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!

 

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!

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?

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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.