Writing Goals: The Slide to 2017

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We are rapidly heading into the last third of the year, so today is an excellent time to take a few minutes to assess your writing goals and progress for 2016 and to determine just what you’d like to accomplish in these last four months. Whether September represents autumn to you or heading back to school or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it kicks off a busy time of the year, when everything seems to ramp up and it’s a race to get things done before the holidays hit. Every year I know that, once Labor Day weekend arrives, it feels like just a short hop to New Year’s Eve. So I plan. Ruthlessly.

At some point today or tomorrow, dig out that calendar or spreadsheet or list that you used to set your writing goals for 2016. Is there anything you can check off? Anything that no longer seems pertinent to your big picture plans? What progress have you made on longer term goals? Is there something that’s fallen by the wayside you’d like to revisit? It should only take a few minutes to glance through your goals and figure out where you stand.

Now, please don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t going according to schedule. Goal-making should be motivating and inspirational, not send you into a funk. Be reasonable about your efforts and what life has thrown your way, and be honest about whether or not you’ve done the best you can. If you can step things up a little, great. Set that as one of your goals in the coming months. If you’ve been overwhelmed with responsibilities and life’s curve balls, accept that sometimes things happen that force you to take a longer route to your goals, and cut yourself a little slack. Celebrate your successes, then see how you can refocus in the future.

Also, keep in mind that like most things in life, a writing career is not all forward momentum. There will be weeks when you make great leaps in progress and others when it feels like you’re stagnating or even going backwards. Published writers still receive rejection letters. Prize winning authors still write less-than-brilliant books. Not every idea sparkles on the page.

But if you don’t have any idea where you’d like to go, it’s much harder to get there. So once you’ve figured out where you are, take a look around and set yourself a direction. What would you like to get done before January? What’s realistic? What requires a bit of a stretch? How much of this is in your control? Remember to set yourself goals and then determine what steps you need to take to achieve them. You want measurable, actionable things on your list, so you know what to do when you get up in the morning.

Unless you’re starting absolutely from scratch, it shouldn’t take you much more than an hour or so to review your goals and spruce them up for the next four months. Then go write.

Friday Links: Facets of the Writing Life

TGIF! The weekend has arrived, and I hope it’s brought some time off for all of you to read, write, and sneak in a bit of relaxation. People seem to be anxious to acknowledge the end of summer, but officially we still have a few weeks to go, and even unofficially we have another week until the long Labor Day weekend. So I say make the most of it.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week of all the facets of the writer’s life. Even the act of writing itself varies enormously from person to person, by what they write, how often, level of commitment, etc. So it’s probably no surprise that several of this week’s links revolve around the lives of writers, including how they live, how they work, where they work, and so on. I think I’ve found a balance of serious, informational, and humorous, and there should be something here for everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

N.K. Jemisin on Diversity in Science Fiction and Inspiration from Dreams – Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for a Novel, talks about her experiences writing The Fifth Season and with the award process.

How Instagram Became the New Oprah’s Book Club – An interesting look at the social media platform’s role in book marketing.

Five Reasons Why Writers Should Move to Columbus – Ohio, that is. For writers whose pockets won’t stretch to New York or LA.

In Order to Live: Story Structure on the Horoscopic Scale – An intricate look at all the ways writers attack story structure.

Tin House Is Accepting Unsolicited Submissions for 2017 – Details on the latest open reading period for the literary magazine.

The Spoils of Destruction – The story of Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades house, and its current uncertain fate.

On the Barbizon Hotel, and the Women Writers Who Lived There – A look at the famous New York City hotel where young, single women stayed when they came to make their fortune in the big city.

Antarctic Artists & Writers Program – A program that enables writers and other artists to visit Antarctica for creative purposes.

Friday Links: Sending Your Inner Writer Back to School

Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve got a ton of reading recs for you this week in Friday Links, from lists of great books that have released this year to date to suggested reading for writers and a bunch in between. All great grist for the mill. And why is that important? Because September is just a stone’s throw away, and with it comes the downhill race toward the end of the year. We all know how fast those last four months fly, with kids back in school and holidays starting to loom, so now is the time to get your inspiration on and put your writer’s brain in gear. Read things that make you anxious to write, dive into that research you’ve been contemplating, stick some deadlines on your calendar. Get ready to do great things!

So without further ado, I offer up this week’s links. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The 25 Best Books of 2016 (So Far) – Pretty much what it says on the label. Some terrific titles on this list.

Hanya Yanagihara: ‘Don’t We Read Fiction Exactly to Be Upset?’ – The writer talks about what it means to be brave as a writer.

Top 10 Books Writers Should Read – Not your typical list, this offers up some fresh ideas for getting that writer’s brain tuned up and ready to roar.

President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List – In case you missed it, here’s what President Obama chose to read on his annual summer vacation.

Opportunities for Writers: September and October 2016 – A list of places to submit your work with deadlines in the next two months.

The Dangerous Myth of Authenticity – A look at the tightrope a writer walks when dealing in details that may stretch the reader’s ability to believe in the story.

Friday Links: Thoughts for the Writer’s Brain

Happy Friday! This particular Friday has me thinking about the end of summer, even though we still have weeks to go. There’s something about a weekend in August that feels slower, more laid back, especially if you live in a city that tends to empty out, with people heading to the beach or off on vacation. Things are a little quieter, more serene than usual. It feels like the last chance to relax before gearing up for the fall. I find my thoughts are already turning toward September, and what I need to accomplish between now and then. A mental house cleaning, if you will. The list is long, which makes this weekend my last shot at summer fun before I start kicking into high gear.

This week’s links are a mix of think-y and action provoking. Some will give you a quiet read that should set your mind working, while others might spur you on to get some writing accomplished, depending where you are in your seasonal cycle. Either way, I hope you find them interesting and entertaining, and that you find some time for reading and writing over the next few days. Enjoy!

Can the Academic Write? – Part one of an article looking at style, and how a career can impose a writing style upon you.

What ‘Stranger Things’ Can Teach Us about Characterization – A look at the new Netflix series, and some informative takeaways.

$6,000 Grants for Writers & Artists with Children – Great for any parents looking for some support for their art. Applications due by September 2nd.

The Pros and Cons of Getting Inside a Villain’s Mind – Tips on how to avoid giving up too many details when you investigate the villain’s POV.

Your Ultimate Summer Reading List – If you’re still searching for books to take on your vacation or something to dive into this weekend, this list has a nice balance between light and serious titles and ranges from fairly recent to older reads.

Does Fiction Actually Makes Us More Empathetic? – A look into the recent claim and whether it actually matters.

Friday Links: Short but Sweet Ideas for Writers and Readers

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m on the fly today so I’m keeping this short in more ways than one. Most of this week’s Friday Links offer up quick ideas for kicking your writing and/or career into high gear, bits of advice that have a major impact, and reads that tend to be on the shorter side. No matter how busy you are this weekend, there’s no reason why you can’t squeeze in a little inspiration. Wishing you a great one. Enjoy!

9 Tiny Letters for Writers and Readers – A list of newsletters on writing, reading, and book culture that pack a lot into a fairly short space.

‘The First This Time:’ A New Generation of Writers on Race in America – A look at the timely, important new collection edited by Jesmyn Ward.

BBC to broadcast lost Tolkien recordings – A new program on BBC 4 scheduled for Saturday, August 6th. Non-Brits can check out the BBC website for details on listening online.

11 Ways to Overcome Marketing Dread – Helpful tips on how to market your work, engage in social media, etc.

How to Build a Great Newsletter, According to 4 Freelancers – Wonderful advice that can easily be adapted by other kinds of writers.

10 Steps to a Successful Book Launch – More excellent marketing advice. For those publishing traditionally, keep in mind that you want to keep your editor and in-house PR person in the loop on your plans so you don’t duplicate your publisher’s efforts.

The Best Cities in the World for Book Lovers – Just in case you’re still plotting that summer vacation…

 

Brain Drain and the Writer

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Pretty much everyone experiences it once in a while. Call it burn out or fatigue or brain drain (my personal favorite), but you stop running long enough to sit in front of your keyboard and get some writing done and your mind just goes blank. No one home. No ideas, no energy, nothing but the sensation of your brain cells possibly liquifying and draining out through your ears — the origin of my preferred moniker for the situation.

Honestly? That’s me right now. My blogging has been a little sparse in recent weeks, and I feel the self-imposed pressure to come up with an informative, thoughtful post for all of you. Something that’s not a list of links or a general announcement or an embedded video of someone else’s ideas or experience. All of those are wonderful blog content, but I always aim to keep a percentage of posts my own original material and, well… not much of that going on at the moment. Because the instant I clicked on Add New Post (a good 40 minutes ago), I realized that my brain was not going to be cooperative this morning.

What causes brain drain? In my case, I’ve been on a reading jag for work — more so than usual — pushing through a lot of submissions and client material, some of which require editorial notes. I attended a conference, taught a webinar, tackled a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes contract/vendor/distribution details on a number of projects. It’s been brutally hot on and off for weeks and I’m sleeping badly as a result. And I won’t even go into the personal end of things. So, business as usual? Busy life as always? Yes, of course, but it does add up, and my brain has apparently decided I’ve hit the point of maximum density. Time to drain everything and start over. In other words, it’s telling me I need a little break.

Now, brain drain is not the same thing as writer’s block, though they certainly can overlap. But where writer’s block often signals that you need to get a better fix on where your story needs to go (or where it has been in those last pages you wrote), brain drain calls for a letting up — taking time away from the chaos and the hectic schedule to breathe and clear your head. Brain drain demands a day off or a long nap with the phone silenced or an honest-to-goodness vacation. It’s tempting to try to squeeze the life out of every moment of your day, especially for writers who often need to fight so hard just to find the time to focus on their current work in progress. But as important as it is to commit to your writing, it’s also important to maintain your health and well being so you can produce your best work. And sometimes that means giving yourself a break.

So the next time you find yourself staring at the blank page, ask when you last did something completely mindless. You may discover you’re overdue for an afternoon playing hooky or a long weekend at the beach.

Webinar Reminder: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis

This is just a quick reminder for those of you interested in attending my Writer’s Digest webinar: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis. The course takes place online tomorrow, August 2nd, at 1pm ET. You can sign up right until the class begins and still be eligible for the critique synopsis that’s available to anyone who registers ahead. Full details on the course and information about sign up can be found here. Hope to have some of you in class tomorrow!

Friday Links: Ways to Make Your Writing Flow

TGIF! It’s been a long, hot week here in the L.A. area and I’m looking forward to spending my weekend in air conditioned spaces, splitting my time between reading for work and knocking out a few chores. Not very exciting, but I look forward to knocking some things off my to-do list and starting next week with that great feeling of accomplishment that comes with finally finishing tasks that have been lingering too long.

How about all of you? Fun plans for this weekend? Some quality reading and/or writing time? Whatever you’re up to, I hope you enjoy and that it leaves you excited to kick off a new week. In the meantime, I have this week’s Friday Links! It’s a good assortment, and there should be something here to intrigue just about everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

How to Write a Novel – An interesting look at the process, with a particular focus on “planners” vs. “pantsers.”

10 Tips for Finding Inspiration – Author Eileen Cook shares some ideas to help you get those thoughts flowing.

Want to Work in 18 Miles of Books? First, the Quiz – A look at the hiring process for The Strand bookstore in New York.

Women Crime Writers Are Not a Fad – A look at the long history of women writing in the genre, with some wonderful recommendations for anyone looking for an exciting read.

Bad Girls: An Interview with Emma Cline – Tin House talks to the young author, whose recent book has garnered a lot of attention.

Once All but Dead, Is Cursive Making a Comeback? – A strange but interesting look at a resurgence in teaching cursive writing in schools. As someone who still writes in cursive, I’ve been wondering how these new generations were going to be able to read what I wrote — or what anyone wrote by hand the last few hundred years. I’m curious to see how this pans out.

6 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Dirty Words (Grammatically, Of Course) – Ways to make profanity a seamless part of your writing when it’s appropriate to the character/genre/text.

Friday Links: Books as Writing Teachers

Happy Friday! Apologies for the lack of links last week. I was in San Diego for the RWA National Conference, and though I intended to post, my schedule kind of ran away with itself (and with me). It was a wonderful conference, so I only feel a little bad. But I’m back with an assortment of things to keep you reading and writing through the upcoming weekend, especially if — like me — you’re facing triple-digit temperatures for the duration. But I will say that if you feel the need to take a movie break along the way, I highly recommend the new Star Trek movie, which I saw last night and was terrific. I suspect I’ll be sneaking in a repeat viewing.

Now on to this week’s Friday Links. There’s a particular emphasis this week on improving your writing through reading widely and well. Wishing you all a lovely weekend filled with fun and inspiration, and hopefully some progress on your current WIP. Enjoy!

24 in 48 Readathon – My favorite readathon is taking place this weekend. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the idea is to read for 24 hours out of 48 between Saturday and Sunday. It’s low pressure, with people reading however much they can, with a bunch of fun social media activities and friendly sharing of book recs. There’s still time to sign up!

Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive? – An interesting look at the benefits of solitude for a writing career.

What Our Editors Look for on an Opening Page – Some great insider tips from the folks at Penguin Random House.

15 Literary Magazines for New & Unpublished Writers – A list of markets for writers looking to break into publication.

Welcome to the Last Bookstore – A great short documentary featuring Josh Spencer, who owns and operates the iconic bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.

7 YA Books that Are as Good as a Writing Class – I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but these titles will definitely illustrate some wonderful writing techniques if you read them closely, plus give you good insight into the recent YA market.

On the Journals of Famous Writers – Interesting look at the differences in writers’ journals and what can be gained by reading them.