Goal Check: Assessing Your Year-in-Progress

Farewell to March! It’s the last day of the month, and also of the first quarter of the year, which makes today an excellent time to assess your writing progress and see where you want to go next. Remember those goals and/or resolutions you made around January 1st? How are those working out for you? Never mind your visits to the gym or your promise to eat more fiber; I’m interested in your writing goals, and how you’re working toward building your career.

Perhaps you’ve had a great few months, and you’re right on target for the goals you set. If so, congratulations! Toast yourself, or grab a cupcake — whatever little reward makes you smile — and then face forward and continue to charge ahead. What goals have you set for yourself for the second quarter? What needs to happen in April to keep you on track? Are there any adjustments you would like to make based on what you’ve accomplished so far? Have any new opportunities come up that change your game plan? Goals and resolutions should be fluid, altering as your writing progresses, new ideas come to mind, and you master both your craft and the business.

On the other hand, you might be feeling a little behind right now. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing time in as you’d hoped, or you’re not completely pleased with your latest project. That’s fine. Just take a deep breath and an honest look at what you’ve been doing. Have you been procrastinating or simply busy with things outside your control? Are you being too hard on your WIP? Any draft is better than a blank page, after all. Get it all down, and then go back and revise. Books are made during the editing process; no one should expect a first draft to be golden. Then decide where to go next. What would you like to accomplish going forward? How can you carve out more writing time? Maybe take a writing class for inspiration, or see if you can join a new writing group to get some fresh feedback. Assess your goals for the year, and see what you need to do in the next three months to point yourself back in the right direction.

If you swore to write 1,000 words a day starting January 1st, and kept to that resolution, you could be finishing off the first draft of a 90,000 word novel today. Maybe it would be a shitty first draft, but that’s okay, because we all know that draft is just the kicking-off point — something to work with, beyond the scary blank page. If you start April 1st and write 1,000 words a day, you can have a first draft by the end of June. Don’t beat yourself up for something you failed to do in the past. Just recommit to your writing and do the best you can each day. And don’t forget that, depending where you are in your career development, you can also make goals pertaining to getting published, improving your self-marketing skills, and more.

Some potential goals for April through June:

  • Commit to writing every day (either a set word goal or a specific amount of time)
  • Finish a work-in-progress
  • Revise a first draft
  • Write and polish three short stories
  • Research agents and make a list of potential representation for your nearly finished project
  • Send out ten query letters a month
  • Brainstorm 50 ideas for potential projects; write the first sentence for each of them
  • Set up a blog tour for an upcoming release
  • Redesign your author site
  • Learn one new form of social media and engage through it regularly (frequency to be determined by the platform)
  • Start a quarterly newsletter for your readers and include a sign-up on your author site home page

Friday Links

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a good, productive week. It seemed to go quite quickly; frankly, I’m not sure how we’re staring down April already. 2014 is flying along.

I have a collection of links this week that should inspire you to action, whether that’s to sit your butt down and actually write something or to polish and submit an existing project that’s been languishing on your hard drive. Spring has sprung, regardless of the weather in your neck of the woods, and it’s time to take the plunge, whatever that means for you. Go make something happen this weekend. Start things rolling.

With that I wish you a wonderful weekend filled with books and writing and ideas. Enjoy!

April Prompts – A prompt a day for a month. This site lists a new month’s worth of inspiration on the last Monday of each month, so bookmark it for future inspiration.

Learning to Love Editing – This writer blogs about some advice she heard from YA author Holly Black years ago and has finally learned to embrace.

Inspiration Information: “The Interestings” – The New Yorker kicks off a new series of interviews with authors about the cultural influences on their work.

Life Is too Short to Read a Bad Book – Author Edan Lepucki interviews her editor at Little, Brown, Allie Sommer, about the editing process and what she loves to read.

Opportunities for Writers: April/May 2014 – A list of contests and call for work/submissions for the upcoming months.

Myths, Misfits, & Masks

Imagine growing up without any cultural icons or heroes who look like you? Or, even worse, imagine that everyone held up in the media who does look like you is being identified for having committed a crime. What would that do to your sense of self? How would it shape your goals for the future? And how do you think those stereotypes can be corrected?

In this TED Talk geared toward teens (but applicable to all), comic book editor Sana Amanat talks about growing up Muslim in the United States in the wake of the first attack on the World Trade Center, how her experiences affected her, and where she sought refuge. Her talk is interesting on multiple levels, but above all it serves to highlight the importance of having diverse characters in published works and also diversity behind the scenes.

Friday Links

Happy spring! Today is the first full day of spring, and I hope it finds you ready for a wonderful weekend, whatever your local weather. I have some great links this week, including book recs, so if you’re in a part of the country that’s still holding onto winter, you might consider curling up somewhere warm and cozy with one of these titles. Of course, I’d love to hear you’ve devoted an hour or two to your writing, as well.

Whatever your plans, wishing you a lovely Friday and a good weekend break. Enjoy!

10 Women Writers All Women Should Read – (Men, too.) A good selection, though by no means exhaustive.

16 Ways to Conquer the Blank Page – How to fight writer’s block.

23 Children’s Books You Need to Read Again as an Adult – Whether you read them to your kids or just dive in yourself, nice list.

The VIDA Count: 2013 – In case you haven’t already seen it. A survey of how major publications have done in the last year regarding the diversity of their contributors/subjects.

A Tale of Two Literary Magazines – A look at the reactions of two publications in the wake of the VIDA statistics, interesting for the attitudes of the participants as much as for the results themselves.

Fictional Places that Attract Real Tourists – Having visited a few hobbit holes — among other things — myself, I can relate to this tendency.

The Taxman Cometh

We’re counting down to tax day — April 15th here in the U.S. — which means some folks are scrambling to find their receipts and their statements and all of their various forms to take off to their accountants, while others are playing with tax software or reading through the intimidating tax brochures meant to walk you through filling out the forms yourself.

Writers and taxes have a contentious relationship at best. Writers understand that several aspects of their chosen careers are the very things that raise red flags with the IRS, such as taking a deduction for a home office space, research trips, and other costs of doing business. But that’s no reason to panic.

Whether you’re a new writer who has yet to make any money or a seasoned pro, it’s important to be diligent in your record keeping throughout the year, and to consult with a tax advisor in order to be certain of the tax laws, which tend to change pretty frequently.

A few tips:

Save everything. All those receipts from your trip to a writers’ conference, your books, cabs taken, office supplies, everything. Make sure you jot down a quick note on the back of the receipt regarding what the item was, and its purpose. If it’s a cab or restaurant receipt, indicate if you left a tip, and the amount.

Keep records of bills. If you work from home, you can deduct a portion of your heat, electricity, etc., so be sure to have copies of those household bills in with your work receipts. Likewise, if you pay for your own health insurance as a self-employed writer (as opposed to receiving coverage from a day job or through a spouse’s plan), those bills are also deductible.

Take pictures of your home office space, including any furnishings you’ve designated for work use, such as your desk, computer, bookcase, etc. This documents the existence of your dedicated office so that if you move and are later audited you have proof of that office’s features.

Don’t assume everything you do or purchase that seems “writerly” is automatically deductible. If you spend a thousand dollars every year on novels for your own reading pleasure, you can’t necessarily consider them all “research” materials. Talk to your tax advisor about the sorts of items that you can legitimately call work expenses, and under what circumstances they count.

Organize as you go. Set up a system that’s easy for you to remember and then take a little time once a week or so to keep it going. A simple accordion file with A-Z labels can be an easy way to track receipts. Designate categories that make sense to you and that will simplify the tax process when you sit down to actually do your taxes — whether on your own or with an accountant. For instance, you might separate your receipts out by Technology (computer, printer), Travel (accommodations, food, transportation), Conference fees, Office supplies, Insurance, Books and magazines, Utilities, and so on.

Plan for quarterly taxes. Self-employed individuals, for whom there is no company withholding a portion of their paychecks to send to the IRS, are required to pay their taxes on an installment plan, sending in a partial payment four times over the course of the year. The first year you file as a writer, you won’t need to worry about this, but as you wrap up that first tax return, you will be given the option to calculate your quarterly tax payments for the following year, with the first payment due April 15th, and subsequent payments to be sent on the 15th of June, September, and January. You will pay next year’s taxes based on whatever you earned this year, and must pay at least that amount. If you make more money than anticipated, you will make up the difference the following April. If you end up making less, you’ll get a refund. However, if you pay less than you did the previous year, and also end up owing more, you’ll owe a small penalty on top of the difference.

The safest bet is to plan to pay each quarter, and that means setting aside a portion of every check you receive as a writer to cover those tax bills. It can be difficult, especially in early days when the money might seem like small potatoes, or even later, because writers’ paychecks tend to come in waves — money when you sign a contract and then nothing until you turn in a manuscript, or royalty checks only a few times each year. But the better you become at remembering those tax bills on the horizon, the more likely you’ll be to set aside the money necessary to cover Uncle Sam’s demands. With a little planning and some good deductions, you’ll end up with some money left over at the end of the day.


Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a licensed tax professional, so please do speak with your own tax advisor regarding how to best handle your own tax return.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! I hope you all enjoyed the week and have some great plans lined up for the weekend, perhaps including some quality time with your work in progress, or with your latest read. I come bearing links to some fun and interesting sites, so with any luck they’ll leave you inspired and itching for a bit of quality literary time. Enjoy!

How to Use Reading to Become a Better Writer – We understand there’s a correlation, but this post makes it abundantly clear.

Embed Let’s You Share Tens of Millions of Images – Looking for visuals for your blog? Getty Images has a new program that allows free usage.

2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners Announced – Some great titles.

Scrabble Contest Seeks New Words – Apparently Hasbro has decided to broaden the Scrabble dictionary of acceptable vocabulary.

The Frontier Spirit: Will Eisner and the Discovery of Comics’ Next Dimension – A look back at Eisner’s participation in the growth of comics and the subjects they address.

Friday Links

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a terrific week and that you have even better plans for the weekend. Here in the U.S. we kick off Daylight Savings Time, so don’t forget to spring forward Saturday night before you go to bed. Yes, we lose an hour, but we gain all that lovely evening light. Makes me think of reading outside after dinner as a kid, no flashlight required.

So, I come bearing links to help you get in the weekend mood, including lists and lists of book recommendations. Wishing you many happy hours of reading and writing time ahead!

The Morning News Tournament of Books – This takes place every year and pits some of the most critically acclaimed and award-winning books of the year against each other. Always interesting to see reader responses from the judges.

Advice from Artists on How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nurture Your Self-Worth – Everyone can use a little bit of this.

26 Characters: Celebrating Childhood Story Heroes – For anyone in the UK or planning to travel there this year.

Spritz Has a New Technology that Might Change Reading Forever – Speed-reading app. Not sure how I feel about this. Love the premise, but I suspect it might take all the enjoyment out of the process, and also possibly make me a little crazy. Still, interesting.

Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers – Not a definitive list, but one comprised of the best books he’d read over a 3-4 year period. This list is from his book, On Writing, but it’s interesting both as a recommended books list and as a peek at a successful working writer’s influences.

All the Different Stories

March is women’s history month. February was black history month. Someone asked me recently why we still needed black history month. The question had me flummoxed, not because I agreed that the month was unnecessary but because I couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t still celebrate the month. These dedicated days or months get determined for a reason — generally because some aspect of our society is under appreciated or insufficiently discussed and some organization decides it’s important to highlight it and call attention to it.

Growing up in the United States, going to school, learning the lessons we’re taught as children, most of us get a very specific view of our nation’s and the world’s histories. But the truth is that there are many points of view, many different stories out there, and in order to live in this world and get along with all of its varied populations, it’s important to widen our grasp of what constitutes the truth. Everyone’s experiences are valid, and not all of them are similar.

There are many stories being told right now, socially, in the news, politically, through science, and in the arts. Publishing is just one corner of the world, one arena where we can exercise our right to tell and explore those different stories.

I posted this TED talk previously, but I think it’s so important and so spot on in talking about why it’s important to embrace those different stories that I’m posting it again. In it, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the dangers of only having a single story.

Happy Book Day!

Willing SacrificeCongratulations to Shannon K. Butcher, whose latest installment in her Sentinel Wars series, WILLING SACRIFICE, hits stores today! Go check it out for a sexy, exciting read.

They are the Sentinels. Three races descended from ancient guardians of mankind, each possessing unique abilities in their battle to protect humanity against their eternal foes: the Synestryn. Now a warrior weighs the price he will pay for love….

Theronai warrior Torr has never forgotten Grace, the human who stole his heart and nearly gave her life to save his. So when he is summoned to the aid of Brenya, the powerful woman who healed Grace, he is devastated to find that Grace’s cure has left her mind devoid of any memory of Torr or their love.

However, despite not knowing who he is, Grace is inexplicably drawn to the dark warrior. As they team up to stop the invasion that threatens the people Grace now considers family, her memories slowly start resurfacing. But sometimes the past is best forgotten—a lesson that Torr may learn too late….


Challenge Yourself

I posted briefly over the weekend, but for those of you who missed it, I’m not doing a formal March Madness writing challenge this year. However, that’s no reason for you not to take this month and challenge yourself to take your writing to the next level. March is an excellent month for such things; it’s a full 31 days long (so the fact that you might have missed the first couple of days doesn’t matter much), lacks any major holidays that require travel or major shopping commitments, and it tends to be a lull that allows you a little more time to reassess and make new goals.

So whether you give last year’s March Madness challenge a try (I’d recommend starting today if you do) or come up with another way to stretch your writing muscles, I encourage you to take this month and soar. Happy writing!