Tag Archives: goals

Reaching for the Stars (and other goal-related clichés)

25 May

by Susan Dennard

~~

I feel like I’m always Debbie Downer on here. Discouragement and depression—not the most uplifting topics.

But you know what?  I actually feel pretty good most of the time.  And then there are those extra-special moments.  You know the ones I mean: the moments when you’ve just achieved a goal.

Honestly, there isn’t a headier feeling in the world for me (well, except perhaps too much champagne, but that’s not a very pleasant heady feeling, so we’re not gonna count it).  When I can strike something off my To Do List or–even better–when I can mark something off my Dreams List, I pretty much feel like an invincible SUPER WOMAN.

Dreams List

What is my Dreams List, you ask?  It’s a list of my biggest, hardest goals, and it’s constantly growing.  Whenever I have a new dream, I add it to the list.

Seriously, can you imagine how AMAZING it felt when I got to mark this goal from August 2010 off my Dreams List?  It was possibly even more exciting than accomplishing the dream itself because here was my written confirmation that I had set a goal, worked hard, and conquered it.

The key is to be specific about what you want and what qualifies as success.  For example, here’s a dream taken straight from my list:

Goal: SEND SCREECHERS TO SARA

Mission: I want to send a polished draft of SCREECHERS to my agent before the end of August 2011.

Wildly Successful If: I send it to her before the end of July!

That “Wildly Successful” bit makes a nice little difference in how you view your goal. It gives you a little nudge to work that much harder.  Yet it also suggests you might not be able to meet it (since it’s “wild”) and that it’s okay if you don’t.

While the SCREECHERS GOAL is shorter term, you can also make a long-term goal. Here’s another from my list:

Goal: BUY A HOUSE WITH LOTS OF LAND AND PRIVACY

Mission: I want to be able to afford a house of my own, and I want a house in Southern France with a giant yard, garden, mature trees, and lots of privacy.  I want to buy it within the next 5 years (before I turn 32).

Wildly Successful If: I can afford it before I turn 30!

Savoring the Small Goals

I make my planners SUPER CUTE AND SOOZ-IFIED so I feel happy and motivated every time I open it up. And yes, that IS Han Solo.

The thing is, the Dreams List usually takes time.  It’s long-term, so reaching that awesome pay-off that is accomplishment can take time.  We need small goals to tide us over.

And that’s where a simple daily To Do List can really help.  For those of you who already maintain daily planners, you know what kind of joy comes in marking something off your list.  Ahhh, the satisfaction of a simple scratch-through or check mark.

Right now, I have three sorts of goals on my Dreams List: writing/career, health/fitness, and financial.  As such, my To Do list includes something related to these big dreams almost every single day.  So instead of just listing the mundanities of my day, I also lay out the little steps that build up my dream.

Here’s a page from my To Do List:

Even though I follow a pretty standard daily routine, I always list every step. It’s not that I need to be reminded of my routine (though I do forget some things), but rather that I like to be reminded I’m working toward something.  It keeps me on-track and focused.

For example, I do cardio every weekday, and it’s a habit.  Yet I still write it down everyday. That way, when I do my daily cardio, I can mark it off and know I contributed to my overall healthy lifestyle dream.  Plus, I get that little rush of feeling that comes with accomplishment!

The Key is in the Reminding

Maybe keeping track of your goals or to do lists aren’t your style.  I realize I’m a little nuts (read: absolutely crazy obsessive), but I do think there’s something to be said for writing your goals down somewhere and reminding yourself every so often that you’re making progress.

You could do something as simple as sticking a post-it on your bathroom mirror that says: SEND QUERIES BY JULY!  Or maybe just writing your goals on a paper you keep in your wallet.

The day I went on subs for Something Strange and Deadly, I made a desktop background that said SOLD! Every time I saw it, I smiled and did a victory fist-pump.  And you know what?  A week later when my book did sell, seeing that desktop background made me absolutely giddy with joy and pride.

Set goals—big and small.  Work hard to achieve them.  Dream of them; visualize them.

Then grin wide when you jump the small hurdles, and throw a freaking party when you reach the big ones!

Do you keep track of your long-term dreams?  Do you keep a daily to-do list?  How do you celebrate reaching your goals?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


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Revisiting Your Writing Resolutions

25 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

We are quickly approaching the end of the first month of 2011, and I thought today would be a good day to look back at our writing resolutions, assess our progress, and consider any new goals we should be setting.

At the start of the new year, we here at Let the Words Flow made the following resolutions:

My writing resolution is to be a more patient writer.  Right now I try to force my writing too much.  My goal is to let my writing flow more naturally.

-Julie

Gah, just one resolution? There’s a million things I want to do better. I just finished Bird by Bird and it’s really inspired me. Mostly though, I want to experience more. Whether that means reading more or just getting out of the house, I want to open myself up to more possibilities for inspiration.

-Savannah

After all the cookies I’ve been eating, I want to make use of the gym that’s included with my ridiculous tuition… but a more writerly resolution is to focus on one writing project at a time instead of jumping between several.

-Jenn

Oh, New Year’s resolutions….:] As far as writing goes (though I suppose this applies to all aspects of my life), I resolve to start practicing what I preach and develop my patience. Things will happen. Things will come. Just need to work at it, not fuss over it

-Kat

I have so many resolutions this year, but I think I’ll agree with Kat and say that I’d like for 2011 to be the year I learn to be patient. I’ve got a lot of waiting ahead of me this year (with QUEEN OF GLASS coming out in 2012), so learning to be patient will be a pretty useful skill! And I’d also like to stop eating so many double stuff oreos.

-Sarah

My resolution is to find a balance: between keeping up with my client’s needs, answering submissions, completing conference talks, meeting deadlines, and promoting current releases, there is always a lot to do. My Hope for 2011 is to continue the juggling act. And not drop any balls.

-Mandy

My resolutions this year are pretty simple for once! I want to complete the 2011 Debut Author Challenge, and finish up the manuscript I’m working on. Nothing too exciting from me this coming year!

-Sammy

As I read through these, I noticed that they could be broken down into three neat categories:

1.)    Patience (Julie, Kat, and Sarah)

2.)   Self-Discipline (Jenn and Mandy)

3.)   Reading more (Savannah and Sammy)

Since I think it’s probably safe to assume that other writers are struggling with similar goals, I’ve decided to look at each of these three and discuss tricks and tactics to help make these goals more easily attainable for all of us.

~~~

Patience…

I’ve yet to meet a patient writer, so if being more patient is one of your 2011 resolutions, you are in GOOD COMPANY!  Here are a few suggestions to make patience more attainable:

~ Keep busy!  Nothing makes the time pass more slowly than watching your inbox.  Start a new project.  Try turning off your internet/email access for a half an hour while you write.  You will not only feel more patient, you will stay more focused on your writing.

~Accept the things that are out of your control.  Agents need time to consider submissions.  So do editors.  Even once you have that long-awaited book deal, you cannot control your release date.  Instead, focus on the things you can control.  Take your time with your current project rather than submitting it prematurely.

~Find a good listener.  If you have a writing buddy, turn to that person when you feel like the waiting involved in writing is getting to you.  Avoid voicing your frustrations on your blog or through your twitter account!

~~~

Self-Discipline…

As a writer, you answer to yourself on everything from what you write to when you write it.  Here are some tips for holding yourself accountable and staying on course:

~If you feel like Jenn and want to focus on one project instead of starting three more, try concentrating on the end result – that completed manuscript!  There is definitely a long, dry hike between the thrill of starting something new and the satisfaction of seeing it finished.  If you are tempted to start a new project because you’ve gotten bored with the routine of your current task, mix it up a bit.  Try writing sprints; write as many words as you can in a set amount of time – say ten minutes.  You will need to go back and edit, but you will see your word count growing and feel inspired to stick with it.  Word sprints are even more fun if you can do them with a writing buddy.

~Budget your time.  If you’re like Mandy and wear several hats every day, it’s important to realize that you can’t do everything at once.  Decide which responsibility is going to get your full attention for a particular period of time, and commit yourself to that task.  Worrying about ten tasks at once only makes you less effective at all of them.

~Set small goals that you can keep, so that you don’t feel like a failure as soon as you start.  If your goal is to “write every day,” accept the fact that 15 minutes before you go to bed may be all that you can spare at times.  Allow yourself to “succeed” by keeping your goals realistic.

~~~

Reading…

We can’t be good writers if we don’t read, but how often have you heard a writer say that they don’t have time to read because they are too busy writing?  Here are some thoughts to help you get your reading done:

~Read what you like.  If EVERYONE is talking about a particular book but you just can’t get into it, don’t force it.  Granted, I do believe that you should be familiar with what people in your target audience are reading, but there will be books you prefer to others.  Read the ones you enjoy.

~Discover new authors.  Sammy has encouraged us all here at LTWF to join her in the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.  Reading newly published authors is a great way to stay inspired (and to keep your eyes off that inbox!)

~Read for research and inspiration.  If you have a strong curiosity about Machu Picchu, don’t feel guilty reading an article about it in a travel magazine.  Machu Picchu might turn out to be the setting of your next novel.  Or maybe you want to read about genealogy, or sailing, or asteroids.  Give yourself permission to read about things that seem unrelated to your writing.  You never know what might spark the idea for your next WIP.

Are you succeeding with your writing resolutions?  Have you already abandoned them?  Have you re-imagined them?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

16 Dec

This post has been updated and MOVED to our new website: Pub(lishing) Crawl.

Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect

3 Nov

by Susan Dennard

~~~

How many of you have heard variations of these phrases:

“Practice makes perfect: write everyday, and you’ll see your craft improve in no time.”

“If you just keep plugging away, one day, you’ll be good enough for publication.”

“To be a good writer, all you need to do is actually write. The rest will fall into place naturally.”

All sorts of people have shared that “sage” advice with me – from readers to published writers to my mom.

The things is, they’re all wrong. Like, reallyreallyreallyreally wrong.

It took me years to figure that out. Years to realize that no matter how often I wrote, I wasn’t getting any better. My stories were boring, my characters dull, and my syntax cliché.

I finally figured out last year what my problem was: I was practicing a ton, but I wasn’t practicing the right stuff.

I could spout out rules – “show don’t tell”, “write 3D characters”, “avoid clichés” – but I’d never actually learned how to apply those rules. I could even spot problems in other people’s stories, but not my own. What I lacked was:

Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate practice is a well-known concept, particularly in sports research. The idea is quite simple: to become the best-of-the-best, you must train frequently, train hard, and always focus on finding and honing your weakest skills. Seems obvious, right?

Except that it’s not. At least, not when it comes to writing…

A lot of us do it unconsciously when we’re training in sports or music or the like. We know we have to add one more mile each time we train if we want to run a marathon. We know we have to sing harder and harder sonatas if we want to perform in an opera.

So why is it that we forget all that when it comes to writing?

  • Because there’s a lot to learn
  • It’s intimidating
  • Writing is considered “art”, and art stems from talent and soul
  • Books and workshops on craft cost $$
  • Any of the above
  • All of the above

Well, okay, Sooz…  But how do we fix it – how do we deliberately practice our writing?

First, you need to identify the weakest aspects of your craft. Is there something in your stories that beta readers/crit partners are consistently pointing out to you as “bad”? Is there something you sense you don’t have the hang of? It could be as simple as switching tenses, or as advanced as stilted dialogue. Are you crud at character consistency? Do you write muddled middles?

Don’t worry if it takes you a long time to figure out. I’m constantly discovering areas that need work in my writing. The key is to know you make mistakes, and to be diligent about spotting them.

Next, you need to plan a method for honing the weakness. If you’re clueless with punctuation, then pick up The Elements of Style and refer to it constantly as you write. If you have a problem generating ideas, find articles or books on the subject – or try coming up with a new idea everyday. If your main character is a Mary Sue, read books on plotting from character.

It might take some time for you to sort out how to fix your weak area. I was really stubborn about fixing character inconsistencies (because I didn’t want to rewrite the whole darn story!). But once I hunkered down and focused on making each character behave appropriately, the new plot flowed naturally and the book was 100 times better.

Initiate attack. Practice, practice, practice that specific area until it’s no longer a problem. Write three act stories until inciting incidences, turning points, and black moments are ingrained in your brain. Find new ways to describe the same action until there’s not a single clichéd phrasing in your novel.  If you can, take workshops on various aspects of writing (for example, Savvy Authors offers cheap online courses that I highly recommend!  Plus, LTWF will be offering workshops in the near future. Yay!)

The key is to write with a direct goal in mind each time your fingers hit the keys or your pen hits the paper. If you practice your weakest skills long enough, not only will you learn how to fix them, but the “correct” way will become a natural part of your storytelling.

And above all, don’t be scared to leave your comfort zone behind!

So, you tell me: what are the weakest aspects of your writing?

How can you fix them?

Or, were you clever enough to have figured out this deliberate practice stuff ages ago?

~~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She recently signed with Sara Kendall of NCLit. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.