Reflections on Goal Setting

When I first took a class on goal planning for writers last year, the intention was to create an environment and a year where I carved out space for my writing as I would a career. Now, as we reach the end of another year (yeah, I hate to tell you, but its only a few hours away) I wanted to take the time to look back and let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do better next time. Not so much a bragging post, this is more to offer you ideas of your own on how to pursue your writing career without feeling too overwhelmed.

Every great endeavor seems impossible while you’re standing at the base of it, wondering how best to begin. But journeys are not made in great leaps and bounds, they are made by singular footfalls, one in front of another. Maybe your goal is to finish your novel, memoir, poetry book, cookbook and have it ready for publication by December next year. That’s a huge leap when you’re staring at an empty page.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a planner when it comes to the creative process of my writing. I don’t outline in detail, I don’t diagram, and I sure as hell don’t employ computer programs to chart the course of my books…but–being the little virgo-seque, organizational lovin’ nerd I am, I do like a set plan for how I get from blank page to finished book.

So rather than try to eat this whole goal at once, try taking little bites. I realize it seems over simplified, but what what worked best for me was breaking down my goals by first naming the end result I wanted, then thinking about the benchmarks I needed to meet every three months to make it happen. Then I broke it down further, to what I needed to do every month to meet those benchmarks, and finally what I needed to do every week so that it was manageable within my life.

In example, I wanted to submit at least 55 pieces of work this year. That meant that every month I needed 4 to 5 submissions, or one + a week. It’s hard to think of 55 poems out for submission all at once. I don’t think I would have been able to feel capable. But one submission, every week was something I couldn’t find an excuse not to do.

I wanted to finish editng three novels and have them ready for publication. I didn’t try to cram them all into a month. I broke it down to 3-6 chapters a week, which gave me about four rounds of in-depth editing for each, including a Beta reading round.

Having defined goals in mind is essential, allowing yourself room to wiggle when life gets complicated (because life always does) is just as important. That’s why at every quarter, in my planner, I would write down a day to reassess. What was working? What wasn’t? What could I let go of? What was I ahead on? It helped me understand my work habits and held me accountable to myself more than just a post-it of ideas on the first of January.

When life got complicated, overwhelming, and sometimes down right depressing, I gave myself room to let go of what I no longer deemed as important (I didn’t read 100 books this year, but made it through about 15–plus 12 read-throughs of my own novels). I reprioritized the schedule so that the things most important to me (family) would have first dibs on my time and used what I had left to do my best.

Even while giving yourself grace, don’t give yourself the excuse to quit. I find, no matter what the task, if I’ve set a deadline on a particular project, I will almost always finish it on time or before. Having a date to work with helps boost the sense of urgency and makes you delete social media from your phone so you aren’t wasting even one minute that you could be writing/practicing/editing/researching/submitting.

So that’s pretty much it. Because I love you (of course I do!) here’s an easy bullet list reference:

  • Set defined, obtainable goals. Pick anywhere from 1-5, but don’t go crazy. You’re only human.
  • Break them down by quarter, month, week, even day if need be.
  • Schedule rewards for meeting your goals on these timelines.
  • Allow yourself room to drop/add/readjust if something isn’t working. The journey won’t go anywhere if you’re passed out on the side of the trail with exhaustion.
  • Set defined dates for benchmarks and completion of the steps toward your goal. In other words: Give yourself ‘Due Dates’.
  • Make sure you understand your “WHY”. Why are you doing this? What are you seeking? Is it fame? Closure? Justification? The “Why” is never wrong, and you will need to return to it when things get tough.
  • Set your goals and break down the schedule you’ll need a week to two before the start of the New Year. Nobody wants to wake up New Year’s Day and try to muddle through big plans. Start thinking about it now and give yourself time to figure out what’s obtainable and most desired.

Well, I’m done talking. I appreciate you giving this blog a look over and hopefully getting the gears turning about your goals for this new year ahead. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re planning to do (this is a good exercise in accountability–if you’ve told someone you’re gonna, its an extra source of drive when you don’t feel up to it.)

Happy Writing.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only some of us will spend the last week resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. A lot of us will find this final week to be the last, desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our writing first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and to know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs. It’s more about building the habit of writing than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle won’t be worth the outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. The end result is not all we are working for. Its the journey in getting there.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we are capable of. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath, writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and one which you are grateful to work through. You can. You will.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Welcome!

Good morning writers, authors, editors or accidental guests.

This is the inaugural blog for The Beautiful Writers Workshop, a year-long journey into developing your craft through exercises in creativity, editing techniques, inspirational prompts, and building the framework for your writing career.

Some of the blogs will inspire. Some blogs will lean more to the technical side of writing. But whatever the weekly topic, you can be assured of two things:

  • You’ll have a prompt or exercise to help develop your writing (and the opportunity to share it)
  • I’ll try to keep it spicy enough to be enjoyable.

 

So let’s get rolling! I searched through nearly all of my favorite books on writing for a perfect topic for our first lesson together but the truth is, there are just too many (good and bad) ideas out there.

So I’m going to start simple and ease you in gently to this process.

If you’re here you are either interested in writing, or are already doing it and are looking for something to add to your tool box. In order to appeal to all levels today’s workshop is centered on the basic purpose of your writing.

Below are a few questions that I’d like you to read, think about, and journal down your answers to. You can share them, you can keep them secret, but DO WRITE THEM DOWN.

Something amazing happens when we write down goals and steps to reaching them. The process becomes manageable; the goals become real. It’s one of the many beautiful and powerful attributes of writing.

  1. Without judgement or discouragement, and being as direct as possible: what is the ultimate, lifetime goal you have for your writing?
  2. What can you do to kick start this goal in the next 12 months? (hint: where do you need to start, where do you need to grow most for the big picture)
  3. Is this yearly goal attainable? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  4. Of your reasons from #3, think about the fears, limitations or concerns that formed these reasons. Name them. What do you foresee keeping you from moving forward on this yearly goal?
  5. Of the fears, limitations and concerns, what are the possible solutions or actions you can take to eliminate them? (hint: each limitation/fear/concern gets its at least one action you can take to overcome it)
  6. If you have a planner or calendar, write down one weekly goal (eliminating distractions, word count requirement, number of submissions out, editing, classes etc) that will help overcome the hurdles you have to your writing.
  7. Looking at these weekly goals, find specific and measured times you have to dedicate to their success and write them down.

Okay, that’s it! I know, it’s a little dry but when building a house you have to have a solid foundation first or none of the pretty architecture above it will survive. So build your foundation, know where you’re coming from and next week we’re going to talk about:

Mission Possible: Drafting your Writing Mission Statement

(that sounds super boring but it will help writer’s across the spectrum. I promise!)

 

On Creativity, Word Count Deadlines, and the Immortal Curse of Want-to-be Novelists

Hey ya’ll, listen up, I don’t have much time. I’m on a deadline, with not many words to spare.

 

So far, in this week, I’ve managed to keep up a hearty 2,000 a day word count on a new novel idea that sprung from my last trip to California and it’s vibrant rolling hills of vines and orchards. It’s been a trip of a different kind these last seven days. I’m dipping my toes into a new genre and, of course, committing any and all time in my day to getting the words on the page.

 

I haven’t had much time to spare a thought for much else, but I did want to share what I’ve discovered on this year’s NANOWRIMO journey, in the event that it could help you on your own craft.

 

Not all of us are reaching for 50,000 words in 30 days but I think we’re all striving to finish something and, in doing so, come across many of the same road blocks.

Here’s some bulleted info to keep you engaged.

 

  • Word counts help. They give you a goal. Goals are measurable, ensuring that you have a start, an end, and a way to track your success. Pick a word count and stick to it. Even after November is over, I plan to recommit to my pre-NANOWRIMO word count ambitions in order to keep myself in the thick of it. The inspiration of word count goals should do a lot to…

 

  • Unclog your creativity ducts (Okay, I’m not sure we actually have those but…) there’s definitely a correlation between writing without the time to edit and the uprising of new and unfettered ideas. You may start with a stupid sentence but one word of it, or phrase, or character trait will pop the top of the bottle and unleash a whole outpouring of possibilities.

 

 

  • FINAL THOUGHT—The Curse of The-Want-To-Be-Writer, the thing that stifles us most and keeps us from getting those word goals is the self-editor sitting on our shoulder EVERY TIME we sit down to write. He’s the jerk that points out the misspellings, the grammatical errors, and the plot holes. He whispers, “Oh no, go back and delete that, it’s not good. And take out that part, and fix that ‘they’re’ to ‘their’, and you forgot to use an ellipses, and is that name spelled right? Let’s make sure the spell check learns it. Now…that’s a pretty sentence…nope! Just kidding, it’s awful delete it! Ah…now, a nice fresh blank page to start…over…on.” Do you see what I’m getting at? Don’t do that shit.

 

JUST WRITE.

 

Leave all the grammatical errors, spelling mishaps, and mistaken names or plot holes where they lie.

 

Imagine someone excavating the tip of a gemstone. But instead of digging all the way down, seeing how big it is, what its natural shape is, picturing what can be crafted from it, they just dust off the tip, and begin carving it meticulously, polishing it to a shine. Then they uncover a little more, but that doesn’t look like the first bit so they hone it down even more. They uncover another bit and another but there’s no flow because each part of the gemstone is cut differently, polished oddly.

 

First drafts are made to give you raw material. So make it raw as hell.

 

So far I’m at about 16,000 words and I’ve typed things that I’ve regretted the second they’ve left my fingers. Mistakes. Glaring ones. Things that don’t fit, behaviors that don’t gel with my characters, point of view shifts.

 

Honey, I’ve seen it all in the first twenty pages.

 

But I also see a story. An interesting arc with characters that are starting to smile coyly in my direction with secrets I will only learn if I stop telling them to shush.

 

If you’re writing a novel this month—Keep at it and kick your nasty self-editor to the curb. You can go pick him up later (or send an uber for him if he won’t get in your car again)

 

If you’re just thinking about writing a novel sometime: stop thinking and do it…we ain’t getting any younger sweetheart.

 

Now, I’ve got to get back to my work in progress, because these 753 words don’t count on my dashboard and I’ve got words to go before I sleep.

 

Send me your word counts, send me your questions, send me your inspirations. Let’s keep this sprint going.

 

Happy Writing!