Writing Goals: Planning for 2018

Writing goals, both making and working toward them, should be a year round process. But at the end of the year, it’s good to look ahead and sketch out a rough plan for where you’d like to go. You should also consider the bigger picture, and how your writing fits into your life.

I’m not a big fan of the term resolutions. Resolutions are things you start ignoring by the middle of February. Instead, I prefer to set goals and then come up with systems to help achieve them. The system becomes the habit, and the goal the result. But how do you make and keep your goals? What makes them different from the forgotten resolutions?

writing-goals-planning-for-2018

If you took time to look over your 2017 goals last week, you may already have a good idea what works and doesn’t work for you. But regardless, I have a few places for you to start.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Focus on goals that are within your control. You may wish to sign with an agent, but whether you do depends on whether your writing is where it needs to be, and you connecting with the right person to represent you. Instead of making “get an agent” your goal, determine what you need to do to make it happen. Maybe you want to send out ten queries by the end of January, or five queries per week. Other goals within your control might be to complete the research for a project you’ve been considering, finish a first draft, or to send a short story out on submission — and keep sending it out if you get rejected.
  • Don’t be afraid to think big. Huge goals can be manageable; you just need to break them down into smaller bites. So if your goal is to write your first novel this year and you haven’t started, don’t shy away from it. Instead consider the typical word count for a novel in your genre and divide that by the number of weeks in your writing year. Now you have a goal of how many words you’d like to write each week to get that first draft done.
  • Consider the calendar when setting your goals. Are you going to travel a lot this year? Take that into account when scheduling your  writing goals. Chances are you won’t get much writing done if you’re touring the capitals of Europe. Also think about busy times at your day job, or commitments to host for the holidays.
  • Create a Balance. If you’ve chosen a major goal for the year, that might be your entire writing focus. You’ll break it into smaller, sub-goals that will keep you occupied all year. But you can also balance your year with several smaller goals, or a mix of larger and smaller ones. Some goals might be for later in the year; you might have one you start in January and aim to complete by late March, and another that starts in April. Wrapping up a few small goals early can be great for keeping you motivated.

Creating Systems for Your Goals:

Once you have your goals in mind, you want to determine what it will take to accomplish each one. Set yourself mini-deadlines to keep things on track. For instance, if you want to get an agent, you might set that goal of sending out a number of queries per month. But before you can do that, you must write the query. You also need to come up with a list of agents you wish to submit to, and decide which ones you want to query first. Your eventual system might include a schedule for researching each batch of agents, including what they rep and their submission guidelines, and personalizing your query slightly when it seems appropriate.

If finishing a first draft of your novel is important, schedule your writing sessions each week on your calendar. Set alerts so you don’t forget. And if you’re concerned about making enough progress, try giving yourself a “catch up” writing day once a month. Maybe make yourself accountable by joining a writing group, or finding a writing buddy, if you haven’t already

Checking in with your goals should become part of your overall system. Again, mark it in your calendar, for the end of the month or once a quarter. Just take a half hour to look over your goals and see how your system has been working. Is everything progressing well? Or do you need to tweak things a bit?

Be Flexible:

At the end of the day, these are your goals. You determine what they are, and how to achieve them. If they are truly important to you, you’ll find a way to get them done. Don’t hesitate to change things up mid-year if your ambitions have shifted. And if things are going better than anticipated, you can always add new goals later in the year. Ultimately, the idea is to keep on writing. Good luck!

Friday Links: Writing Diversions for a Crazy Weekend

After piling on the book lists and recommendations, I’m offering you some writing diversions this week for a change of pace. This weekend marks the midpoint of the month, which means the middle of the holiday crazies. So if you need a bit of a break from shopping and such, check out a few of these links. And if you’re not caught in the holiday bustle, congratulations! You’ll have even more time to visit a few of these sites.

For those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge, you’re just about halfway there! Check your calendar and schedule your writing time for next week. The busier it gets, the more you need to plan ahead. And don’t forget to think about what you’d like to accomplish in the new year. 2018 looms around the corner.

Enjoy the writing diversions below, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The 26th International Radio Playwriting Competition. – Entries close January 31st for this annual competition. Try your hand at writing a radio play for this contest sponsored by the BBC World Service.

9 Essayists of Color You Should Know About. – Take a break to read something short and engaging while diversifying your reading list.

Literary Holidays You Should Add to Your Calendar. – A fun roundup of dates to note for a more bookish 2018.

Why Write Fiction in 2017? – A look at the disengagement required this year to ignore the real world and focus on a fictional one.

Nova Ren Suma and Emily X.R. Pan Launch a Platform for YA Short Stories. – A quick look at plans to develop a montly offering of short YA fiction in all genres.

Bookstores Escape from Jaws of Irrelevance. – More proof that indie bookstores are back on the rise, and some of the ways they’ve drawn in shoppers.

These Imaginary Islands Only Existed on Maps. – Literary locations that fire the imagination, from stories to myths to hoaxes.

A Daily Writing Habit: Do You Need to Write Every Day?

The idea of a daily writing habit prompts frequent discussion in writerly circles. Do you need to write every day to become a good writer? The short answer is no, of course not. Many successful writers do not write every day, for whatever reason. Their day jobs make it impossible, they prefer to write for long blocks of time on the weekend, etc. If writing daily rubs you the wrong way, or simply is not feasible, do not panic. But if you can manage a daily writing habit, I encourage you to try, because writing daily has its advantages.

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What Can Writing Daily Do for You?

  • Creativity is like a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. A daily writing habit helps you train your brain. When you sit down at your computer or pick up your notebook on a very regular basis, your brain understands it’s time to create. If you write every day, even just for a little while, you will see a change in how ideas flow. Everyone knows that feeling of being “rusty” from not writing for a while. The opposite is true, as well. Writing daily helps prime the pump and keeps your creative mind nimble.
  • A daily writing habit helps you fight a tendency to procrastinate. If you plan to write three days per week, it is easier to put off that day’s writing. Whereas, if you write every day, you don’t have to decide whether to fit a writing session into your schedule. There is no questioning “Is this a writing day?” because the answer is always yes.
  • Writing daily can also help lessen the pressure of deadlines. It’s no guarantee that you won’t need an all-nighter or two to finish a manuscript, but it certainly makes it less likely than if you’ve been procrastinating for weeks.

No rule of writing says that you must write every day. Even writers who do write daily will take time off here and there. Writers are human beings, and all human beings need to take breaks from their work, no matter how much they love it. Nor is writing daily a cure-all for every writing issue. Everyone faces a block now and then. But if you’re serious about writing, or trying to improve, or looking to build up new habits for the new year, give writing daily a try. Join my December Writing Challenge, or just promise yourself to write every day. You might find that writing daily works for you.

 

Friday Links: Inspiration for December Writing

As promised, I’m back with some inspiration for December writing in this week’s Friday Links. Even if you’re not participating in the 2017 December Writing Challenge, I hope you plan to get some writing done this month. The links that follow offer tips, plus some entertainment to keep you smiling as you work. And of course, there are more book recommendations to keep your TBR stocked and maybe help with gift giving. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and some terrific writing time!

This Week’s Links:

Tortoise Victories: How to Win While Writing Slow. – A lovely post that discusses how slow, steady writing will still let you meet your goals.

12 Literary Cocktails to Pair with Classic Reads. – Fun for an evening at home, or if you’re doing a little holiday entertaining!

‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’ Goes to Novelist Who Compared Skin to Stained Bathtub. – In case you were wondering, there are certain descriptions that really don’t appeal. Great for a chuckle.

Holiday Books Guide and the Best Books of 2017. – The best-books lists continue with this offering from the LA Times.

21 Gifts Under $21 for Writers and Book Lovers. – Suggestions for your shopping list, or for you to drop in hints to friends and family.

Sci Fi Writer Nnedi Okorafor Discusses Inspiration and Influences. – A radio interview with the novelist who is gearing up to write a run of Marvel’s Black Panther comic.

Some Baffling Omissions from the NY Times’ 100 Noteable Books List – LitHub tacks on some great reads they feel got shortchanged in the NYT wrap-up.

 

December Writing Challenge Kickoff

It’s the December Writing Challenge Kickoff!

Writers, start your engines!

Writing-Challenge-Fireworks

The truth is, this is a low-key challenge. No huge word counts or goals for the month. Just write every day. For full rules, you can check yesterday’s post. Today I’m here for the official writing challenge kickoff, and to provide you with a few more tips to keep you writing through December.

Life goes a little crazy in December. Writers who crave quiet can find it difficult to carve out time to work on their current projects. Thoughts turn to lists of gifts to buy and plans to make. Everyone wants your attention, your time, your participation. Your boss needs something done before the holiday break. Your kids want you to take them to see Santa. Hanukkah starts on the early side. Your in-laws plan to visit. Suddenly your sister’s turned vegetarian, throwing a spanner in your holiday dinner menu. And you love it all, because the holidays are a wonderful time of year. But… you also love to write.

Tips for Getting to Your Desk

Make yourself a priority. The key to writing regularly is telling yourself, and everyone else, that writing is just as important as any other vital thing on your to-do list. Commit to your writing, and to yourself.

  • Schedule your writing time on your calendar. Write it in like a doctor’s appointment. Set an alert to remind yourself when your writing window begins.
  • Make writing dates with your local writer friends. Agree to meet and do a writing sprint or two at your local coffee shop. No treats or talk until you’ve put in your half hour minimum for the day.
  • Tell your family what you’re doing. Explain that yes, you still plan to do all the normal holiday activities, but writing can’t take a holiday this year and you need to write every day.
  • Set up a signal to let family know it’s your writing time. Whether that’s a sign on your door, a place you sit that’s “writing only,” or a writing sweater you put on, make it clear. When you’re writing, they need to leave you alone unless there’s a blood-or-fire emergency.
  • Don’t limit yourself to your desk/computer. Grab a pen and a notebook and find somewhere to hide. Dust off a corner of your attic, pick a favorite spot in your local library, go to the café that has no wifi and write your heart out for a while.

Writing should not be something you steal time to do. You do not write at the expense of other things. If it matters to you, it’s earned its own space. Assign it time, and honor that commitment. And remember, all the words count, and it all adds up.

Happy writing! Don’t forget to check out the #DecWritingChallenge tag on Twitter to see who else has joined the challenge and for ongoing cheerleading. Plus, spread the word about today’s writing challenge kickoff! I’ll be back here later today with this week’s Friday Links.

2017 December Writing Challenge

2017-December-Writing-Challenge

The 2017 December Writing Challenge kicks off tomorrow. Every year I issue this challenge to help writers get some words down during what’s arguably the busiest month of the year. Between holidays, family obligations, a slew of events, travel, and year-end expectations at work, many writers find their days completely packed. For those writers finishing a month of intense creativity for NaNoWriMo, taking December off from writing can seem particularly appealing. Hence this challenge.

If January is the month for resolutions, December is the month for distractions. But if you plan to set yourself some writing goals for 2018, you don’t want to lose your writing momentum now. No writing in December makes it hard to ramp up again once the new year starts. So I challenge you to write this coming month. Make yourself, and your writing, a priority.

2017 December Writing Challenge: The Rules

Because December can be crazy, this writing challenge is simple. I challenge you to write every day during the month of December. Unlike with NaNo, you aren’t aiming for a specific word count. Write as much or as little as you wish. But every day over the course of the month, sit down with your notebook or in front of your computer and do the work.

Write whatever you want. Work on your current novel. Get some editing done — including new words, not just deleting them. Try your hand at a new format, such as flash fiction or a personal essay. Focus on one project or have several going. Keep your eyes on an upcoming deadline. This challenge is for you, so you decide what to write.

As a nod to the true insanity of some people’s Decembers, I allow you up to two days off. Aim to write every day, but if you need to skip it once or twice, you have those two free days to use. Maybe you want to take a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Perhaps your New Year’s Eve plans require a nap instead of a writing session earlier in the day. Or you need a full day to clean in prep for your relatives coming to visit. Again, your choice.

A Few Tips

  • Even on your busiest days, try to squeeze in a bit of writing. Even 15 minutes will do, though I encourage you to aim for at least 30 minutes.
  • If you’re having a hard time finding sufficient time to write, try breaking it up into two smaller chunks over the day.
  • Do have a backup project or two at hand, so if your writing stalls on one thing, you can still work on something else.
  • Do commit to yourself and to the challenge, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up missing a few days more than planned. The point is to write enough that you don’t lose your momentum. Aim for every day, but regardless, just do your best.

I’ll be back tomorrow and periodically throughout the month with more tips and pep talks for inspiration. Also, keep an eye out on Twitter (@NepheleTempest) for additional cheering throughout the month under the #DecWritingChallenge tag. The 2017 December Writing Challenge starts tomorrow, so I hope you’ll be joining in. Happy writing!

The Return to Slow, Steady Writing: A NaNo Wrap Up

After NaNoWriMo, it can be difficult to remember that slow, steady writing should be the norm. NaNo provides participants with a fun month of frantic output, a crazy goal that might seem less crazy by month’s end. But most people cannot sustain that writing pace. Even a full-time writer, with an output goal of 2,000 words per day, won’t generally keep that up every day, month after month. Writers need to take days off. If they maintain a daily writing habit, they still build in a “day of rest” or breaks between projects. Everyone finds themselves working overtime to hit a deadline on occasion, but it’s important to limit those situations.

If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be nearing the finish line: 50,000 words. Or, you may not. Plenty of writers fail to hit that goal, but still find they’ve achieved a lot of words in a month. Other writers never intended to hit 50k, but used NaNo to motivate their work. However you approached the challenge, the key takeaway now that the end is near should be that words add up. Whether you write for an hour a day or five, the words you craft in that time build, day in, day out. There will be days you only write a little bit, days you rewrite and end up with fewer words than when you began. But over time, words add up. Writers write, words add up, and yes, you can do this.

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Many of you already know how this works. A good number of you even follow the idea up with action. Plenty of people refuse to join NaNoWriMo each year because they have no wish to push themselves to write fast. They prefer to show up every day and put their words on paper or pixel, until they get where they’re going. But whatever your feelings about NaNo, there is a great deal to be said for the momentum it helps develop. While the challenge emphasizes output, it encourages work ethic.

In a few days, I’ll kick off my annual December Writing Challenge here on the blog. I’ll post the complete details later in the week, but the basic thrust of the challenge is to write every day in December. Keep going with that NaNo novel. Start a short story. Work on your next contracted project. Play around with a few different things. You don’t have to write for a set time, although at least 30 minutes a day makes a great goal. There’s no minimum word count involved, just slow, steady writing. So as you wind up your NaNo projects, or just continue your typical writing routine, mark your calendars for Friday. You’re going to write your way steadily into the new year.

Friday Links: Black Friday Escape

Holiday sales seem to start earlier every year, so that these days we need a Black Friday escape. Ads and sales flyers pepper us for a good week before what used to be the start of the shopping season. So instead of shopping all day, take a few hours as an excuse for some private time. Step away from football and family and doorbuster deals. Read a book. Write a page or two. Take a breather.

Because it’s been a holiday week and I’ve spent less time than usual online, I only have a handful of links for you. I hope you find them suitably entertaining and distracting in the midst of the holiday madness. Wishing you an excellent weekend, whether you’re coming off the holiday or just settling in for a normal couple of days off. Enjoy and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

100 Notable Books of 2017. – We’re fully into the best-books season, so here’s The New York Times list of some excellent reads from this year.

Louise Erdrich, Great American Novelist, Is Just Getting Started. – A look at the author’s career to mark the release of her 16th book.

Watership Down Author’s Personal Library Reveals Precious Treasures. – A peek at the library of Richard Adams, soon to go up for auction.

6 YA Books to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month. – Given current discussions about the realities behind our Thanksgiving holiday, it feels appropriate to become more educated about Native American heritage in November.

How a Young Ernest Hemingway Dealt with His First Taste of Fame. – An interesting look at the famous author from when he wasn’t quite so famous. A good reminder that every writer starts somewhere.

Friday Links: Holiday Writing Inspiration

Everyone can use some holiday writing inspiration, and this marks the start of my annual pep talks for the season. We’re heading into Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and from there it’s one occasion after another until New Year’s. I run a December Writing Challenge each year, but I encourage you to schedule your writing all through the holidays.

Check out this week’s links for industry information, ideas on characterization, and ways to drum up that holiday writing inspiration. And keep an eye on this space for more writing challenge information coming soon. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

It Is Okay to Change Paths. – Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen talks about changing her career from doctor to writer.

Paper is a wonderful technology. – Austin Kleon shares how an exhibit at the Ransom Center inspired him to embrace his paper notebook.

Ilana Masad on the Shrinking of the Industry, Literary Social Media, and Hidden Criticism. – The writer and podcast host discusses how social media has changed literary criticism, and other shifts in the industry from a reviewer’s point of view.

50 Noteable Works of Fiction in 2017. – The Washington Post weighs in on some of the best titles of the year.

Inside the Dystopian Visions of Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich. – At a time when Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a sort of feminist dystopian bible, Erdrich adds her own take on the idea of reproductive slavery.

Marvel’s Black Panther Rules. Literally. – A wonderful interview with actor Chadwick Boseman, with excellent thoughts regarding how characters build from the setting and politics of a fictional nation in this installment in the MCU.

Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2017. – Another best-of list, with some great titles for your own TBR or gift-buying lists.

A Night at the National Book Awards. – A look into what may by the shiniest event in the U.S. publishing world.

 

Friday Links: Weekend Writing Inspiration

Are you looking for weekend writing inspiration? The end of the year brings so many challenges for writers. Holidays loom, making you plan and shop and rush to finish projects by December 31st. But you still have that writing project that calls to you. Maybe you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or up against a deadline. Or you simply started a new novel and you’re twitching to work on it. Set aside some time this weekend to write. Fight the start of the holiday chaos, and remember to make your writing a priority. I hope the links below will help give you a bit of a kick in the right direction.

This Week’s Links:

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. – Strapped for time? Try to write a super short story and enter this Writer’s Digest contest. Or look through finished or drafted projects to see what might work.

13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Accomplished. – Author Gretchen Rubin offers some great tips for pushing past your busy calendar and getting words on paper.

Austin Kleon: Pencil vs Computer. – The writer and artist discusses his own process and how different mediums set the mood for stages of his work.

How YA Literature Is Leading the Queer, Disabled Media Revolution. – Looking for ways to be inclusive in your work? Get your weekend writing inspiration from some of these fabulous YA titles.

10 Novels Agents Have Already Seen a Billion Times. – You might want to steer clear of these ideas, or if you have to write one of them, find a great way to turn them on their ear.

Cove Park Literature Residencies: Applications Close 11 December. – Shake up your writing by finding a new place to work, and apply for a writing residency.

Interview with Janet Fitch. – The author discusses research, writing process, and her latest book, The Revolution of Marina M.