell off a little this week, too, between the combination of major storms (no power yesterday for 2.5 hours didn’t help my study plan) and massive humidity. Still, we managed 5 for a total of 13.1 miles.

Hubs continues to feed my need for small distractions and large amounts of support. This week he forwarded 22 Aristotelian quotes, one of which reminded me that excellence is not an act but a habit. Not only that, but an introductory set of guidelines for Hua-Tou meditation, one of the most provocative of which (for me) was: What was my face before my parents were born? It puts a different perspective on pursuing professional credentials, and helps redirect my focus to the more timeless element of the pursuit… Oddly in alignment with Maslow’s hierarchy, which was something we discussed in class Friday: Self-actualization isn’t a state you can maintain on a daily basis. And it requires the risk of failure–even life-or-death failure–in order to reach that pinnacle. We joked that passing the PMP would be a moment of self-actualization at the time, and there’s more than a small grain of truth in our laughter. Similarly, on the list of 20 Alan Watts quotes translating eastern philosophy to something more accessible to westerners, his comment on permanence most likely being lifeless is yet another way of accepting current choices as a mere further step along a path.

Honoring hubs’ help, last week I found a hilarious fart story and sent him an email with the subject line “a whole new meaning to ‘I can TASTE it'”… which he thought was my blog title for the week. It’s still appropriate… on oh, so many levels. And worth re-reading for shits and giggles.

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In spite of all these meditative (and silly) attempts at equilibrium, my dreams have been disturbing and my brain foggy, and I keep having to remind myself to relax my jaw. In the end, I’ll just be happy to be on the other side of the test hurdle. So, once again, I’ll refer you to my ROW80 buddies, who are also starting to wrap up their goal-reaching process for this round, and I’ll be back next week to report on whether I managed this feat.

Leveling Up

When life gets harder, you must have just leveled up.Somehow, it’s far too easy to end up with an overloaded week. I’m remembering why I’ve been procrastinating about studying for the PMP: It’s an exhausting proposition. When combined with full weeks of work plus additional, unexpected, time-consuming tasks… I’ve spent most of my weekend asleep, trying to catch up with myself, and thus have again fallen behind on things I would’ve liked to have done.

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Nonetheless, we walked 5 of the 7 days of last week, for a total of 14.3 miles. This, despite the seriously rainforest-like atmosphere gracing our neighborhood lately. I still need to fix my computer and take care of other random administrivia hanging over my head, but it’s too easy to fall back on the old laptop and avoid the headaches involved in hard drive replacement, formatting, and software installation. While avoiding those things, I was still doing practice exams, and have pulled up my average score by 10 points. That means if I can pull up my average score another 10 points in the next week or two, I should be good to go.

I think hubs even found the reward I want for when I actually finish with the $%&^! PMP: Canoeing the Potomac. While the weather has prompted research into ways to let the dogs carry their own water, I don’t think they’re of a mindset to ride calmly along the river with us, so it should be a nice date day for the two of us… barring a barrage of mosquitoes.

This week was also when scientists reported that future events impact what happened in the past, so I’m trying to trick myself into knowing the certification exam goes off without a hitch, and that’s why my scores on the practice exams are getting better. If you don’t think about it too hard, it could make sense. Or read more Alan Watts quotes. The Zen approach may yet save me. Of course, these links and others are courtesy my sweet hubs, who knows I need a brain break, but it also makes me nervous to recognize myself in the 7 traits of a free thinker, when that will NOT help with the exam.

So I’m trudging to the end of round two trying to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and then I saw the tiger I’m sharing with today’s post. I’m taking it as another Message from the Universe that I Will Pass… Even if two of the goals I had set for this round are completely shot out of the water. Getting past all these extra tasks, though, should mean I’m ready to start the next round fresh and ready to go with new fiction words. So I’ll once again refer you to my ROW80 cohorts so you can cheer their progress, even if mine is of the minimalist variety.

This Post Brought to You by the Word Study

Remaining optimistic can take a toll on a person...It was a difficult week: My work team is being dispersed after having completed its second project and I finally took a hard look at the calendar and realized there are only three weeks left to this month. If I truly plan on passing the PMP exam, study is the name of the game. Combined, these events/realizations were topped by a hard drive crap-out two nights ago that mean I’m down to my back-up computing plan, with no access to InDesign to work on print layouts even if I had the time. Plus, now I need to make time to fix my home computer to see what old archives I’ve lost in that hardware failure.

It didn’t help either that it rained most of the week, so we missed one night of walking entirely, and then there were three nights of squeezing in short walks through the mizzle. We nonetheless managed 11.7 miles over the course of the week… with 3 miles coming Friday and 4.3 Saturday.

I’ve been tired and cranky, and really glad we don’t have much of a social calendar. Though today we did go to watch a niece dance in a junior production of Peter and the Wolf. At 7.5 years old, she made an adorable, graceful little bird… even if attending did break our streak of stay-at-home Sundays. It also reminded me one more time of a Russian rhyme I learned at about her age in Moscow, too, so enjoyed making her eyes big by repeating it to a new audience.

Then a colleague forwarded me an article about how terrible, awful, very bad, and must-be-killed Agile Scrum is… Given that my team was successful enough to reach close-out points for not one but TWO clients following this methodology… I call BUNK. From my reading, this guy has experienced not only poor team cohesion but also the flip-side evil of micro-management and is blaming those on the project management tool du jour for software development. I say they’re a failure of management rather than a failure of the Agile methodology. Agile intentionally empowers the team to make decisions on what it’s capable of accomplishing and builds in daily self-testing to ensure technical debt does not build up. But those things can only happen when the product owner is crystal clear on what he/she wants, and management stays out of the way of a team that is heads-down in the trenches of productive work.

Of course… I’m not getting to done by myself these days, either. I’m watching gifs explain hold-over expressions (and may need to figure out a time to blow off some steam!), reading about more oopsart discoveries (oh, the plotbunnies!), or pondering thought-provoking quotes. Somehow those are necessary when dealing with practice exam questions like:

Your organization has decided to adopt prototyping for requirements development. The biggest advantage of prototyping is that:
the client can continue to make changes as long as they so desire, until a perfect outcome is achieved
the prototype is simply a smaller version of the final deliverable and becomes a critical input
prototypes allow the customer to see what they don’t like and what they like before requirements are finalized
some cycles of the process are free, allowing the customer to iteratively develop what they want

How is it I feel like I’ve been infected with the stupid bug after studying…?

(And how is it that this particular question somehow echoes the anti-Agile screed my colleague forwarded?)

Given this track record… I suspect this month is a loss for further fiction words on my stories while I try to ensure I have enough PMI-speak hammered into my brain to pass the certification exam. I will continue to check in weekly, but suggest you visit my ROW80 buddies to see real progress being documented.

Cover Reveal: Fire to Dragon

Those of you who follow this blog will know by now that I’ve been struggling to find time and momentum to finish the third book in my first trilogy. Today, I’m pleased to reveal that the lovely, patient (!), and multi-talented Gayla Drummond has recast the covers of the entire series and given me new impetus to complete what I’ve started.

Behold, book 3 of Red Slaves:

Fire to Dragon

I still have work to do to finish the book itself–and doing so will have to wait until I’m past my studying requirements for the PMP–but this gives me something solid to act as both spur and reminder for my goals.

Part of the issue that brought us to this point: I had started by choosing photo-real images for a fantasy novel set in a place well-known to a certain segment of the global population. As the story evolves over the course of the series, that setting becomes harder and harder to represent in photographs and remain true to the patterns we had established with the first two covers. So we had to rethink the whole series at once. Here’s what that looks like:

Red Slaves Trilogy

With my current time commitments, I won’t be able to release the 2nd edition versions of books 1 & 2 until July/August, but with the New Pretties… I certainly have the inspiration to push me past the finish line. :)

Meant to Do

"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible." -Doris LessingThe week was as crazy as I imagined it would be, and still… I managed 407 new words. Not quite the “finished something” I set for myself last week, but I figured out the plot and structure for Jasper’s Tale, and that makes me happy. So does news not quite ready for unveiling about relaunching my Red Slaves series with new cover artwork.

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So when I saw the Mighty Girls page featuring Doris Lessing, it felt right to celebrate even those small steps by reminding myself that anything worth doing will always be impossible. Until you do it. Hubs underlined the thought by sending a link to a page with eight quotes of the Buddha reminding us that we are the only ones who know our internal road maps.

Most of my day at the Symposium was taken up by a tutorial called “An Introduction to Usability Testing” by Bill Killam, who spent a lot of time explaining why psychology, with its focus on conscious and unconscious systems, change blindness, cognitive reflexes, blind spots, anchoring, priming, and reality-first biases, among other things, is the best perspective to have when trying to design interactions. I took a lot of notes, and found a few areas of disagreement, but ultimately left humbled by how easily humans are tricked by our subconscious selves into thinking our conscious selves are the ones in charge. Hubs had an answering article for that, too.

To mitigate for the work-related stress and crazy schedule, and despite the high humidity and temperatures, we managed a fantastic number of walks. Long walks. On all but the day I was not home, we walked for a grand total of 14.5 miles. That app I mentioned last week upped my daily average for walking + running distance for the week to 2.24 miles. I’m half wondering at this point whether that isn’t part of why I was able to find the energy to write. Even though, once again, being away from home overnight invited some kind of sinus trouble/cold into my sphere, making my brain fuzzy for a day or two.

I also managed to study… Oh the thrill of Earned Value, Planned Value, Cost Variance, and Estimates at Completion. Somehow, I am managing my time. Maybe with my small bit of momentum, I will get to done this week. Whether I do or don’t, I recommend checking in with my ROW80 cohorts while you wait for next week’s report on my progress.

Correcting My Mind

"If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place." -Lao TzuSomehow I thought I’d be productive this week, but we hosted dinners twice and I attended an after-work Agile meet-up Thursday. This kind of Agile relates to project management, especially in software development, but actually had a key take-away for my writing life. Jeff Sutherland co-created Scrum as a way of answering all the difficulties traditional project management faced in “getting to done“. If I look at my current writing paralysis, I wonder if I haven’t been psychologically beaten down by having blown past too many of my self-imposed deadlines over the past year plus. So I’m considering Lao Tzu’s advice this week. If I can correct my mind, maybe that’s what it will take to return to writing productivity. And slides 11 and 12 of that Getting to Done presentation are my inspiration: Sutherland’s research shows that teams that finish early accelerate faster. I may be a team of one for my writing, but it’s still a project to be managed, with an easy set of milestones that can be chunked into obvious definitions of done.

My test for this will be to see whether I can finish my short story this week. I have the day off tomorrow in recognition of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday. If I can finish one thing, my hope is that will break my creative log-jam.

Of course, that one day off will mean work scheduled for five days will be crammed into four, and I’ll be attending the Human Computer Interaction Symposium Thursday, which means a whole week’s worth of day-job work will actually happen in THREE days. So this may be the wrong week to test this theory.

Nonetheless, I’m starting where I am. Sort of a gut instinct situation. And enjoying the fact that when we walk the doggies at night these days, we’re seeing interesting alignments of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon–symbolically (whether you’re into astrology or not), an alignment of the perception of beauty, benevolence/good times, and feelings. It seems right to embrace the symbolism for what it’s worth. On the more logical side, honoring Dr. Nash for his game theory perspective and my incentives to “win” on the day his death was publicized to the world is another reason to forge ahead.

On the other goals… Well. One app on my phone says I averaged 1.2 miles of exercise-rate walking per day this week. The other one only recorded walks Monday and Tuesday that totaled three miles. Between those two measures, I’m still not over 2 miles a day, but I’m walking a lot more days than I planned. With all the other activity of the week, there wasn’t any stay-at-home date night, either, though I’m grateful we have made Sundays ours and continue to avoid having to go anywhere or see anyone on that day of the week. It really does make all the difference in handling the high intensity of traffic and activity in this region.

I’ll be back next week to report on my success. See how my ROW80 compadres are doing in reaching their goals in the meantime.

Expanding Heart

"Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog, it merely expands the heart."It was another week of mourning because one of my mom’s furbabies departed. Ingrid had come through surgery to remove cancerous tumors a few months back like a champ; in the end, she couldn’t survive a necrotizing spinal cord. I couldn’t even be there for the final goodbye given the crazy at work. I’m grateful my three continue in good health, and remind myself every day to appreciate the joy they share in their simplest interactions with us. I hope it is many years before we face the heart-break and further expansion of our hearts when the next one passes and we open our home to a new generation of furbabies.

I also spent a lot of time this week making sure Gayla’s latest was as thoroughly edited as possible. Black Magic Shadows went live in the early hours of this morning, and by this evening already has its first five-star reviews. I’m really pleased with our teamwork on this one and am crossing my fingers that the series continues to support her income needs–even as she moves on to her next set of plotbunnies.

Between the joy of the latest Discord book and the pain of Ingrid’s loss… Somehow another week has slipped through my fingers. The deadline I’d set for myself for revising Red Slaves #1 has come and gone. I haven’t even had time to look at the relevant files. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever get my writing groove back.

I may be a strange kind of burned out. Gotta love hubs, though, for sending links to articles like this one, which remind me that as long as I continue to take one step at a time and retain my discipline, I may eventually get through my overly long to-do list and find the energy I need to face off with my story ideas.

We walked most nights again this week, though my phone only recorded 3.5 miles of our exercise. With everything going on in the family, though, we didn’t get our date night–though I was able to enforce a not-going-anywhere day today at least. I’m also becoming at least slightly more serious about studying for the PMP–and am certainly getting an extra work-out toting the PMBOK study guide to and from the office.

So I soldier on. If you check back next week, maybe, finally, I will be able to share news of new words. In the interim, check in with the other ROW80ers to see where they stand in relation to their goals.

Facing Fears

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek." -Joseph CampbellIt’s been a hard week of long days, lots of work, and knowing I have to start buckling down for the PMP. The exam is scheduled to last four hours, and reminds me a lot of the AP exams I took in High School (how many decades ago!) for its ability to test the prospective certificant on any aspect of project management. Given that that includes some of the more arcane earned value and cost return calculations, I’m having to work at not freaking out over how much I have to memorize. Given that there are some literal dollar value increases (in salary and bonuses) tied to earning the credential, Joseph Campbell’s quote this week holds some literal truth for me at the moment.

I’m also facing the quote’s figurative truth. I’ve spent the weekend beginning the process of de-listing my books for distribution via Smashwords and listing them for distribution at Draft 2 Digital (so… if anyone is actually looking to buy my stuff now… be patient. It may or may not be at your vendor of choice for the next week). I had the brilliant idea that this would be a great opportunity to re-edit my work to make sure there were even fewer errors in my stories. And to see whether I still like them. Basically, I do, and can see my style/voice emerging more clearly in my later work. But I’m having an odd echo-experience of what Carrie Vaughn blogged about on Friday: Writing short. Comparing myself to a New York Times bestseller is obviously the height of hubris. Or hope. But as fiction authors, we’re driven by word counts. It’s the main goal of all my ROW80 cohorts and author friends. I’m holding Gayla’s hand as she pushes herself to keep adding words to her WIP and grouses similarly to Vaughn.

I wonder if, in my case, my “writing short” has as much with me racing to the finish line of a story to find out how it ends (I totally had no idea I was writing scifi when I started out writing fantasy with Wytchfire), and then being done enough with the story idea to not feel like pulling myself out of my writing happy place and into my writing working-hard place, tired and cranky place. In short, not facing that cave of Campbell’s fears.

And the revisions I’m contemplating on books 1 and 3 of Red Slaves… those will require that tired and cranky place of looking for all the missed opportunities for character development and world-building that had my crit partners yelling at me last month. Given how tired and cranky I’ve been for other reasons, piling it on… Well. Yeah. There’s some avoidance happening. I’m going to guess that revising and re-releasing book 1 and finishing book 3 per my stated goals–especially with the PMP studying… Not gonna happen. Which adds to the tired and cranky.

On the other hand, hubs and I have made great progress on enforcing weekend activity boundaries–and enjoying each other’s company for a weekly date night. This week we got to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. In an actual theater. And shared a huge number of fanboi moments. I cringed at Natasha’s “moment of weakness” along with other feminists, but here again, more strongly echoed Carrie Vaughn’s review. We’re also doing a lot better with the nightly dog walks–yeah, some are just 10-minute half-milers, but we’re going every night.

So the cranky I’m anticipating in my creative life should at least be somewhat mitigated by family togetherness.

:)

Especially when hubs shares links like the one to Aristotelian wisdom he forwarded this week.

So I will soldier on. (And so will he–at least he’s past halfway through the hell of an intensive series of continuing ed classes to reinstate his national certification status.) And I will check in again next week to report on my progress. In the meantime, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing.

Review: Write Draft Critique Virtual Writer Workshop

Write Draft Critique: Virtual Writer WorkshopAs you are no doubt sick of hearing by now, I was privileged enough to be accepted into the virtual writers’ workshop MJ Kelley founded a little over a year ago for this year’s spring session. For all my experience as a professional editor and literary arts magazine editor, as well as with other critique partners over the past almost 30 years, this was my first experience with an open forum run under strict rules and guidelines dedicated solely to fiction development. It was at once a fantastic growth experience for me as well as an almost overwhelming amount of work. Because I loved it so much, I’m the newest in what appears to be a group of evangelists, so am immortalizing my connection and proselytizing for other writers. (Check out Nillu Nasser Stelter’s thoughts on the workshop, too.)

:)

The explicit expectation-setting from the outset, as well as the moderators’ participation within each of the groups we were divided into, allowed us to almost immediately bypass Tuckman’s stages of group development to reach a level of trust and intimacy with each other that is not only rare, but the only way to truly develop on our creative paths. I don’t know if this was also partly driven by the selection process, but I was told that not everyone who applied made it into the workshop, so suspect that contributed to our success. Not to say we were all in the same genre, but we did all appear to have met a certain standard of professionalism–however we reached that mark.

The workshop took as much time, dedication, and attention as any of the Master’s level classes I’ve taken. This is not for the faint of heart. The payoff for that investment was feedback thatโ€™s helped me expand my view of the elements of my storytelling I need to improve on. I would highly recommend this to any author whoโ€™s interested in expanding their circle of connections to additional, motivated writers who will support their growth with honest feedback couched in a safe environment.

I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the privilege completing in good standing gave me: Returning to future editions… But I’ll be sure to plan around the time commitment involved–both on preparing new texts for my group members to vet, as well as reading 5-7,000 words for both line and developmental feedback each night. I suspect I’ll only ever manage the spring version, given those constraints.

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However, entries are open for the fall version already at the Write Draft Critique page, so I urge any serious writers to consider applying.

Finding Silent Moments

"It is in the Silent Moments We find our Inner Strength. Be Still... and find peace."As crazy as it is to witness the swift passage of time, attending a 14-year-old’s birthday really hammers home how fast days become years. It was great to be able to celebrate with our nephew yesterday, but also reinforced our new edict about having a day at home with no intrusions or excursions today. Hubs has been overloading on CEU classes to reinstate his standing with the NCCAOM as the final step in the process of attaining Virginia licensure, and he’s about as burned out as I’ve become at the mention of further studying. We’re both introverts and need those silent moments to find peace with the next steps on our paths.

Not to say I haven’t started making baby steps of progress on studying for my certification. But here, again, I’m nibbling around the edges, not yet entirely ready to dive in to the memorization necessary to think like a successful PMP test-taker.

It’s been a week since my writing workshop ended, and I kept thinking I’d have the focus to start tackling revisions and reformatting for Red Slaves 1 for the new distributor. Instead, I enjoyed a string of nights at home with hubs, catching up first on Agent Carter and then an episode of Agents of SHIELD. Peggy Carter is my new high-water mark for a character with personal agency–and my personal hero. One of her final lines is: “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” It hit me where I live. It’s a message I’ve struggled to articulate over the course of my career, and it’s helped me live the classic statistic of 78% of a man’s income for similar experience and education. Not just once, but at every job I’ve ever had. I’ve tolerated it because I’ve felt lucky to have A job in the variously bad economic situations I’ve lived. I’m starting to think I may be the problem. I don’t know my own value, despite almost three decades of evidence that I’m a worthwhile hire. Finding out sometime down the road with a company that I was brought on at the minimum level possible for my position classification has always been sold as “but you have up-side if you stay.” The problem is, it hasn’t actually materialized. I need to find Agent Carter’s strength, my own inner strength, to articulate my value. I’ll be working on that.

I’ve been working on getting back on the walking track, too. I walked every night this week, for at least a mile; last Sunday for 2.2 miles, and yesterday for 1.5 miles. So my total for the week was 7.3 miles. A lot closer to my goal. Unfortunately, I had an invisible spider encounter on Wednesday night’s dog walk that had my jaw swell to chipmunk-impressive proportions. It actually started constricting my throat enough that I decided staying close to home was not only important for finding peace and inner strength (per this week’s quote) but also for my good health. I’m a lucky gal that hubs has the skillz to fix these issues, so I was back to 90% of normal by Friday already.

So I have things to work on, but with the good break of today to refresh myself, maybe I can take bigger steps. I’ll report back next week with my progress again, but in the meantime suggest you check in with the other ROW80ers on theirs.

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