Monday, June 7, 2010

All I needed to know about writing I learned with Mary Kay

I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t jumped off a cliff and signed up to become a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant 8 years ago. Over the course of a five-year period of active participation and training, a whole new world opened up to me and I’m not just talking about what lipstick shade goes best with gray shoes.
You wonder what writing has to do with skin care and color cosmetics? Not much. But here’s a list of the transferable skills I picked up: money management, time management, goal setting, prioritizing, how to make a sale, how to close a sale, positive self-talk, leadership, vision casting. I could go on and on.

Today I wanted to expand on three areas that I think are of particular importance to a healthy and active writing career: setting priorities, setting goals, and making a plan of action.


Mary Kay Ash’s credo for her company was always: God first, Family second and Career third.

1) If you are a God person, then you probably don’t need more of an explanation for why this is the number one priority. For those of us for whom God is not our go-to person, let me submit this: I think of this priority of a proscription to get right with oneself. You know the phrase “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? It’s true. If you are not well, be it mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically, you’ll have a more difficult time being true to priorities two and three. Think of this of being on good terms with your soul, the spark within you that makes you unique.

2) Family second –Your family, born or made, can help you stand or fall. They act as your barometer, letting you know if you’re doing alright or need to go back to priority one for a realignment. The best of these people create a positive feedback loop so the giving and receiving of love and support becomes amplified. A writer’s life can be a solitary one. It’s important to keep connected.

3) Career third – Third???!! Yup. Third. Not first or second, before you and your loved ones. And not, as the oath for new MK consultants says, “thirty-third, behind the laundry.” So, if writing is your career – or you want it to be your career – you need to treat it as such and bump it up the scale to number three.
Now, this isn’t to say one has no other commitments in life. We all have things pulling at our attention. But when you look through the lens of these priorities, you can cut through the muck a bit more easily. Ask yourself the next time you’re in doubt about where to spend your time: Does this fit in with my priorities? If not, you may need to say NO to whatever is trying to pull you away.


Before Mary Kay, goal setting was a complete mystery to me. Not sure I even knew what a goal truly is. Goals can be defined as: a quantifiable dream with a deadline. To put it in perspective:

Dream: I want get healthier and lose weight.
Goal: I want to lose 20 pounds by the end of the summer.

For a long time my dream was to finish a book. Last year I put that in the form of a goal: I want to finish Honor Bound so I can submit it to the Golden Heart contest.

After ten years of being in Romance Writers of America, I finally made a goal and I hit it.

The one other thing about goals? You need to write them down. There is something about getting them in black and white that makes you more accountable to the whole undertaking. And don’t be afraid to share you goal(s) with others – knowing they’ll be asking about your progress can be an effective motivating tool!


Plan your work and work your plan.

We all can feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of stuff that we need to get done. Where do I stick the JOB, the kids, the significant other, the writing, girls’ night out, the pool date, the quiet time??
Pull out your calendar. I suggest doing this for the next three months so it doesn’t feel like too much, but if you know dates further out that you’ll be busy go ahead on mark them down.

1) Ex out the time you know you are busy (day job, church, after school sports chauffeuring, etc). Ex out the birthdays, family dinners, weddings, vacations.

2) Look at the time left and plan the hours when you will write. Plan it. Put it down on paper (or Outlook, Gmail calendar, etc.).

3) Make sure you have ready access to your calendar. And check it daily. Daily. Dare I say it again? Daily. Because writing is what you’ve determined is one of your top three priorities. It may be that you can’t write every day. That is okay. But you can anticipate your next writing block and be ready to rumble when it come around. Making a time budget, like living within a money budget, can actually be freeing. Because you know where and how you’re spending your time, you’ll be able to take time “off” without feeling guilty.

Do you have any helpful tips about setting priorities and goals? Do you have a nifty way of tracking your time and being accountable? Can you buy into my list of priorities above or do you have a different take on it?



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  2. Hey, Keely! I like the distinction between dreams and goals! It's absolutely critical to define WHAT and WHEN and post milestones so you keep track of whether or not you're making it. Congrats once more on the Golden Heart final!!

  3. Keely ~ Great insights. Love it when we can apply successful business principles to our writing life. I find myself doing this all the time. Gladwell's Outliers and Maxwell's Talent is Never Enough are two leadership books that I've used to apply to my writing life. Glad Mary Kay has been such a positive influence. Leadership skills are leadership skills wherever you find them. Half the battle is identifying them, the other half is having the discipline to apply them. ;) Wonderful words of wisdom.

  4. Keely, I have such a hard time maintaining my priorities! Even when I sit down to write, I play Hearts of Freecell or check my email seventeen times. But tonight when I sit down, I'm going to say my priorities and stick to them!


  5. Hey Keely,
    Goals come and go. Discipline, now that's the key for me. Sitting down and getting it done.

  6. Oh, Keely. Including non-writing, non-day-job time in your calendar is brilliant! I need to do that. Thanks for reminding me "other" time is schedule-worthy, too.

  7. So much of writing is common senses, but we forget. Priorities, goals and putting things in writing so we don't lie to ourselves. Congratulations on the GH final! Mary Kay's Words of Wisdom seems to have started you on your road to success.

    Nan Dixon

  8. Good tips, Keely! Scheduling is a problem for me. It's exhausting, trying to fit everything in around the television lineup . . .