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.

Friday Links: Holiday Insanity Edition

Holiday insanity seems to have struck full force, so this week’s Friday Links are more fly-by than focused. Everyone apparently realized over the last few days that there’s about a week of business left before people vanish for the break, so all the work needs to be done. Right. Now. This means meetings, phone calls, and extremely-late-night reading sessions.

A few quick announcements before I move on to the links for the week. First, in case you missed it on Twitter, I will be closing to new submissions as of tomorrow, December 15th, through January (more or less). I’m trying to slow the deluge going into the holidays, and then I hope to catch up reading existing submissions. I’m still behind from our switchover to Query Manager. I love the new system,  but juggling two sets of submissions has been challenging. I hope to get through the backlog from the old system so I’m just down to one set of projects to read. Currently, I plan to reopen to submissions around the end of next month. I’ll post here and on Twitter when I’ve got a precise date.

Also, the December Writing Challenge continues! If you’ve missed some days, don’t sweat it. Just get back to writing and make an effort to set aside at least a small window of time for your work each day. You can do it, and you’ll be so happy come January that you didn’t get completely out of the writing habit.

Finally, we’re coming up on the time of year for setting new goals. I’ll be talking about goal-setting next week here on the blog, so start thinking about what you might want to accomplish in 2019.

And with that, I will move on to this week’s links. I hope that you find them entertaining, and a good break from the holiday insanity. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

A True Utopia: An Interview with N.K. Jemisin. – This lovely interview over at The Paris Review blog discusses short fiction vs. novel writing, what Jemisin envisions for the future, and more.

Tin House Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Issue Will Be Its Last. – Tin House announces the end of an era. Full focus will shift to their book publishing division and their workshops.

How a Cover Letter Can Help You Get Published. – Great tips, many of which hold true whether you’re submitting to periodicals or to agents/editors.

Kate DiCamillo, Chronicler of the Hard Truths of Youth. – NPR interviews the author about her honest approach to children’s fiction.

A Tour of a Writer’s London Sitting Room. – Take a peek into the world of author Ben Schott.

13 Libraries Book Lovers Need to Follow on Instagram. – A great assortment of library accounts, though just the tip of the iceberg.

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!

December Writing Challenge: Maintaining Momentum

Maintaining momentum with your writing can be difficult at any time, but December offers some unique obstacles. Whether you’ve just finished NaNoWriMo and hope to keep writing so you can finish your novel, or you despair of getting any work done in the coming weeks, this challenge is for you. The December Writing Challenge seeks to help writers generate words during what is probably the busiest time of the year. December comes with a collection of holidays, all requiring cooking and shopping and socializing. Plenty of distractions from your work in progress. Plus it’s not just the fun distractions. Year end means finalizing work projects, reconciling finances, and other less pleasant but unavoidable tasks. What’s a writer to do?

Every year I challenge writers to keep their writing going. Don’t let the busy season keep you from maintaining momentum. If writing is important to you, you’ll commit to working on that latest project, whatever it might be, all month long.

So what’s the challenge? I challenge you to write, every day in December, for at least a little while. That’s it. There are no manditory word counts or goals for the month, just a commitment to putting your rear in the chair. I hope you’ll manage at least 30 minutes per day, but 15 will do if you can’t swing more.

Why every day? I know there are plenty of successful writers who do not write every day. But I’m a fan of building a habit, and the idea here is to keep your brain primed for the new year. Most writers charge into January with all sorts of writing goals, so this keeps your imagination churning in the meantime. Train your brain to come to the table–or desk–expecting that it needs to produce. You’ll be much happier come January 1st.

I do, however, acknowledge that life happens, especially in December. You’re traveling. You have guests staying with you. Holiday traffic leaves you trapped on a freeway for hours. I get it. So you are allowed two free days, to use at will, when you can take the day off from writing. Use them for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Use them for the day the in-laws hit town. Whatever. Your choice. Choose wisely.

Of course, there’s no grand prize if you complete this challenge, beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did. Oh, and that lack of dread when you head to your desk in the new year. It’s all up to you. But I believe you can do it, and maintaining momentum with your writing will give you a great head start on those 2019 goals.

I’ll be putting up some cheerleading posts here and also on Twitter as the month progresses. I hope you’ll have fun with this challenge. Work on a couple of projects. Start a new story. Experiment in a different genre. Hit that upcoming deadline. You decide what to write; the sky’s the limit.

Enjoy, and happy writing!

Tackling NaNoWriMo: Tips for Writing a Novel in a Month

Tackling NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month–challenges any writer, whether they have participated for years or are new to the event. Each year, I offer advice on how to get the most out of the month, whatever your personal goal. The key to NaNo is to remember to have fun. This challenge aims to help you get words on paper, to push through a long project without overthinking. It’s great for anyone who tends to stop and rewrite repeatedly before moving on. Because that strategy? Doesn’t work for NaNo. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, you need to ignore your mistakes and just go.

Tackling NaNoWriMo header with writing supplies for November

So where do you start? These few days before the November kickoff allow you a chance to prepare. Below, I have some ideas for what you might want to do, both in terms of writing your NaNo project and for maintaining your sanity during the challenge.

Know Your Goal:

The rules state that NaNoWriMo consists of writing a new 50,000-word project between November 1st and November 30th. Reality allows you to adapt this to whatever works for you. If you’re starting a new project, great. (And most of my tips below assume such.) But you can easily finish a novel already in progress, too. Just start a new file for the remainder of the book, to keep track, and write another 50,000 words.

Regardless of your goal, NaNo offers plenty of support for anyone writing in November. Take advantage of it.

Plan What to Write:

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser–someone who prefers to outline ahead or just let the spirit take you–it’s helpful to start NaNoWriMo with at least some idea of what you want to write. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but a few basics will go a long way to get your creativity flowing.

Think ahead about your characters. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What sort of obstacles might they face? Do they have a love interest? Arch enemy? Cohorts? Friends and family? Adding these characters and describing them over the course of the story will add to your word count.

Next think about your genre. If you’re writing romance, you know you’re aiming for a happily ever after. For fantasy or science fiction, your characters might not all be human. Do you have special technology in your story? For a historical, you will need background research. And many types of stories rely heavily on setting and/or world building. Don’t hesitate to hit the library or do some online searches regardling locations, tech, history, etc. Take notes, so you’ll have lots of great detail on hand to weave into your writing.

Finally, consider scenes you’ve already envisioned. How do your characters reach those points? What happens after the scenes? Think about repercussions. It’s good to have some key scenes you’re excited to write, especially on days words don’t flow easily.

Organize Your Life:

Let friends and family know you’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo, so they understand your time might be tight for a few weeks.

Stock the fridge with healthy snacks in addition to the fun ones. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great brain food when you’re on a writing tear. Also, cook some easy meals ahead and freeze them for quick dinner prep.

Check supplies of important staples: coffee, tea, tissues, toilet paper–anything you’d hate to run out of in November.

Prepare to take care of yourself. Put reminders in your phone so you go for walks or hit the gym during NaNo. The exercise will help keep your mind fresh.

Tackling NaNoWriMo:

Schedule a few smaller writing sessions per day rather than trying to hit your daily goal in one goal.

Do write ahead on days you’re feeling strong. If you have the time, keep going. You’ll stockpile words for days you’re busy or less inspired.

Don’t feel you need to write linearly. Skip around if it helps you keep writing. Just make notes of places where you need to fill in later.

Don’t stop to edit. Don’t fret over sloppy writing or repetition. Just keep getting your ideas down. You’ll have plenty of time to rewrite later.

If a scene isn’t coming, jot it down in note form as a place holder. The words will count and you’ll replace them with even more when you finally tackle that section. Again, flag where you’ve done this so you remember to go back.

Do take advantage of group write-ins or other NaNo community events. It helps to have some cheerleaders who know what you’re up against.

Don’t ignore those reminders you set to get some exercise. And remember to get a good night’s sleep, too.

These are just a few ideas for ways to make tackling NaNoWriMo fun and relatively painless. Be sure to check out the main site, where there are additional tips and forums filled with encouragement. Whatever your goal for November, I wish you good luck and happy writing.

Friday Links: Winter Weekend Distractions

I realize winter weekend distractions seem to disregard the southern hemisphere, but I promise that these work for hot summer days as well as snowy ones. Or damp and rainy days, if you’re currently in my neighborhood. This week’s links include some wonderful bookish fare to get you reading, or considering what you read, as well as some writerly food for thought. Whether you’re curling up in front of the fire or the air conditioner, these sites should give you some entertainment.

January can be a difficult month, with its emphasis on fresh starts and resolutions. So I hope these links give you some less-stressful ideas for how to structure your days, as well as some encouragement on the writing front. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. Enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

The Keynote. – Author Liza Palmer shares the wonderful closing keynote she presented at the October, 2017, Surrey International Writers Conference. I’m including a hankie warning with this one, but it’s well worth it. Please do check it out.

50 DIY Reading Challenges to Make 2018 the Best Year of Your Reading Life. – Pretty much as described. Includes some fun ideas for customizing your reading year.

A Winter Reading List. – A great list of suggested titles, both new and classic, to provide cozy winter weekend distractions no matter the weather.

What I Learned from Reading 300+ Books in 2017. – An interesting look at one reader’s effort to up her numbers, and the results.

John Jeremiah Sullivan: There’s No Such Thing as Wasted Writing. – The writer shares his experience of the writing process.

Bookish’s 2018 Reading Challenge. – This should really be plural; it’s a different challenge for each week of the year. Pick and choose as you’d like.

Residencies for Writers in 2018. – A great resource for anyone considering applying to a writer’s residency soon.

Repositories of Memory: On the Country House Novel. – This sort of novel has always struck me as a very wintery read. Two writers share their thoughts on the genre.

I Rearranged My Books by Color and Died a Little Inside. – One booklover describes her attempt to organize her shelves in this recent popular fashion.

Year-End Friday Links (on Holiday Delay)

Apologies for posting the year-end Friday links a bit late this week. I spent most of Thursday and the early part of Friday traveling home from visiting my parents. Due to various flight issues, I arrived about the time I should have been waking up. I declared yesterday a nap day.

2017 has been a very odd and difficult year. Despite the distractions, I hope you all got some good writing and reading done over the past months. Even the worst periods in time have their shiny moments. If you haven’t already, take a moment to appreciate your accomplishments this year, and to think about where to go next. Although I’ve written about all the ways to set up next year’s goals, it can be as simple as jotting a few ideas down. Think about what you’d like to achieve, and how you should set out to chase down that goal.

Congratulations to everyone who has been keeping up with the December Writing Challenge. Remember that all the words count, even those you eventually edit. Just keep plugging away, training your mind to be creative on demand. Stretch your imagination and reach for the stars.

Without further ado, I offer up this week’s Friday (Saturday?) Links. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and an excellent end of a very hard year. Happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

Quartz’s Favorite Africa Books of 2017. – A rundown of some excellent African titles to add to your TBR list.

The Best Books We Missed in 2017. – Some less-discussed books from various genres, plus recs from their authors.

A Year in Books: 2017, vol. 1. – The editors of The Attic on Eighth take turns discussing their year in reading.

The Woman Working to Ensure No Community Is Left without Literature. – Checking in with Lisa Lucas in her second year heading up the National Book Foundation.

Mourning Sue Grafton. – Thoughts on the passing of the talented and prolific mystery writer.

What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Books of the Year. – A different angle on the ever-popular annual “best books” lists.

How to Sanitize a Hateful Troll. – On the dissection of the editorial comments for Milo Yiannopoulos’s canceled book.

Writers and Creators Discuss What It Means to Make Art in the Trump Era. – Talking about the effects on the artists, the art, and the audience.

Holiday Break 2017

I’m packing it up for the holiday break and heading back east to visit family. The Knight Agency offices are officially closed until January 3rd. I will post updates here on the blog, however, through the end of the month. Look out for Friday Links and more December Writing Challenge encouragement. In the meantime, don’t forget to schedule your writing time each day for the challenge. Mark those calendars, set alerts in your phone, stick a note on the fridge door. Do what you need to in order to put in a bit of writing time. All the words count!

Those of you waiting on responses to submissions, I hope to get a few more out this week. More news about those, plus an update regarding when I’ll reopen to new submissions, after the start of the year.

Safe travels to anyone on the road, the rails, or heading into the friendly skies!

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.

daily-writing-habit

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.

 

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.