Archives For Making Goals

Posts that have anything to do with making goals.

I just spent the last two weeks working 5-16 hours a day (yes, Saturday, I wrote for 16 hours not including food breaks!) to get my superhero book UNEXPECTED HERO polished and sent off to Harper Voyager. It’s done! Sent! YAY!!

I told you about this open submission window a couple times. Did any of you submit? Let me know so I can cheer for you!

Now I have to finish the polishing of a short story coming out in an anthology this year, then begin my submission to the Fast Track Event for Love Inspired Suspense. Then I’ll finally get back to my regularly scheduled writing and finish up LOVE AT THE FLUFF AND FOLD for you. Whew! What a month!

But if you’ll excuse me please, I have to go to bed! (I’m writing you at 10:30pm Sunday, having just sent off my submission a few minutes ago.) Monday I am only doing two things – making a desperately needed grocery run, and watching all the chick flicks I can in my queue on Netflix. Happy Sigh. And did I mention sleeping? Ahhh.

THANK YOU, GOD!! And thank you to all of you for being such great encouragers! Love and hugs to you all!

And happy writing! :)

          Life is busy, busy, busy for all of us here at RFW. Shonna has decided to take a break and I’m struggling with a similar decision. I need to focus on my classes and studies. Even though the break would only be temporary (until December), I really want to continue contributing to RFW. I also don’t want to waste our readers’ time by not writing anything of use. Writing useful and helpful articles takes time. (See my dilemma?)

          Kitty has suggested that I repost (as is or updated) past posts I’ve written here. That’s a good idea. BUT! Finding the time to weed through my past posts is an issue. This week, I’m sending you to Tania Dakka’s blog for an article that is apropos for me. I hope it benefits you, too. In the coming weeks, my posts may be repeats or links to other places, but I will make sure they are of value to you as a growing writer and person.

          Happy Writing!

          Routines. Routines for Writers. That’s who we are. That’s what we talk about. All the topics, all the discussions, everything we say comes back to routines. It is fitting, then, this September, our anniversary month, that we focus on routines, specifically those routines that help us succeed.

          Whether it pertains to creating, rewriting, editing or publishing, routines can hinder or help. Since I’m a hands-on learner and it helps me to have examples of how to apply theoretical knowledge, I’m going to share some of my own examples in the hope of helping those of you who are hands-on, too. I suspected, many years ago, that routines might make my life more manageable (theory). I had a lot of trial and error, though, before I found good routines that aided me in accomplishing my goals (practice). I’m still learning. 

          Life never stays the same. That change so often turns good routines into not-so-good routines. Example: When we started this blog, my posts went up on Mondays. I created routines that allowed me to have it finished and posted by Sunday night. When I moved to China, Sunday night became too difficult, but that didn’t matter. China is 12 hours ahead of the USA so even though I finished and posted, this blog on Monday mornings, from most of our readers’ perspectives, it was still Sunday night. Then I moved back to the US. And struggled to get the posts up on time. So we made the change to me posting on Wednesdays and Kitty on Mondays. Now my routines help me post on time (usually).

          Other routines in my life now are related to my school schedule. I am taking seven different classes for the semester. As you might imagine, I get overloaded sometimes. I’ve learned to not panic when those feelings of being overwhelmed descend on me every Tuesday and progressively get worse throughout Thursday. That feeling is deceptive. Yes, if I did not work on my projects and assignments or study for tests, I would certainly become overwhelmed and fail. However, the routines of my life at present usually allow me a few large blocks of study time. I have a work-study job at the college library. I am allowed, even encouraged, to study while I sit at the desk or do other library things. That means I often have a good portion of my four-hour shifts on Thursday and Friday to work on many of my assignments. Even though I often have Saturday completely free, many times I don’t need to use it for studying.

          There is a negative, though. If the library is busy, like it was last week, I don’t get that study time. I have to find other times to study. If I count on those times too much, I can get into trouble. Like last weekend when I had multiple assignments, projects and labs. (I got everything finished, but just barely.)

          I have found that I need to periodically review my routines. Sometimes all that is needed is to put them back into practice. I’m naturally a seat-of-the-pants type person. I tend to flex my routines a lot. Sometimes my problems are not that the routines don’t fit my current circumstances, but that I’m not utilizing them. Routines have to work for you. Or to paraphrase a great man, “Routines were created for you; You were not created for routines.”

          Are your routines helping or hindering? What do you need to do about it?

You probably know this has been a hard year for Stephanie, Shonna and me. We’ve talked about how to keep going, both personally and professionally. We’ve discussed whether we have any more to offer you or whether Routines for Writers has run its course. And all three of us have struggled to keep writing through a variety of personal and professional setbacks.

There are so many cliches we could offer each other, and you, to keep writing and not give up. But here are four solid things you can do now, or anytime you need a boost, to keep going and accomplish your writing goals.

(I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I wanted to share with you what has worked for me. Go to the end for the bullet points if you’re short on time, and come back and read the full post when you have time. :) )

 

Writing Routines 

 

You can tell from the title of our blog that we strongly believe in routines in general, and writing routines in particular.  Routines are habits you are acquiring on purpose. I choose to routinely run three days a week because I have a goal of beating my best time in the half marathon I signed up for in January. My habit thus far has been to overeat and carry a lot of extra weight that is not helping me with my running. For my January race goal, I have identified one routine and one bad habit that I need to change into a positive routine.

In my writing, I have several goals regarding getting my current book into print format, getting my next book out as an ebook and in print, and submitting my superhero novel to Harper Voyager during their open submission period next month. In addition, my 2012 goals include increasing traffic to my web site/blog, creating more online classes to teach in 2013, and learning how to promote my books to increase sales.

It’s great to have goals, but you need to have a plan, too. Just like in Shonna’s post last Friday, I take my big goals and work backwards to break them down into pieces so I know what needs to be done every month to make the goals a reality at the end of the year. When I’ve got that list of monthly goal pieces written down, I can create routines that work for me that will turn the goal pieces into accomplishments. For instance, when my life was calmer, I wrote four days a week and did all my business-of-writing stuff on Fridays. It’s less important what you choose to do, perhaps, than that you create a routine that moves you toward your goal at a pace you can keep up.

Using the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor, let me tell you that the training programs for running marathons and half marathons (I only do half’s) suggests running moderately short distances several days a week, increasing your distance slowly, and doing one longer run on the weekend. So I might run four or five miles a day three days a week, then an 8-mile run on Saturday. More 5-mile runs the next week, and then 9 or 10 miles that Saturday. This is the kind of schedule that you can keep up even if you have to get to work in the morning. And it’s a good parallel for making a writing routine as well.

 

Periodic Reevaluations

 

When life is going smoothly (or monotonously, depending on your perspective), it can be difficult to remember to check your progress against your goals before the year is up. Several of my friends and I have an unhelpful tendency to wait until November or December, then freak out and try to cram all the rest of the work into the busiest time of the year. Brilliant.

When I teach my goal setting and time management class (coming again in January), I encourage people to check their goals after a month to see if they were on a “get it done” high when they wrote out their list. :) Then I suggest quarterly reviews, taking 15 minutes to see how close you are to where you’d planned to be. At these checkpoints, we can decide if we think we should readjust our goals, and do so if necessary.

Remember, goal setting is about making progress toward something you want. It is not about beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished! You need to sit down and think about why you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, but only because you need to decide if you should change course or just change tactics. You also need to reward yourself for what you have accomplished. That will give you energy to keep on going. (I started a “Done” journal a year or two ago. I write down all my writing-related work that I do on any given day, bullet-point style so I can scan it easily. I haven’t done half of what I’ve set out to do, but I’ve done a LOT and the Done journal helps me stay upbeat.)

 

Willingness to Change

 

Depending on how your reevaluations go, you may decide you want to make some changes. It may be that your goals are fine, but the way you are going about trying to accomplish them needs to change. For instance, say you decide to take someone’s advice to get up an hour early to write every day, and two months into that new routine you are exhausted and cranky. You’ve got your pages, but people have started to avoid you.

You may decide that you need to write for half an hour during your lunch break, and half an hour in the car before you come home from work. That way you are getting the sleep you need, and no one feels like you’re ignoring them. I wrote part of Little Miss Lovesick that way. I find it almost impossible to ignore my husband – we’re  like little kids who just want to play when we’re together – and this way I made my goals quickly because there’s an end to my lunch break (hurry!) and the car is not an easy place to type and I’m hungry (hurry!).

This weekend, I did a periodic reevaluation for a different reason. My life has been in constant upheaval this year (and for much longer, really) and I knew I wasn’t going to make all my 2012 goals. I needed to see where I was and figure out what was most important to me to get done before the end of the year. I looked at the big picture and monthly goals for 2012 and sighed. Heavily. Then I wrote down what I most want to accomplish before the end of the year. Yikes! It’s still a lot! But I dropped several projects on my original goals list, promising myself I’d look into whether I still wanted to pursue them next year.

Due to my husband’s unemployment and our recent dedication to following through with our Financial Peace University goals, I’ve taken on some outside work. For every hour I take out of my writing week, I’ll have to make some adjustments to either personal time that will become writing time, and/or decrease my 2012 goals again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m willing to make changes now to accomplish big picture goals in my “regular” life as well as my writing life.

 

Decide Now to Keep Going Later

 

Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help you meet your writing goals is to decide now not to quit when it gets tough. Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, hard and easy. When times get tough, what is your plan?

Yes, a plan will help you not to quit.

My plan for this particular hard time was to not quit writing altogether, to not focus entirely on the areas of life calling for my attention. My plan was to let writing time decrease, but to make sure I was still making progress every week. Every baby step counts, and I have to keep reminding of myself of that.

My plan for when life gets into an easier cycle is to work on my writing career with “gazelle intensity” – a Dave Ramsey term he uses to get people totally focused on getting out of debt. As soon as I’m not juggling bills or working temp jobs, I’m going to be working 10-12 hour days to get back on track. I’m giving up some of my personal time and time with John (he supports this – yay!) and I’m focusing on making up some lost time. I did this last week for a few days before my temp job started and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. I was exhausted, but it was worth it because I was seeing progress in just a few days. (I strongly recommend you take at least one full day off from work a week if you decide to do this. You need a full battery each week to keep up this kind of pace.)

The reason I recommend a plan for what you’re going to do when life takes some (or nearly all) of your writing time, and a plan for what to do if you get a windfall of time, is that you can be prepared and make good decisions that much quicker. A few years ago I walked one step at a time into a very deep rut. I didn’t know how to get out of it and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I stopped writing, for the most part, pretending to most of my peers that I was still working away. But I bet I didn’t write 5000 words (outside this blog) that whole year.

Ouch. If only I’d had a plan for what to do when something like that happened. But because I learned from that experience, when my mom died this year, and so many other pieces of my life seemed to fall apart, I had an idea about how to survive and continue. I decided back then that I would keep going now.

 

Bullet Points

 

To meet your writing goals, you need to:

  • Create writing routines that help you to keep going, step after step after step, getting a little done at a time so that you accomplish your annual goals by the end of the year
  • Periodically reevaluate your goals and your progress, at least quarterly, deciding if you need to make any changes
  • Be willing to make changes, either to your goals and/or your tactics in trying to accomplish your goals
  • Decide now what your plan is to not quit later when times are tough, and another plan for what you’ll do with extra time

I hope you take some time to reevaluate your goals and tactics this week. What can you reasonably accomplish in the next four months? Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

This month we are talking about taking control of our writing careers. This week, it’s about the Big Picture VS the Details.

For me, this means the old saying: plan your work and work your plan.

THE BIG PICTURE: Plan Your Work

What is your end goal?

Career? Hobby?

Do you write as a creative outlet, but not necessarily to make it your day job? Do you need to make money? Is your biggest desire to add your own work to the body of literature that you love so much?

Start here. Dream big. (The way you used to when you were young and nothing had beaten you down yet!) Write down your big dream, then above it, write an even bigger dream because your first dream was probably too small. We’re talking BIG PICUTRE, by-the-end-of-my-life type dreams.

THE DETAILS: Work Your Plan

Work backwards from your BIG PICTURE. Let me catch up to you in the middle of the backwards plan:

FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK
Celebrate! And now comes all the marketing and other authorly duties. Once you’ve signed the contract and have a publishing date, figure out your marketing plans working backwards from that date. Get it all on your calendar so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

AGENTED
Start creating your list now so when it’s time to submit you’ll be ready. Remember at this stage you will need huge doses of patience. Avoid anyone’s blog that talks about how quickly it happened for them. It’ll just make you grumpy.

This process is slow enough, so don’t do anything to make it slower. Make sure you query in batches. (Because likely you started querying before you finished polishing. If your first round comes up with no requests at all, go back to polishing.)

And say “no” to exclusives. If you do agree to an exclusive, for a Revise & Resubmit for example, set an end date. Even if the agent says these things are hard to determine, set an end date at which time you can decide whether or not to continue with the exclusive agreement. Time has a way of slipping by when there is no deadline, so put in a stop-gap and then you won’t stress out wondering what is happening.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?
Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, you have options if you want to hustle. From the easiest: affiliate links from your website all the way to teaching classes (on and offline) self-publishing ebooks, offering critiquing and editing services. Even after publications, authors need to get additional income streams to pay the bills.

POLISHED MANUSCRIPT(S)

The majority of your time will likely be spent here. More time than you think, because our manuscripts read differently in OUR heads (which know the story and how it’s supposed to read!) than what is actually on the page that other people read.

This is where critique partners can be so helpful. Try to find people who can go several rounds with you and who aren’t afraid of hurting your feelings. (Although it is nice to have someone who just loves everything you do! It’s just not helpful in making the story better.)

FIRST DRAFT
You must finish. You must finish. You must finish.

EDUCATION
You’ve got to learn how to become a writer. Being an artist doesn’t mean the work naturally comes out of you all perfect. There are techniques. Genre conventions. Accepted business practices. Learn them as you go. Never stop learning.

DESIRE
This is where it starts. You keep this desire burning and it will help carry you up through the other steps. Do all you can to encourage yourself because things will get hard and you’ll want to quit many times over. And we all know what a writer who never quits is called: published.

One of the big questions in every area of life is – what are my options? How do I want my hamburger cooked, what do I want on my pizza, how do I like my coffee – the smaller questions. What will I do for a living, how can I make ends meet until the work brings in the money, which of several directions should I take to get there – the bigger questions. (Why am I here, what is God’s plan for me, where will I go when I die – the most important questions, but not directly related to writing. :) )

In writing, I’ve asked myself if I want to write fiction or nonfiction, business articles or romances, romantic comedies or superhero books with a romantic thread. While I like each of these ideas and many more, I have learned in life that you have to focus first to get started in any new endeavor. You can spread yourself thinner later. So I published a few nonfiction pieces, then focused on romance.

I went to Christian writers conferences in the early years because those were the writer friends I was hanging around. I got close enough that I was getting phone calls from an editorial assistant at Tyndale House, but I was writing just enough out of step that we could never quite get my work to run along on their track. Things never worked out.

A friend introduced me to her agent and soon I had representation. Surely my big break! It seemed the right thing to do was to continue with the romantic comedies (called chick lit at that moment, but shhh, don’t say that phrase any more). My agent and I talked about different things I could try when chick lit died. I chose not to pursue an opportunity with a Christian publisher who pays tiny advances. I was too insecure to try writing YA when my agent suggested it. I could see I had options, and – right or wrong – I made the best choices I could.

After four and a half years, I talked to my agent and decided to walk away. I was trying to do what I felt she wanted me to do, but my creativity was drying up by trying so hard. I needed a break. I’d been thinking about going to grad school for years, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. It was so beyond different from what I expected, not challenging at all, that I complained for a long time about what a waste of time it was.

But over the last couple of months, I remembered that I do have options. I can choose to live with disappointment over my grad school work, or focus on what I learned from it. For instance, I learned that I can write YA! I got some extraordinary feedback on a YA story I wrote. More excellent feedback on a spiritual dystopia/urban fantasy I wrote for my final project. And after flying to last year’s RWA National Conference the morning after my last class, and hearing a couple more editors tell me they weren’t sure they could sell my work, I knew I had another option.

I came home from that conference and decided, as an experiment, I was going to self-publish Little Miss Lovesick, the book my agent almost sold to two houses before chick lit died. When the process went a bit smoother than I expected, I considered my options again. I could keep trying to write and pitch my work to the current establishment, or I could start my own business again. The idea of running my own publishing company got my endorphins dancing.

One option that worked out for me was choosing to get involved in two self-published anthologies. The first one, Romancing the Pages, will come out in September as an ebook – see the lovely cover here. My superhero short story “Hero in Disguise” is one of nineteen short stories I hope you enjoy. In a few months, another anthology will be published with a dozen or so short stories written by my friends in my Sydney writer’s group. Another group of stories I think you’ll enjoy. My “Rescue at Loon Lake” is a fun little precursor to my novel Love at the Fluff and Fold.

It’s been a heck of a year. Several moves, several deaths, more months of unemployment than paid work between John and me, a lot of trials and testing. Career-wise, the worst part for me has been not being able to follow-through on my goals, my commitments to myself that I made end of last year. I’d planned to get Little Miss Lovesick into print by Christmas, finish and self-publish Love at the Fluff and Fold digitally and in print by March, and have the next book out in September.

Due to the weight of life this year, I’ve thought about sending my work to other publishers, let them do some of the work in return for some of the monetary rewards. I know I have options. Maybe giving myself a little break would help. It’s an awful lot of work to do all of the publishing work yourself. Several wise men in the Bible have said to count the costs before you start building so you don’t wind up broke, half-finished, and a laughingstock. I think I know the costs of continuing down my current path, and I’m willing to pay them.

I’ll continue to try to keep my options in mind at least once a year so I can adjust my course as necessary. It’s a good writing routine to have. In fact, because I love teaching and miss doing it more, I’m going to offer my Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers class again in January. We’ll start bright and early on the first Monday in January and get our ducks in a row for the coming year. I’ll remind you again when you can start signing up.

Whatever is going on in your life and your writing career, remember that you have options. Some will be better than others, but rarely is “I had no choice” true. What are some of your options?