How Coca-Cola Executives Achieve Their Goals

How Coca-Cola Executives Achieve Their Goals


Here’s a fail-proof process for REALIZING GOALS that Dr. Joan Pastor developed with executives at Coca-Cola as part of a time management training.
Like the new year, it’s your gift to open. Make things happen!

You are more likely to achieve goals—personal goals, business goals, life goals—by following these tips for goal setting.

1. Be sure your goals are YOUR goals

If a goal is set by you and is something you really want to achieve, the chances for success are immensely improved. You know the forces that would set goals FOR you—employee motivation, family expectations, government regulations. This does not mean you should be stubborn and refuse any advice on what your direction should be. Friends, relatives, and employers can all be helpful with ideas. But the reluctance and compromise of setting someone else’s goal for yourself will weaken your motivation to achieve it. The force within YOU will follow the course YOU set.

2. Put your goals in writing

First, writing a goal helps you clarify and develop what it is you want. The process of writing in detail helps you more carefully imagine your goal. Most of us don’t have the capacity to flesh out a goal in our heads the way we can in writing. And, by nature, thoughts fade more quickly than ink. The second reason for writing goals is to increase your personal commitment. Through writing, you bring the imagined achievement into the physical reality of language on paper (or on the computer screen). You’ve made yourself accountable to the exact goal you have in mind because you’ve made a record. And you can use this record to continually re-imagine the goal.

3. Challenging but attainable

Good goals cause you to stretch and grow. Setting ones that will require little energy will likely inspire little motivation. At the other extreme, saying you will reach impossible dreams also results in little or no motivation. Identify those goals that will require meaningful attention but that you feel you can truly achieve. Deciding if a goal is attainable is a very personal decision, but if you think you can, YOU CAN. Go after it!

4. Major goals must be compatible

Going after competing goals—where the attainment of one means short-changing the other—is an easy trap to fall into. For example, you’ve committed to a very expensive vacation AND you’d like to save toward building your dream house. Or, you want to excel in tennis and golf, but you don’t have enough leisure time to practice them both. Incompatible goals can lead you to put serious effort into several seemingly worthwhile projects and yet finish none of them. Or, worse, your divided energy produces unsatisfactory results that you’re stuck with. So, after you decide on your major goals, check them for compatibility.

5. Revision & Change

As a growing human being, your wants will be forever changing and evolving. Don’t think of your goals as carved in stone. Periodically review, update, and revise them.

6. Specific tasks, measurable achievements

You’ve written your goal; now break it down into the specific steps to its accomplishment. (Remember how one eats an elephant.) Then create a plan for measuring progress. For example, you have written a major goal to redecorate your home. Along the way, check off the individual projects—living room window treatment, kitchen floor, bedroom furniture—as each is completed. As for goals like “I want to be a better person,” follow Ben Franklin’s example. He chose one virtue at a time—forgiveness, charity, etc.—to work on. I recommend you choose a specific trait and assign a scale—0 to 4 or 1 to 10—on which to measure progress.

7. Target dates

Consider you have set your goal only after you have attached a timeline for its accomplishment. Just like the power of writing it down, the time component helps you create the goal in your physical reality. Without timetables, goals are as elusive as daydreams.

In conjunction with the process of identifying specific tasks, set target dates for each task or, as it may be called, a subgoal. In creating your schedule, allow time for figuring out unforeseen problems, errors, personnel changes, etc.

If it weren’t for the last minute …
I’m sure you have experienced the tremendous motivation of an approaching deadline. Be sure to employ this important tool for realizing every goal. It is key to motivation and commitment. Also, make the most of deserved satisfaction as you finish each task and achieve each of the subgoals. Build your sense of momentum as you increasingly visualize the achievement of your major goal.

8. Prioritize

Ever feel you are spending your time doing second things first? Well, that’s one way to make sure that your most important goals WON’T be realized. To control this tendency, list your goals (with the items on your schedule for the day, if necessary) and then rank them in order of importance.

How you set priorities is a matter of personal choice, and if one system doesn’t work, don’t give up. Try something else. Some people list their goals and then select the two or three most important. Others rank them all in order of importance.

9. Put up reminder signs

Focusing on goals can get lost when you’re busy doing something else (and you even feel good because there’s so much activity). A well-placed reminder sign can bring you back. Design a sign for your desk, the dashboard of your car (with a picture for extra impact), or, set regular reminders on your phone’s calendar—anything that works for you.

10. Goals and beyond goals

Remember your overall satisfaction with life is not ultimately driven by achievement of this year’s goals. Be formulating goals beyond the ones you are working so hard to achieve at any particular moment. With nothing further to imagine, your subconscious may sabotage final completion of a goal. We’re sometimes funny that way.

How to “Disappoint” a Stereotype

Disappoint a Stereotype

by Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.Ed., M.P.H.

For many people, hearing the word “sales” sets off a chain reaction of negativity. Instantly, your brain forms images of a guy with an avalanche of words flowing from his mouth “… and this can be yours for the bargain price of …” Exit, where is the nearest exit?! you think to yourself. Alright, he’s going to try to manipulate me. I’m trapped. Time to put the boxing gloves on. This cultural shadow/stereotype of the pushy, non-listening salesperson has been around for some time.

In order to be successful, salespeople have to acknowledge and deal with this negativity that at times can haunt their interactions. So, let’s look back in history for some answers. According to Dr. Joan Pastor, who has a Ph.D. in both clinical and industrial-organizational psychology and is president of JPA International, Inc., the stereotypes of salespeople emanate from the days when traveling salesmen went from town to town peddling their wares.

Says Dr. Pastor, “Because they often brought news from other areas of the country, salespeople were seen as being more sophisticated than the people they were selling to. Unfortunately, among this group of salespeople were those individuals inclined to, shall we say, s-t-r-et-c-h the truth a bit, i.e., ‘I have a gem of a property in Florida for sale.’ As the years went on, townspeople began to venture out into the world and become more sophisticated. ‘Hey, this is a swamp!’ they cried, and thus the impression of the salesperson as untrustworthy began to settle in to the country’s general consciousness. At this point, some salespeople (the most genuine ones) started to realize that, in general, they couldn’t sell on manipulation anymore. They could see that it may be possible to sell something quick and get away with it, but that doing this would mean risking repeat business and referrals.”

So what can be done about this negativity? Here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare for the sales process:

  • First, understand that your buyer must look out for their own needs, budgetary and otherwise. On some level, we all need to feel important, smart, and in control. Perhaps the buyer is afraid to think that standing before her is an honorable salesperson (“If I’m wrong, I’ll be taken advantage of”). This is why the buyer/seller relationship is so important. Over multiple interactions with you, the buyer is building a databank of impressions that weave together into an opinion. You can influence that opinion–and chip away at the negative stereotypes–by being consistently honest, friendly, and reliable. You go at their pace as much as possible and “disappoint” the stereotype because you aren’t pushy. You allow them time to get comfortable with you – and, they are confident that they have made a correct assessment of your character (“He is telling the truth. I can trust my judgment.”)
  • Second, check yourself as you prepare for and interact with buyers. Ask yourself, am I dragging any negativity into the meeting? (Lost a fight with your spouse last night?) Is my confidence level high (I know my product and feel my profession has genuine worth) or low (I’m just another salesperson–why would she want to listen to me?). Keep in mind this little known fact: the more senior you are in any company, the more selling you have to do. It’s true. You are part of the most valuable of all professions and you do what CEOs do. If you are feeling on-par with the buyer, you will feel less pressured (more relaxed). The buyer will sense that and consequently let his/her defenses down. It’s less struggle for the both of you. If you are not feeling confident about yourself and/or your profession, you could either let your anxiety get the best of you (an uninspiring presentation with a quick exit) or overcompensate by trying to control the buyer’s decision (your excess power needs rear their heads). Most likely, you don’t react well to people trying to control you–why would anyone else?
  • Third, remember that you are, of course, looking out for your own needs. There are the obvious, concrete needs: sell the product, meet your quota, etc. Then there are the more subtle, typically human, needs, that you, yes, even you, have. These include the need to feel important, smart, and in control. Nothing wrong with these needs – unless, of course, they are working overtime. And what are the worst stereotypes? Again, Dr. Pastor: “Those salespeople getting it wrong typically fall into two camps. They’re pushy (ask no questions, sell on the best deal, i.e., use language like ‘If you buy it now…’) or they’re not listening (for example, when the surgeon expresses a concern, the salesperson tells them another benefit of the product).”

To ensure that salespeople avoid these negative impressions, Dr. Pastor recommends six stages of the sales process that are targeted toward a marriage of the sale and the relationship.

1. Do your research. Not just on the product(s), but on the people you will interact with in the sales process. Don’t limit your thinking to the surgeon–you may spend a lot of time talking to office personnel. Learn something about them.

2. Listen, listen, listen. It should be a 20/80 conversation. You do 20% of the talking (including questions and educating), the surgeon gets 80%. During your 20%, be sure to ask about their level of satisfaction with the products they are currently using. Be sure you understand the surgeon’s expectations of both the product(s) and the sales relationship.

3. When stating the benefits of your product(s), tie your statements to the concerns the surgeon mentioned about his/her current products (For example, if the surgeon had problems getting another company’s implant in, you’re going to talk about how easily your product does go in, not talk about the price of your product).

4. Although it is good to be aware of the very real possibility of resistance during this process, don’t be concerned about questions as they indicate interest on the part of the buyer. If you sense an unusual level of resistance, however, you may need to return to one or more of the previous stages. In general, educate yourself on how to handle resistance and rejection in a professional manner. Try to see it as part of the job.

5. Negotiation. Perhaps by this stage you’ve succeeded in turning around any negative impressions. At this point, there should be a palpable interest on the part of the buyer. Or, there should at least be an awareness from both parties that there is a need for further discussion. If either of these conditions are met, then you would discuss who is going to be doing what in order to meet again. If the interest is not present, then your discussion will end.

6. Commitment. This is the time to summarize what each party has agreed to be the next step. This could be the actual sale or some other agreed-upon action (perhaps the surgeon may want to review the product with some colleagues).

Looking at the bigger picture, you don’t have to prove your self-worth by getting the sale. You also don’t have to prove that your profession is worthy. If you go in confident that both you and your profession are quite acceptable, the only thing you have to do is be of service, make every surgery more reliable and more successful for your surgeon. That being said, if your gut knows that the product is worthy of your surgeon’s attention, you’re nearly home.

For more information on JPA International, Inc., a business and sales consulting and training firm specializing in healthcare, visit or call (760) 945-9767. Email Dr. Joan Pastor, Ph.D at [email protected]

Hard and Fast Rules for Instilling Loyalty in the Workplace

How do you motivate employees to dedicate themselves to high-quality work?

How do you create a work setting in which loyalty is a natural by product?

Does it sound difficult?

Well, it’s not impossible and the solutions have nothing to do with wishful thinking. To instill loyalty in the workplace, you must follow a few hard and fast rules.

[dropcap]1.[/dropcap] First, you must be absolutely clear on the values and goals of your company. If you don’t know these, then your first assignment is cut out for you. Until company heads know implicitly what they seek to accomplish, they cannot expect loyalty from their subordinates. No one follows an indecisive leader into battle or on the job front. It is essential then that both employer and employee know and appreciate the company philosophy and goals. After your company objectives are securely in place, recruiting supportive employees and educating old ones becomes your next priority. You may find that you will need to let go of people who aren’t aligned with your newfound objectives. “Bill,” a colleague of mine and president of a small brokerage firm, hired a man who was an extremely talented broker. Problems began to arise, however, when Bill noticed that “Glen” was not a “team player.” Glen didn’t support the direction Bill was taking the company and, as a result, Glen became apathetic to company matters. The other employees began taking sides, and eventually company morale diminished. Glen’s inability to follow Bill’s lead split the company in two and destroyed what Bill had worked hard to accomplish. The firm went under. To avoid hiring someone who wouldn’t be my definition of a high quality employee, I place a lot of weight on first impressions.

When I am in the hiring process, I take note of whether a prospective employee is on time to our appointment. I want someone who displays responsible behavior right from the start. I also pay close attention to loose indications of loyalty: involvement in the interview, knowledge of the company for which they are interviewing, manner in which they talk about past employers and reliability in keeping promises like “I will send you a copy of my resume today” or “I will call to set up a second interview for Tuesday.” Company heads should diligently look for people who have strong work ethics and share enthusiasm about the company direction.

This practice prevents excessive employee turnover and misplacement of people in jobs. It is important to continually clarify and reiterate company values and goals to employees. Executives of The Ford Motor Company utilized this knowledge a few years back to speed the company’s recovery process. Ford developed the motivational acronym MVGP that stands for “Mission, Values and Guiding Principles.” MVGP spells out what Ford stands for, what it expects from its employees, and the level of quality to which it aspires. A copy of the MVGP plan was mailed to all Ford employees. The letters MVGP are plastered all over the walls of the corporate offices and over the walls of the automotive plants.

[dropcap]2.[/dropcap] Judy Komaki of Perdue University undertook a study touting the importance of feedback. According to Komaki, feedback specifically applied to activities right after they are done gives subordinates a feeling of purpose and, as such, has a performance-enhancing effect. In contrast to Komaki’s findings, if communication only takes the form of instructions from the supervisor, subordinates often do the minimum to get by. When a job is well done, positive feedback from management encourages employees to “keep up the good work.” Years ago I worked as a consultant for a company that provided financial planning for middle income families. Planners weren’t building clientele as quickly as market research indicated was possible. I identified the problem as one of low manager involvement. Managers weren’t giving planners specific feedback on their work and, consequently, clear sales strategies and motivation were lacking.

I instructed managers to first select particular skills for planners to develop, and then monitor the results of the practiced skills. Monitoring resulted in an immediate increase in sales for the organization. Employee involvement techniques such as participative decision-making, self-managing work teams, and suggestion systems raise morale and feelings of responsibility and involvement. Studies show that the larger a person’s stake in a company, the greater his level of loyalty. Communication encourages loyalty.

[dropcap]3.[/dropcap] The third factor needed to instill loyalty from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom is the ability for all company individuals to achieve objectivity. Objectivity is the gift of power bestowed upon employees by employers, enabling them to step outside the system for the purpose of accessing what’s wrong. If people are given the tools for attaining objectivity, they will seldom feel a loss of control over themselves and situations. An investment in seminars and literature to this effect will prove highly worthwhile.

Generally, employees in large companies are responsible for a fraction of the whole picture. Objectivity reminds them of the company goal, allowing these workers the insight to move forward. The dreaded disease of apathy often accompanies feeling ineffective. If employees feel that they can contribute, loyalty will be enhanced.

In summary:

• Employers can inspire loyalty in employees if three important factors are in place as discussed above. Loyalty hinges on the alignment of values between employee and employer. If an employee finds value in the company cause, he or she will naturally support it.

• Objectivity fosters feelings of effectiveness because it allows one to influence a situation positively. If an employee feels like a non-contributor, he or she has no perception of her worth in the company, no feeling of influence or purpose. He or she will atrophy, and the company will eventually lose this employee’s strength.

• Open communication is an extremely important ingredient for instilling loyalty. Constructive feedback keeps an employee posted on his or her relationship to the company works and, as a result, he or she is likelier to take pride and responsibility in his or her actions and contributions.

DISCstyles Online Assessment & Report

The DISCstyles Online Assessment & Report

An indisputable fact is that people prefer to interact with people they like. The ability to create rapport with people is a fundamental skill in sales, management, personal relationships, and everyday life. The goal of the DISCstyles is to help you create personal chemistry and productive relationships. You do not have to change your personality; you simply have to understand what drives people and recognize your options for effectively dealing with them. DISCstyles teaches you powerful life skills that will serve you well in all your relationships: business, social, and family.

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The DISCstyles online assessment is a resource for individuals and organizations desiring to improve performance, increase productivity, and to positively persuade other people.

Unlike many other behavioral assessments, our 34-page reports are as much prescriptive as they are descriptive! In other words, we spend as much time teaching you how to improve your own productivity and interpersonal interactions as we do describing your natural DISC behavioral style. We realize you are about to invest money and time in our online assessment, so we want you to come away with fast, effective learning strategies that get you results immediately. The DISCstyles report has two parts:

• General Characteristics
• Your Strengths: What You Bring to the Organization
• Your Motivations (Wants) and Needs
• Your Motivations: Ideal Work Environment
• Your Behavior and Needs Under Stress
• Communication Plans
• Potential Areas for Improvement
• Summary of Your Style
• Word Sketch: Adapted Style
• Word Sketch: Natural Style
• Your Personalized eGraphs
• The 12 Integrated DISC Styles Relationships
• Your Behavioral Pattern View

• Application, Application, Application
• Overview of the Four Basic DISCstyles
• How to Identify Another Person’s Behavioral Style
• What Is Behavioral Adaptability?
• How to Modify Your Directness and Openness
• Tension Among the Styles
• How to Adapt to the Different Behavioral Styles
• So Now What?
• Additional DISC Resources


The DISCstyles Assessment is valuable for individuals and all types of organizations, public or private, large or small.

DISCstyles Applications: How you can use DISCstyles to help others

Change Management – DISC teaches specific behaviors for transforming resistance in to receptivity.
Coaching – Discover how to use the DISC to help others reach their real potential consistently!
Conflict Resolution – See how to use the DISC to magically dissipate tension & mistrust!
Customer Service – Use the DISC to show how one can determine how to exceed expectations.
Diversity Training – Present how having contrasting DISC Styles is a major positive position.
Hiring – Learn how to train others to use the DISC to find the right fit the first time around!
Leadership Programs – You’ll be amazed by how you can truly empower others using the DISC!
Management Skills – Show your managers how to easily motivate their staff.
Managing Up – Use the DISC to clearly describe the behaviors needed to win receptivity.
Mergers, Acquisitions – Using the DISC to help others understand their coping needs.
Mentoring – Discover how to exponentially propel your fast trackers with success!
New Employee Orientation – Teach your new members how to be communication experts.
On-Boarding – Provide essential DISC insight so new members are set-up for success.
Performance Development Plans – Show the employee there IS a better way to communicate!
Retreats -Facilitate a session where powerful personal & professional insights are discovered.
Sales Training – You’ll be able to even show your sales managers how to increase their sales.
Teambuilding – Learn how to masterfully transform a dysfunctional team with the DISC!
Productive Meetings – Plan meetings with styles in mind to ensure best outcomes.
Career Matching – Match your employees’ natural strengths with the best possible job fit.


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Writers Roundtable


This round table session was attended by eight active writers of fiction, some published, others mid-novel or polishing off manuscripts for submission to agents and publication houses. Presented here is a sampling of the lively Q&A exchange. It is our hope that readers will recognize some of their own challenges and benefit from the discussion. Dr. Joan Pastor, who counsels writers and other artists individually and in groups, encouraged participants to freely discuss personal deterrents to their writing process. Most of the problems, as you will see, are common to writers at one time or another.

(use the “+” button to uncover detail about the tabbed topics and questions.)


[toggle title=”Opening Remarks”]As a psychotherapist, I love working with creative people; in this case, writers. I am a creative person myself and I understand the challenges, the fears, the avoidance barricades one unconsciously erects. My doctorate degree in clinical psychology, including five years of Gestalt and Psychodrama training, makes me particularly suited to counseling creative people. Why Gestalt? Because it lends itself so well to the artist/writer. Gestalt theorizes that an individual is a symphony of many instruments. There’s the drum, the tuba, the violin, and they all play beautiful music. But inevitably, when played together, there are discordant notes, just as there are in a developing novel. As the writer of the symphony, your work ultimately is to become the conductor, drawing on the violin, the tuba, the drum—those parts of your inner self—as needed. In the process, you will listen to your inner ear, fine tune, reject, rewrite, until your manuscript is a perfected symphony. Why psychodrama? Initially developed for people from dysfunctional families, it is a process whereby actors are encouraged to act out a difficult scenario. The process, more often a thinking rather than an acting one, works equally well for writers struggling with a particularly difficult scene.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”Right now I’m going through a severe period of writer’s block. I feel stymied, unable to get anything down on the blank computer screen staring me in the face.”]

This is a good place to start, because it is the writer’s most common problem. It actually means different things to different people. For some it means sitting in front of a blank page. But there’s another type of block: the inability to even get to the computer.
The most important element to be aware of is that there is something in the writing, at whatever stage the block comes up, that is halting progress, e.g., some are wonderful at crafting words but getting to the storyline is difficult; or there is something in the writing that is overwhelming at the moment—perhaps it’s a cover for something you don’t want to face, it may be the weight of a publisher’s deadline, or the sudden inability to marshal one’s energies and focus. Some writers will avoid writing any way they can, by surfing the Internet, catching up on emails, or checking their bank account balances. Part of the cure is to first recognize just what it is that’s overwhelming you. Is it fear of rejection (I’m a terrible writer, no publisher will ever look at my work, etc.), a plot line that seems to have dwindled into nothingness, characters who have no depth? Or perhaps the screen is empty because you keep thinking what comes out of your head must be perfect the first time around. There are many little tricks to help get you past your writer’s block. Just one of those tricks is a “dump sheet.” It’s a fabulous tool for writers, originating from the school of journalism to develop objectivity. Grab a notepad, write down all your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions, history, anything and everything, in a stream of consciousness format. This allows you to unload all your preconceived thoughts and emotions. As a writer, the best thing you can do is to start with recognizing how you’re driving yourself crazy. The purpose of the dump sheet is to empty yourself of all the garbage in your head. When you let yourself write out what you’re really thinking and feeling, it somehow releases your anxiety so that you can go on. Creativity can be very demanding because you have to go inside yourself and pull. The process of doing it, whether it’s from your emotional or intellectual base, can be very demanding. And, just so you know, the place where you block is where you grow the most.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”My worst problem is giving up the 1,001 distractions I can engineer before settling down to write. I can find more “other things” to grapple with than you would think possible.”]This is another common problem. Writing requires enormous discipline and, generally, we resist discipline. It also requires focus. For many people, multi-tasking is a way of life, and the singular attention that writing demands does not always come easily. Let me suggest the following: Stop multi-tasking if this is your normal mode. Instead, begin to practice something called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness, as the word suggests, requires you to teach yourself to focus on one thing at a time. In the long run, this practice will also increase your awareness and enjoyment of life. The discipline comes from Buddhism (I have a master’s degree in religious studies with specialization in Far Eastern philosophy) and more and more psychologists are learning the techniques. Secondly, give yourself permission to move slowly, really slowly, into your writing process. If the problem is a serious one, then I suggest breaking your preparation into small steps, e.g.: (1) I will turn on the computer and wash the breakfast dishes while it boots up. (2) I will set my coffee and writing tools beside the computer. (3) I will only work on one character in my story. (4) I will work on the part of the story that feels easiest for me today. And so forth. This is called “taking the path of least resistance.”

Most important, tie your expectations to very small goals instead of overwhelming yourself with “I must write ten pages today or else!” Congratulate yourself when you accomplish the small goals. Why? It is the conscious recognition and acceptance of successes—small and large—that increase self-confidence and motivation and makes it easier to start next time. To summarize, the biggest writer’s block is overcoming all the “should dos” in one’s self. As a writer, you need to fully understand who you are and come to accept your strengths and limitations without comparing yourself to others.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”When I do write outlines, I don’t follow them.”]According to writers’ guide books, working from an outline is the preferred method of developing one’s story. However, this process does not always lend itself to a right-brain thinker who is visual and processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture, then the details before putting them together. It is more appropriate to the left-brain thinker who is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole. Creating outlines and not following them, or not creating outlines at all, is the sign of a strong right-brain and a highly creative mind. One thing that might work for you is storyboarding. In this instance, you write only key points of your story on separate index cards or post-its, or draw pictures. Pin them on a board or a wall next to your computer. Then, feel free to move them around, toss them out, or add new elements big or small to the plot as you move along.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”For me, plotting can be an issue. Although I don’t do an outline, I have a fairly strong sense of what has to happen from beginning to end. At times, I reach a dead end and have to either rewrite a few chapters, add a new character to get everyone moving again, or find some other workaround. It can waste a lot of time.”]As far as I can see, you are on the right track. I would also suggest that you do not see rewriting as a waste of time. Creativity goes through a set number of stages in order to blossom to its fullest, and one of those stages is incubation. I suspect that after you’ve done your research—if you’ve done any—and then written as much as you can, you come to a temporary dead end because your brain now has to assimilate all the parts and let them “cook” for a while. While you’re cooking, plot lines and new ideas will emerge in the most unexpected places: drifting off to sleep, dreaming, folding the laundry, while a friend is talking. If this happens to you, make sure you keep a little notebook with you so you can jot down ideas, flashes of plot lines, and so forth as they happen..[/toggle]

[toggle title=”My worst problem is coming up with a plot at all. A truly original story. I have no problem with characters, dialogue, scenes. It’s the overall story that sometimes is hard to grasp.-“]Generally, my advice to writers with this problem is that they need to get out of their comfort zone. In other words, get out of your head and into the world. This is a hard one for writers, but it is why many writers travel to exotic locations and experience them first hand. Not just to absorb the location, which is invaluable, but to have adventures.

Try to meet new people and interview them: what have they done, witnessed, and experienced? Join the Safari Club. Eat rhino meat (that is, if you eat meat but are not an adventurous eater). And don’t be afraid to steal ruthlessly from real life and build on it. Many of the best stories are drawn from real life events.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”I’ve heard that it is best to confine one’s writing to areas in which one has personal or career experience. But I’d like to take on much more.-“]For the beginner writer, I agree with that advice. Start with what you know, what comes easiest to you, and become the best you can be in your genre, whatever it may be. Don’t try to be something that you are not unless you are ready to work very hard. Why? Because writing is connected directly to your inner self—your imagination, emotions, personal experiences—and the best writing is what comes to you naturally. Many writers rebel against working in familiar territory, but it is the place to start your writing career. The key to eventually becoming the writer you want to be is to develop your style, starting from who you are and progressing through experience and practice. As an example, I am coaching someone who is a very successful jingle and short scene writer. But he wants to write deeper, character-driven fiction, mainly to expand his voice as a writer. He and I have been working together for some time, and we are deliberately doing things to help him connect his very focused vision to a larger, ongoing story. He finds that in the process of deepening his writing skills, he is also growing intellectually and emotionally. This is very common. As your writing and creating process change and evolve, you change and evolve. It goes hand-in-hand, always.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”I often put characters into situations that I can’t get them out of, then go crazy trying to save them. As an example, one of my characters was knocked into Baltimore’s harbor and it took me forever to get him out again!-“]  The advice I gave earlier about storyboarding may help, but I also suggest you look into mind-mapping, which is a diagram to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing. Also, while you will have to develop your own unique method for resolving your characters’ dilemmas, it can be helpful to talk them out with someone, a friend or a family member. Again, I suggest you look into mind-mapping. You can google it on the Internet.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”In my current story, I’m having problems finding the right “voice” for my female protagonist, a professional Secret Service special agent who sounds and acts like a wimpy Harlequin heroine. It seems I’m having trouble identifying with today’s woman.”]The way characters—male and female—gain depth involves your own internal growth, and research. In this case, in a private consultation, I would say to you, “We’re going to go online together and google feminist literature, even radical feminist literature, and women’s voice in literature.” I would recommend other books to give you a greater “feel” for the voice of today’s professional woman. My guess is that you haven’t had enough exposure to female professionals in the law enforcement arena. So, I suggest you track down women service officers, interview and tape record them if possible, not so much for the content but more to get a sense of how they talk, how they present themselves.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”My problem is muddling the middle and losing the reader’s need to turn the page and stay in the story.”]Please know that every person gets lost/muddled at different points in their story. Some can’t get out of the gate, others experience the “muddling” when 80% through the novel, and so forth. It is a fatigue issue, and it is also tied to where your natural strengths lie and where they don’t. Usually in these situations, what works best is to stop trying to push the story at that point and go back and work on other parts, do the research you’ve perhaps been putting aside, or work on other stories you may have in the pipeline. Another solution is to switch sensory modalities. Writers predominantly use their visual (seeing) and tactile (touch) senses. Try using your auditory modality (hearing). Begin with where you’re stuck and read the scene(s) out loud to another human being. By doing this you’re not only switching sense but environment as well. Change unlocks the brain. There’s an old Buddhist saying: “Don’t push the river; it flows by itself.” You need to give the story a rest so that the incubation phase can percolate to an “aha!” moment, a break-through.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”I think a form of writer’s block accounts for my inability to complete some projects. I can write 20-30 chapters. No problem. Then I have trouble closing the deal, even with an outline.”]Kevin Aldrich, a very successful writer I know and respect, told me a story recently that ultimately sums up the bottom line for writers. He happened to hear Joel Surnow, executive producer of the television show “24” as well as “La Femme Nikita,” speak about the challenges of writing at an event a few years back. An audience member asked Joel the same question that was posed earlier in this Q&A session: “How do you overcome writer’s block?” In your case, and in your words, you have trouble closing the deal. “Over the years,” Joel responded, “I have found that you have to sit in the chair for a predetermined number of hours and not get up until you’re done.” When Kevin told me the story, I laughed and told him how true this was. I asked him how he overcame writer’s block. Like Joel, he said, he had come to believe the same thing. While there are many work-arounds, some of which we’ve discussed, the bald truth is that writing is a discipline, akin to developing a muscle. The more you do it over time, the more you’re able to do it.[/toggle]

Recorded and edited by staff writer, Camille Cira