Writing after the MFA: The Book

Now What MFA Guide

Yeah. Now what?

After I graduated from my MFA program in 2011, I wrote about how it can be a struggle to keep writing after getting a Masters of Fine Arts degree in fiction: you leave a ready-made community of writers and a system of built-in deadlines and head back out into the world, where life is waiting in the shadows, twirling its proverbial mustache and rubbing its hands together with wicked glee, just waiting to get in the way of your good writing habits.

So what do you do? I’ve tried to answer that question for myself on this blog a few times, but now I can share a project I’ve been working on with several other writers, which answers the question in much greater depth.

Allow me to introduce Now What? The Creative Writer’s Guide to Success after the MFA. It’s a non-fiction book containing essays by 46 contributors who all attempt to answer that very question: Now what?

The book’s electronic edition is being launched this very evening at the AWP conference, so if you’re out in Seattle right now, you should definitely head to the swanky launch party at the Seattle Art Museum tonight at 6:30 p.m. I won’t be there — I’m too close to my due date for travel —  but all sorts of fun people who are still allowed to drink will in attendance.

I worked as a chapter editor on this book for a little more than a year, so I can say with authority (because I’ve read my two chapters over and over and discussed other chapters with other editors) that although the book is aimed at MFA grads, you don’t need to be one to benefit from the book.

There are essays about finding agents, about the publishing industry, about working with writing groups and there’s one chapter, which I think will be very popular because it addresses the question of how to make ends meet while working on your masterpiece.

Definitely check it out if you’re at AWP this week. (I mean, there’s a party and you’re right there – why wouldn’t you go?) If you’re not there, check it out on Amazon, and if you’re more interested in a physical book, no worries; the paperback edition will be released in July. (Did I mention that the book also includes an article about e-books vs. physical books? Guess who contributed that one.)


March: 2013 Goals

It’s March 1 and that means I’m checking in with my New Years goals.

As usual, I’m providing a distraction for the people who have no interest in such banal personal information and public self-shaming; please enjoy Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” as sung a cappella by Slovenians wearing purple:

Now, on to the goals.

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
I’m still on weekly goals for this project, meaning, I decide to write a chapter (or a certain amount of a chapter) in a week, rather than spending an hour writing or revising a day. It’s been slow going, but there has been progress. I’ll take whatever progress I can.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I’ve been pretty good about keeping a presence here, on Twitter and on my Facebook author page, and it’s paying off. People are commenting and staying engaged. I like to think I’m making new friends. I need to work a little harder on making more friends though, particularly live-in-person friends who work at libraries and bookstores, or people who review books or are members of the authors associations I’ve joined.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: I have not put together a marketing plan yet.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I have not sent out any new essays, but one has been solicited. Also, I’m writing on the semi-regular for GeekEccentric.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I’ve read four books in the last month, but it could have been more. I’m in the reading doldrums right now. I don’t know why, but every book I’ve picked up recently has been a struggle. Even the fabulous (and short) “So Long, See You Tomorrow.” I actually started reading two books this month and had to put them down, so if you have a favorite must-read book to share, please do. I need to jumpstart my reading binge.

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I will be at AWP (and I can’t wait.) Beyond that, I haven’t made any great strides toward any other conferences.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I’ve applied for an NEA grant, and I’ve researched several other opportunities.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
Still within my weight range. It was a bit of a struggle to stay there for a few really busy weeks, and I’m not quite sinking down to the bottom of the range, as I’d hoped, but I did discover that I dropped two dress sizes since Christmas, so I’m happy enough.

punctuality new years goal.

$4. I’ve been late once this month. Which isn’t so bad.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
As of now there are $4 in the jar, which means I’ve only been late once in a month. Never mind that February is the shortest month of the year; I’m down in lateness by 75 percent. That’s something! The real test will come this afternoon, when I have to go to my hair appointment. I’m always late for that thing. So who knows. By the end of the day I may owe $5.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
Yeah. I haven’t done anything on this in the last month.

February: 2013 goals

It’s February 1, and that means that for me, it’s time for a little accountability as I look back on my first month of progress on my goals for 2013. I’m going to be honest; although I made some progress, I’m not all that happy about the things I haven’t done.

Don’t care about my goals?
Here’s your other option: Meet Kid President, the adorable star of a highly-produced video that probably has a hidden agenda but is still uplifting and really cute:

On to the goals.

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
As it turns out, the first hour of my day is not actually the most productive hour of my day. All I’m good for in that hour is catching up on email and basic chores. So that “first hour of the day thing” isn’t happening. I did – until two weeks ago – write my novel for an hour daily. Now I’m working off weekly goals. I’m hoping to get back to hourly goals next week.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I did a good job of this up until last week when I became slammed with deadlines and projects. I have been keeping up my writing-related social networks and the blog, however.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: I have not put together a marketing plan yet.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I’ve sent out two essays in the last month. I am optimistic that they will be published since they were solicited, but you never know.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I’ve read five so far, including Pride and Prejudice. Let the reading binge continue!

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I’m going to AWP in March. I’m all signed up. But it’s not exactly the new conference I was looking for, since I’ve been there before. I’ve also joined both Sisters in Crime and the New England Horror Writers this January, so maybe they will be at a conference I can attend.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I’ve begun the process of applying for an NEA grant.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
For the first time in a couple of years, I’m within my goal! I dropped into my range last week. The challenge will be to remain within the five pound range for 12 months rather than slacking off or getting over-enthused about losing weight, which is what I tend to do.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
I’m doing okay. Ish. I made it to my New Haven writing group on time this past month (I’m almost always late whenever I go to New Haven, so that’s progress), but I haven’t been perfect. So far, I owe $3 to a worthy cause. Better start reviewing charities so I can choose a recipient for my funds.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
Yeah. I haven’t done anything on this in the last month.

Happy New Year: Goals and resolutions for 2013

It’s that time! Time wear sparkly shirts and drink sparkly drinks and hope that 2013 is going to be a sparkly year (but not in a Twilight way.)

Last year’s decision to make goals rather than resolutions (and blogging about them monthly) worked so well for me that I’m planning to do it all over again and bore you all to tears with my goals for 2013. It was actually the accountability of putting the goals online that was so helpful to me. I said I was going to do these things and I had to deliver, whether anyone was actually reading the blog posts or not.

Here are my goals for 2013:

novel, oconnell

I really need to finish this draft.

My novel: It was supposed to be out to agents by this time, according to my 2012 resolutions. Well, that didn’t happen. This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on it until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.

Marketing: I’m terrible at marketing. I should not admit it, but it’s true. I hate putting myself forward; it goes against everything that was drummed into me as a little girl in Catholic school. So this year, I am also spending an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers. This doesn’t mean I’m going to become an unbearable spammer. It just means I need to put myself out there more and to new audiences.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: If I have a written plan, it will be harder to go wrong.

Publishing: My goal last year was to send out three pieces. I did, and I got rejected. My goal this year will be to publish three things that are not my upcoming book.

Reading: Last year, I planned to read 12 novels in a year. This goal sparked a reading binge the likes of which I haven’t experienced since high school. I met my goal in May and kept on reading. As of yesterday, I read 33 books – novels, collections and nonfiction – in 2012. For 2013, I would like to read that number of books again, and not limit the goal to novels. I also want to include at least one Jane Austen novel and at least one Charles Dickens book.

Conferences: I already attend a retreat and a conference on the semi-regular. This year, I want to find one new writing conference to go to. I need to up my networking.

UPDATE FROM NEW YEARS DAY –  I thought of this one in the middle of the festivities last night:
Grants: I’d also like to apply for at least three fellowships or grants this year.

This year I’m planning to incorporate a few personal goals in with the writing goals, including the classic New Years rez…

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range, because when I’m that close to my goal weight, I feel like I can eat whatever and not work out and generally slack off. For 2012, I would like to get within that range and stay there. Right now I’m two pounds outside the upper end of it.

resolutions 2013

While I’m among the living, I don’t get to be a Late Great O’Connell.

Punctuality: I’ve never been an incredibly punctual person. In fact, I’ve built my lateness into my personality. I was born late, my family has refered to itself as the Late Great O’Connells, therefore, I’ve let myself accept that I will always be late to everything. In fact, if I didn’t have a driver, I probably would have been late to my own wedding. Well that’s got to end. Recently, two incidents made me think that it’s time to change my lateness issues: 1) We were horrifyingly late to Christmas dinner and 2) I was late for a writing event and missed an important marketing opportunity. This lateness has got to stop. I’ve done all sorts of things to keep myself from being late, including setting the clock in my car forward five minutes, which does nothing except make me panic and drive like a maniac, then do the mental math and subtract five minutes. So I’m going to make it a point to be on time, starting today. I’m setting the car clock back to the regular time. Every time I’m late, a dollar is going into a mason jar, and at the end of the year, some worthy charity is getting a donation.

My big-picture goal
Last year I also picked two big-picture issues that had been bothering me to mull over and research, and I was supposed to write about them in essay form. I mulled them over but didn’t write about them; I found that I wasn’t ready to share my findings about my own anxiety or my feelings about religion. But thinking about these issues did help me, and so I’m planning to examine an issue this year as well. I think it’s time I started solidifying my political positions. I mean, I know what I believe, but I’m not always well-informed and there are certain issues I avoid altogether. But this year, I think it’s important for me to look at all the political issues I can, and make up my mind. Part of this is so that I can argue with ease at parties, but I don’t like feeling fuzzy about certain issues, so part of this is to help me understand my own feelings.

Well, that’s it. Now I’m off to put on something with sequins. Happy New Year, readers! Good luck with your own resolutions!

Quitting with a capital Q: an interview with Cordelia of Cordelia Calls it Quits.

Cordelia Calls it Quits

Cordelia, calling it quits, in the panda hat she’s made famous.

Two Novembers ago, I stumbled onto a blog post that spoke to my soul.

Someone called Cordelia was finding National Novel Writing Month to be a challenge; though she had no trouble plugging along at work she hated at the office, she had a difficult time sitting down to write her novel, even though she loves to write.

This was a dilemma I could relate to.  I clicked through and discovered Cordelia Calls it Quits, a blog that turns the old saying “Quitters never win and winners never quit” on its head. Cordelia’s been on my blogroll ever since.

Cordelia’s philosophy is simple: she’s quitting the things she doesn’t want. Things like debt, a job that’s not right for her, letting other people get on her nerves, and her own tendency to want to be the office wunderkind are all on Cordelia’s list of Quits.

Last Friday, I caught up with Cordelia to g-chat with her about her philosophy, freelancing, and how her life has changed since she started her mission to Quit. Below is the interview, which is divided into three parts with page breaks. Click through, and enjoy.

Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted over the internet and has been edited. Typos have been corrected, and for the sake of clarity, some  sections of the interview have been moved around.

Calling it Quits

AJ: So, let’s talk about your blog. Some of my readers know about your blog, Cordelia Calls it Quits, but some don’t.
Can you describe your blog in one sentence for those who haven’t checked it out yet?

Cordelia: Sure. CCIQ is about my attempts to make my life better by getting rid of the things that don’t matter, in order to make more room for the things that do.

AJ: I’ve been following you for, I think, two years now. I think I found you on the front page of WordPress one day, and I was intrigued by the stapler graphic and the title, so I clicked over and was hooked by your posts and your writing style. But CCIQ had been pretty established by then. When did you start the blog?

Cordelia: My first post was in November 2010, so two years ago now.
(How did THAT happen? It feels like yesterday!)

AJ: Wow. So tell me – back in 2010 what specifically did you want to quit? What I mean by that was what made you say, “That’s it. I’m quitting. And I’m going to record it in blog form”?

Cordelia: Well, the blogging idea had kind of been percolating for several months. I first found “the blogosphere” after reading The Happiness Project, then going to Gretchen Rubin’s blog, from which I suddenly found myself exploring this entire new world online of people who were trying to make big changes in their lives–just like I wanted to. My job was obviously the biggest Quit, the underlying Quit driving the whole blog. That was the one thing that most severely needed to be changed, in order for the rest of my life to get in shape. The decision to actually start my own blog, though? It was honestly one of those, “ah, why not try it?” kind of things. I’d been reading so many other people’s blogs, and I’d been longing to get back into writing, so I figured, what did I have to lose?

AJ: The blogging form has turned out to be a very successful format for you. You’ve got a pretty big base of subscribers, don’t you?

Cordelia: To my amazement, yes! I have about 245 email subscribers and 250 through feedburner.

AJ: That’s awesome!

Cordelia: I just broke the 600 mark on Twitter, which still kind of baffles me, lol. No, actually…just checked and it’s nearing 700 now. (Again, how did THAT happen?)

AJ: Probably they’re all drawn to your mission of quitting the things that don’t matter in life.

Cordelia: I was definitely surprised by how many people that message resonated with. There are so many self-improvement blogs out there, but something about the idea of “quitting” things really draws people.

AJ: You frame quitting as being a very positive, subversively cool thing to do.

Cordelia: “Subversively cool”…I like that. I may steal that. 🙂

Next section: The Quits.

Taking a shot at relentless optimism.

By Arthur Waley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I like positivity as much as the next person, and I try to stay positive on social media, because, well, it’s social media. If you have a Facebook account you’ve seen the virtual train wreck that happens when people go negative: grown-ups posting anonymous, passive aggressive messages as statuses, private grievances aired out before 500 of one’s closest friends, obscenity-laden messages to people you’ve never met who blast loud music or cut you off in traffic.

But you know what’s equally horrifying? The cult of relentless optimism. You know who I’m talking about: the people who profess to never say anything negative, for whom affirmations are a way of life and who repress their negative thoughts until, presumably, they go around grinning grotesquely, like victims of The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie.

Why bash positive thinking? Well, I’ve tried it. I self-helped for years. In that time, I self-affirmed and envisioned and made vision boards and sent good, warm, rose-colored energy out into the universe.  I’ve self-hypnotized. I’ve tried to banish the word “should” from my vocabulary. And, as someone who is despite my best efforts, still on Tony Robbins’ mailing list, I can tell you that not only does relentless positivity not work, it’s also annoying.

Enter a breath of fresh air.

NPR’s All Things Considered ran this interview on Tuesday, making my evening. The gist? Author Oliver Burkeman has written a book that states the opposite of what most self-help books tell us: that relentless optimism actually makes people more miserable.

The book is called The Antidote and the message is refreshing, even if it seems like common sense.

Here’s a quote from Burkeman’s interview with NPR’s  Audie Cornish:

I think that what is counterproductive about all these efforts that involve struggling very, very hard to achieve a specific emotional state is that by doing that, you often achieve the opposite.

I’m someone who is irritable a lot, and I kind of enjoy being irritable. Being ecstatic 24/7 is not my natural state. So I agree that denying ourselves the full range of our emotions by concentrating only on the positive would be like trying to exist by eating only carbohydrates.

You might love carbs, but your body can’t exist without fats or proteins, and still remain healthy. Speaking for myself, I cannot live on happiness alone. I need rage, nerves and a side of the blues to be mentally healthy, and I doubt I’m alone in this.

Check out the NPR link above for more info. Burkeman’s put the crosshairs on both self-help and the cult of optimism, and that, ironically, makes me happy.

March: Goals for 2012

It’s the first of March. I am happy to report that one of my 2012 goals has been checked off. Granted it was the goal that I had the least control over, but it’s always nice to see anything crossed off a list. Here we go.

As an aside, if you’d like to read something more interesting than an update on my new years’ resolutions, you can stop reading now. Here’s an interesting site. Or you could just watch this:

Finish the second draft of my novel by April. Oh… I don’t think I’m going to make this deadline. I have copies of my first draft out to one of my writing groups. I just need the courage to start work. Also, I need to pick a day and read the manuscript in one swoop. And on that day? I should not check my email, plan a class or be anywhere near my phone. I should probably not even be in the house. That might take some doing.

Get it sent to agents before summer. I’m not even thinking about this. I’m not.

Send out at least three short stories. I have sent out two essays and lots of guest posts for other people’s blogs. I’ve sent out three news articles. But I’ve sent out exactly no short stories, which means I fail this one.

Beware The Hawk novella

Thanks to this book, one goal is off the list.

Read one novel a month in 2012. I’ve read five since January 1: The Lord of the Rings trilogy,  Jack the Theorist, and Carry-On, a novel by MFA colleague Chris Belden. At the moment, I’m bookless, but that will change soon. I’m trying to find a fun read and then I’m moving on to Blood Meridian, since that’s the book that my writing group is tackling next.

Make at least $20 off a piece of fiction. Done! I just got the sale numbers for January  from my publisher, Vagabondage Press, for my book Beware the Hawk. I don’t have exact numbers, but based on my usual fuzzy way of doing math,  seemed to have crossed the $20 line.

Other goals: I also set to work on two of my big conflicts: My feelings about my faith and my issues with anxiety. I haven’t done a thing about the anxiety, which is probably pretty evident to anyone who’s been reading my posts lately.

I have, however been thinking a lot about the faith issue. That’s been unexpectedly freeing; it’s really the first time since childhood that I’ve given myself permission to explore my own beliefs without a person, a church or a dogma peeking over my shoulder.

As interesting as this exercise has been for me personally, I now wonder if I should write an essay about it at all. I’m beginning to understand the religious zeal of the people who have confronted and accepted their beliefs, and who show up on my doorstep bearing pamphlets. I now notice that they are very interested in their own beliefs, but they can be big damn bores. It’s not exactly the stuff that thrilling literature is made of.

In fact, I’ve seen just one religious pamphlet that could be considered thrilling. It featured an illustration of a figure I can only describe as Super Satan. He had no clothes, no face, and the number of the beast tattooed across his bare, muscled chest. Nothing I produce can ever compete with that.

I digress. My point is that personal epiphanies are just that – personal.  What’s more personal than belief? Who would want to read about my own spiritual journey?

Also there’s this: people get criz-azy about religion. No matter what you think about religion, there’s always some nut ready to vehemently jump down your throat for not agreeing with him or her. Or for having a sense of humor about something they take very, very seriously. I’m not sure if I want to deal with that.

If you’ve made it down to the bottom of this post, thank you. I promise that my next post will have something of added value – all the comments about revisions from yesterday’s cry for help blog post. Many of those tips are in the comments and you can read them there, but I did get at least one via social networking and I have a few of my own to share. No, really, I do.

Me and my inner monkey

At the end of January, Cordelia Calls It Quits wrote a great post about the Inner Two Year Old.

We all have an inner something. Inner children. Inner bitches. Inner lizards (or, if you want to get all technical, the reptilian brain.)

One of my monkey cousins at the Bronx Zoo.

I have an inner monkey. Go ahead and laugh. But before you start making jokes about bananas and Bonobos and the flinging of excrement, give me a chance to explain.

My inner monkey is the part of me that has stubbornly refused to evolve.  She doesn’t believe in diets or alarm clocks or working out differences through rational conversation. She’s not superstitious, intellectual, religious or creative. She’s not into impulse control. She is interested in one thing: Survival. She has sharp senses when it comes to detecting a threat. If I ignore her warning, I usually end up in trouble. She’s good at responding to a threat too; when I was attacked by a guy on the Boston T, it was the inner monkey that retaliated, not me. When my the alarm on my biological clock goes off, that’s my inner monkey. When I’m hungry before bed and I think about my mom, back in the day, telling me that it’s good to go to bed a little hungry, my inner monkey jumps up and down, screeching. Go to bed hungry? Hungry? When there’s food in the house? Never!

Although she manifests in many ways, food brings out the inner monkey more than anything else. The authors of the novel Good Omens wrote that civilization is only two meals away from barbarism. I know that’s true for me. If I don’t keep the inner monkey fed, there are problems.

Three years ago, when I began a strict diet (too strict, as it turned out), I lived life like a huntress. I was always on the lookout for food. Everything else in my life was a distraction from my quest for food and life was sort of a pause between mealtimes. Every person I met was a person who might be competition for my food. If I had cut out a few more calories, every person I met might have been a potential meal. Hungry though I was, I did not turn to cannibalism.

I descended to something far more hideous: Mathematics.

In an effort to consume more food while staying within the confines of my diet, I began to do insane amounts of math. I devoted more time to the calculation of my caloric intake than I did to all of my math homework assignments combined. My inner monkey doesn’t do math, but she did bully me into doing it for her.

Most often, though, she makes an appearance in the grocery store. Particularly if it’s crowded and I’m hungry. No good can come of that. Watch a documentary about monkeys competing for food and see how well it turns out. I’ve learned to eat lunch before grocery shopping.

You could argue that all these inner entities are different names for the same thing. In some ways, the inner monkey is a lot like Cordelia’s Inner Two Year Old. She has needs, and she has impulse control issues, and if I don’t meet the monkey’s needs and control her impulses, she will attempt to take over. But she’s also like Elizabeth Hilts’ Inner Bitch. The monkey knows what she wants and she knows what she doesn’t want. And very often it turns out that what the monkey wants is good for me and what she does not want is bad for me.

And (when she’s been fed) the inner monkey is more fun than I am. She hasn’t forgotten how to play. She’s always on the lookout for a tree to climb. She likes yoga, because she can sit on the ground, reach for her toes or be upside down.

Not that I’m saying that I should pay attention to the inner monkey’s every demand. If I did that, I’d sit around all day, eating, snarling at intruders, and trying to flag down members of the opposite sex. I’d have one child per childbearing year I’ve lived. I might be a cannibal. Despite this, Stop & Shop would not allow me in their stores.

What I am saying is that, like any wild animal, the inner monkey should be respected.

Mindbloom: When self-help and video games collide

For a while, I was an enthusiastic gamer. I  blogged and reviewed video games on a gaming site and for a (very) short while, freelanced for 1up.com. But then I gave up gaming in favor of getting my life back (I tend to fall into video games like bad guys in Star Wars fall into sarlac pits) and lately, the only games I’ve been playing are Facebook’s Scrabble and Bejeweled. Then, last week, a friend of mine mentioned  this game on Facebook and, since it was free, I thought I’d give it a try. But only for a week. That was last Wednesday.

It’s called Mindbloom, and it’s a cross between the casual games of the Internet (think Bejeweled or Farmville) and the self-help movement (think vision boards and movies like The Secret.)

It’s really not so much a game as it is is a fancy to-do list, visualized as a tree. You start with three branches, each of which represents an area of your life important to you: Finances, Relationships, Career, whatever. In each of those areas, you create small, scheduled to-do lists. Mine are “write 500 words every day,” “yoga every other day,” “share a smile with a stranger every day” and “one to two hours of project every day.”

I check them off if I did them, and I get points for doing that. Sounds dull, right? That’s because it is.

Until earlier this week, I was ready to quit, actually. But then I realized something: It’s working. It’s seriously, honestly working. I’m getting much more work done. I’m working out regularly. I’m trying to be nice to be people, and I’m more or less succeeding.

Why does it work for me? I’m a list-maker. I make to-do lists all the time, in my head, on the backs of envelopes, on my computer’s Stickies program. But I rarely get through the lists, because I lose them, and there’s no accountability. Now here’s this game that awards me points for checking off my to-do list.

Thus far, the rewards are really unexciting – new backgrounds, new music – but the game does offer motivation:  If you don’t do something on your list for a while, your tree starts to die.  That happened to me a few days ago, when I skipped yoga two days in a row and didn’t make my 500 words over the weekend. My tree started to turn brown. Do you know how alarming it is to watch a tree labeled “My Life” begin to wither?

I don’t have any friends on Mindbloom yet, so I don’t know anything about the social networking/support aspect of the game, but for me, so far, Mindbloom offers more stick and less carrot as encouragement for ticking off my goals. Yet, completion of the goals is – and should be – encouragement enough.

After nursing my tree back from the brink of death to full greenness – and after checking off a lot of the items on my to-do list – I’m hooked. I do feel a little odd about using the Internet to complete my life’s small goals – I feel like Big Brother somehow is reading my list of things to do – but I can’t complain, because hey, I’m completing my tasks.