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Friday, January 30, 2009

Biting Off More Than We Can Chew

Friday! Friday! I love Friday!

Sorry, had to let that out.

Okay, today's topic: Biting off more than we can chew.


How's the new writing schedule treating you? Are you finding the time to meet your weekly goals? How does it feel? Are you struggling to fit writing in, or are you finding the goals you set to be manageable?


When I started setting weekly writing goals, I was positive I'd set the bar too high. No way I could write that much in a week! But after a month of consistent writing, I realized I'd set the bar way too low. My pages were flying out much faster than they ever had in the past. (Don't throw up. I have days when the pages won't come. Next month, I'll tell you my sure-fire ways to get through those days.)


Pages flying out? How? Why? How is that possible? Do I have magic writing potion?

Nope.

Writing consistently is just like exercising consistently--they both get easier the more you do them. You don't waste time trying to remember where you were going with that scene you started three weeks ago because you write regularly and already finished that scene. You don't have to pump yourself up to write because writing isn't a special event--it's part of your life.


But maybe you had high hopes a few weeks ago and you decided to go for it and push yourself to write more. And now reality has reared its ugly head and you know your goals are impossible. Writing feels like another chore. When something feels like a chore, it's only a matter of time before you drop it out of your life.


Wait--there's hope. What, specifically, about your new writing schedule feels impossible? Did you anticipate having more energy in the evenings to write, but you realize that you're exhausted by seven? Maybe your goal should be to write a few pages each Saturday. Or is the problem not time related at all? Maybe you sit down to write and nothing comes. Or it takes you twice as long to get a few pages out than you thought it would.


If it takes you longer than you thought it would, don't give up. Just cut your page goals in half. And keep at it, you might be surprised in a few months that you're writing faster. You can always increase your goal page counts later.


If you sit down to write and nothing comes, you've got a bigger problem. And you've come to the right place. The month of February will be devoted to delving into why we write. I'll share plenty of tricks and tips to get your writing mojo back and to kick up your excitement for writing.


Thank you very much for joining me on this journey. I'd love to hear any of your tips, struggles, goals, etc...


Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Did You Run Into a Few Glitches?

Did you start your new writing schedule? Or are you waiting until next month to get started?

If you've started, how is it going? Did you experience a few scheduling glitches?


Without fail, I always come across bumps in my schedule. They used to stress me out, but now, I've made peace with them. Those bumps don't de-rail me and they don't have to de-rail you.


Maybe a friend called during your writing time. Maybe a volunteer opportunity popped up that you didn't want to turn down. Maybe a little unexpected overtime became available.


How did you handle your writing when the glitch came? Did you decide you'll write double the next time or squeeze in more pages on a different day? Or maybe you threw your hands up in the air screaming, "I give up!"


Here are a few questions to ask yourself. Does this event (the friend calling, work, etc...) happen on a regular basis? Is it something you conveniently forgot about while creating your writing schedule? Or is it a once or twice a year event?


If the event does occur on a predictable basis, how are you going to handle it next time? Could you not answer the phone for the hour you've set aside but call your friend back as soon as you're finished with your pages? If the volunteer job is once every other month, maybe you could skip writing that night only. If overtime on Wednesdays is something you want to take advantage of, can you spread that night's writing to your other nights?


You might decide to eliminate one night of writing from your schedule. Or you might decide to limit long talks on the phone to nights you don't write. It's okay to try on new writing habits and discard the ones that don't fit. The important thing is to keep moving forward. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself sane and motivated.


Don't give up!

Join me on Friday for a little chat about biting off more than we can chew!

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, January 26, 2009

More Reasons to Set Goals and Track Progress

The last week of January is here already? Wow! Look what you've accomplished. You've learned a few new tricks about setting reasonable goals and you understand how important it is to track your progress.

One thing I haven't addressed is your approach to writing. Some writers cringe at setting goals and tracking their progress because they are organic writers, or for lack of a better term, pantsters. They write when they feel like it, and they write what they feel like. They may write several books or stories simultaneously, and they rarely write from the start of the story to the finish.

Others, like myself, are plotters. We gather background information, analyze our characters, and sketch outlines before even thinking about writing. And we tend to write from beginning to end.

Then there are the writers who fall in between. They need a loose idea of where the book will take them but aren't hung up on all the details.


We all have our own style. I'm not advocating one way or the other. However, I am encouraging you to set goals and keep track of your progress no matter what your writing style is. I only care that you have decided in advance how many pages or words you will write and what days you are writing them.


Why do I care about this?
Well...
If you want to get published and stay published, you have to meet deadlines. You aren't going to have all the time in the world to write the next book or story. And--here's a harsh reality--your life is going to be filled with the exact same activities when you do get published as it is now. In fact, life will be even busier because you'll have to fit in revisions, line edits, promotion, and a million other things on top of your normal activities. So if you can develop a consistent writing schedule, you'll be ahead of the game.

Wait a minute, I don't plan on getting published...

Well, if writing is your hobby, you still should have a consistent writing schedule or you'll probably lose interest. How fun is it to work once a month on a story you can't even remember? Or to never finish the story? Not much fun.

But how much fun is it to set a writing schedule, stick to it, then print out your work and review it in six months? It's pretty awesome!

We're writers.

We write.

There. I hope I've convinced you to set goals and track your progress.

Join me on Wednesday when we'll be discussing re-evaluating your goals.

And...

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Few Links That Make Me Smile...

Wow! We covered meaty topics this month. I thought we could use a break for some smiles.

Here are a few links I've come across recently that I thought you'd enjoy.

The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words made me laugh out loud. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were writing at a coffee shop when I asked her what word to use: toward or towards? We looked it up in the dictionary and finally decided that towards is the Old English version. Last week I came across the above misused words article and cringed when I saw toward/towards listed. At least I'm not alone!

This one has nothing to do with writing, but it sure is cute. Here's an adorable picture of super fluffy baby penguins.

And, this lighthearted video cracks me up! Check out On Writing. You know why I love it, right? The cat, of course!

Hope you enjoy these links as much as I do.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't Let That Calendar Languish!

Have I convinced you to keep track of your progress?
No?
Let me ask you: can you remember what you ate for lunch two days ago? What about three weeks and two days ago? If you can--wow! I, unfortunately, can't! However, I can tell you exactly how many pages I wrote three weeks and two days ago because I kept track of it.

When I'm feeling unproductive and scattered, I look back at my calendar. Wonderful, powerful feelings surge through me as I realize how much I've accomplished.
When I feel powerful, I want to write more. When I feel scattered, I want to dive into a bag of Doritos and not pop out until the following season. Trust me, I'd rather feel powerful.


But, I forget to write things down...


That's okay. Keeping track of your awesomeness is a habit--probably a new habit. You can train yourself to track your progress. Write a sticky note with the words I'm awesome on it and stick it to your calendar, journal, laptop, or wherever you'll be sure to see it when you've written. That note will serve as a reminder to write your pages down. Or if you think that's a dippy idea, promise yourself a Hershey's kiss every time you log your pages. (Don't forget to put a bowl of Hershey's kisses next to your calendar!)

Many experts agree that habits can be formed after 21 repetitions. For some people it takes longer; for others it takes less time. By rewarding yourself, you increase the odds of success.

Now you just doubled your awesomeness! You acquired a new habit and successfully tracked your writing progress!

Join me on Friday. I'll be sharing a few links that make me smile.

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Keeping Track of Your Awesomeness

If you've been following this month's blog, you'll know we're talking about goals. Last week, we set annual goals then broke them down into monthly and weekly goals. We also got down to the nitty-gritty and decided what days and how many pages per day we'd write.

This week we're talking about accountability, or what I refer to as: keeping track of your awesomeness! Last week you took on a tough challenge. Setting goals can make the strongest writer quake! So pat yourself on the back for getting through it.

How can you be sure you'll stay on track, though? Many writers have periods of great productivity followed by long periods of doubts, writing woes, and plain old procrastination. How will accountability get you through all the stages of writing? It's so easy to not write when we're in a funk.

One powerful motivator is to track your progress. Do you remember that free calendar I mentioned last week? (For those of you just joining the blog, you can print a free calendar by clicking here: http://www.printfree.com/Calendars.htm) Use it to write down how much you got done that day. For example: I wrote 9 pages of my latest novel last Monday. Once I finished writing, I jotted down "9 pgs" under 1/12/09. You can also mark time spent researching or whatever you do related to writing that day.

Another great idea is to keep a writing log. I keep one for each novel I work on. It can work well for short stories or articles as well. A writing log can be as simple or as complicated as you want it. My writing logs are just Word files saved in the same folder as my current manuscript. Each day I write, I log the date, the chapter I'm working on, the number of pages I wrote that day, the total number of pages I wrote since starting the novel, and the total word count of the novel. It takes two minutes. Honestly.

I hope you're not thinking isn't that just more work?

Keeping a written record of your writing progress is like keeping a written record of how fantastic you are. You'll be surprised at the end of any given week to see how much you wrote. You won't feel like a big failure because the proof will be staring at you in black and white.

As time progresses and March rolls around, you're going to look back through your calendar and see all of the Tuesdays you wrote one page. Or you'll know at the end of April that you already wrote over a quarter of your novel. And what about November when your eyes will bug out as you realize that you've already finished your goals for the year!

Join me on Wednesday for a discussion on not allowing your writing log and calendar to languish.

And...

Get motivated! It's Monday!




Friday, January 16, 2009

Setting Weekly Goals

Setting weekly goals will lasso time, wrestle it to the ground, and make it work for you. Get your annual and monthly goals out and let's do some math.

Let's take the short stories/articles example. You've decided you'll write six short stories, around 2500 words in length each, over the course of the year. You've figured out what months you'll be writing them.

Can you write one page three nights a week? One page (double-space 12 pt. font) is roughly 250 words. Multiply three nights by four weeks and you have 12 days to write. 12 x 250 = 3000 words. That gives you a little leeway on your word count. What three nights can you comfortably write a page? Maybe Tuesday night during the re-runs of a stale show, Thursday night right after dinner, and Saturday morning.

Great! Now you have a plan. You don't have to feel guilty on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, because those are your days off. Amazing!

Does that schedule seem impossible? If yes, go ahead and slash your goal in half. Do not sabotage your writing by setting unrealistic goals. You can always do more as time allows. Your new goal should be three short stories a year, and you'll want to write one short story over the course of two months. Decide on the days and word count as discussed above.

Let's do the math with category novels. We decided you need to write 5500 words/month for 10 months. From the above example, it's obvious you'll need to write more than one page a day, three days a week. Why don't we make it easy and double it? You'll need to write roughly 24 pages a month. How do you fit those in? 24 seems like an awful lot...

Don't worry. If you can write three days a week, aim for two pages at a time. You'll have your 24 pages (6000 words) at the end of the month. This schedule allows for a night off; remember you only need 5500 words.

Okay, now for the big guns: single title. 85,000 words. Gulp. Don't be scared. It works out to 34 pages a month. 34 pages a month! Breathe...it looks worse than it is!

You can still stay on a three day a week schedule, but you'll have to kick it up to about three pages each day. Another solution would be to divide the weekly nine pages differently. Maybe you can write one page on Monday, two on Tuesday, three on Wednesday, two on Thursday, and one over the weekend. That would still give you two days off. The important thing is deciding the amount you'll write and what days you'll write.

Again, I can't stress enough, go ahead and cut your original goal in half if it's obvious you'll never be able to reach that goal. It's better to finish a book in two years than to never finish a book.

Reachable goals. Who would have thought?

Join me next week as we delve into accountability or, what I like to call, keeping track of your awesomeness!
Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Setting Monthly Goals

Do you have a 2009 calendar? If you don't have a writing calendar, keep your wallet in your purse and hop on over to http://www.printfree.com/Calendars.htm for a free(!) printable calendar. Slap that baby in a binder, and you are ready to set some monthly goals.


Remember that goal list you wrote on Monday? We're going to break those goals down in monthly segments. Let's do some math. Say your goal is to write six short stories or articles this year. That gives you two months per story. Are there some months busier than others? Schedule around those. Pick the months you think will work for you, and write on the top of the calendar "1 short story--2500 words" (or whatever word count you aim for).


Is your goal to start and finish the first draft of a novel? Drop two of the months off for miscellaneous (vacation, research, illness, to save your sanity, etc...). You're left with ten months. If you're writing a category length novel--say 55,000 words--you'll need to write around 5500 words a month. If you're writing a single title--say 85,000 words--you'll need to write around 8500 words a month.

What about the other goals? Maybe you plan on studying six writing craft books this year. You can do them all by July, or plan on one every other month. Are you entering contests? Write the deadline down, then write a reminder for the month before. Maybe your goal is promotion, specifically, getting familiar with the ins and outs of having a website or blog. Decide now what you will do each month to meet your goals, and don't be afraid to take months off. There's nothing wrong with researching author websites in February, looking into hiring a designer in April, studying the various programs that allow you to design your own website in September, and taking the rest of the year off.

Here's my favorite goal: reading each month. I love, love, love to read! And if you're like me, reading for pleasure is the first thing to go. Don't you think reading belongs on the calendar too?


Setting goals, and meeting them, should be fun and exciting. I hope you plan on rewarding yourself every time you reach a goal milestone. Break out the chocolate!


But I have no money and the economy is so bad... Yeah, I know. Rewards don't have to cost a thing. Check out a chick-flick from your local library to celebrate. Find a free concert in your area. Browse your local drugstore to score bargain candy! Okay, that cost something, but chocolate is worth it...


Join me Friday so we can break down these monthly goals into bite size weekly goals, and you will be blown away at how much you can accomplish.


Write Already--It's Wednesday!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Setting Annual Goals

Setting annual goals? Yikes. This blog is supposed to be motivating...encouraging...sweet...sparkling. What happened??

Something good happened--no, something great! Setting annual goals may be the greatest thing you've ever done. Why? Statistics show that people who write their goals down achieve significantly more goals than those who don't. Amazing, isn't it?

And, come on, you're a writer. Don't you live for picking up a pen and paper and writing something down? Anything? Gotcha, didn't I?

Why does the prospect of writing annual goals fill some of us (yes, me) with such a sense of foreboding and dread then? Maybe because a written goal becomes real, solid, tangible. Vague ideas about accomplishing something flutter out the window.

Are your palms sweaty? Breath coming a little short? I know, I know. Bring it down. It'll be okay. Here's what I'd like you to do. Look at the following and apply it to your situation.

For you hobbiests: Do you write short stories? Articles? Novels? Think ahead to January 2010. How many completed short stories or articles would make you feel terrific? Six? Twelve? What about you novelists? Have you started a novel and never finished it? Wouldn't it feel amazing to have a completed novel this time next year? Or you can start and finish a new novel.

For you potential career writers: How many books can you realistically (translation: comfortably) write this year? Half? One? Two? Only you know. What length books do you write? Category? Single Title?

Do you know what length to aim for? Category novels differ, but most are between 50,000 and 65,000 words. For single title fiction, the word count varies. According to Jack M. Bickham's book Scene & Structure, books have a better chance of being published if they are between 60,000-90,000 words. Sure, the Harry Potter series missed that target by a long shot, but if you're serious about getting published, aim for a length an editor knows will be profitable. And why are we talking about word length anyhow? More on that Wednesday...

For you career writers: Are you under contract to write any books this year? Do the books excite you? If the books are part of an ongoing series, would you consider writing short stories outside of your genre now and then to keep your writing fresh? What about reading? Did you have enough time last year to read the fiction, non-fiction, and magazines you love? What feeds your soul creatively? Are you happy with the level of promotion you're doing or do you want to ramp it up a notch?

Think about these questions and write down the answers.

Now you have a list. It might have one thing on it. It might fill up a paper. As long as you have at least one goal, I'm happy. If you have several goals, do they belong in different categories? For example, I have six categories of goals for 2009: writing, submitting, contests, associations, craft, and promotion. All six have meaning for me, not necessarily for you. A few years ago I had one category: writing. Life changes and goals change. That's okay!

Come back on Wednesday when we'll discuss how to break down the annual goals into monthly goals.
And...
Get motivated! It's Monday!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Finding the Time

You've analyzed how much time you spend writing. Did the results surprise you? Are you writing far more than you thought? Or far less?

I'm assuming you want to squeeze in more writing time painlessly.

I look at writing as my part time job. If I had an employer assigning me to write, what expectations would that employer have? Most employers require either a certain amount of time or a quota of work finished each week. So I'm asking you, if writing was your part time job, how much time, or finished product, could you devote to it?

Since I prefer to see results and I write novels, I set daily goals for myself. I set a daily page count goal for every weekday and I take weekends off. I keep a daily log of my progress for concrete proof I accomplished something.

I'm not telling you to follow my schedule. A few years ago, my schedule looked very different!
How much time do you believe you can devote to writing each day/week/month? Do you have a figure in mind? Good.

Now cut it in half.
That's right.
Cut it in half.

The reason we fail at many of our resolutions is because we set the bar impossibly high. Who enjoys failing? Not me!

So cut that number in half. On weeks that you feel you can take on the world, go ahead and reach for the stars--challenge yourself to reach the original goal. But the rest of the time, shoot for the lower number. Sometimes the difference between giving up and reaching our goals is setting the bar too high.

Okay, you have a number (or page count or whatever your new standard is). How do you cram that in to an already busy schedule? Grab on to your armrests and dig your fingernails in; I'm going to ask the really scary question.

How much television do you watch every week?
I can hear you now, or is that me? Definitely me! I don't watch much television. Sure it's on, but I just watch a few shows to relax me...
Nothing wrong with T.V.

I'm not asking you to give up your favorite programs. I'm asking you to give up programs that are so-so. I'm asking you to give up re-runs. I'm asking you to walk away from the television when it isn't entertaining you.

Think about giving up one half hour of lackluster television every night. Do it five nights a week and you've just added two and a half hours of writing to your life--every week! I'd rather write than watch a re-run of a lame comedy any night of the week.

What about you writers who honestly don't watch television? Maybe you don't even own a television?

I'm guessing you already spend a terrific amount of time writing! But if that isn't the case, then you'll have to figure out where your time is going. And, like giving up a half hour of television, think about giving up a half hour of your pet time waster.

Next week, we're going to discuss setting daily/weekly/monthly/annual goals. We have an entire year ahead of us. Let's make the most of it!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Getting Down To the Nitty Gritty

On Monday, we touched on the topic of your ultimate writing goal. Today we'll expand on that.
Get out the paper! It's time to spend a little time in honest reflection about this topic.

I want you to think back and write down how much time you devote to writing every week. How much of that time is spent writing? Researching? Trolling the internet about writing? Studying books on writing? Taking courses to improve your writing? Reading trade magazines? Tidying up your writing area (in my case as an excuse NOT to write!)? There are no right or wrong answers. This is just an assessment of how much time you spend on the various aspects of writing.

It can be very easy to overestimate how much time is spent writing, as opposed to how much time is spent doing writing related activities.

If writing is your hobby, how much time do you feel should be devoted to it? Writing a poem, short story, or a novel, takes time. We take up hobbies because they give us pleasure and because of the feeling of accomplishment when we finish a project. Do you finish your projects? Do you have a spring in your step about getting back into your project? Or have you reached that sticky mid-point where you dread it and the project sits there, half-finished, because your initial enthusiasm petered out?

If you have any desire to become published, how much time are you spending to reach that goal? Maybe it's less stressful to think in vague terms like when I have more time, I'll write..., or if I didn't have to work full time..., or when the kids are grown...
We all feed ourselves lines from time to time, but the reality is there is no perfect time. It slips away no matter what stage of life you're at. You have to make a conscious effort (aka: a plan!) if you want to reach your goals.

If you want to get published ASAP, you're probably doing everything you can. But how can you be sure? Ask yourself how many hours each week do you spend writing, revising, networking, and promoting? Oh, wait, I can hear you now. Networking? Promoting? That comes after I'm published, right?
Wrong!
Writing a great book or short story is only part of the process. Another big key is to join a writers' association appropriate for your market. Invest in a few writing books on craft. And, I'm going to say the scary word: website. Also, do you have anyone reading your work that can give you honest, but kind, feedback? If the answer is no, at least read your work out loud before submitting it.

If you're published and working under a deadline, my hats off to you! How are you feeling about the time you're allowed to write your next book? How much time does the business end cut into your writing? Do you have enough time when you're finished with your draft to polish it? If there is one thing you could change about your schedule, one thing that stresses you out more than anything else, can you think of a way to take the edge off through better planning, delegating, or negotiating?

No matter what your ultimate goal in writing is, the key is to give it an important role in your life. Writing an hour one week then nothing for the next two weeks is like exercising once every three weeks. Sure, it counts, but it doesn't exactly help you lose that last 5 pounds.
Come back on Friday for an in-depth discussion on finding time to devote to writing.

And...

Write Already! It's Wednesday!

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Is Your Writing Goal?

January comes with its blowsy ideals every year--you know the ones I'm talking about.
In January I'll lose 75 pounds, write 50 pages a day, save a thousand dollars a week. In January...

Ahh...the fun delusions of January!

Why do we set such unrealistic goals? And why do we set goals for every aspect of our life? Is it really feasible to change every habit in the course of a few weeks? Of course it isn't!

But...

I do believe if something is important to you, you can train yourself to meet that goal. Which leads me to ask: What is your writing goal?

Do you consider writing your hobby?
Would you like to get published someday?
Would you like to get published ASAP?
Or maybe you are published and want to continue putting out your best work?

Now, I'm not asking you to think about why you write or even what you write (although both are great topics to pursue). I'm talking about the end result. Deep down writers have to be aware of their ultimate goal.

If you don't have any intention of getting published, then you fall into the hobby category. Hobbies are fun, but they require time, effort, and persistence like anything else.

If your goal is to get published, either ASAP or that elusive someday, there are many, many non-threatening and simple steps to help you achieve that goal.

If you are published, it's not just about the writing anymore. Balancing your writing with the orbit of "other" circling your career requires the skill of a trapeze artist.

All month, I'll be asking some interesting questions that will really help you hone in on setting realistic goals for your writing this year, whether writing is your hobby, potential career, or full-time career.

Get Motivated! It's Monday!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year--New Blog Direction

You may have noticed I've changed the theme of the blog. Over the past few months, I've become more and more convinced that writers need encouragement--not just for the hard times but for the magnificent times as well.
Maybe your goal last year was to write three pages every weekday, or to complete the first draft of that historical novel that's been in your head for years, and you did it! You did it--but no one knows. No one can see how far you've come. You don't have to feel alone.
I want to celebrate writing. Every week I want writers to have a safe place to feel great about what they do. And when the rough patches arrive, this blog can help with those too.
Writers have rough patches? Surely I jest! What troubles could I be referring to?
I'm talking about the I-just-got-another-rejection-letter-and-maybe-I-should-quit times. The I-have-no-idea-why-but-the-words-won't-seem-to-come times. The I-don't-deserve-to-touch-a-keyboard! times.
Or maybe you can't even contemplate submitting your writing. Publishing? That's for GOOD writers, phenomenal writers. Right? Wrong! This year I'm making it my mission to motivate writers. Get in the game! Get excited about writing!
Lost your spark? Lost your enthusiasm? Lost your drive? Come on over--I'll help you get it back.
Maybe you haven't lost your spark. Maybe you write every day and feel deep down in your soul that this is going to be YOUR year. Great! Come on over--you'll feel even more motivated to meet your goals.
Let's face it, we writers are on our own. Whether just starting or multi-published, we all have to sit down and face the keyboard (or paper). There's no boss to give us a review, no weekly paycheck assuring us of our worth, not even a report card to show our progress.
This blog is one way for you to keep your writing on track. I'm going to discuss goals--realistic goals. I'll ask you some difficult questions about your writing including what holds you back and what drives you to write. You'll learn strategies to assess your writing status. You'll learn about various cushions to help you through your journey. And I'll give plenty of tips and will share the helpful websites and blogs I've found.
Here's another exciting development--I'm going to be encouraging and motivating three times a week! Check in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday starting January 5, 2009. Get out the noisemakers and celebrate!
We might have to write alone, but we can lean on each other to help us through the highs and the lows.
Happy Writing!