Year-End Reflections: 2019

I planned to tackle all sorts of end-of-year chores today, but instead I lay on the couch and contemplated the year. I blame this in part on nearly six hours of delays (across two flights) coming back to LA yesterday. It was extremely late when I walked in my door. The rest I blame on the state of my back, which I wrenched just prior to said adventures in air travel. The past day encompassed much of my year: forward momentum accompanied by pain and frustration.

Lately I’ve found it difficult to separate my personal goals and experiences from my world view. Politics bleeds all over everything. And while there’s plenty of progress being made, it is, as ever, nonlinear. The level of hatred and vitriol coloring social media, news reports, public events and more private interactions concerns me. There seems to be so much less harmony, understanding, compromise. No one listens; they just scream out their side of the situation. Nothing escalates gradually. We are full throttle, at war, all the time. And that’s exhausting.

The reality of the world means I can’t afford to disengage with what’s happening out there. It’s too important. But self-interest demands that I pull back to a certain extent. Getting angry over every injustice solves nothing; I need to pick my battles. Obviously, the upcoming presidential election is foremost on my mind. But that means being informed about the candidates, not tracking every upsetting thing Tweeted by our current president. Instead, I plan to focus on issues closer to home; my aging parents and their needs, my friends, my clients, promoting diversity and fair treatment in the publishing industry, my concern over climate change, my personal health, and a few other goals for the year.

It’s been years since I boiled down my life into very distinct categories, but I think it’s time for me to do so again. The older I get, the more aware I am that time moves far faster than we realize. It’s the old adage about the days being long while the years are short. I don’t want to waste time and energy being angry over things I can’t control or that won’t matter in a few weeks. It’s important to narrow my focus, and segment my time accordingly. That means dividing things into boxes: myself, my immediate circle (friends and family), my personal community, my business community, and a worldwide view. I’ll be slotting my goals into each specific box and going from there. And no one box is allowed to overwhelm my life.

Most years my goals involve specific tasks, things I want to achieve, and I’ll be coming up with a few of those, too. But my primary goal is to improve my outlook–my quality of life. Because without that change, I’ll continue to struggle with all my other goals.

How does your big picture look? Are you laying the foundations for any major changes in 2020? I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

 

 

 

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!

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.

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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!

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: NaNo Inspiration and Motivation

For anyone looking for a bit of NaNo inspiration, I have some thoughts beyond my tips from earlier in the week. That post assumes you will use NaNoWriMo more or less as intended by the organizers. To win NaNo, you need to write 50,000 new words in November and submit for verification I hinted there were other ways to tackle the challenge, so today I’d like to elaborate. And yes, links will follow. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, feel free to skip ahead.

The beauty of NaNo lies in the community that forms around it. People who love writing and/or stories get together and celebrate this crazy act of creativity. Many are hobbyists, searching for a fun group activity. A good number never plan to publish a book. They write fanfiction for fun or play around with writing a novel for their own enjoyment. But NaNo works even if you do have major aspirations. Plenty of published writers started out in the NaNoWriMo challenge. And if you search, you’ll learn that many disregarded the rules and made NaNo work for their needs. They used what served their goals, and ignored the rest.

NaNoWriMo for Purists

If you’re a fairly new writer, you might hve an idea for a novel but lack the discipline to work on it regularly. Participating in NaNo encourages you to put your seat in the chair and get those words down. Don’t worry if the words aren’t so great; first drafts tend to be pretty crappy. But they give you a place to start, so you’re no longer staring at a blank page. And by tackling that draft during NaNo, you get a huge support system that’s built into the challenge. Find a write-in group near you and meet with them once a week. Check out the forums and chat with people writing in your genre. Ask questions of seasoned NaNo participants. Read the great pep talks that get posted by the pros. New writers can also find peers in November who become critique partners well into the future.

Already started writing a novel? Pick up where you left off and continue working on it during NaNoWriMo. Novels for adults run far longer than 50,000 words, so take what you’ve written and add to it. You might actually have a complete draft by month’s end. If you track new words written–using a new document, for instance–you can still submit to verify completion of the challenge. And again, make the most of the offers and community that come with the event while you write, letting that NaNo inspiration motivate you through the tough parts.

NaNoWriMo with a Twist

Maybe you’ve been at this a while and have a draft that needs rewriting. Use NaNo and its support systems for your editing project. You might not have a new 50,000-word manuscript to hand in come November 30th, but you’ll still make progress. It’s far more important to hit your own goal than the goal set up by the challenge organizers. And in the meantime, enjoy the cheerleading that goes on during the month. Use it to energize and encourage you as you tackle your rewrite.

What about pacing? Maybe the idea of writing 1,667 words per day (roughly what you need to complete NaNo) makes you panic. So don’t write that fast. Don’t aim for 50,000 words in a month. Make your goal half that, or whatever feels like a doable stretch. Perhaps the challenge for you lies in actually writing daily. Set a time goal instead of a word goal–30 minutes a day until the end of the month. Make the writing habit the aim instead of the finished product.

NaNoWriMo works so well because the challenge offers you one potential route to success, and then encourages participants to come play on your own terms. Now, maybe none of these options appeal to you, and that’s fine too. But if you’re looking for a way to participate in NaNoWriMo, I say go for it. Figure out what you want to achieve, and adapt the challenge to meet that goal.

With that bit of NaNo inspiration out there, I’ll move on to the links for the week. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

Messy Attics of the Mind: What’s Inside a Writer’s Notebook. – Interesting look at the act of keeping notes and the ongoing fascination with the origin of story ideas.

5 Books Featuring Women in Love with Women. – Tor offers up some wonderful SFF titles for anyone looking to mix up their reading list.

7 Wonderful Classic Reprint Series. – When you favorites get a new look. Nice peek at some great new book designs.

The Draw of the Gothic. – What fascinates us about this particular story mood.

Inside the Rooms Where 20 Famous Books Were Written. – A peek at the room where it happened. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

How to Renew Your English Degree. – A bit of humor courtesy of McSweeney’s.

3 Principles for Finding Time to Write. – Tips for how to prioritize your writing.

 

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!

The Year in Review: Time to Assess 2017

Before you start setting goals for next year, it’s important to assess 2017 and see where you stand. This has been a difficult year for many, and that can make it frustrating to consider your progress — or lack of it. But not every year will shine. Some years bring major challenges. Here are some tips for considering this year in an honest fashion, and for gearing up for 2018. So grab your list of goals for 2017 if you made one, and some paper, and get ready to analyze.

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Considering Your Goals for the Year

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I encourage writers to set goals every year. So if you joined me for that process, or did it on your own, you should have some sort of list or spreadsheet of what you wanted to achieve. This will help you assess 2017. Take a look at what you wanted to accomplish, step by step, and see how you did. Be honest, but don’t be overly critical if you fell short. Just note what went well, what you pulled off, and where you made progress. Congratulate yourself for the things that got done. Then look at what you didn’t finish, or maybe gave up on. Maybe there were projects you never even started. Ask yourself why some goals went better than others.

  • Were some goals easier?
  • Were you more interested in completing certain things?
  • Did you get frustrated by roadblocks or lack of progress and slowly give up on any of your goals?
  • Did you underestimate the time you needed for something?
  • How did life get in your way?
  • Did any of your goals just become less important as the year progressed?

The key here is to think about where you got in own your way, and where other factors came into play. That way you know where to focus your attention in the future. Don’t beat yourself up for any failures; they’re learning opportunities.

Considering How to Make Goals More Manageable in the Future

We fall short on goals for many reasons, only some of which you can control. Understand that there will always be things that happen that require you to shift your focus elsewhere or set projects aside. But you can take your own habits and tendencies into account, giving yourself an advantage. A few tips:

  • Make sure you’ve broken your goals up into sufficiently small parts.
  • Build a little extra time into goals that you know depend on other people’s cooperation.
  • Consider if a goal is time sensitive, or just something you decided you wanted to do; deadlines tend to motivate.
  • Keep your list of goals to a manageable number, and consider the level of difficulty for each one; one big goal and a few small ones or several medium-sized goals can help balance your efforts.

Once you’ve had time to assess 2017 and all you’ve accomplished, you’ll be ready to start looking forward to your goals for next year. Don’t jump right into it. Take a few days to let ideas percolate. Think about where you want to go with your writing, but also with other areas of your life.

Consider your day job, your family and relationships, your health, finances, and community responsibilites. 2017 made a lot of people sit up and take more notice of politics, so that might affect your plans for next year. Maybe you want to travel more, or go back to school. Take it all into consideration and even make a few notes while you’re brainstorming. Then next week, we’ll talk about setting goals for 2018.

 

 

2017 Writing Goals: 3rd Quarter Check-In

Play Your Writing Goals

Time to review your writing goals for 2017! We’ve entered the final quarter of the year, so grab that list of goals and see where you stand. Or maybe you’re just getting around to making some writing goals. Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, consider where you’d like to go next, and how to get there.

Writing Goals Review

If you set goals for your writing at any point this year, look back and see what you’ve achieved versus where you need to recommit. Maybe you managed to complete some smaller goals, but you’re behind with a big one. Perhaps you focused on a major goal, while some small ones fell by the wayside. Or perhaps circumstances have changed and you need to rework one or more goals to match.

Be honest when you assess your progress, but don’t beat yourself up. Use your goals as a tool, a rudder by which to steer your career as best you can. Sometimes we lose track of what we’re trying to achieve, but sometimes life just gets in the way. Only you know where you should be working harder, and where you have to cut yourself some slack.

Reassess Your Writing Goals

Once you know where you stand, you can determine where you want to go. Maybe you’re on track, and all you need to do is keep working as you have been. Congratulations! But maybe you want to cross a goal off your list as no longer valid, or you need to change the timeline on something you’ve been writing. Don’t hesitate to tweak your goals as necessary. These goals are for you; you get to say what they should be, what’s working and what isn’t.

Writing Goals Going Forward

If you didn’t set goals earlier in the year, do so now. Even with three months left to 2017, you can accomplish plenty to help you move forward with your writing. Commit to writing daily, or consider submitting short work to a contest or for publication. Start researching literary agents, or get your author’s website up and running.

Even if you did set goals for the year, you can certainly add new ones at this stage. Maybe you’ve come up with a new idea for a project that requires some research, or you’re ahead with something and ready for the next step. Goal lists should remain flexible, and not adhere strictly to the calendar year.

Checking in with your writing goals enables you to keep on top of your career and your accomplishments. People typically forget about their new year’s resolutions by March. If you check in on your writing ambitions frequently over the course of the year, you’ll keep them fresh in your mind. So make your list of goals, set some calendar reminders, and go write.

Friday Links: The Writing Goals Review Edition

Six months down, six months to go. We’re officially halfway through 2017. Have you checked in with your writing goals lately? As we head into the weekend, it’s the perfect time to set aside an hour or so and review the goals you made earlier this year. Figure out if you’re on track, if you’ve veered way off the path, if some of your goals need to be revised because your aspirations have shifted or circumstances make it necessary.

It’s important to have a plan, to know where you want to go with your career. Yes, there’s always room for new ideas and for spontaneous shifts when great opportunities come up, but overall, you should know what you’re aiming to achieve, and the steps you need to take to do so. So look back and see what you’ve done well, and where you’ve fallen down on the job. More than anything, be honest with yourself; don’t beat yourself up for failures, but also acknowledge when you might have worked harder, said no to a few more nights out when you should have been writing, or allowed a shiny idea to lure you away from a work in progress.

Then look forward. Where do you want to be at the end of December? Do you have smaller goals you can finish by summer’s end? By late September? Before the holidays hit? Stagger your self-imposed deadlines and make sure you have some more managable tasks that you can check off your goal list on the road to your more major accomplishments.

As for this week’s links, I like to think everything I dig up has the potential to help you along your path to goal fulfillment. You knw the steps you need to take: read, write, revise, and educate yourself about the writing business. So on the cusp of this long Independence Day weekend here in the U.S., I wish you all the inspiration and motivation you need to meet your goals head-on. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The American Experience in 737 Novels – This resource feels appropriate as we commemorate the birth of our nation.

22 of Your Favorite Writers on What to Read This Summer – Recommendations from some amazing authors.

Deal or No Deal: Why Being a Literary Agent Doesn’t Make it Easier to Write a Book – Some advice from the other side of the desk.

20 Magical Tattoos for 20 Years of Harry Potter – Some fun body art in honor of the Boy Who Lived’s anniversary.

25 Books for Teens Written by Black Women Writers to Rock Your 2017 – A great list to help round out your TBR pile.

M.L. Rio’s 5 Best Novels Inspired by Shakespeare – So many great books take their cues from classics. Here Rio shares some of her favorites based on the works of the Bard.

How to Keep Writing (Even if You Have a Day Job): 5 Tips from Novelist Jennifer Close – Some useful advice to keep the words flowing.