Highlights from LTUE 2015: Why I Love Writing Conferences!

As a writer, I’ve learned to love the conference scene. Actually, I’m completely drained by large social gatherings–evidence that I am a legitimate introvert. But here’s why I have evolved to deem conferences worthy of the energy expenditure!

This list is in context of a few highlights from Life, the Universe, and Everything 2015 (LTUE), a symposium for speculative fiction authors, which was absolutely awesome this weekend. I woke up today wired with so many ideas for my works in progress. Pretty epic for a Monday morning…!

LTUE Symposium 2015

1. The People (and Aliens, Supernaturals, Superheroes…)

I meet so many interesting writers and other creative people, which is a treat. Case in point, props to author Adam Jordan’s approach to putting a writer’s group together. Awesome!

IMG_0565

Yes, it’s a relief to get away from that intensity but for a few days there’s just something about having at least some instant rapport and understanding with people. I loved this past weekend’s Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium for this very reason.

2. The Social Challenge

That’s not to say I don’t feel awkward 50% of the time. Conferences are a nice place to reconnect with talking to real people!

Conferences are also full of organized ways to team up or participate with others. I loved this campaign at LTUE put on by “The Secret Door Society“. To include bathroom stall doors. 🙂

IMG_0562

3. The Practice (Pitch or Crit Sessions)

Speaking of challenge, I love how LTUE and other conferences offer the opportunity to book “pitch or critique sessions” with publishers and agents. It’s terrifying, yes. But it makes you get that stinking elevator speech, outline, summary, or manuscript done.

It’s the best kind of practice, in my book, because it’s not practice. It’s the real thing–well, with training wheels, I suppose. Because everyone I’ve pitched to has been understanding, encouraging, and constructively helpful to me getting better at it. I advocate taking advantage of this at conferences! It’s worth the $10-20 sign-up fee. Even though those 10 minutes will cause you days of anxiety, as they definitely do to me.

I got so much awesome feedback from my pitch to Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books. It’s pretty cool to have access to this kind of coaching and input.

4. The Creative Inspiration

The writing panel topics are inspiring, and I especially like productivity-focused presentations. I get re-inspired on how to be disciplined about my writing. This weekend, I loved Johnny Worthen’s presentation on writing a novel in 90 days. His energy and sense of humor is so infectious!

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And the character sourcing is inspiring, too. I get so many ideas just from observing other attendees. If you think airports are great for people watching, you haven’t been to a fantasy or science fiction conference.  It really is like a creativity energy-shot.

5. The Intersection with Other Art Forms

Even conferences focused on writing, like LTUE, draw other artistic forms and I love seeing those creations. Like this fabulous steampunk dragon by J. Scott Savage!

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So if you’re a writer, start finding your way to conferences! Even if it’s a stretch.

And thanks to my fellow panelists in the Madeleine L’Engle and E. E. “Doc” Smith – Space Travel – Warp Speed vs Tesseract discussion. We covered the far reaches of the galaxy with that one. I loved the audience participation and hope it sparked some creative ideas for everyone. Afterwards, I thought about how we touched on the line between hard science fiction realism and daring to broach the more speculative non-realistic. I know I’m always trying to balance those myself. It’s a fine but fun line to venture along!

Have a fantastic week…!

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13 Advantages to Dictating Your Writing

I began looking into dictation for several reasons. Like many people, I have experienced back problems which make it hard to sit at a computer and write all day. I’ve also had trouble keeping weight off since becoming a full-time writer. There, said it!

I’ve moved this to TheProductiveAuthor.com, so please click here to read the rest!

 

23 Productivity Tricks and Tips for Writers

Time

Productivity is just as important for creatives as it is for business moguls. But as creatives, we don’t have to follow the same old productivity advice. Instead, why not employ our creativity toward designing a writerly life we can actually live with?

Here are 23 such ways that got my mind churning:

1. Define and defend my first priority.

The advice to prioritize ‘first things first’ is ubiquitous but vital! Which things really are firsts for me as a writer?

Those firsts can change. Those firsts can depend on a strategy to sell versus writing what we love, or vice versa. However, we can cling to our lesser writing tasks out of fear of failing at what we most want (or need) to write.

To fight this, I do my drafting and creating first thing in the morning when my mind is fresh—not social media, not email, not editing, not strategy sessions—just pure content creation. Inverting this leads me to stagnation.

2. Keep both a to-do list and a not-to-do list.

I have taken this literally and every Friday morning I look back on the week and trim the fat. Now I have a running not-to-do list of all my distractions. It’s really empowering!

I like this process so much that I also have a not-to-buy list, a not-to-worry-about list, and a not-to-eat list.

I don’t dwell on these, in fact, I tuck these lists back away in a drawer so I can focus on the more assertive can-do, can-buy, can-ponder, and can-eat lists. But the not-to-do list is a helpful defining exercise.

3. Embrace technology tools.

This is a massive topic, so much so that I’m creating a separate site TheProductiveAuthor.com and a book series How to Write Like It’s…2015 all about technology for writers. These go live in the next couple weeks and I’m really excited. But here, suffice it to say, most writers I’ve met don’t leverage technology tools as much as they could. Desktop and mobile solutions, writing templates, apps, specialty writing software, dictation tools, research tools, social media tools…

4. Change Up Your Muses

Esther Williams Underwater

Yesterday’s muses can grow stale without us realizing it. I’m trying to stay open to new muses, from the oddest to the most everyday sources.

Recently, I rediscovered inspiration in the lost art form of aquamusicals!

You may like: Esther Williams and 5 Other Muses That Make Me Want to Write

5. Stop waiting. You don’t find inspiration, it finds you!

As much as I value muses, I get even more inspiration while actually writing. In my experience, inspiration is a by-product of being in motion rather than something which incites motion.

6. Consider a routine.

A writing routine must be sincere, meaning, just right for you.

Mine is still in progress but includes doing my most important writing first and going on a long walk every day like clockwork. When I create structural points in my day that I refuse to miss, I create a skeleton for all my fantabulous creative mumbo-jumbo to hang on.

7. Consider a writing space.

I say this hypocritically because my writing space is not a specified place, but many writers enjoy having a set, lovely work space.

As for me, I write while walking, while resting in whatever random place I’ve walked to, or lying down on my chaise. I go over how I do this in my upcoming book: How to Dictate Your Novel Like It’s…2015, on The Productive Author site.

8. Consider a writing uniform.

In the name of ritual, what might you don to signal you are officially on writing duty?

A couple years ago, I tried getting dressed like a business woman to write. That did not work for me. But I do have an ugly yet warm hoody I started calling my SuperHoody. It imbues my brain with special writing powers. It’s all about finding what weird thing is right for you.

9. Consider a soundtrack! 

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

You have one for when you run. You have one for before dates or job interviews. You have one for cleaning the house. Why don’t you have one for writing?!

You may like: My Top Ten Songs to Write To

10. Be unreasonable or reasonable.

I say this because for me, over-the-top goals create energy. I have no real expectation of achieving them, yet they get me further than when I set a reasonable goal.

For other people that’s a recipe for discontent and feelings of failure. Play with these different approaches to goal-setting.

My vote is for ridiculousness and low expectations. Way more fun!

You may like: The Power of Ridiculous Goals

11. Embrace sacrifice.

To get anything done, I have found leverage through purposeful sacrifice.

This is an arithmetic of the universe that is supposed to be uncomfortable. But I have learned for myself that sacrifice gets me more than I give up. Not that we should overdo it. Moderation!

You may like: But Have You Been Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

12. Turn your environs into a machine.

Sometimes I’ve felt like my surroundings are running the show.

Recently, I stopped and realized that the only time in my life I’ve been totally organized was when I was a missionary for the LDS church, living out of one suitcase. Takeaway? I can’t manage very much stuff. Or rather, I don’t place much value on managing stuff! But being a slob inhibits productivity. I’ve learned to calculate how much stuff I can manage in the time I am willing to do so.

The more I try to make my apartment, car, and day-to-day goings-on a machine that works for me rather than me serving it, the better. That means getting rid of anything I haven’t used in six months.

It also means taking an opportunity cost interpretation of: What does standing in this line returning crap I bought and don’t need cost me in terms of writing? 

Taking several carloads of needless stuff to your local donation center like I did this past weekend may be the best writing exercise you do this week!

13. Exercise to fuel writing.

When it comes to exercise, I like the two-a-day approach. Mid-morning and early evening are great times for an endorphin-infusion. Thinking of exercise as regenerative rather than taxing has been a game-changer for me.

14. Eat well to fuel writing. 

No Sugar

I’m a foodie and eating healthfully has been a long road for me–in fact, I still have miles to go on this one but thinking of food as fuel rather than entertainment has been another game-changer!

You may like: 5 New Insights on Vanquishing Sugar to Boost Productivity

15. Guzzle water to fuel writing. 

Many experts recommend dividing your weight by two to estimate how many ounces of water your body needs a day.

Basically, most of us need to get guzzling.

16. Try to Never Sit Longer Than 30 Minutes.

Even if I just get up and do a load of dishes, throw in a load of laundry, do a series of planks, or stand on my hands, I do my best to live by this. Chairs and couches are apparently silent killers!

I think doing intervals like this is why I’m able to focus on writing for 10-12 hours a day (but less, because again, I’m constantly taking short breaks). And I get valuable ideas in those down-times. Bonus!

17. Keep a writing journal.

A little navel-gazing can be absolutely revelatory.

When I first did this, I committed to just a paragraph a day. This is the only writing I do by hand, in an actual journal, and I just vent, vent, vent without self-editing or imagining that when I am J.K. Rowling someone will want to read it. No. It’s all spew. This continues to teach me tons about my own incongruities, negative thought processes of fear or self-sabotage, and more, which leads me to…

18. Jettison all mental and emotional deadweight.

Ramsey 2

Whether negativity is coming from myself or others, I am the one who says whether these emotional and intellectual vampires stay or go.

You may also like: Sabotage! 7 Ways to Deal with Writing Saboteurs and MMA Fighter, Writer, and Performer Ramsey Dewey on Creative Worry

19. Say ‘no’ more in general!

I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve been too abrupt about saying no to opportunities and it’s because it’s very hard for me to say no. The result is that I can be cartoonishly emphatic in order to make myself draw boundaries.

But even if I need more finesse when I say no, my life has become so much better by giving myself this permission.

20. Reduce meetings to their smallest possible form.

To the previous point, and this will sound odd in a listicle about productivity tips, I do try to do less talking about writing and more actual writing, whether that’s working with editors, co-writers, writing groups, beta readers, or my own psyche.

One of my favorite productivity books is Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, which advocates things such as having standing meetings, so that in 10 minutes everyone is too tired to keep rambling without focus. Wanting to sit down can make you highly focused.

death by meeting

21. Write differently.

I dictate much of my writing these days. It takes practice but is absolutely worth it because I can be less sedentary. Just changing my mode of writing throughout the day can also help me get out of a slump.

Again, my book on dictation comes out next week (just in time for NaNoWritMo!) so check for it here or at TheProductiveAuthor.com.

22. Read differently.

I also listen to my reading more than actually reading these days. Audiobooks. Text to speech utilites. Umano, an app where professional actors read you the news or articles from popular sites—awesome!

23. Consider being more unreachable.

I get multiple complaints a week that I’m difficult to get a hold of even though I return messages within the day, just not immediately. I usually only check social media, email, and phone a few times a day, including text messages at times. Part of me feels bad for not being more in sync with where culture has gone, but I also don’t know that being insta-vailable at all times is all that healthy. And I definitely know it’s not all that productive for a writer. Admittedly, I’m not a mom yet. 🙂

What did I miss? Feel free to comment!

My Writing Panelist Schedule for Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Courtesy of Comic

Participating as a panelist at the SLC Comic Con Fan Experience (FanX) 2014 earlier this spring was a blast, as was speaking at Fantasy Con 2014 mid-summer. 

Now the geekery continues with the autumnal Salt Lake Comic Con 2014, at which I’ll also be a panelist. Basically, Utah creates enough demand to justify a nerd conference once a season. . .at least. Winter? The awesome Life the Universe, and Everything (LTUE 2015) Sci Fi & Fantasy Symposium of course!

I am so excited. I learn so much and meet awesome people at these things. I’ll be contributing on topics of writing productivity, writing skills, fantasy, and science fiction in general, and likely relative to my two series, HulduSnoops (mystery and fantasy) and The Salt Sheen Paradox (time travel science fiction thriller).

I’ll be participating all three days, on the following panels:

Thursday September 4, 2014

6:00 pm – Comic Con Writer’s Retreat Part 1: Planning and Outlining Your Novel, Making Time to Write – Room 255C

Friday September 5, 2014

5:00 pm – Magic, Myths, Legends, Archetypes and the Supernatural: What Writers of Speculative Fiction Have to Work With – Room 255E

Saturday September 6, 2014

2:00 pm – Why We Love Time Travel  – Room 255E

If you’ve never been to one of these conferences, maybe consider this or something like it closer to you. As with previous conferences, I’ll be posting pics of my favorite costumes to social media. I know there will be so, so many…

My Top 10 Songs About Writing – #ToWriteTo

My iPod includes several songs which are either directly or indirectly about writing. For whatever reason, they inspire me to keep going with my writing projects.

Here’s my list, in hopes that you’ll add yours (here or on twitter with #ToWriteTo). I need some new tunes!

1. Open Book by Cake – While I realize this is a song about more than a woman writing a novel–it’s about the pursuit of love–the writing theme still steals the show!

Cake - Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

Cake – Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

2. Rewrite by Paul Simon. Again, he’s really singing about rewriting his life but it’s so easy to take this one literally as well. So I do. Because the work of rewriting is enough of a pain that it needs a theme song!

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

3. Crazy by Seal. I referenced this song in my recent post about how I’ve tried to take my writing commitment to the next level.

Previous Post: But Are You Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

The Single Crazy by Seal

The Single Crazy by Seal

4. Lose Yourself by Eminem. I’m a lightweight so I do have to listen to the clean version. But you can’t listen to this and not be ready to fight for your dream. Or at least I can’t.

Cover of Lose Yourself Single

Cover of the Lose Yourself Single

5. Make It Happen by Mariah Carey. I swallowed my pride to include this guilty pleasure. I can’t deny that when I listen to this, I do indeed want to work toward my dream and make it happen.

Yes, it’s over-the-top and dramatic when she refers to doing without things in order to make it as a singer, but then, I let her get away with it because it certainly can feel dramatic like that, putting this song in the same vein as my whole Seal-and-sacrificing-for-writing kick (see #3).

Album Cover for Emotions

Album Cover for Emotions

Tower of Song

Cover of I’m Your Man

5.  Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen. Because describing oneself as paying rent in the Tower of Song, or in this case the Tower of Writing, is great imagery for the often reclusive experience of doing something artistic.

I especially love these lines:

“I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long

A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song…”

Full lyrics

6. Every Day I Write the Book by Elvis Costello. He’s singing about love through the analogy of writing a book but it has an endearing duality of meaning to those of us who truly are–every day!–writing books.

Cover of Punch the Clock

Cover of Punch the Clock

7. When You Wish Upon a Star by Louis Armstrong. Yeah!!!! Disney songs never sounded so good. This version may finally convince you that the universe is on your side and fulfilling your wishes, however meanderingly. Note: I believe part of wishing is working as hard as you can and not just wishing on stars.

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

9. Young at Heart by Frank Sinatra, Micahel Buble, and others. This song’s lyrics deserves quoting in full:

Cover of To Be Loved

Cover of To Be Loved

“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart.
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in your heart, or on its way.

Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it’s much better by far
To be young at heart.

And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive!
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.”

10. Anything else pertaining to my current project. Right now I’m writing about Iceland so naturally I listen to Of Monsters and Men at least ten times a day!

Cover of My Head is An Animal

Cover of My Head is An Animal

So now for your writer-worthy tracks, be they about writing or not so much.

You could post what works for you to have on in the background, for example. My votes on that subject are Fleet Foxes and David Gray. Leave a comment here or use the twitter hashtag #ToWriteTo. Go!

But Have You Been Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

You’ve prioritized. You’ve communicated your goal to others in your life to negotiate more writing time. You’ve shown at least some discipline!

But if you haven’t committed to measures that feel a little bit crazy, you may be missing opportunities to become a more productive writer. I say this based on my experience of never getting anywhere with my writing for far too long. It feels good to finally be getting some traction on my writing discipline, so I thought I’d ramble about it today.

The more I’ve circulated among other writers, the more I’ve noticed that those who get things done often have a streak of writer-crazy. In fact, it’s very possible that Seal got it right:

“We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little bit crazy…” – Seal, classic 90s song, you’re welcome!

The Single Crazy by Seal

The Single Crazy by Seal

Some writers employ their creativity toward getting things done as if they were an interesting character in a novel–one you’d want to read about!

I want to be like those writers, not a dud. Duds don’t solve their own problems and stay in victim mode too long.

Often, they’re also unwilling to commit to significant sacrifice.

Which is not to imply that we have control over all results and conditions in our lives. But my point is that by even trying to solve our problems, we are happier than just deciding we are victims of whatever is going on.

The First Thing to Sacrifice

…is your excuses! I’m no poster child for all this, but I’ve created more time to write than many writers I know. I write creatively for 5 or 6 hours a day and usually get 9,000 words in.

To do so, I’ve had to stop feeding my internal excuses and commit to uncomfortable but rewarding innovation. I could easily not have the writing time or word count rate that I do (see my crazy dictation lady bullet below for more on how I do this). I know that for certain, because it took me a decade to get going with this writing seriously thing!

Before, I was simply not committed. I always had some thrift store that needed visiting, some tv show that needed watching “for inspiration”, or some aspect of my apartment that needed decorating.

Yet, if you asked me what my primary interest was I would quickly affirm that it was writing!

Really? Is that why I hardly ever, I don’t know, wrote?!

It’s evidence that we can be in love with something without being committed to it. At first, I’d write an hour here or there when I was in the mood. Gag!! This is the single most classic way artists trips themselves up!

To get more traction, I had to pry my excuses and lower-tier life luxuries or interests as if out of my clenched hands. I’ve had to consistently choose to write when I don’t feel like it.

11 Examples: What I’ve Sacrificed So Far

A lot of sacrifices I’ve made pivot around my decision to do without the security of a full-time job. That was scary for me because I support myself but it’s worked out fine.

I’m quick to say that I am single and without kids so I was able to commit to this decision without affecting anyone else. And yet! You know what? A lot of single, non-parental people don’t make this decision. Some of the things married, be-childed people benefit from, I surely don’t. My point is, it’s probably all sixes in the end. I had to learn to not let anyone else’s situation be an excuse for why they get to write and I don’t.

Not working full-time does not have to be something you choose. It’s just an example of doing what it takes to work it out, like these other things I’ve found useful to sacrifice:

Financial Sacrifices

  • I limit my eating out. This was pretty hard for a foodie like me. I make my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner to save money. This has actually become pretty fun. But nearly every night I have friends I could meet up with at a restaurant and I rarely join, so it’s a sacrifice!
  • I live in a small, old place. While many of my friends are buying houses or other worthy dwellings, my digs are cheap and small and similar to a college student’s.
  • I limit and economize travel. This is what I used to sacrifice for! I love seeing new places. Now that’s part of what I limit so I can be a writer. When I’ve needed to travel for research, I do so in ways which maximize adventure but not comfort. I sleep in tents, rental cars, or usually nasty hostels. This was romantic when I was 18. It’s not anymore. But it’s a sacrifice that allows me to learn and see what I want to and still be a writer!

Maybe instead of saving money you’re in the opposite situation where you should spend some money–hire that maid or personal chef!

Sacrifices of Ego

  • I say unabashedly, “Sorry, I can’t afford to do that. I’m a writer!” After years of getting a salary, I felt weird telling people I couldn’t join in for financial reasons. But the more I just said this, the more I found people were super supportive. Most cool people admire that you’re reigning in your spending to accomplish a goal or follow a dream.
  • I became the crazy dictation lady. It took me two months of practicing a couple hours a day but I trained myself to write using the Dragon dictation app. It’s uncomfortable. It uses a different part of your brain, I swear! But it tripled my hourly word count because you can talk faster than type. This means I’ve learned to ‘write’ via speaking, while walking. Despite the discomfort of people on the walking trail laughing at what I’m saying (and they do, because rambling about elves or time portals isn’t a typical cellphone conversation and people do notice). I’ve learned to have a thick skin and just smile when someone stares.

Sacrifices of Time

  • I limit my cleaning. Yup, I’m gross. Sure, I’d love to live in a cleaner place but I love being a writer more. My place is a wreck most of the time. I’m not innately disgusting, I just realize that in a given day I can either clean my floor or write a chapter. And the floor’s just going to get dirty again.
  • I limit or merge my socializing. In years past I’ve definitely tried to be at every social event, for every hour possible, even after it stopped being all that fun. Now I go to stuff I enjoy for just long enough to actually enjoy it. I also merge socializing with exercise like going on a walk, cooking dinner, or running an errand–stuff I would have to do anyway.
  • I merge reading and exercising. I go on walks while listening to audio books. I hate swimming but it’s good exercise so I bought a waterproof iPod. I get my daily laps in while listening to audio books rather than sitting around reading.
  • I limit my reading altogether. I know, this is pure blasphemy to most writers! My take on it is, that reading others’ writing is important but if you’re reading more than you’re writing, you might be more of a reader (not a writer). There comes a point where you’re consuming not producing. It’s harder to write than it is to read. That’s why we would rather read! Very few writers agree with me. But by not reading so indulgently, I create more time to write.
  • Same with tv shows. Same with movies. And I really hate it sometimes. There’s so much more I would love to watch!
  • I limit my time with other writers. Also controversial. Like many writers, I love the energy, camaraderie, perspective, and feedback from writer communities. This was a really hard one for me to reduce and nothing at all personal about anyone I’ve worked with. I just had to take a hard look at the time investment and decide to spend more of my writing time actually writing.

I totally acknowledge that even if some writers sacrificed to the hilt they would not be able to find five to six hours a day for writing. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think you or I or hardly anyone qualifies as a person with nothing else to give up. I think it’s likely that those who want to write more can find more to sacrifice without infringing on priorities like family.

Maybe not five to six hours. Maybe two. But every hour is gold to a writer, so fight for it!

How Can You Get a Little Bit Crazy? 9 More Ideas

We resist trying things that feel crazy because why? I guess it’s because we’re scared. The only remedy I’ve found is to take significant action anyway. My experience is that courage rarely feels courageous. It feels scary.

But it’s also invigorating to get a little crazy. Not irresponsible, just zany. What do you still have to sacrifice, reconsider, or rearrange, even if it feels weird at first?

Maybe not grooming yourself so much. 🙂

Maybe writing with a collaborator who does half the writing!

Maybe sacrificing even one hour of precious sleep every other day.

Maybe standing up for yourself more in a professional or personal relationship.

Maybe trying to involve your kids or significant other in your writing process (I’m sure that’s a trick), but who knows?

Maybe not working your current job.

Maybe working your current job but negotiating fewer hours for less pay.

Maybe taking the bus or train so you can write while you commute.

Maybe asking to telecommute, saving yourself a couple hours a day.

Some of those things might feel like crazy things to ask of your employer but you just never know until you try.

I don’t see myself as done sacrificing for writing. I keep finding more to trim back, more crazy to challenge myself with. So if you’ve figured out other writing productivity tricks, do share so I can up my commitment!