Finalizing Your Writing Goals for 2016

A couple of weeks back I suggested you start thinking about your writing goals, both your progress on those set for this year and what you might like to accomplish in the year ahead. Now that 2016 is only a few days away, it’s a great time to get out a notebook or open up a file on your computer and start really shaping and finalizing those goals for the new year.

Whether you’ve got mental notes or written ones regarding your wishes for your writing career, start jotting them down now. Make a list of every goal you have for your writing, from the small things to the truly out-there, oversized dreams. Don’t worry if they’re attainable in the next year. This exercise is just to get an idea of the scope of your ambitions, keeping in mind that some things will likely change in the years ahead.

Once you have a list, go through and note a reasonable time frame to complete each item. Is it something you can manage in a month? Will it take several months of concerted effort? Perhaps an entire year, plugging away a bit each day? Or is it something you’d like to tackle eventually but you know is a bit out of reach for the time being, whether because your skills haven’t quite reached the stage where you’re ready or because there are many things you need to accomplish to prepare for the goal?

Now it’s time to decide what goals you’d actually like to work on in 2016. You probably have a fair idea, if you’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks. There are also going to be things that are prerequisites for others — such as finishing a book before you can submit it, or publishing something before you can achieve any sales goals. But you want to find a balance in your goals; some should be a true challenge that take a good part, if not all of the year, while others should be achievable in one-to-three-month blocks of time.

Once you’ve chosen one or two large goals and a handful of smaller ones, consider any factors that affect when you’ll be able to work on them and when you should work on them. Pencil in a potential time frame for each, such as all year, February/March, June — September, etc. Again, try to balance your schedule. Obviously year-long goals will be a constant, but try not to overlap too many small goals unless they tie together in some way that makes it necessary or you feel like you’ll have extra free time to work on them for some reason. And if a goal is large enough that it will carry into the following year, be sure to space out your efforts so that you make appropriate progress by the end of 2016.

Now that you have a rough idea of when you’ll be working on each goal, you want to come up with a couple of brief bullet points regarding the how. What do you need to do in order to achieve each goal? What steps must you take? What actions? Think about things that might distract you from your goals, and how you can avoid them. For example, if your goal is to write daily all year, but you know you get distracted by interruptions, think of ways to limit them, such as turning your phone off or activating the privacy setting, setting up an internet blocker during your writing time, or hanging a note on your door so your kids know not to interrupt unless there’s an emergency. If self-sabotage is an issue for you, come up with a little pep talk to give yourself when that devil on your shoulder is tempting you to play hooky. You want to determine both the route to your goal and how to dodge the common obstacles along the way.

Finally, break down any larger goals that have multiple steps so you have an idea of what sort of progress you’d like to make. Tackle one part of the goal each month or each quarter — whatever feels logical to you based on how intricate and challenging your project is to complete.

Use whatever system you like to organize your goals for the year. Some people simplify and just hang a list on their cork board or refrigerator, others keep detailed notes in a journal or a spread sheet. Goal deadlines and any projected completion dates should be put on your planner or calendar, including due dates for those smaller components that you’ve broken down from your larger goals, and you can set reminders in your phone if you’d like a periodic nudge to keep yourself on track. The important thing is to keep your goals accessible and to check in on them periodically in order to lessen the chance of veering off course. I recommend reviewing your progress at least at the end of each quarter of the year, at which point you can make small adjustments as necessary depending on how things are going.

Be sure to keep your original list of goals — the one that included your big, crazy dreams. It will give you a head start this time next year when you sit down to determine your goals for 2017. Good luck with setting your goals for the year ahead, and happy writing!

Writing through the Home Stretch: Day 27 of the Challenge

We’re heading into the home stretch of the December Writing Challenge. Just five days left. No matter whether you’ve written every day or just pushed yourself to write more frequently than you normally do in this busy month, I hope you’re feeling accomplished and like you have a solid writing foundation to carry you into the new year.

The goal, of course, is to keep writing in January. But that should just be the start of your ambitions. If you haven’t already been thinking about your writing goals for next year, take a look at this post and spend a bit of time doing so over the next couple of days. I’m going to be discussing goal-setting further over the course of the week, including ways to keep your ambitions fresh in your mind all year long instead of allowing them to fade into the background like so many forgotten new year’s resolutions. So get ready to commit to some new challenges.

Meanwhile, get that writing time in today. Sit down at your computer or pick up your notebook and get your words down. Remember, all the words count. Happy writing!

 

Getting Back to the Page: Some Writers on Writing

Trying to get back to writing after a day or two off can be a tricky thing. Perhaps you’re excited to write and get right to it, no problem, in which case, have at it and good for you. But you might be feeling a bit of holiday hangover — figurative or literal — that makes even the idea of thinking about your project unappealing. Or you want to write but your brain is still turned off. It happens.

For all of you struggling to get back to it, and to those of you who just would like a little writerly advice, I offer up this video of several writers talking to interviewer Charlie Rose about different aspects of writing. I hope you enjoy and that it sends you back to your desk. And just remember, all the words count. Happy writing!

Emergency Writing Prompts: Day 23 of the Challenge

Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge are inching into sticky territory. Last minute shopping, cleaning the house, cooking for the holiday dinners. You name it, suddenly you can’t put it off any longer and writing might be looking like something that should take a back seat.

If you’ve saved your two days off for the month, it might be time to use one. But if you’re still trying to squeeze in a little writing and you’re feeling uninspired with the pressures of the holiday bearing down on you, here are a few quick prompts to get the ideas flowing. Don’t forget, you don’t need to write daily on a single project, so maybe a little time to play will get you over the hump.

  • Write about the absolute best holiday memory you have, from any holiday. A party, a gift, a trip, a visiting relative. Were you a kid or an adult? Were you awed or surprised by something? Make that memory as vivid as you can and get it down on paper.
  • What about your worst holiday memory? Did you ever experience a holiday where something bad superseded the holiday celebration for your family? An ill relative, an accident, some ongoing issue? Or perhaps the holiday itself turned out disastrous. Burned dinner, no-show friends, a blizzard keeping everyone trapped under one roof for too many days. Write about a tragic holiday experience, or take what was a holiday disaster and write it as a farcical experience with the benefit of hindsight.
  • How about a character forced to spend a holiday alone? Maybe they’re stuck somewhere without the money to visit family, or they’re in a situation that won’t allow them to travel: prison, quarantine, orbiting Mars. How might they celebrate? Or regret that they can’t? Or, a slightly different take: a character celebrating with a group of total strangers. How or why might that happen?
  • Write about a family holiday from the point of view of your pet. What might your dog or cat think of the human holiday traditions? Make it serious or funny, your call.

I hope these give you a little jump start, or at least set your imagination flowing. Have fun and remember that all the words count. Happy writing!

 

Molly Crabapple on Art, Writing, and Creative Work

Artist and journalist Molly Crabapple sat down with the folks at Vice recently to talk about her creative habit and her new memoir. She has some interesting, honest things to say about the grind of working in the creative arts day in, day out. The video includes some liberal swearing and a few sketches with nudity, so please use your own discretion regarding viewing it at work or if those sorts of things offend you. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for a little creative inspiration. Pardon the link, but it didn’t want to embed for me. Enjoy!

Taking Drawing Lessons from Artist and Journalist Molly Crabapple

Writers on Writing: Ian McEwan on Finding Confidence

Day 20 of the December Writing Challenge, and you’re just about two-thirds of the way through the month. So many of you are still going strong, writing away each day, and I’m so proud and excited that you’ve gotten into the groove. In case you’re feeling a little discouraged or like you’re the only one dragging yourself to your computer on some of these busy December days, I’ve got a short-but-sweet video below to help remind you that all writers face the same challenges. So keep your head up and your fingers on the keyboard or around your pen. Happy writing!

Writing in the Face of Distractions: Day 19 of the Challenge

I am sitting at my parents’ kitchen table. My mother has the New York Times spread out next to me. My father is floating around somewhere. At the moment, all is quiet, and so I’m taking the time to post here for all my December Writing Challenge folks, as well as anyone who has tried to get a little work done in the presence of family members.

Writing with a person or people as a distraction might be the ultimate challenge. I can tune out the radio or the TV, construction noise from outside, ambient sounds from strangers in a coffee shop, and even an annoying bird chirping loudly outside my window. But what do you do when someone starts to talk to you? Your mother or sister, your child, your spouse? They have something important to say. They want your attention for some bit of trivia. Or, as is often the case with my mother reading the paper, they just want “to read this one thing to you.”

Now, my mother knows I’m working right now. I explained to her that I had to post for my blog, and that’s why I showed up at the table with my laptop in tow. I’m not on Twitter or surfing websites. I’m writing. So far this means she hasn’t felt the need to read to me from the paper. The only thing she has said since I started was that it sounds windy outside. Honestly, this, for my mother, is surprising restraint. When I was in high school, she was known to stand in my doorway and tell me things while I was working on homework, and having my nose in a book is an invitation for her to come chat at me. I am fair game at all times.

However, I explained what I needed to do. How much time I needed. And she’s respecting my wishes. So if you need to get a few minutes of writing done today while family is around, try telling them straight up that you need half an hour to get something done. Children may have a harder time with this concept, but try explaining to the older ones and showing them on the clock when you’ll be finished, then stick to that promise. With smaller ones, try finding a small project for them to work on (or, I’m sorry to suggest, a half-hour holiday special to watch) and set them up to do their “work” while you do yours.

Writing with family at home or in town for a visit can be one of the more difficult aspects of creating through the holidays, but it is possible. If you can’t steal the time away to do some writing on your own, explain to the people around you that you just need a little bit of time to finish one important thing. They might surprise you with how cooperative they can be.

Now it’s time for me to let my mom read me that one thing she’s been marking with her finger between two pages of the paper. Have a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Flash Fiction: Saying A Lot in a Small Space

There’s an old adage, attributed to many, about the speaker writing a long letter because he lacked the time to make it shorter. This can be said about a number of formats, including fiction. Short work can take more time to craft than something twice as long because each word must be made to work harder, and there’s no room for fluff or filler. Flash fiction, which typically runs under 1,000 words in length, certainly falls into this category to some extent, but if you normally tackle novels, flash fiction might end up feeling like a nice little vacation.

Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge have reached day 17 (hurray!), and may be looking for a little break. Or perhaps you’ve been switching up your projects all along. But have you given flash fiction a try? Whether you’re part of the challenge or just looking for something to spark your creativity, flash fiction might be worth your time.

If you’re new to flash fiction, consider checking out a few helpful sites to read some examples of these micro works. Keep in mind that different venues impose slightly different word counts to the format, so if you want to write your own, you should investigate before submitting your stories to make sure your particular flash fiction meets a publication’s parameters.

Literary Hub has recently posted A Crash Course in Flash Fiction, providing a list of great short stories to introduce you to what’s out there.

Author kc dyer has been hosting a Flash Fiction Festival on her blog for the month of December, with a new story going up each day, featuring both her own work and guest writers.

Flash Fiction Online features flash fiction between 500 and 1,000 words long, in any genre.

Brevity features very short nonfiction.

Many other publications include flash fiction along with a range of longer stories, so if you discover you enjoy reading them and/or have a knack for writing them, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge your interest. Good luck, and happy writing!

New Year’s Prep: Writing Goals for 2016

We’re nearly half way through December, and by now I hope many of you have discovered how capable you are of putting your writing high on your list of priorities. No matter how busy you are, you should be able to find the time to do those things that are truly important to you. It can be so easy to fall out of the habit, even with something we want to do, but if you write daily — even for a short while — you keep that momentum going. Not only do you feel good in the moment, but when you reflect back on the year, you’ll see that you’re finishing 2015 in an excellent, productive way.

This week is the perfect time to start reflecting. Did you set writing goals for the year? How did you do? Was there a particular part of the year where you felt you went off track? What things did you accomplish that maybe weren’t on your original to-do list?

Why do we look back? There’s plenty of advice saying you should just look forward and not dwell on that past, but I believe you can only move forward successfully once you’ve assessed your previous actions. That doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up for perceived failures; we all fall down on the job occasionally, or have something that doesn’t turn out the way we imagined it would. The key is to take inventory and see what was in your control, and determine a new plan of attack for the future.

Once you’ve thought about the past year and your accomplishments, you’ll be ready to set goals for 2016. I don’t like the term resolutions. They bring to mind weight loss ambitions that die out by mid-February. Instead I believe in setting goals and then laying out a plan.

So, a few things to think about this week as you go about your business:

What are one or two year-long goals you’d like to achieve pertaining to your writing? These should be sizable and consist of actionable steps that you can break down over the course of the year. If you’re part of the way finished with writing a book, your ultimate goal could be to have it out on submission to agents, something that can be broken down into finishing the draft, revisions, writing a synopsis and pitch letter, etc.

Are there smaller goals you can set deadlines for at different points during the year? For instance, something you plan to complete by the end of January, or the end of March? Aim to send out a specific number of query letters by a set date, or spend a month learning a new-to-you social media platform or useful computer program. Not everything needs to start on January 1st, either. You might want to participate in NaNoWriMo come November, for example.

Don’t make every goal directly related to publication and becoming a professional writer. Allow yourself to set some fun goals, or to learn skills that have other applications as well. Aim to treat yourself to a weekend getaway somewhere you want to visit that might be a setting for a future book. Try your hand at writing in a different genre or format as a side project, just to see if you enjoy it.

Think ahead for bigger goals that might not take place this year but which require some advance planning. Do you want to attend a certain writer’s conference but feel it’s too costly? Put it on your goal list for 2017 and start saving now. Would you like to visit your editor in New York City when you finally get a book deal? Again, that might require you start setting aside a bit of money.

Stay flexible. Remember, these are your goals. You are making them for your own benefit, so you don’t need to answer to anyone or explain yourself if you don’t complete them all in the time you set. Sometimes things take longer, or less time, or you decide that you’d rather do something else entirely. You only have to answer to yourself, and only you can determine if a goal is important to you.

These ideas should just get you started. You’ve got a couple of weeks before the new year kicks in, so spend a few minutes each day considering what you’d like to do with it. Be a little ambitious. Let yourself stretch. Reach for a couple of stars. You can do it.