Writing Goals: Planning for 2017

The new year is on the horizon, and at this point many people start to draft their new year’s resolutions. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I’m not really a fan of the idea of resolutions. The concept brings to mind vague promises to get thin or save more money, usually broken by sometime in February. What I am a huge fan of, however, is goal setting.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal, you ask? For me, making goals is all about setting concrete, measurable achievements to aim for in a specific amount of time, complete with a list of tasks needed to hit them as planned. While I don’t always manage to make all my goals, I find this approach to be much more successful overall than the resolution route.

Begin by aiming high. I like to dream up one or two big things I’d like to accomplish over the course of the year. Things that will take all the way until December. These can often be broken down into smaller, mid-point goals that keep me on track. For instance, if the goal is to sign six new clients, I’d aim for one every 6-8 weeks.

Next, outline some smaller goals. Everyone loves a sense of achievement. It encourages you to keep striving. So think of goals that won’t take anywhere near an entire year to accomplish. Maybe you have a few 30-day goals, and three or four that might take 4-6 months.

Determine what each goal will require of you. For each goal, you need a game plan — a list of tasks you need to perform in order to achieve your end result. These might include doing something entirely new, stepping up your productivity in a certain area, etc. If I go back to my hypothetical goal of six new clients, I might dedicate more time to reading submissions, spend time seeking out likely sounding authors by reading shared work on various online forums, agree to judge some writing contests, etc. Some of the tasks on your list might end up small goals you can check off — like researching a topic for a book, purchasing the domain name for a new author website, or making a list of agents to submit to.

Design your Goal Calendar for 2017. Take a look at your schedule and figure out when you want to tackle the short-term goals from your list. Keep in mind that some small goals should get pushed until later in the year. Don’t try to tackle everything at once on January 1st; that just leads to frustration and fatigue. Consider any travel plans you might have or big work projects that you anticipate keeping you especially busy, and work around them. And remember that your long-term goals will also be taking place across the span of the entire year. If you’ve broken them down into smaller chunks, place those goal due dates on your calendar as well.

There you go! You’ve got your plan for the year and a road map for how to achieve your goals. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that. You’re going to want to put a little time into planning what your goals are. Consider what you’ve achieved this year, where you’ve hit your targets and where you’ve fallen short, and how that might reflect on your choices for 2017. Plus, remember that all of this is yours to design and to alter as you go. The best plans are flexible. Sure, you should strive to achieve the things you’re aiming for, but be honest with yourself and allow those goals to shift and develop as the year progresses, if circumstances call for it. Life happens, and that means what you want to achieve right now might not be what you want to work toward come September.

Whatever your goals — for writing, for improving your health, for spending more time with your family — this approach will allow you to create a concrete plan for achieving them without becoming overwhelmed or losing sight of your targets. Happy planning, and best of luck for a wonderfully productive 2017.

 

Happy Halloween!

(c) Can Stock Photo/ mythja
(c) Can Stock Photo/ mythja

It’s a day known for candy, for costumes, for scary stories and haunted houses and a final settling into the autumn season. So whether you plan to take your little ones out for some trick-or-treat fun, read a great old horror novel, or simply steal some time to work on plotting out your NaNoWriMo novel so you’re ready for tomorrow, I wish you a fun-filled, safe holiday, complete with all the best sorts of thrills.

2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair: A Quick Roundup

As previously mentioned, I recently spent three days wandering around the Los Angeles Convention Center with some 13,000+ writers, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and other assorted writing-related people for the 2016 AWP Conference and Book Fair. This isn’t the normal sort of conference I attend. Mostly I go places where they stick me on a panel or have me stand behind a podium and answer questions, and then at some point I will sit across a table from a parade of writers and listen to pitches or possibly critique first pages of their work. What made AWP16 so different and so much fun (not that I don’t enjoy my normal conference experience, because I do) was that this time around I was flying somewhat under the radar. I was an attendee rather than a participant, which meant I had the opportunity to go to panels and sit in the audience and listen to what other people had to say.

Over the course of three days I sat in on some 10-12 panels on a variety of subjects, including a session on visual narrative that looked at illuminated books, graphic novels, and participatory storytelling such as gaming apps; a panel of agents discussing equality and gender on the business side of publishing; the use of film techniques to engage readers in young adult literature; ideas for harnessing the social media skills of a group of writers to provide support and cross marketing; subjects that are (or are not) taboo in young adult fiction; and a discussion of the realms of real and unreal in writing. There were conversations with writers I knew and others I had just met, and hours spent wandering the floor of the main hall where hundreds of small presses, publishers, literary mags, MFA programs, poetry chapbook authors, PR people and others had set up their tables.

Publishing has always been a moving target, an ever-evolving industry that changes shape at the rate of storm clouds. But some trends trumpet more loudly than others. I heard a lot of discussion and debate about diversity in all of its permutations, from the need for more diverse people working in publishing to the importance of championing varied characters in books as well as a spectrum of writers to tell their stories. There were in-depth looks at ways to promote work in this age of social media and a steady increase in competing forms of entertainment, and thoughts on how to harness some of the new forms of technology to tell stories in fresh, exciting ways. But there were also still people lugging tote bags filled with newly acquired books — paperback and hardcover alike. There were halls filled with enchanted listeners as writers read from their latest releases. I saw many aspiring writers bent over notebooks, frantically scribbling notes on advice from the pros. Some things remain forever the same.

There’s no graceful way for me to share every nugget of information I absorbed in those three days. Instead, I offer up a few links to sites and books that I heard about that might provide some inspiration or at least food for thought.

In terms of visual narrative:

Bats of the Republic by Zach Dodson – an illuminated novel that includes hand-drawn maps, letters, and other items that join with the text to tell the story.

A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer – an illuminated novel that features 101 books ostensibly authored by the title character.

PRY novella by Tender Claws – a novella and an app that allows reader interactions designed to put you in the narrator’s experience/thoughts.

In terms of the changing face of publishing:

Literary Publishing in the 21st Century – essays by a variety of writers, editors, etc. on the future of the industry, including the effects of technology, the fight for diversity, and more.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts – home of the famed VIDA count, which holds magazines accountable for their diversity (now newly expanded to include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and ability).

In terms of marketing:

Tall Poppy Writers – a marketing collective started by a group of women’s fiction authors and now somewhat more broad in its scope, the purpose of which was to share social media knowledge and talents and to support each other’s book launches and careers.

Anyone interested in AWP’s annual conference and/or membership in the organization should check out their site: Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

 

A Poetic Pep Talk

Everyone has an off day. One where the writing won’t come, the words won’t cooperate. One where you can’t even get to your writing because your kid has the measles or your boss slams you with a project that keeps you working overtime all week, and the only thing you truly want to do once you finally get a break is to fall down on your couch with a pint of ice cream and a spoon and something cheesy on TV. And that’s fine. It’s human. Just remember that the writing will be there the day after, and you will get up and go write.

For anyone struggling today, or just in case you want a bit of poetry in honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll leave you with the wondrous Maya Angelou and her words of wisdom.

 

More Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers

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In years past, I’ve posted some fairly extensive lists of suggested gifts for the readers and writers in your life, or that you might want to hint about to people wondering what to buy for you. This year I’m being a bit more low key about it, as I’ll admit I’ve not done as much scouting for cool writerly stuff recently. Last Friday I posted a few links to some great gift lists other sites have compiled, and today I’m going to share some of my favorite items to round them out. Please note, this is not a sponsored post, merely a list of items I personally have used/read/found useful.

Writing Tools

Writers write, so it’s a no brainer to pick up something they can write with. This can mean stuffing their stocking with an entire box of their favorite everyday pen from the stationery store (I’m fond of the Pilot Precise V5 extra fine, personally), or investing in a lovely refillable pen that they’ll cherish for years to come. Many writers are members of the cult of the fountain pen, and the sea of colorful inks they can use, but there are also rollerball and ballpoint pens that come with nice gift boxes and refills available. I recommend Goulet Pens for their enormous selection, informational videos, and excellent customer service, but an online search will also net you the name of your nearest stationery store that stocks pens and pen supplies.

If you’re looking to gift your favorite writer (or aspiring writer) with a new writing program for their computer, check out Scrivener. Many authors swear by this multi-faceted program that allows writers to compile their story in any way they wish — linearly, piecemeal, etc. — and include research, references, and inspirational photos all in a single file. The program is available for both Mac and PC, and can be found at Literature and Latte, along with helpful video tutorials.

Whether a writer prefers to write longhand or on the computer or a combination of both, they can always use a pocket-sized notebook on hand to jot down ideas or bits of information when they come across it. I love these little Field Notes notebooks. They’re sturdy enough to take a bit of throwing around, but not so precious that you worry if a corner gets bent or the cover gets a coffee stain on it. They come with your choice of interior — lined, plain, or graph paper — or you can purchase a combo pack.

Books for Writers

I’ve a few go-to writing books that I recommend when asked or during presentations. This year I’ve added a new favorite to the bunch: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. It’s a quiet little book that’s part memoir, part advice for how to navigate the challenges of a creative practice.

A similar-yet-different book that I’ve recommended for years is Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. See comes down more on the advice side of things, with a number of practical tips for writers regarding things to consider before they even get a book deal.

For a book that focuses more on craft, check out The Making of Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante. This big, detailed book includes both exercises and readings, just as you might expect from a Norton book of this type.

More General Books

Whether you’re looking to give a book to a reader who just reads or one who writes as well, book subscriptions or mystery boxes can be a fun way to go. Book Riot currently has a book package on offer featuring four of the best books (by their estimation) of 2015, all of which they believe have flown somewhat under the radar (meaning it’s less likely someone’s already read them all). The book also includes three bookish-items (think tote bags, magnets with book covers on them, etc.). They also have a seasonal subscription that features a new bookish box quarterly, and a second one focused on young adult books.

Or create your own! Pick a few of your favorite reads from the year and assemble a box with some other bookish treats — tea and shortbread, a fun bookish bag, a small reading lap, etc.

Other Odds and Ends

If you don’t want to go the obvious route (reading and writing), think about some of the other things a reader or writer might appreciate. My favorites include:

Coffee or tea: One or the other is likely to please. Make up a nice gift basket or fill a stocking with an assortment pack.

Gift certificates: For a massage, manicure and/or pedicure, or anything else that will ease them after hours at a desk.

The gift of time: Promise them a break to read or write while you take their kids out for the day; provide them with a professional housecleaning; or give them a long weekend in a nearby inn or hotel, either to relax or to get their manuscript done.