Steps To A Successful New Writing Year

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freeimage.com, photo by Eran Becker

Every year it seems the best of intentions can turn into guilt and regret all over what we didn’t accomplish the year before. Even so, on New Years Day we roll out a whole new list of goals designed to get us motivated to achieve new heights.Stop the run away train!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting new goals for the year, but consider a different process of arriving at your destination. In the writer’s life there are plenty of times when we deal with rejection and defeat. New Year’s doesn’t need to be one of them. Instead try the steps below.

Steps to a Successful New Writing Year:

*Celebrate the successes of last year. Take a moment and make a list of the things you accomplished last year. Celebrate those with a favorite activity, treat, or small token.

writing-1560276-640x480*Reflect on the process. Journal your thoughts of what made the successes possible. Notice the motivational pieces that helped you reach your goals.

For example, if entering a contest helped you to work on editing your novel, enter another contest this year.

Also, identify the things that stood in the way of success. Be completely honest with yourself. It is only helpful to set goals if you can be honest with yourself about your own shortcomings, or calendar difficulties.

*Recognize your most successful seasons.  Some may write better in the summer when the weather is warm. Others may have more success when their kids are in school. raindrops-1594135_1920Identify when you are most successful and determine to capitalize on these times.

*Set seasonal goals reflective of your potential. This year don’t write goals for the whole year. It is easy to get lost in goals that are so long term. It is alright to have these goals, but setting seasonal goals can be more successful because the time line is in small chunks.

Divide the calendar into the seasons that follow your rhythms and assign the goals to each segment. Keep in mind your personal strengths and weaknesses. Goals are meant to be attainable with some effort, not impossible. Be realistic.

Allow yourself to have a less productive season when you typically struggle. Make this time about refueling your muse and doing smaller amounts of writing. This will help you to feel recharged and ready to go in your best seasons.

*Check in with your Goal Journal. At the beginning and end of each writing season writingyou’ve identified, check in with your journal. Write notes about what worked and what didn’t. Celebrate your successes for the season you were in. Check that the next season’s goals are reasonable and map out how you plan to get there.

What works for you in setting goals?

 

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How To Set Monthly Writing Goals That Work – Crazy Little Thing Called Time

Basic RGBWinter is the most difficult time for me as a writer. I struggle to get things done. The lack of sunlight makes for a  depressing creative pallet. Come spring I am looking for ways to get back to my intense writing schedule of summer.

Summer is here and my most productive writing season is calling my name. Maybe you are in that same place, but feel frustrated because setting goals never seems to work out for you. You have great intentions, start with a passion, and slink into the embarrassment zone before week two of your self-imposed deadline.

You are not alone.

Every year I hone my goal writing style to bring better success. Some tips are in the graphic above. I don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned a few tricks along the way.

How to set monthly writing goals that work:

*Be Realistic. This is the make it or break it rule that determines if you will have any shot at success. Goals that are so lofty it is a constant struggle to meet them will almost always result in failure. Still, there must be some challenge in each week.

Find a balance of challenge by variating your most challenging element each week. It shouldn’t always be word count. Every other week might be word count. In between, challenge yourself to have a week with stronger verbs, or scenes that are more complete, or concise.

*Set Weekly Goals. Each week should have a word count goal and a crafting goal. This allows you to challenge yourself in different areas. Also, it should not require each day to be a marathon. Recognize that a week’s ebb and flow is a more practical way to set goals, allowing for flexibility when life gets in the way.

For example, a weekly word count goal of 8,000 words could be paired with the goal to show more instead of tell. From there I can break down about how much is needed each day. If I write five days a week, then that means about 1600 words a day and maybe I will read a chapter about show not tell on Monday.

When my schedule pops up with two baseball games on one day, which crazy as it is does happen, I can adjust to 600 words that day and add the other words into my other days.

*Create Rewards. Find ways to reward yourself each week if you make your weekly goal. It is essential to celebrate the small victories. At the end of the month have something amazing you have earned like a spa massage, or something you really want.

*Have An Accountability Buddy. The writer’s journey is very solitary. We need to make sure that we are not facing each step alone. Talk to someone who can help you. Lean on one another and talk often.

What are some things you do to set monthly writing goals that work? What are some challenges you face as you set goals?

What Does Your Character Want?

photo by piovasco

photo by piovasco

Here’s the thing about plots–without characters they don’t work. Without Cinderella there’s no one to go to the ball or lose a slipper. The evil stepmother has no one to subjugate. And the prince has no one to send his Duke after.

Here’s the thing about characters–without something to do, they fall flat. If Cinderella doesn’t want to break free from her evil stepmother’s manipulation or find her happily every after, she’d never go to the ball, and there would be no story to tell.

An example from my best friend. Last weekend we went on a road trip so I could write and she could take some yoga classes. She asked about the book I’m currently writing, so I explained my heroine’s dilemma and all the reasons she couldn’t end up with the man that she’s falling in love with as he’s trying to protect her from a stalker. My friend looked at me, shook her head, and said, “If I were writing that book, it would go something like, ‘Jack and Jill got some coffee and went to a yoga class. The end.'”

She was joking, but she makes a good point. (And I should point out that she’s a fabulous writer–just not a novelist.) Good fiction writers distinguish themselves by having both interesting characters and an enticing plot. So how does a writer find them and put them together?

Ray Bradbury said, “First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.”

That sounds easy enough. What does your character want? That’s her goal. Without a goal, your character has nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs. His world is just fine. He doesn’t want or need change. He’s on no journey. And without his goal, you have no story.

Your character should have a strong desire at the beginning of your story, and he should always be working toward it in some way. It could be any number of things?

  • To go home.
  • To kill the beast.
  • To find the diamonds.
  • To stop the crime.
  • To solve the mystery.
  • To get a date.
  • To rescue the girl.
  • To rescue himself.

But it’s not enough to have just any old goal. The goal needs to be concrete. There needs to be some physical manifestation of the goal, something concrete enough to drive your character.

I love Randy Ingermanson’s example. He asks what every Miss America contestant wants: world peace, of course. But that’s an abstract, nebulous concept. Who or what defines the achievement of world peace? However, if Miss America says, “We’ll have world peace when all nuclear weapons are abolished,” now we know what her concrete goal is. Specifics not only help your character to come alive, they help you as a writer keep the story always heading in the right direction. When the goal is clear, the track may be windy, but at least you’ll know where the finish line is.

And as readers, we root for the character to reach her goal. This helps us invest not only in the character but also in the story as a whole.

Once the goal is clear, then we have to ask another question that is equally as important. Why does the character want what he wants? What’s his motivation? What drives him toward that identified goal?

For Matt, the hero of my book A Promise to Protect, his goal is to protect his best friend’s little sister, Ashley. And what motivates him to do that? What causes him to be willing to risk his own life for hers? He tells her early on in the book: “Your brother asked me for a favor. We’ve been watching out for each other since day one of BUD/S, and I’m not going to let him down. He’s the only family I’ve got.”

In a nutshell, Matt considers Ashley family. Her brother is his closest friend, so when the story starts, he views her almost like a sister. And we can dig a little deeper into what drives that commitment to family. Matt grew up an unwanted, unloved boy, forgotten in an unfair foster care system. At fifteen, he was finally placed in a foster home with loving parents, and once he’d tasted the joy of family, he wasn’t going to ever risk losing it again. He knew the pain of not having a family, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the only family he has.

A few tips for identifying your character’s goals:

  1. Keep it specific. Getting from point A to B isn’t enough. Getting from New York to LA to stop your ex-boyfriend’s wedding because you might still love him is.
  2. Make sure there is a tangible manifestation of the goal. To be happy is not clear enough. To fall in love is again too broad. Who does your character want to marry? How does that love manifest itself?
  3. Keep it universal. Make sure that your character’s goal appeals to a broad audience, not just a niche. Let’s consider Finding Nemo. It could be said that Nemo’s father Marlin’s goal is to rescue his son from a dentist aquarium. That’s not a very relatable goal for most of us. We don’t have sons who’ve been kidnapped by scuba-diving dentists. But if we dig a little deeper, we see that Marlin’s real goal is to protect his son and keep his family together. That’s a goal that most parents and families can relate to.
  4. Make it distant so your character has to work for it. But keep it attainable. An unattainable goal is no fun for the writer or the reader. No one wants to read about someone who never had a chance.

Without a strong a goal and clear motivation, your characters will fall flat, and your readers will struggle to connect with them. Have that goal in mind—write it down if you want to—and keep it close. Then keep writing toward it.

Happy writing!

What’s your best advice for identifying a character’s goal?

Writing Resolutions for Writers Part 2

1396134_94718955If today I got in my car and faced southwest in the direction of California from my house and starting driving, I’d likely never reach California.

Yeah, I know the general direction I’m going, but without a map of roads and pit stops, I would get lost or run out of gas.

I started out with good intentions and then ended up at a wayside rest for the remainder of my vacation.

Writing resolutions is much the same way. We have a target word, or destination, but if we haven’t created a map and refueling plan we won’t reach our goals.

Yesterday you picked a word and categories for that word to appear in your life. Today you create a plan.

Writing Your Resolution Plan:

*Identify 5 actions that show the word for the year, one for each category. 

For example:

Word- Balance

Categories- Faith  (action: Daily Devotion and Worship)

Family (action: Individualized time with each person)

Health (action: Drink 8 glasses of water a day)

Career (action: Start a Newsletter / Write Every day)

You may want to write more than one for each category, but remember that your goal is to begin to see some of these actions in your life. The goal isn’t to do all of them in one day, but to begin setting habits that are life changing.

*Identify symptoms for success in each category. This step answers the question of how you will know you are beginning to grow and show improvement in this area of your life.

For example:

Word- Balance

Categories:  Faith (symptom – more peace and direction with decisions)

Family (symptom – more joy and closer relationships)

Health (symptom – more energy/ feel healthier)

Career (symptom- less stress with deadlines)

877630_11465670*Plan pit stops on your calendar. Every now and then plan a day to refuel. Be purposeful and plan ahead.

*Plan a day to review. Whether you choose to review your goal weekly, monthly, or quarterly, be sure to specify a timeline for this. It is easy to get busy and forget everything you planned to accomplish. Review occassionally to see if you are still on track.

This year I am beginning a monthly idea sparking newsletter. It will include a brainstorming tip, news and pictures from the writing journey.

Everyone that signs up for my monthly newsletter in the sidebar of this blog by a week from today will get a special Writing Resolutions for Writers Template. This template will help you organize your writing resolutions as we planned them here on my blog.

On your writing journey what are your favorite refueling pit stops?

(I love Lake Superior and nature to refuel me as well as conferences. How about you?)

Writing Resolutions For Writers Part 1

901416_69787654A New Year “fresh with no mistakes.” I love that phrase by Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables when she talks about each day.

We have a brand new year ahead of us, now we have to decide what we are going to do with it. And what about those beastly resolutions?

Did you know that a study by the University of Bristol in 2007 shows that 88% of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions?  Wow, that is not exactly a powerful endorsement.

416459_4922One thing we do learn from this study is how important community is for those who meet their goals. When we have finished setting our resolutions or goals, grab a buddy and encourage each other to reach that goal this year.

Writing Resolutions for Writers can be divided into two components, the big picture and the symptoms of success.

A friend gave me this first idea a few year’s back and I’d like to share it with you. Author Beth K. Vogt  Skills Coach at My Book Therapy told me that she picks one word to represent her goals for the year.

This word will frame everything that you want to accomplish. Seem impossible? Think more general. Words like dream, hope, excellence, etc.

If you struggle to find this word, start by writing down some of your goals and then find a word that could frame them. Last year my word was believe. I bought a Christmas ornament with that word and purposed my goals to mesh with that word.

My word this year is balance. Balance in faith, family, health, and career. All of my goals come out of this word. When I look at success, I will be assessing if I’ve achieved more balance in my life.

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Writing Resolutions for Writer’s Part 1:

Now it’s your turn to start writing your resolutions. We will dig deeper in part two, but for now complete the following steps:

1. Pick a word to frame your year. What do you feel will boost your success this year? That is what you want this word to focus on.

2. Pick a verse or quote that embodies this word. There are going to be times when you get discouraged and fight forward progress with this word. Find a verse, or a quote, or both to post to help you when you are discouraged.

3. Pick some categories in your life that you want this word to impact. Remember these are still more general. Try to keep this to four or five categories, or you will get overwhelmed before you even start. Write down the word and categories. Be thinking about them the next day or so.

4. Pick a buddy. Pick a friend who you can share your goal with and encourage one another this year.

What word did you pick to represent your year?

NaNoWriMo Exit Strategy – Relax, Reflect, Restart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of you this past month NaNoWriMoed your way to a finished novel or to an amazing goal. Now all you want to do is crash. Believe me, I can relate.

What about all that momentum you have pushed from this month? 

What do you do now that NaNoWriMo is over?

Right now it would be so simple to just sit back and soak in your greatness, but that could slide right into next year without any more accomplished. It could make all of your NaNoWork melodramatic in that you could have spread the same amount over three months because you get nothing else done in the last two.

I dare say at the end of it, you would be greatly disappointed. So, here are my thoughts for maintaining the momentum in a sane way.

NaNoWriMo Exit Strategy

Relax:

There is no doubt that you will need a few days off. You are not a word spitting machine. Take time to relax and refuel. A few days at the most a week. Take the time to spend with family and doing things that rejuvenate your mind.

Reflect:

Take a day or two to look at all you have accomplished this past month. What new things did you discover about yourself? If you wrote 2,000 words a day for the first time ever, ask yourself how difficult that was for you. Are your past goals challenging enough. 

Could you maintain a more disciplined approach to your writing time? Could you write more each day than you did before NaNoWriMo?

Restart:

Set new goals for yourself that stretch you a bit more than your preNaNoWriMo goals. Implement any new things you’ve learned about time management and your best writing moments. Don’t wait long to get started on editing your work. Keep the momentum on your side of the equation. By a week from now, you should be starting on your new goals.

Tell us about your NaNoWriMo or last month’s goal experience.

NaNoWriMo Brainstorming Starters For Turkey Week

We are well into NaNoWriMo. Whether you are accomplishing your goals, or just plan refusing to give up don’t let the turkey get you down.

Thanksgiving is for time with family, but here you are crunching words on the page. Time for a schedule intervention to get you through Thanksgiving Week still on top of your word count.

Brainstorming Starters For Turkey Week:

*Brainstorm 5 ways you are going to get your word count done for this week and still have time to spend with family. For some of you, this means getting your word count done by Wednesday because you are leaving town. For others it means adding Saturday to your writing week and additional words each day. Whatever your family schedule requires, plan ahead so you don’t bake your NaNoWriMo dreams.

*Ask your character how their family plays a role in your story. Often we let our characters dance on the page alone without family, friends, or others that most of interact with frequently. Build in relationship moments that show a part of your character’s foundation, whether good or bad.

*Ask yourself what time of year is your story taking place and are there any festivities that can feed into the story making it more real. There are holidays and seasonal activities that can enrich our stories. Apple picking in Minnesota in the fall has a certain festive feel. We can more easily create that warm sigh moment drawing on our reader’s memories.

*What community personality can you add to a scene today to make reader’s feel as if they are right there with you, experiencing the town. Every town has a unique flavor. Let its richness come out in the sounds, smells, and other senses. Imagine your setting in a travel magazine. What picture would they feature?

*What are your hero and heroine’s favorite holiday memory and what does that say about them? The characters can share these memories with each other or keep them to themselves, but the power of understanding their emotions surrounding their favorite time of year can come into play.

What tips do you have for a successful NaNoWriMo Thanksgiving week, or how are you planning to navigate the schedule and still get some writing done?