Protect The Work by @jenniferprobst

Please welcome NY Times Bestselling author and Cool Gus Team Member Jennifer Probst. Take it away Jen Squared!

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I’ve been thinking about a term Susan Elisabeth Phillips – one of my all time fave authors – used in one of her RWA workshops that’s been resonating with me lately.

Protect the work.

This meant different things at various times in my career. In the beginning, it meant make time to write. Between household chores and a full time job and a demanding family life, I needed to make sure I set aside time to write and follow my dream. That was hard enough.

As I became published, it meant make sure I kept writing. Stay away from consistent social media demands that keep you from completing the next book. Look for balance between trying to build a career yet keeping productivity and quality up.

When I hit the Times list, and I gained more readers and success, it meant something else. Protect the work from consistent career stress and self doubt. One day your books are the hottest thing on the market and there’s money, and bestseller lists, and lots of people who want to be your friends. When your book slides, and doesn’t sell as much as originally thought, well, there’s less noise and a lot more self doubt. Many times I would be deep into my writing, loving my story, and come face to face with a scathing review, or discover my new book is tanking, or general sales are lower than anticipated, and the book I’m working on and once loved suddenly goes flat. I’m worried about pre orders, and PR and marketing and sales. Not my new book.

Sometimes it takes me a while to get out of the hole. Eventually, after a brief panic attack, time lost on the computer frantically trying to be proactive, moaning to my husband my career is tanking, fighting the endless voices of negativity, I hear a tiny whisper in my ear.

Protect the work.

Maybe it’s my muse. Maybe my survival instinct. Maybe my soul. Doesn’t matter.

You see, it really is all about the book. Writing a good story. A story that satisfies the soul of a reader and the writer.

Isn’t that always the goal? Money is good. Success is satisfying. Lots of followers on twitters, and good reviews, and Facebook messages that stroke my ego is awesome.

But the best part of the job and the only thing that helps me sleep at night is knowing I wrote a great book. The rest, in a way, doesn’t matter. Not in the big picture.

Sure, networking and doing your job to help build success and gain readership is important. It’s part of the package. But it’s not the end game.

In the end, everything is about the book.

Write a great book and they will come. Keep writing great books and more will show up.


Clear the mechanism.

Protect the work.

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You can pre-order Jennifer’s latest release here.


Survival Friday: The Keys for Survival Team Communication

Survival Friday: Excerpt from the The Green Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Team Communication

The first issue is going to be communicating.  It is unlikely you will all be in the same place when a disaster strikes.  We are overly reliant on cell phone communication.  In a moderate or extreme emergency, it is likely that this service will either be interrupted (lack of power, towers destroyed) or overwhelmed with too many people trying to call at the same time.  On 9-11, many people were frustrated in their attempts to use their cell phones.

Also, if there is an extended power outage, even if service isn’t interrupted, will you be able to recharge your cell phones?  There are hand crank and solar rechargers for cell phones. Actually, under equipment we’ll discuss all-in-one hand crank flashlight/emergency radio/cell phone chargers.

Texting has a higher likelihood of getting through than voice, so consider that if you are unable to get a call through during an emergency.

When you consider using a GPS on your cell phone, remember that in most cases, the mapping information is being downloaded from your net.  Thus if your service is interrupted, your cell phone GPS can tell you where you are, but it might not display the map.  Consider a back-up standard GPS where the maps are loaded into the device. Also, understand that the GPS on your cell is also a way you can be tracked by people who have access to the technology.  Most people don’t understand that they are basically carrying a tracking device with them all the time (their cell phone).

There are other options.

GMRS and FRS radios work well for short distances, but their range is limited.  If you are interested in learning about radio waves, etc. go to another source.  Suffice it to say, that any system you use, make sure you test it.  A problem with these systems is they require power to work.  These usually work line of sight.  So while the manufacturer might state they work 30-40 miles, the reality is, in uneven terrain, their effectiveness will be more limited.  If purchasing these types of radios, get ones that run on 12 volt DC or rechargeable battery packs.  It helps if they can also run on conventional batteries as you should have a supply of those on hand.

Here is a hand crank two emergency radio with some decent range, the Midland XT511 GMRS Two-Way Emergency Crank:   Midland XTF11 GMRS Two-Way Emergency Crank Radio

CB radios are also an option, with greater range.  Again, power consumption is a problem.  Also, no matter what system you use, remember that anyone can be listening in on your frequency.  If you don’t live near water that people boat on, a sneaky way to communicate can be to get VDC marine radios.  The bottom line, however, is assume any transmission you make is being listened to by others.  So don’t be broadcasting to a team member “oh my gosh, we have so much food here, we don’t know what to do with it.  Hurry up and join us for the feast tonight.”  You might end up with too many dinner guests.

In Special Forces we encrypted all our transmissions.  The easiest way for your team is to have a short list of code words that mean various things.

Here are some to consider making a codeword for:

  • Link up at home
  • Link up at EERP
  • Primary shelter compromised
  • Hide site compromised
  • A system for days of the week and how many weeks hence.  This allows you to coordinate a link up
  • If you sit for a few minutes and talk it out with team members, you will quickly realize there is a bunch of information you would want to transmit back and forth.  Make up your lists accordingly.
  • Not only do code words make your communication more secure, they can also shorten your transmission time, which is always a plus as it saves power.
  • The simplest way to encrypt is to use a trigraph and the same source document and pages.

Here is a link to how we used trigraphs on an A-Team to code our messages:

Pick two times a day to make communication.  Muck like Will Smith in I Am Legend, pick a certain time when members on your team will know your system is on.  This allows you to save battery life.  It also allows you to focus on other things, rather than hanging around the radio all day.

In Special Forces we had two communications sergeants on each A-Team, an indication of how valuable we viewed this skill.  While we are now overly reliant on satellite communications, these men are trained on other types of radios, including high frequency.  A local Ham radio operator might be a good person to get to know.  They might end up being the only one getting information from the “outside” world.

There is something that can seriously disrupt communications.  A TV show called Revolution is focusing on this:  Electromagnetic Pulse.  EMP could be caused by two primary sources:  the detonation of a nuclear weapon or a natural event from space, most likely a large solar flare.  In the case of the nuke, an EMP nuclear event is actually a more likelier terrorist scenario in my opinion than a physically destructive nuclear blast.  What I mean is that for an EMP attack to be effective, the weapon does not need to be detonated inside our borders.  A short-range ballistic missile carrying an EMP or nuclear warhead launched off our coast or from a plane outside our borders could have a devastating effect, especially if it targets large centers, such as New York City.  Over thirty countries have this capability.  EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic particles.

The EMP blast would seriously disrupt our electronic infrastructure.  Your power is gone.  Which leads to your water and sewer systems being gone.  Most planes and cars would no longer work (sucks if you’re in the air when this happens, and yes I do think about it, along with that gremlin on the wing unscrewing the bolts).  Computers would no longer work.  All electronic records, unless they are shielded, will be wiped out.  Pretty much every usual means of communication would be gone.

The Story Grid: A Writer’s Tool

Every book is an adventure in writing, but there is one tool I have consistently used from my very first book and with every single one of the next 60 some odd that followed: The Story Grid.

After a couple of decades together, my wife has learned my few and far between foibles. One of them is a lack of attention to detail. I’m a big picture guy. If my wife wants to hide something from me in the fridge all she has to do is put it behind something. If she needs me to get something for her, she knows to give me very detailed instructions down to exactly what drawer, where in the drawer it is, and exactly what it is. Or I’m like Cool Gus: I’ll come back with the first ball I find.

I have the same problem writing. I can “see” the big picture of the book in my brain. But once I start writing, I tend to forget what I’ve written. So I use a physical, external device, to help me: the Story Grid.

It goes to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed) for every book as I’m writing. I fill it in as I’m writing. I use a red ink pen. Then I update the Excel sheet and print it out every day.

Every row is a scene in the book.

The columns depend on the type of story (do I need a countdown? Greenwich Mean Time?) but generally go thusly:

Chapter #; start page; end page; time/date; location; a brief summary of the action.

Here is an example from a work in progress, Nightstalkers: The Time Patrol which will be published on 25 Nov this year. In this case, instead of time/date, I use a 48 hour countdown because a clock is started leading to the end of the world as we know it in 48 hours.  Most of it makes no sense to you, but since I’ve written the scenes, it reminds me immediately of what’s been done.  It’s also a good way to see the flow of the book.


Note that what has been written ends at the beginning of Chapter 8. Everything below that is notes and future scenes that I put there as they occur to me. At the bottom are some notes from previous books in the series with terms I need, but can’t remember. Some of the terms near the bottom in bold are story loops I need to close out for various characters.  I also can add in a word count each day, to keep me on task.

Being able to put everything on one page makes it much easier for me to keep track. So if you’re not a good detail person, consider something like this. If you are a good detail person, but not a good big picture person, consider something like Jennifer Crusie’s collages, where she puts together a diorama that physically represents the entire story and can have it in her office where she can see it all the time.

On entirely different matter, we’d like feedback on these covers. We’re putting together a library sampler of all my books, consisting of one downloadable book that has every cover, author note on every book, brief description and opening chapter. We think this is a way readers can ‘browse’ my books for free. We’ll announce the launch of the sampler with links for download in a week or so here at Write It Forward. If you sign up for my newsletter (only sent out a couple times a year) you’ll have access to exclusive content from works in project I’ll be posting on-line soon, looking for reader feedback. Parts of the book from the story grid above will be the first to be posted. Sign up is to the left.

Just number them 1 thru 5, left to write, for your comments.


Survival Friday: The Keys for Organizing Your Survival Team

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Organizing Your Neighborhood/Work Place

This is particularly key in moderate emergencies.  During natural disasters such as hurricane, flood, extreme weather, wild fire, etc. an organized neighborhood can be essential to survival.  When I say neighborhood, I also mean your work place. During 9-11, offices that were well organized and had emergency evacuation plans with designated personnel acting in key positions had much higher survival rates.  Does your place of business have an emergency plan?  Is it practiced?  Remember in school when you had fire drills?  Does your place of business have the same?

One thing to ask yourself is what are the boundaries of a neighborhood?  Realistically, you’re looking at around fifteen to twenty households.  Larger than that and it can become unwieldy.

Your neighborhood might already have such a team.  If so, join it and find out how well organized and prepared they are.  If not, then take it on yourself to start one.  Usually your larger community will have resources to help you do this.  Check emergency services and the Red Cross.

Check out the resources in your neighborhood.  Do you know who your neighbors are and what they do for a living?  What special skills they have?  That person you think is a nurse going off to work in her scrubs might actually be someone who works at a kennel washing dogs. Don’t make assumptions.

You need to identify people who have the following skills and experience:

  • medical
  • law enforcement and military
  • electrical
  • leadership
  • survival
  • child care
  • communications
  • engineering
  • weapons

Inventory equipment in the neighborhood:

  • chain saws
  • winches
  • four wheel drive vehicles
  • CB and other radios
  • water purifying systems

Inventory the neighborhood:

  • where are all the natural gas meters and propane tanks?
  • who needs special help?  Focus on the handicapped, the elderly, and children who might be home alone at periods of the day.
  • each household should have large placards made up with OKAY on one side and HELP on the other.  Use fluorescent colored poster board available at your local supermarket.  Have this stored near a front window under a rug.  Display as needed.
  • determine where the neighborhood gathering site will be.  People should go here before trying to run around and rescue others.  Organization saves time and lives.
  • have a contact list tree.  In the military we always had alert systems.  This is a way of communicating so each person knows who they are responsible for contacting.



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