New Year on the Way: Writing Goals for 2020

A new year looms right around the corner, so consider spending a few minutes each day thinking what you’d like to accomplish. I’m not a huge fan of traditional resolutions. Making lofty promises to turn your life around come January never ends well. Most resolutions vanish by mid-February. But goals? Goals are a different thing entirely.

Setting goals gives you milestones to hit over the course of the year. Big goals can have an enormous impact. Smaller goals provide a sense of achievement as the year progresses. Below I’ve outlined some tips for determining what goals will work best for you, and things to remember while you’re planning out your year.

Choosing Goals:

Keep in mind that goals should be something you have control over. It’s lovely to say you want to be traditionally published in the new year, but some of those steps might be out of your hands. Instead, set goals that can lead you in that direction but are up to you. You might set goals to revise your manuscript, to research agents, and to write a strong query letter. If you’re just starting out, your goal might be to complete a first draft of your novel, to take a class, or to make a list of prompts to use for daily writing sprints. Adapt your goals to where you are in your writing career, and what you’d like to achieve.

How Many Goals Do You Need:

The number of goals you set should fit your ambitions and your schedule. If you’re holding down a day job, raising kids, and/or looking out for elderly parents, you might have less time to devote to your writing than you’d like. Be realistic in setting your goals. Challenge yourself, but don’t ask so much of yourself that you become frustrated. Maybe you want to focus on several small goals instead of a couple of larger ones. Or take one major goal and break it into smaller parts.

A good way to set goals is to spread them out over the year. You can have a goal for January through April, and then another, smaller goal for May, and maybe a third one that runs the remainder of the year. Tailor your goals based on their difficulty, and also what’s going on in your life. If summer gives you more writing time, you can give yourself a couple of extra goals for June through August.

Figure Out the Steps:

Don’t set a goal and expect to magically achieve it. Figure out what steps you need to take in order to get where you wish to be. Break it down. How many hours will you need? Assign them on your calendar. Instead of waking up in the morning to find “Rewrite novel” on your to-do list, give yourself one step in the process: “Revise five pages.”

Check-in Regularly:

In order to keep yourself accountable, check in on your goals on a regular basis. This can be weekly, monthly, or at least quarterly, depending on the scope of your goals. See how you’re progressing, and determine if you need to tweak anything. Nothing is set in stone, and your goals should work for you. If circumstances change, you might want to alter your goals a little as well. Be honest with yourself and you will find the entire process more rewarding and useful. If you’re falling behind your goal, see what you need to do to catch up, or rework your schedule to account for your new pace. And don’t forget to reward yourself or celebrate when you hit those milestones!

However you picture your writing career at the end of 2020, now is the time to start making that happen. Carve out the path to your future and get ready to go. Happy writing!

 

December Writing Challenge 2019: Mid-Month Check In

Hey there, writers! Today marks the halfway point for the month of December, and with it the December Writing Challenge. Are you still writing? Have you made a little time for your work-in-progress each day? If not, have you still written more than you might have otherwise?

I know December runs away with us sometimes. Even when you think you’re on top of everything you need to do, something will sneak through the cracks. But if your writing is important to you, take that time to commit to it, even when life gets hectic. Something can always come up. There will always be emergencies or sudden demands for your time. You decide what ranks high enough to disrupt your routine–but you need to determine the routine first.

I hope making the effort to write daily in December shows you how much you want your dream–and that you can put it first in many instances. Not always, of course. Everyone has responsibilities. But if you plan for it, if you think about it and say “this needs to happen,” you can make it work. The key is to write enough to keep your brain nimble and the words flowing the next time you have a good chunk of time to write.

Good luck with the rest of the month! You can keep up the momentum. I’ll be back in a couple days with thoughts on making goals for the new year, so be sure to check back. Happy writing!

Friday Links: The Completely Random, Tired-Agent Edition

Welcome to this week’s unapologetically theme-free Friday Links. Work and holiday prep beckon, and my brain refuses to conjure up a creative topic for these babies. Yes, they’re all bookish. Or writing related. But otherwise, they’re just things I stumbled across this week, or recently, and found fun or useful. Themes will return when I’m no longer falling asleep at my desk, likely in the new year.

The December Writing Challenge keeps on trucking. Are you writing every day? Is the challenge proving hard? Or are you setting your schedule and sticking to it? Remember, even a short writing sprint counts. You can do this!

And on that note, I’m off to do a million things before the weekend can start. Have a great one, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The Best Overlooked Books of 2019. – 10 titles Vulture thought got too little press.

Little Women Is a Big, Important, American Masterpiece. Let’s Treat It Like One. – A.N. Devers looks at the history of the novel and its adaptations as we wait for the eighth film version to hit theaters.

How to Spend a Literary Long Weekend in Chicago. – A fun itinerary for bookish visitors to the Windy City. Keep in mind for your next trip!

At a Romance Cover Shoot, There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Wind Machine. – A terrific and wildly amusing look behind the scenes of a recent cover shoot for Milla Vane‘s A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW (A Gathering of Dragons, book 2: July 2020).

By the Book: Edelweiss, Edelweiss? Julie Andrews Loves Reading about 18th-Century Plant Hunters. – The actress and author talks about her relationship to reading, books she’s loved, and what’s on her current TBR stack.

Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines. – An older post (one I’ve likely linked to previously) with excellent advice, much of which carries over to submitting to agents.

December Writing Challenge: Why Write Daily?

My December Writing Challenge asks you to write every day this month. However, the point is not to convince you that you need to write daily. Rather, the challenge focuses on squeezing in your writing time, no matter how busy life gets. If you aim to write every day, you might miss one or two (I give you two freebies), but you will manage to write most of the time. Even if it’s just for a few stolen minutes. Writing becomes your priority. You become your priority. Your writing goals are important, and I hope to help you see that through this challenge.

Plenty of successful writers do not write every day. Others do. Only you can decide what schedule works best for your life and your career in the long term. And writing habits change over time. I do believe writing on a fairly regular basis helps train your brain to perform on command. It’s not a perfect system, but your brain is a muscle, and conditioning it to be creative isn’t a bad thing. However, I will never claim that writing daily is the only way to become a good writer. Creatives follow many paths to their goals, and your journey is your own.

Come January, you might resume writing four days a week or only on weekends. You might find that daily writing boosts your creative juices, and continue to work a session in each day. Maybe you’ll try something else entirely. But for December, give daily writing a chance.

If you’re already sailing along with the challenge, thank you for joining in and good luck with your writing! For those of you who are just dropping by or who haven’t considered daily writing but who are curious to give it a go, it’s never too late to start the challenge. You can find the full explanation of how it works over here.

Wishing you all the best as you navigate this busy month. Now go write!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Lift Off!

Welcome to the 2019 edition of the December Writing Challenge! I laid out the rules of the challenge yesterday, all two of them, so please check those out if you haven’t done so already. Today, we start! This is our official lift-off post, but I hope at least some of you have gotten a few words down already. Remember, it’s not about how many words you write, but the fact that you’re taking the time to do so.

My goal for the challenge is to encourage writers to remember that their writing ambition, at whatever stage, should remain a priority. During this time of the year, it can be difficult to do things for yourself, even important things. The season pushes us to do others; to give, to shop, to cook, to help. And that’s wonderful–something more of us should keep in mind all year long. But your own needs should not be discounted simply because a busy month asks you to prioritize the holiday spirit.

Writing asks a lot of a person. If you’re just starting out, there are so many facets of the craft you need to master. Once you’re further along, you need to continue to grow while taking a more business-minded approach to your career. People don’t often take writers seriously, because so many consider writing something anyone can do. But writing is hard work. And like any hard work, it requires dedication and training.

Writing Is Exercise

Your brain does the heavy lifting when you write. It’s the source of your ideas, your creativity, and of all the different ways you can put those down on paper. And like any muscle, your brain must be conditioned to perform on demand. You would not take a month off from running and then expect to go run your best race. Likewise, you can’t allow your writing to take a backseat to life for a few weeks and expect the words to flow when you finally return to your work-in-progress.

A little bit of writing daily, even for half an hour, will keep your brain in shape. You might not love everything you produce this month, but that can be said of any month. So make a date with your writing. Make it a priority. Remember that come January, you have lofty goals for the new year, things you want to accomplish. Keep writing now and keep that future in your sights.

I’ll be posting bits of encouragement and tips here throughout the month. You can also follow me on Twitter for more regular reminders and cheerleading @NepheleTempest. I’ll be using the tag #DecWritingChallenge. Now, go write!

December Writing Challenge 2019: Rules of the Game

Every year, I challenge writers to defy their busy schedules in December and keep up their writing. December brings so many obstacles with it. Between holidays, shopping, entertaining, travel, and work responsibilities, it can be difficult to find time to write. You intend to work on that current project, but distractions keep cropping up, pulling you away from your computer. Before you know it, a week has gone by and you haven’t even opened your project file. All the writing momentum you’ve built up over the year, whether through NaNoWriMo or just your own schedule, gets lost. Instead of making new writing goals for the new year, you just hope you can remember where your story goes next.

December Writing Challenge 2019 banner on a chalkboard

Enter the December Writing Challenge. I challenge you to make your writing a priority. Your goals are just as important as fixing the perfect holiday dinner or cleaning the house before the family descends. So decide now that you are going to write every day in December. It doesn’t have to be for long, or polished and perfected. You can work on a shitty first draft or play with a new idea or tackle a new writing exercise each day. But sit down and write. Try for 30 minutes, though 15 will do in a pinch. Commit yourself to keeping your writing momentum going through the holiday season, so you’re all ready come January for your 2020 resolutions.

The Rules:

  1. Write every day. Doesn’t matter when or where or what. Just set aside half an hour to dedicate to your writing.
  2. You can take two days off over the month, if you really need them. Planning a big holiday dinner at your house? You can take a freebie day. Travel day that sucks up hours with you behind the wheel? Maybe that’s a good day not to write. But only take them if you have to, and try to keep it to two days out of 31.

That’s it. Those are the only rules. Keep in mind, you can customize the challenge as need be. Edit if you’ve got a deadline coming, or schedule longer writing sessions. Break up your writing into small chunks over the day if that makes it easier. This challenge isn’t about word counts or finishing a novel in a month. It’s about keeping your brain in training so the blank page isn’t so scary come January 1st.

A Few Tips:

  1. Schedule writing sessions ahead of time, and put reminders on your calendar, complete with alerts.
  2. Let your family know what you’re doing and that your writing time is non-negotiable (assuming no one’s bleeding).
  3. Find a few writing friends and set up writing dates over the course of the month to keep yourself accountable.
  4. Carry a pen and notebook with you so, if need be, you can spend a few minutes jotting down words when you’re standing in a long line at the store, commuting on public transportation, or waiting in the car to pick up your kids.
  5. Have fun with it. Let yourself play around and write something different if you’re having trouble with your WIP. Don’t make this stressful, just keep writing.

Countdown to the December Writing Challenge 2019

Each year, I challenge you to spend your December writing a little bit every day. Why? Because for most of us, December marks the busiest part of the year. Between holidays and end-of-year work projects, traffic and crowded stores, family and entertaining, it can be chaotic. Writing often takes a backseat to all your other tasks and commitments. Then January hits, with its new year resolutions, and your brain stalls out immediately on your writing goals.

Girl-on-laptop

 

My challenge involves prioritizing your writing. You don’t need to write a great deal (unless of course you have a deadline or other motivating factor). The idea is to write a little bit every day. Try and grab half an hour, but fifteen minutes will do. Warn your friends and family that  you’re setting aside a little time each day for your writing. Mark it in your calendar. Whatever you need to do to commit to the page.

I’ll post the full rules for the writing challenge later in the week, and I’ll be back on Sunday, December 1st, to kick it off officially. Over the month, I’ll be posting mini peptalks here, with suggestions to keep you going. I’ll post reminders on Twitter daily, too, along with a little cheerleading.

I hope you’ll join me for this year’s December Writing Challenge. If you’re working on NaNoWriMo, it’s a great way to keep up your momentum. If you’re hoping to make inroads with your writing in 2020, this will give you a push. Dare to take your writing to the next step and see what you can do. Happy writing!

Friday Links: Inspiration and Influence

We discuss inspiration a lot when talking about what we write. We want to read, to fill the well, to take in new ideas. Things inspire you to go in a particular direction with your work-in-progress. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation or a bit of reading, other times it’s more nebulous. Colors in the trees. A flashy outfit on a woman across the street. A moment of fear when it looks like something terrible might happen.

Girl_on_mountain_stretching_at_sunset

But past influences? I think we mostly discuss those in relation to published writers, asking them to look back at who they’ve read and what they’ve experienced that made them a writer. It’s harder to think about it in the moment, to look at your half-formed manuscript and recognize the pieces of your past that form the roots. It’s something to consider, next time you hit a wall or find your momentum slowing. Think about where you’re going, but also about where you’ve been. Ask what brought you there. It might help you figure out what comes next.

Along those lines, I offer up this week’s Friday Links, with plenty of inspiration and maybe a few looks at influence, too. I hope they give you a push in the right direction. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and productive writing!

This Week’s Links:

Five Books about Artists and the Magic of Creativity. – Maggie Stiefvater discusses the natural melding of art and magic and how that comes across in books.

The Second Shelf. – A peek into the world of A.N. Devers’s wonderful second-hand bookshop, located in London, where books by women get a second life in a market that is traditionally dominated by male writers.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of November. – Some great new titles topping the list per Amazon.

How to Unlearn Everything: When it Comes to Writing the ‘Other,’ What Questions Are We not Asking? – Alexander Chee looks at the importance of including diverse characters versus what it means to let a person tell their own story.

Explore the List of 100 Novels that Shaped Our World. – The BBC shares a broad list of titles voted on by a collection of writers, critics, etc., focusing not on what books are “best,” but on what works had the most influence on them and their surroundings.

Philip Pullman On Children’s Literature and the Critics Who Distain It. – The author looks at the what the label “children’s literature” actually means, and why these books are no less worthy of an adult’s attention than any other type of writing.

How to Review a Novel. – Advice on the process, but also something interesting for fiction writers to consider. Reviewers and pleasure readers can have very different perspectives.

A Roundup of 2019’s Major Science Fiction and Fantasy Award Winners. – Pad out your TBR list with some of these amazing award-winning novels.

Setting Writing Goals for 2019

Setting writing goals at the end of December helps you get the new year off the a great start. Resolutions get a bad rap. Everyone knows how fast they fall by the wayside. But goals? Those can be set at any time. I just happen to like setting new ones at the beginning of the year.

Setting writing goals for 2019

Before you set your new goals, think about this year’s writing. Maybe you’re coming off of NaNoWriMo and my December Writing Challenge and want to keep that momentum. Maybe you’ve finished drafting a novel and need to revise. Do you feel ready to shop a project to agents? Are you just starting out and hoping to finish a first manuscript? Your recent progress and writing habits help set the stage for your next steps.

Don’t just consider one side of your writing. Some things will be going well, others will have frustrated you. Take in the entire picture. Consider what writing habits need rethinking, and which work for you. Did you set goals for 2018? Be sure to review those. See what you accomplished and take a minute to pat yourself on the back. Are there any goals you didn’t meet? Some may still apply while others may have changed over the year.

Once you’ve got a good idea of where your writing stands now, it’s time to look forward. Goals should challenge you, but you should also be able to achieve them. Overwhelming yourself might result in you giving up, but going easy won’t necessarily help you progress.

Tips for Setting Writing Goals:

Choose several goals of varying size and difficulty. The smaller goals will be easier to achieve and provide a sense of accomplishment, while the larger ones will keep you moving forward all year.

Stagger the dates when you aim to achieve your goals. You might have one or two large goals that you plan to complete by the end of the year. A few medium sized goals might take you only six months, while small goals might need one month or three months, depending on their difficulty. You can stagger the start dates, too, so that one small goal starts when an earlier one has been finished.

Consider goals that escalate. For instance, if you finish goal #1 – Revise your manuscript for submission, you’ll be ready for goal #2 – Research literary agents.

Take on goals that you can control. Some things regarding your career will be at least somewhat out of your hands. You might want to sell your first book to a traditional publishing house in 2019, but part of that relies on editors. Make your goals things that involve your actions only, such as querying a specific number of agents, writing a certain number of words per day or per week, or taking a good class to help you improve your writing.

Keeping Your Goals

Once you’ve set your goals, and the dates you aim to complete them, consider what actions you need to take. Write down a few steps required to achieve each goal. I like to keep a spreadsheet for my goals each year, so I can see my action plan at a glance. You might prefer a chart on your bulletin board or something in your planner. I recommend putting reminders in a few places, so you see something goal-related every day. You might also set some more formal reminders in your calendar app so something pops up periodically. Whatever keeps you focused.

Finally, schedule a quarterly check-in on your goals. Plan to review your goal list at the end of March, June, September, and December. This enables you to see your progress. Maybe you’ve finished something early and can start another goal sooner than planned. Maybe something needs a later date because of unforseen circumstances. You can also adjust your goals if you need to do so. Remember, you set the goals, so you can do what you want with them. Add, subtract, rearrange. Consider them a tool to get you where you wish to go. Good luck setting writing goals and achieving them, and with all you do in the year to come.

December Writing Challenge: Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

Looking for some helpful hints to keep the words flowing during the December Writing Challenge? You’re in luck. I know that this challenge can feel like a lot, even without the pressure of hitting a certain word count each day. Many of you are coming off NaNoWriMo and feel you’ve earned a rest. Others of you are just so busy with holiday prep, or end-of-year work deadlines, that writing takes a back seat. So I’m zipping by to give you a few tips on ways to squeeze in a little bit of writing time each day. Remember, it doesn’t need to be a big chunk of time. Just enough to keep your creativity on track and your hand in the game. That way, come January, you won’t lose a week or two trying to get back in the habit.

helpful hints for daily writing

Helpful Hints for Daily Writing

  • Take a long look at your calendar and figure out what days are going to be the worst for you. Parties? House guests? Big work project due? Kids home for winter break? Then figure out how you can manage half an hour of writing time on those days. Maybe you want to schedule yourself a writing lunch. Or it could be as easy as taking a tape recorder on your morning walk and dictating some words instead of physically typing them. But assign yourself a writing block for each of those tough days and set a calendar reminder so you don’t forget.
  • Line up a fun project to work on. This can be instead of or–even better–in addition to whatever your current WIP is. It can be anything that you look forward to working on; a short story, some fanfic, a set of short rhymes, something holiday themed. The sky’s the limit, and there can be as many of these as you’d like. This way when you sit down to work on your main project and the words don’t want to come, you can trade off and get a few words down on the alternate project. You won’t feel nearly as stressed, and you may find it helps you kick any blocks on your main project to the curb.
  • Carry a small notebook and pen with you everywhere, and write if you find you have a few extra minutes. Maybe sitting in the pickup line at your kid’s school, maybe at the dentist’s office–wherever. Put down your cell phone or that three-year-old copy of People, and write instead.
  • Buddy up with a writing partner and make a point of meeting for coffee and writing time. You can trade off houses or hit your favorite coffee shop–whatever is fun but not too distracting. Do a couple of ten or fifteen minute timed writing sprints together, with short breaks in between to chat. Set a timer so  you don’t just talk your day away. It helps to be accountable to another person, so cheer each other on.

Remember that every bit of writing is forward momentum, even if you end up rewriting those words later on. The idea is to spend a few minutes each day thinking about your work and making a bit of progress. All the words count. Good luck, and happy writing!