Goal Setting for the New Year Ahead

Most years, I start discussing goals for the new year a few weeks before the end of December. I advocate for taking time to review the year you’ve just gone through to see where things stand. Have you written as much as you’d like? Did you make more progress or less than you wanted? What needs finishing? Improving? Where do you need to just keep up the good work? You need to know where you stand to figure out where you want to go.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

As with all things, 2020 proves the exception. I still think it’s important to take stock of your current writing progress, but looking back over the year is a personal decision. For many of you, it’s better to just plow forward because it’s been a year of frustration and lost focus. If you’ve achieved your goals for 2020, kudos! But many, many people will have fallen short. Don’t beat yourself up. We’re living through extraordinary times and it’s important to be kind to yourself.

So what does this mean for 2021? New years deserve new goals. I’m not a huge resolution person, as many of you might know. I feel like the expectations are huge and the follow-through unlikely. Goals come at any part of the year, however, and you can always add to them or adjust them based on circumstances. Consider them guideposts for your writing plans.

Setting Goals for 2021

By all means, take a day or so to think about what goals you’d like to set for your writing next year. Make them measurable, and things you can control, especially after this past year. Don’t say “I’m going to get an agent,” because you only control part of that scenario. Instead, plan to complete the steps required. A series of goals related to finding an agent might include:

  • Finish writing manuscript.
  • Revise/edit manuscript until it’s ready to submit.
  • Research agents and agencies (to see who reps your type of writing and who might be interested in your work).
  • Write a synopsis and a query letter.

Those are all manageable steps, things you can check off your to-do list and call completed. Finishing a manuscript takes far more time than writing a query letter, so it would be a larger goal. You might research agents in small bursts over several weeks. Revising requires more time, especially if you plan to let a manuscript sit until you have a fresh perspective.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, from newbie to pro, I recommend setting a few goals of different sizes and then estimating when you might reasonably finish them. A big goal might take all year, but smaller ones might be complete in a couple of months or so. Set them up on a calendar, and stagger some of those smaller projects. For instance, you might have a major goal that runs until December, as well as a medium one that runs January to June and a smaller one from July to September.

Making Allowances for Life

2020 won’t be the only year to mess with you careful planning. Consider your typical year and allow more time during periods where you get busy or have other responsibilities, whether to a day job or family. If the December holidays are usually packed with chores and family gatherings, you might aim to finish a larger goal in mid-November so you don’t feel the pinch for time. But keep in mind, you can also tweak your timelines based on your life and what comes up. Stay flexible. They’re your goals; unless you have a publishing deadline or something similar tied to your goal, you’re the only one who can say when and how it needs to be done. Don’t let yourself off the hook for every tiny detour, but don’t beat yourself up if you honestly need to alter your original schedule.

Finally, remember to write your goals down somewhere you’ll see them often, and keep them fresh in your mind. Review them at the end of each month or quarter to assess your progress and see what needs to be updated. If you’re ahead of schedule, you might wish to add a new goal at some point during the year. And always find at least some little way of congratulating or rewarding yourself when you hit one of those goals. Achievement should be celebrated.

December Writing Challenge 2020: Ready, Set, Write!

Welcome to the December Writing Challenge! I posted the rules for the challenge on the blog yesterday. You can remember them pretty easily, as they boil down to “write at least a little bit every day this month.” I include some ways to make that easier on yourself, but in general, the goal is to keep your writing momentum going.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Most writers have resolutions or goals regarding their careers. When a new year rolls around, they brush off those goals and dive in. But if you spend December NOT writing, because you’re busy with holidays and year-end distractions, writing becomes more difficult.

Your brain needs training, like every other muscle. If you don’t use it for a particular task for a while, it won’t forget how to do it, but it will get a little bit lazy about it. The December Writing Challenge forces you to flex that muscle, even if just for half-an-hour, each day so you’re ready to get back to business in January.

Now, we all know 2020 has been a very rough year. It’s played hard and fast with many people’s ability to focus, to be creative, and that hasn’t magically become better because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By all means, be kind to yourself. But take this opportunity to try and get your writer’s brain back on track. Make a small effort each day. They add up.

I will be posting prompts and ideas and encouragement here on the blog all month long. You will also find me cheerleading over on Twitter @NepheleTempest, under #DecWritingChallenge. In the meantime, I’ve a few tips to get you going.

Challenge Tips:

  • Schedule your writing time. Look through your calendar and make a few writing appointments, with reminders and everything.
  • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing. Make it clear your writing time is sacred and you need to take those minutes for yourself.
  • Find a writing buddy to hold you accountable. I mentioned this yesterday and I can’t stress how helpful it can be. If you do the challenge together, you can check in and give each other a mental boost on days when it’s more difficult.
  • Make your writing time an occasion. Fix a cup of coffee or tea, light a candle, grab a couple of delicious cookies. If you like writing to music, put on your favorite playlist. Treat yourself to your ideal writing conditions as often as possible.
  • Try a different medium. If you’re having trouble writing, try pen and ink if you normally use a computer, or pull out an old typewriter from your attic and put it to work.
  • Play in someone else’s sandbox. If you’re feeling blocked on your own project, try your hand at fanfiction for your favorite book, film, or TV show.

I hope these give you some inspiration to get started. You deserve the time to write, to create, to reach for your dreams. If you have an existing writing habit, good for you. I hope this motivates you to keep going. If you’re thinking about writing, start. Today. Right now. Go write. I challenge you.

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!

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: With No Theme Beyond Bookish Pursuits

Some weeks there’s just no theme other than bookish pursuits to connect the links I’ve collected to share with you. With a little work, I can generally find one; everything is reading and/or writing related, after all. But I’ll admit this week was long, and I’m likely working straight through the weekend, so I’m just going to throw the links out there and hope that will do. I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and some good writing and reading time along with whatever you have planned. Enjoy!

This Week’s Links:

Fresh Voices: 50 Writers You Should Read Now. – A great list of suggestions across various genres, both fiction and nonfiction.

The 7 Creepiest Manor Houses in Mystery. – Some great reads for those of you who enjoy mysteries set in creepy old houses.

The Paris Review Names a New Editor: Emily Nemens of The Southern Review. – This week’s announcement regarding the editor set to replace Lorin Stein, who left the journal after allegations of sexual misconduct.

These Writers Are Launching a New Wave of Native American Literature. – An introduction to some talented up-and-coming authors.

First Draft with Tomi Adeyemi. – Great podcast interview with debut YA author Tomi Adeyemi about her recently released CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE and her journey to publication.

Does Having a Day Job Mean Making Better Art? – An interesting look at the life of the artist and what contributes to their creative output.

Here Are the Literary Guggenheim Fellows of 2018.  – Some talented writers on this year’s list. Worth checking them out.

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.

Friday Links: A New-Year Writer’s Jump Start

Welcome to 2018, and a writer’s jump start to kick things off right. Whatever your goals for the new year, I hope you’ve included plans to stretch your writing. Maybe you want to submit more stories, search for an agent, or finish a work-in-progress. Or perhaps you’re a published writer intent on taking your work to the next level. Whatever your goals, I aim to help, with Friday Links to inspire and entertain, future posts looking at craft and the publishing world, and some surprises I have in the works.

The first week of the year always feels a bit slow, as everyone gets back into the swing following the holidays. Next week, I’ll have some announcements regarding submissions and more, so be sure to check back. But first, I bring you some links to get your creativity flowing and maybe help move forward with your goals. There’s a little something for everyone, so enjoy, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

A Few Things to Consider before Submitting Your Work to a Literary Magazine. – Great tips to help you put your best foot forward.

How to Take Great Bookish Selfies. – For anyone whose new year’s goals include becoming more active on social media.

Making British Characters Realistic as an American Writer… and Vice Versa. – Advice for how to make your characters ring true.

A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2018. – Places to submit your short fiction in the coming year. Mark your calendars!

Words to Add to Your Vocabulary, Especially if You’re a Book Lover. – Some terrific words for the bookworms among us.

15 Books You Should Read This January. – A rundown of some of the month’s hot new titles, several of which have gone directly onto my TBR list.

Literary Hub’s Favorite Books of 2017. – In case you might have missed anything…

 

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.

desk-with-laptop

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.

 

 

Friday Links: A Bookish Holiday Guide

In honor of the holiday season, this week’s links feature a bookish holiday guide to help you find gifts for the readers and writers on your list, figure out what hints to drop to your loved ones, and maybe plan your vacation reads. Everyone needs a great book to read through the holidays. Whether you pick a new release or a classic, something seasonally themed or more personal, there are books for all types of readers.

Don’t forget to schedule some writing time this weekend, no matter how much shopping you have to do. Keep up with (or join) the December Writing Challenge. Even if you just take half an hour each day, make your writing a priority. No one else can do that work for you. Train your brain to be creative even when you’re busy. You’ll develop great habits to help kick off the new year.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend. I hope my bookish holiday guide helps with your shopping, and that your writing project flows. All the words count!

bookish-holiday-guide

This Week’s Links:

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2017’s Great Reads. – This might be my favorite annual book list, as NPR sets up their page to help you search for books by subject, etc. Wonderful, huge selection.

The Ultimate BuzzFeed Books Gift Guide. – Another big list of great books to give and get.

YA Books Gift Guide for 2017. – BuzzFeed also offers this great roundup of young adult books for the year, for the younger readers in your life, plus the young-at-heart readers as well.

10 Cookbooks Inspired by Children’s Books. – A fun list of cookbooks that readers will love, particularly if they tend to be nostalgic for their favorite childhood reads.

Historically, men translated The Odyssey. Here’s what happened when a woman took the job. – A look at the newly translated version of Homer’s epic, a great gift for the classics fan on your list.

Diaries are evidence of our days. – Okay, a little more writer than reader, but a great arguement from Austin Kleon on keeping a daily log book, something that can appeal to anyone.

New York Review of Books’ Reader’s Catalog. – A fabulous online selection of tons of book-themed gifts, from shirts to wrapping paper to novelty items.

The Little Bookroom. – A lovely little online bookshop dedicated to travel-related books.

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.