You Should Be Listening to Metal Right Now

Parental-Advisory-psd12954Folks who know me already realize I’m a huge metal head. I cut my teeth on Sabbath and Iron Butterfly, saw everybody from Iron Maiden to Anthrax to Faith No More in high school, played bass in a short-lived metal band, and have continued to love the metal well past the age benighted souls might have suggested I outgrow the tendency.

Here’s the thing about heavy metal: it’s good for you. It makes you smarter. It energizes and empowers. It relieves stress. Beyond those generalities, my experience as a solopreneur and general kicker of ass has taught me five ways metal is the best possible genre for empowerment and self-actualization available.

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Top 10 Books of 2018

Hi all. Some of you saw this photo over on Facebook, my top 10 books I read in 2018. Here’s more details about all of them, including my putting a stop to the “in no particular order” part of the FB post.

10. The Kull Stories, by Robert E. Howard

This is old school pulp, set thousands of years before Conan roamed Hyboria. I read it because I got an assignment about it over at Modiphius games, and was pleasantly surprised how philosophical and interesting the adventurers of this ancient fictional king were. A quick read like most old pulp, worth the time and worth coming back to.

9. Blades in the Dark, by John Harper

One of two tabletop role-playing game manuals to make my list this year, it’s on the top ten for some really innovative mechanics and for making an extremely evocative and colorful world. I feel like the city of Duskvol is as real as Nero Wolfe’s townhouse or the Enterprise. Worth playing (which I have) or simply reading for parts.

8.Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher

A collection of short stories intended to hold us over in the near-half-decade that’s lapsed between Skin Game and the upcoming Peace Talks. Really enjoyable return to the world of Harry Dresden, especially the Bigfoot stories and the zoo trip novella at the end.

7. Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of, by Jason Durall & Others

The platonic ideal of a tabletop role-playing game manual. The rules are interesting, innovative, and balanced at the exact sweet spot of flexibility vs. crunch. The world is, naturally, stirring for anybody with a sweet spot for epic fantasy. The production quality is outstanding, even for the publisher’s high-production-value lines. A solid book. Can’t wait to play it.

6. #Republic, by Cass Sunstein

Probably the least fun but most important read for me of the year. Cass was a social media advisor to President Obama, and this book is her scientific and legal breakdown about how current usage of social media is damaging to an informed democracy. She supports the argument with recent, well-constructed studies on how people form, change, and keep opinions, and ends the book with several suggestions as to how we might change things to create a more informed, less polarized, voting public. TL/DR: stop unfriending that one uncle. It harms your brain and makes you a less effective participant in democracy.

5. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

I’m late to the party on this Newberry Winner, but finally got around to reading it. There’s a big twist so I won’t do any spoilers. Just know it’s some of the best YA out there right now. Emotionally powerful and page-turning, with excellent characterization. You’ll finish it in an afternoon, so what are you waiting for?

4. A Blade of Black Steel, Alex Marshall

I could go off for weeks on all the parts of this second book of the Crimson Empire trilogy I loved. It’s epic, gutter fantasy with terrible people doing wonderful things. Amazing, varied ensemble cast. World-threatening events. True heroism and 90 pages of the finest mayhem I have experienced in fiction or real life. As a bonus, it’s LGBTQ friendly but not in an obtrusive way. People just are who they are, and nobody thinks it’s any of their damn business.

3. I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya

In this memoir, Ms. Shraya discusses two of the ways my gender is capable of sucking. She talks about growing up as an effeminate male, and the bullying that engendered. Then she talks about living as an adult female in a world where women have to worry about their safety, just, all the time. I’ve been struggling somewhat with the whole transgender concept for a few years, and I learned a lot from this brief, gut-punching essay.

2. The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline

A story of what happens when the world starts to end, and the powerful decide to harvest an entire ethnic group as medicine. It’s a YA novel with enough meat for adults, and written with a lyrical beauty that’s what would happen if Ray Bradbury had a baby with Sharon Creech, and force-fed that child on Aldous Huxley, Gary Paulson, and Leslie Silko. Read. This. Book.

1. The Ghost Keeper, Natalie Morrill

So listen. I’m very, very male. I cry twice a year, tops. This book used my entire allotment of tears for 2018. It’s a holocaust story about events around the holocaust, and how surviving it impacted the characters. Told through a pair of lenses at different times, it’s the best work of literary fiction I’ve read this year, and in at least two years before 2018.


And that’s the lot of them. What did you read this year that just set your brain on fire?

9 Habits: Keep Score

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

We all have desires for our writing careers, whether it’s making $150,000 a year from home or getting that novel published. The thing is, most writers don’t make those desires real goals.



By “real goal” I mean something you’ve expressed in a way that’s measurable and specific, attached to a time limit, written down, then checked regularly.

  • You make it measurable so you’ll know when you’re done, and how much progress you’ve made at any given time.
  • You attach a time limit by setting a specific date by which you promise yourself you’ll be finished. With large goals, it’s a good idea to split it into smaller chunks along a timeline, such as writing a page a day to finish a 300-plus page book in a year.
  • You write it down to give the goal psychological importance and permanence. Steve Maraboli once said a goal you don’t write down isn’t a goal. It’s a wish.
  • You check it regularly to keep yourself inspired, and to confirm your daily decisions and progress are in line with reaching your goals.

You might have heard of SMART goals, which is a decades-old way of checking to see if your goals are really goals, or if they’re just wishes. I’m a big believer in this, so much so that I wrote a blog post about it.

Metrics and Key Performance Indicators

Keeping score is a matter of tracking your progress toward all of your goals. Metrics are how you keep score. They are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With 120 students and a staff of over 20 employees and volunteers, I had a lot of metrics to track. In my simpler life as a freelance writer, I track only a few.

Each of these metrics is like a vital sign. They tell me how “healthy” my writing business is at any given time, and — because I know how they work — if one number isn’t up to speed it gives me some ideas of how to fix it.

Every week, I go over these numbers.

  1. How much money I’ve earned by writing.
  2. How much money I’ve been paid for writing (sadly, not always the same as number one)
  3. How many posts for my blog and social media presence I’ve completed.
  4. How many action items – for example writing a scene or editing a chapter – I’ve completed on book projects.
  5. How many pitches I’ve sent to potential clients or new magazines.
  6. How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
  7. Whether or not I’ve completed my weekly administrative tasks.

I hold myself to specific standards for each week, and plan my weeks to make sure I reach the monthly numbers I’ve promised to myself. The specific numbers are tied to my needs, my schedule and what my clients are asking me to do. Over time, the individual pieces add up to success.

It’s also important to identify one to three Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a given week, month or quarter. These are the numbers that really tell you how you’re doing, and which — if they don’t look good — could threaten the health of your writing career. 

If the metrics are your blood pressure and body fat ratio, the KPIs are whether or not you are breathing and able to move your legs.

My KPIs change based on what I’m focusing on at any given time. This quarter, I’m focusing on earning my monthly minimum income, and building my mailing lists and social media following. Thus, my KPIs are:

  • Amount of money earned and paid
  • Number of “meaningful contacts” made for potential followers

Watch both kinds of numbers and you will see your writing business grow. Fail to keep an eye on them, and if you succeed it will be a matter of luck. You can’t control luck, and you sure shouldn’t rely on it. 

Ways To Keep Score

Really, any system that keeps your finger on the pulse of your writing business is a good system. If you already have a good handle on this, don’t go looking for a new system to learn and apply. If you don’t already have a system for tracking your metrics, here are a few that work pretty well.


It’s possible you already use this for your family finances. Apply the same concepts to track your progress toward earning a month’s worth of income, accumulating finished pages for your novel, and sending enough queries out to get the clients you want.


I use whiteboards to track my daily assignments. They’re easy to update as my day progresses, and they’re right there on the wall to remind me to stay on task. I have a big one for my work station wall, and a little one I carry around with me. You can do the same thing on a piece of paper, a drawing pad, or whatever else suits your fancy.

Professional Software

The advantage of professional metric tracking software is it’s the perfect tool for the job, fine-tuneable to your exact needs and built with tools to remind you about important assignments. Some will even lock down the games on your computer if you’re too close to deadline without showing sufficient progress. The bad news is these are expensive, sometimes very expensive.


Apps are the flip side of the professional software coin. They’re cheap or free, but don’t have the robust tools and easy customizability of the bigger suites. Still, a simple reminder app like Remember the Milk can combine with a to-do-list app to track a lot of your basic metrics.

The 3/4 Double-Whammy

As you recall from the last post, Habit Three is all about “Acting Your Age” and being responsible within your writing business. This habit is about getting serious with the metrics and numbers that drive your success.

If you’re slacking on Habit Three, it can become easy to let your numbers fall because tracking them isn’t very entertaining and besides, there’s Netflix to watch. This can end very badly for your and your writing.

But if you’re strong on Habit Three, Habit Four becomes pretty easy. Just promise yourself you’ll keep an eye out here, then keep that promise.

Simple enough?

9 Habits: Act Your Age

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

This habit is the scourge of freelancers of all stripes, but especially creative types like writers, web designers, musicians, and artists. If writing nonfiction is the habit that’s the most important, this is the one that’s most commonly missing among the people I coach.

The thing about freelancers is we fired our jobs for a reason. We went out on our own because we were sick and tired of being told what to do. We all thought we were smarter than our bosses, and we knew for damn sure we were better looking. We may even have been right, but do you know what we’re all worse at than our old bosses?

Being A Boss.

And that’s where so many writers get into trouble. We’re great at writing. Some of us are even good at planning long-term projects, but as a group we’re pretty terrible at following through on our plans. The sad truth is that if we were good at the daily grind of getting stuff done, we’d be happy punching a clock for full-time work with benefits and paid vacation. The result of this is a host of obstacles between the average writer and the freelance income you need.

Common symptoms of a Third Habit Deficit include:

  • Turning in assignments late
  • Working until 2 in the morning to turn in something on time
  • Having no clear budget, and no solid idea of how much money you made this month
  • Forgetting to invoice clients
  • Showing up late
  • Having to leave early
  • Not sticking to a budget you create
  • Slow or frustrating communication with clients
  • Constant worry about if you’re forgetting something
  • Constant worry about money
  • Having to miss family commitments to finish work
  • Taking on more work than you have time for
  • Finding yourself with insufficient work to fill your time
  • Disorganized time
  • Looking for key materials in your office, files or hard drive when you should be writing
  • Taking basic requests for change personally
  • Working poorly with editors
  • Knowing about solutions to your problems, but never having time to learn how to implement them

Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you resemble the above remarks. They’re epidemic among freelancers and consultants. Most of us are constitutionally challenged when it comes to professionalism and organization. I resemble those remarks more days than I care to admit. 

The good news is this is true of nearly all of us, which means if you conquer this disadvantage by building a contrary habit, you’ll have a competitive edge over all the competition who haven’t.


A couple weeks ago I was visiting friends and family out of town during a long-planned trip. By chance, I also had two huge assignments due by the end of the week. I mentioned this to two literary agents, a film editor, and a professional writer.

All four of them made noises about how turning in a week late was still considered on time, or even early. They made it clear that industry-wide, deadlines are these porous concepts that nobody takes very seriously.

Which is good news for those of us with a Third Habit deficiency…but even better news for those of us who turn in on time regularly. When I made noises back to the effect of I know, but being on time is kind of my thing, they looked surprised and impressed.

Be Polite, Even When You Don’t Want To

A few years back, I did a series of blog posts for a medium-sized business in Los Angeles. As we were wrapping up the deal, my client told me I beat out 150 other applicants to get the gig. I asked him if he’d mind telling me how I floated to the top of that heap. He said that 98 percent of the applicants obviously hadn’t read the entire job description, done basic research into his industry, provided work samples or even bothered to spell-check their cover letters.

That goes beyond basic professionalism and into the realm of common courtesy. It’s not okay to ask somebody for money while simultaneously demonstrating no regard for or interest in that person. Professionalism starts with being polite, whether it’s this kind of research or simply thinking about how your decisions impact the time, stress or success of the people you do business with.

The Solution

We’ve established that we freelancers are bad at this, and that being bad at this keeps us from making the living we want. You’ll not I don’t say “the living we deserve,” since maintaining unprofessional habits means we don’t deserve to make any more money than we’re already making.

So how do we fix it?

We find a boss.

I don’t mean going back to a regular job. That defeats the whole purpose of having a freelance career. I mean find somebody who will hold you accountable for your success, and who you’ll listen to when you make them kick your ass. Whoever you choose needs to be able to:

  1. Make you commit to timelines and deadlines for finishing your projects.
  2. Touch base with you on your progress in a way that encourages you to stay on schedule.
  3. Chide you as gently or firmly as you need when you fail to keep your promises to yourself.
  4. Encourage you when you don’t feel like doing something important.
  5. Do all of the above without the kind of drama that leads you to rebel and sabotage your own success.

When I mention this to coaching clients, a lot of them immediately think of a spouse. That’s a natural idea, but in most cases it’s also a mistake. There’s too much emotional baggage, and too much ignoring of one another, in most marriages for this to succeed. Instead, try

  • A parent
  • A sibling
  • A former co-worker
  • A former boss
  • A writing group
  • A random friend

If you’d rather not work with somebody you’re that close to, my Iron Writer Community on Facebook provides some basic accountability to people, along with a group of freelance writers who commiserate and give one another advice when needed.

You can also take advantage of the burgeoning mobile worker community, which has meetups in most cities where work-from-home professionals of all stripes get together for companionship and accountability. Sometimes a like-minded stranger is a better person for giving this kind of advice than even your closest friends.

Exactly who you choose to hold you accountable is up to you, but you must have somebody. I meet weekly with a friend who owns a small motorcycle accessory business. We act as one another’s accountability partners – him for my writing, me for his shop. That works for my business writing. For my fiction projects, I meet with a writing group every other week…and they give me static if I haven’t delivered the chapters I promised.

Write Like Hell: Goals

Some folks who follow the blog, or connect with me over on social media, know about my Write Like Hell program. It’s a year-long program of coaching and accountability designed to get participants supercharged in their progress toward being a published and/or professional writer.

I was taught early on to lead by example, so here are my goals for the program. I’ll post at the end of each month with my progress, so the whole damn world knows whether or not I’m sticking to it.


Setting Effective Goals

smart goal setting for business writing coachBefore I get into the goals themselves, I want to address why the goals look like they do. It’s based on a few rules for making goals as motivational and effective as possible. I’ve posted on this before (and have a new post coming soon), but here’s some key guidelines you’ll see in action in this post:

  • They must use numbers: results must be measurable by numbers, and there must be a specific deadline for each goal. Without numbers, goals are just ideas you’d like to see happen.
  • They must be in my control: I’ll never set the goal of “sell 10,000 copies in a month” because I can’t make that happen. Instead, I’ll set the goal of performing Acts of Marketing that are likely to produce those sales. I can’t control who buys my books. I can control whether or not I get off my ass and chase those sales.
  • They must be realistic: if I don’t believe I can accomplish the goals I set, I’ll never really be motivated to pursue them. Some folk disagree, saying they can chase an impossible dream and be happy with what they do get. To me, that’s just starting the process with permission to not reach your goals.

One last rule for setting effective goals: I must give a damnIf the goals don’t serve something I care passionately about, then I’m not going to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish them. Every goal I set leads me toward someplace I deeply want to be. To that end…

The Long Game

I start any goal-setting session for myself or with my clients by thinking about where I want my goals to take me. Here’s how I did it for myself.

First, know that the Write Like Hell program has each person identify five categories of goals:

  • Writing
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Health/Fitness
  • (Bonus/Wild Card)

For each of those, I looked at where I am, and where I want to be in five years.

Writing & Career: I currently make most of my money from work-for-hire arrangements like ghostwriting, online content, and magazine articles. In five years, I want to make my money exclusively off my own writing (plus a few assignments in the role-playing game industry, because I love doing those).

Relationships: I currently have good relationships with my wife, kids, and friends. One of the kids is transitioning to living out of the house (he’s 18 and off to seek his fortune). I also have a bad habit of going long spans without connecting with friends who are off my immediate radar, if you know what I mean. In five years, I want those relationships with my wife and kids to be just as strong, and to strengthen my relationships with friends and family not in my daily contact sphere.

Fitness: Between being married, getting busy, and a couple of injuries I’ve let myself go a bit in the past two years. In five years, I want to be back in 100 push up, 5 mile, flat belly, black belt shape. I also want to knock the rust off much of my kenpo, and achieve a purple belt in brazilian jujitsu.

(Bonus) Self-Publishing: I currently earn between $150 and $250 a month from my self-published works, plus $4,000-$5,000 from crowdfunded projects. In five years, I would like that number to equal a total of $60,000 a year.

Now that I have my five-year goals, to which I am attached, I can set my one year goals and divvy out my promises to myself for November.

Writing Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have finished three YA novels for traditional publication. These will include:

  • Bushido Chronicles 2: Fighting Upstream, turned in to my publisher Not a Pipe by November 30, 2018.
  • Rio Sangre, finished and sent to at least 50 agents (or accepted by an agent) by March 30, 2019.
  • Bushido Chronicles 3: Title Pending, turned in to my publisher Not a Pipe by Aug 31, 2019.

 For November, my goal is to finish the penultimate draft and receive feedback notes by November 30th.

Career/Marketing Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have substantially increased my social media following and mailing list subscriptions through the following initiatives:

  • Completed and set up an implementation schedule of Russell Nohelty’s Sell Your Soul course by Nov 30, 2018.
  • Directly invited a total of 1,000 writers (including people at speaking engagements) to my Iron Writer Facebook Group by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Engaged in 24 public announcements of my Iron Writer Facebook Group by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Directly invited a total of 2,000 people to join my two mailing lists by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Engaged in 48 public announcements of my two mailing lists by Sep 30, 2019.

For November, I have the following goals. Finish the Sell Your Soul course by Nov 16. Create an implementation calendar for same by Nov 30. Invite 10 people each a week to join my Iron Writer Facebook Group, my Break From HOKAIC writers’ newsletter, and my Martial Arts Social Media Pro newsletter. Announce Iron Writer and both newsletters individually on Facebook twice each. Make 12 contacts for publicity opportunities around my communities.

Relationship Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have taken action to enrich my relationships with the people in my life. These actions will include:

  • 12 date nights and 4 retreats with my lovely and talented wife by Sep 30, 2019
  • Going on 24 excursion adventures with my youngest son Gabriel by Sep 30, 2019
  • Made 100 quality check-ins with my oldest son DJ by Sep 30, 2019
  • Hosted 20 family dinners at my home by Sep 30, 2019
  • Made 300 quality check-ins with friends and family who aren’t in my day-to-day connection sphere by Sep 30, 2019.

For November, that means a date night with Rachel, 2 excursions with Gabriel, 8 check-ins with DJ, 2 family dinners, and 30 check-ins with other people I care about.

Fitness Goals

By September 30, 2019 I want to be back at my “fighting weight” of 190 pounds and achieve flawless execution of 6 of my kenpo katas. Toward that end, I will perform the following:

  • Walk, run, bike, or swim a minimum of 150 hours.
  • Perform 15,000 repetitions of pushups, situps, and superman twists.
  • Perform physical therapy for my left shoulder and right elbow so I’m off the disabled list.
  • Perform 1,200 repetitions of various katas.

For November, my plan is to perform 10 hours of cardio, perform 1,000 repetitions of the calisthenics, engage in daily PT stretching, and perform 100 repetitions of short one kata.

Bonus Goal: Self Publishing

Moving toward self-publishing success means pushing my Random Encounters series and my Kickstarter presence. By Sep 30, 2019, I will have:

  • Self-published 5 volumes of Random Encounters, Season 2. 
  • Self-published the print anthology edition of Random Encounters, Season 2.
  • Delivered 9 editions of a Random Encounters newsletter.
  • Successfully Kickstarted the Itty Bitty Writing Space anthology.
  • Successfully Kickstarted one other self-publishing project, exact nature to be determined.

For November, I will achieve the following. Establish a template and style for the RE newsletter. Release Episode 1 of RES2. 


This Ain’t Your Mom

It’s not easy. It’s not cheap. Write Like Hell was initially inspired by Tom Callos’s now defunct Ultimate Black Belt Test. I completed that program three times, and it utterly changed my paradigm for what I’m capable of accomplishing in a year.

So I’m pushing hard because my family deserves to have me at my peak, physically, emotionally, and with my career.

If you’d like to know more about Write Like Hell, email me or find me on Facebook. We’re full up for enrollment this year, but you can get on the waiting list.

Till next time, then. What are your goals for this month?