Halfway through 2017 (GASP!) — Let’s Do a Goal Check-in!

Let’s climb that mountain!

Waaaayyyy back in January, I wrote a New Year’s post about goal-setting. A few of my fellow Pennies were inspired by that post to write down their goals with me – remembering to be specific, set deadlines, stay flexible, and above all, not beat ourselves up if we didn’t quite hit our marks.

Now that it’s June, about halfway through the year, I wanted to check in with everyone. And with myself.

My top-of-list goal was to finish drafting my WIP in March. I ended up finally typing “THE END” in mid-May, about six weeks late. I met a few other goals – launching our MYC series, for one! – but thanks to missing my initial WIP deadline, I’m a bit behind on everything else.

I checked in with a few of the Pennies and discovered that we were all pretty much in the same boat. Most of us had set and met a few goals, completely dropped the ball on others, and changed priorities dramatically as the year unfolded.

So the purpose of this post is two-fold.

First, I want to hear how your year is going? Did you set goals? Have you made progress like you thought you would? Let me know in the comments!

And second, I want to lay out some mid-year goal-setting dos and don’t’s:

DO reflect on the past six months. We all have to deal with the unexpected, which can interfere with our writing. From early November through February, I did not have one full week of work without kids, thanks to some crazy winter weather and a series of plagues that descended on my family. Those unexpected events messed with my productivity big time. Looking back in light of that, my six-week delay in finishing my draft was actually a pretty great achievement! Take some time to consider the reality of the first half of 2017 – you might find that you achieved more than it felt like you did.

DO reassess your priorities. That YA idea that seemed so hot in January might have started languishing in May. If you feel bogged down by a goal you set months ago, take a closer look at it. Is the project still calling to you, or are you slogging your way through it because you said you would? Did you pledge to attend an expensive conference, but are now realizing that the manuscript you’d hoped to pitch is far from ready? Consider a conference later in the year when your work is more polished. Or try a more economical conference instead. Life is not static, and neither should your goals be.

DO recommit. Are you right on track with your goals? Fantastic! Promise yourself that you’ll keep going and not coast on your successful six months. Not quite tearing through your goal list for 2017? Don’t toss it out just because you haven’t made the progress you’d hoped. Use this time to get back on track. You can still pull it out if you get busy now!

DON’T forget to have fun. January is a serious month, full of winter-deep thoughts about where we’re going and where we’ve been. (At least it is here in the Northern Hemisphere!) But June is a lighter month, where the call of the outdoors is strong. Get out there and enjoy it. Just bring your notebook and a pen!

Sound off in the comments and let me know how your goal-setting has gone. Let’s go climb our mountain — and fingers crossed we’re all a bit closer to where we want to be!

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

My Month of Poetry

I recently found myself in a writing rut. A hectic home life, a stressful and stressed-out world, and somehow writing became both trivial and inaccessible. I could not connect with my creativity, and it felt self-indulgent even to try.

Over dinner, a wise friend suggested a poetry challenge. Write a poem a day for thirty days, to clean out the spiders of doubt and despair, and to get my creativity flowing again.

Huh, I thought. Poetry.

I’ve written poetry off and on since college. I’ve never let anyone read it, not even my wife. But this wouldn’t need to be shared. This was about healing, not productivity or entertainment. And April, being National Poetry Month, certainly seemed an appropriate time for it.

I quietly decided to give it a try. The only rules I set were that each day I had to write a poem at some point before midnight, and that I was not allowed to read it after I closed the document.

I wasn’t sure how it would go, and so for the first week, I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. As the days stacked up, though, I became more confident. And then I began to have fun. Poems allow for such freedom to play with language and with white space. Amazing things came up. I would open the blank document expecting to write about one thing, and almost immediately, something entirely different came to my fingers. That’s what I’m worrying about? Who knew?

Some days were harder, particularly as I happened to choose the month we were moving back into our not-quite-fully renovated house. So, sometimes the poems were really short. On the day we moved, I wrote a haiku. Other days I wrote longer and more nuanced pieces. The topics varied. Some were intense, others light. The key was that I didn’t judge myself for what I wrote—for how good it was, or how many words I got down. I allowed myself to experiment and to explore my thoughts.

I started this in late March, so my thirty days are up today. It’s been both fun and illuminating. I’ve gotten back into the groove of daily writing, which feels wonderful. I have a moment each day of reflection and creativity, which I don’t believe I will be able to relinquish. My creativity has been primed, and I have a few new ideas for stories and writing projects. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve found a way to remember that writing is, for me, healing. I know that writing is a business, but that’s not all it is. It is a sacred practice, a way to connect with myself. And if I allow it to, it can save me.

For those looking for more ideas about writing and reading poetry, Laura Shovan, the wise friend who started me on this journey, has a wealth of information on her blog, including, this month, an amazing lineup of interviews with verse novelists. And if anyone is inspired to try a month of poetry, here are some prompts to help you get started.

Katharine Manning blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. She writes middle grade stories about strong, brave girls who sometimes make mistakes. She was thrilled to serve as a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her book blog is KidBookList.

The Four C’s — Yoga Rules for Writing

Back when I took my first yoga class, the teacher warned us to avoid “The Four C’s” – comparing, competing, complaining, and criticizing.

balance-1107484_640I can still vividly remember feeling so chastised – I had committed every single one of those sins!

In the years since that first class, The Four C’s have popped into my head at various times – while taking yoga or other gym classes, while going about my daily life, and while writing fiction.

But while The Four C’s are big Don’ts, they can lead to some even bigger Do’s.

DON’T Compare

It’s so, so tempting to look at other writers and wonder why you don’t have the same success they do. How does she write so fast? How come he is getting a multi-book deal? How did she sell so many copies if everyone thinks she’s a terrible writer?!?

But here’s the thing: comparisons don’t move you forward. All of your observations about other writers could be 100% true (although they’re probably not), but they have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re writing. In fact, wasting a bunch of head space on how another writer is progressing just gets you mired in picking apart your flaws and all the ways you can’t measure up.

DO Study and Learn

Where it’s damaging to compare, it can actually be really helpful to look at what another writer is doing to achieve such success. That writer with the killer output? Maybe she’s getting up at 4am to write every day or another productivity technique you could use in your own work. And the best-sellers? Study what they do right rather than picking apart what they do wrong. People are buying them for a reason – can you see what that reason is?

DON’T Compete

I was at a children’s soccer game recently where a parent was so upset that his son’s team was losing that he lost it. He began yelling at an eight-year-old child on the opposing team and had to be escorted out of the park. It didn’t help his son or his son’s team play better, it didn’t increase anyone’s enjoyment of the game, and it didn’t change the outcome. While some drive to win is a good thing, in general, competing with your fellow writers isn’t going to get you where you want to go.

DO Collaborate

hands-1445244_640Instead, try collaborating. My fellow Pennies have given me fantastic writing and life advice. They spot my weak spots and celebrate my strengths. Different minds have different takes on the same situation, and working together can help everyone succeed…and make this often lonely journey a whole lot more fun.

DON’T Complain

I like to complain as much as the next person. But let’s face it: whining about a situation isn’t getting you any closer to fixing it.

It’s OK to have a venting session if you need it. Get that frustration out with a trusted friend. But once you’ve purged the bad feelings, try to remember what an incredible privilege it is to have the time, energy and ability to create art.

DO Embrace Challenges

Writing — like life — doesn’t promise to be easy, comfortable or fun. Instead, it promises one challenge after another. So embrace those challenges. Come up with creative ways to solve them. Sometimes, the knocks we take in writing end up pushing us to heights we never would have reached without them. (And sometimes they’re just knocks. Sorry.)

The bottom line: the sooner you embrace writing’s challenges, the more joyful the time you spend writing will be.

DON’T Criticize

Criticism has no place in yoga, where the idea is to do the best practice you are capable of doing at that specific moment. But what about in writing? Shouldn’t we criticize in order to produce the best possible work?

Well, no. Criticism is inherently negative. Criticism is that voice in your head that tells you you’ll never be able to do justice to this story, you are a terrible writer, and you should probably just set your laptop on fire to save the world from your pitiful attempts at fiction. Criticism hurts.

DO Critique

Unlike a good critique, criticism doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for what’s you’re doing right. And I actually think that is often just as important — if not more — than what’s going wrong.

In their fantastic book on change, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about one of the key steps that people who successfully change situations take: they follow the bright spots. By looking at what is working and trying to do more of that, we’re usually more successful than if we look at what’s not working and try to change it.

In other words, endless criticism is not going to get you where you want to go as fast as thoughtful critique. Try to look at where your current story gets your heart pounding. Why? What are you doing there that you can do in the rest of your story?

In my Saturday morning spin class a few weeks ago, the instructor ended the class by telling us, “I want you to go out today and remember: You showed up, you tried, and you didn’t quit. That is something to celebrate!”

That powerful message – and my mantra for whenever my writing gets a little tough — is the opposite of The Four C’s.

Interview with Kelly Barnhill: Author of THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON and THE WITCH’s BOY

I had the COMPLETE PLEASURE of chatting with Kelly Barnhill, author of THE WITCH’S BOY, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON (which I reviewed here last Friday), and many other beloved middle-grade fiction and nonfiction books. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is my ✨Favorite Middle-Grade 2016 Read ✨ so far, and I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate #NationalBookLoversDay AND THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON’s book birthday than to share our hot-off-the-presses interview with you.

 

Kelly, welcome to The Winged Pen and thanks so much for chatting with me! Your prose is like a lullaby, so smooth and lush. When I read your enchanting words, the rest of the world slips away. I don’t get it. How do you do that? Am I truly being enmagicked? Or would you possibly share some of your craft secrets to those of aspiring for the same type of effect? Do you read your work aloud? Do you spend hours making each lovely sentence?

photo credit Bruce Silcox
photo credit Bruce Silcox

So, here’s a thing about me: I’m an aural thinker. I don’t “think in pictures” and if I want to try and get a visual in my head, it is a tremendous amount of work. I think in words and words and pretty words. For me, landing on a sentence that pleases me — that feels good in the ear and the mouth and that resonates in the body when you say it out loud — that’s the fundamental basis of the story. Everything else builds around it. When I’m writing and when I’m editing, I do an embarrassing amount of work out loud — so much so that I can make myself hoarse after a long day. I will read a section over and over and over again out loud — often standing and performing to no one but the guinea pig and the dog — until it feels solid and correct and true. 

Love the visual of you performing for your furry friends! What is your work/writing schedule? 

Typically, I get up, get the kids ready for school, go for a run, and then write until they get home at the end of the day. Assuming my day isn’t disrupted by doctor visits or teacher visits or volunteering or cleaning the house. On a good day, I can get four hours of writing in a row. On a less good day, it will only be fifteen minutes. I do try to do something on the book each day – whether it’s writing, note taking, researching or laying flat on my office floor, just thinking.

It’s inspiring to know that you find a way to make the most of even fifteen minutes!

You’ve published short stories, nonfiction, and middle-grade fiction. Whew! Do you work on multiple projects at a time?

Always. I am restless, impatient and easily bored.

What is your most difficult craft hurdle?

Self doubt. Crippling, nasty, mean, and near-constant self-doubt. It can stop any decent story in its tracks and can send any deadline hurtling into the emptiest reaches of the universe. My third book, The Witch’s Boy, almost didn’t exist at all. I had completely given up hope on it and erased the whole thing – poof! Fortunately, I have a very excellent writing group who are all very bossy, and they just emailed the draft that I had sent them back to me and told me to stop being such a dummy. For those of you who struggle similarly with crushing self-doubt, I suggest getting a critique group — the bossier the better.

So glad that your writing group saved THE WITCH’S BOY from the emptiest reaches of the universe! You are so right about bossy critique partners. Here at THE WINGED PEN we often peel each other off the floor, dust each other off, and give a swift pat on the you-know-what when necessary. I couldn’t imagine trying to write without a community of supporters. (Sending out love to all my CPs right now. ❤️)

Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

My reading tastes are all over the map. I recently read A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, which was fantastic, and The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli was mind-blowing. I finally forced myself to read The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett’s last book, and it broke my heart just as I thought it would — and mended it right back up again. Good old Pratchett. The world is a gloomier place since he left us. And I am re-reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, just because.

Oooh! Just hopped on Goodreads and added those to my TBR! Thanks!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Not really. I think my writing life is actually very dull. I wake up early, get my kids ready for school, walk the dog (his name is Sirius Black), and then get to work. If I get stuck, I do push-ups until I can’t stand it anymore and then return to the page. Sometimes I go for a run, and write in my head, stringing sentence after sentence like beads on a string, writing it all down when I get back. Mostly, though, it’s just banker’s hours, every day, me and the page, sentence after sentence until the thing is done.

❤️Sirius Black. Don’t love push-ups! Wow oh wow! Push-ups ’til you drop. *flexes bicep, sighs* You’ve inspired me. I’ll try to learn to love them.

Why do you write for children?

I write for kids because the world is strange, and children like strange things. I write for kids because I like kids, and I like how they think. I write for kids because childhood is, by its very nature, expansive, exploratory, and utterly wild.

You just did it again. My heart did this weird wiggle thing that felt so good. ❤️ Kids are…the best. Your books truly read like a love story to kids and kids at heart.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

A couple of things. I am finishing up a book called The Sugar House, which is a modern re-telling of Hansel and Gretel — with a little bit of the old Mother Hulda tales added in for good measure. Also it takes place in Minneapolis with a main character who can’t seem to do anything right, and who has been expelled after he accidentally almost blew up the school — not really, but that’s how it played in the media. Anyway, it’s a story about a kid who can’t seem to escape his own narrative — people always see him as a screw-up and a “bad kid.” And when he discovers something truly terrifying in his neighborhood, he has to decide what he’s going to do about it — since people will continue to see him as a bad boy, even when he’s trying to do something good.

I’m also working on a new story that is requiring me to do research into alchemy, poisons, the Holy Roman Empire, ship building, piracy, Euclid’s Elements, Euler’s Mechanica, and a particularly devilish composition for the mandolin. Also the nature of death.

Both of those sound amazing. CAN. NOT. WAIT. to hold those books! And I’m a geek girl, so Euclid/Euler…whoa, be still my heart!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I already have one. I have the ability to make people feel completely amazing about themselves. This is true. I can send GIANT LOVE BEAMS inducing feelings of well-being and hopefulness and general efficaciousness to anyone I choose. I do it all the time. I’m basically Other-People’s-Self-Esteem-Man. Or Woman, I mean.

GIANT LOVE BEAMS! *soul melts  You wield your power so well. We can feel it in your stories, like a megaphone right to the heart.

Here comes the lightning round. *hands you a slice of warm blackberry pie*

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Wood. Always.

Coffee or tea?

Tea. Now, then, tomorrow, yesterday, one minute ago, one hour from now, and forever.

Sweet or salty?

Salt. Unless it’s sweet. And then later, salt.

Dog, cat, or other?

I love cats but my husband can’t stand them, as his heart is, alas, a cinder. We have dogs. I love dogs. I miss cats.

Plotter or pantser?

Pants. All the way. Mostly because pants is a funny word.

Whew! Alright, last question. Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Don’t be afraid to write lousy words. Don’t be afraid to write lousy pages. Don’t be afraid to write lousy stories. Sometimes we have to write the lousy stuff in order to get to the good stuff. It works. I promise. (Also you are amazing. Amazing. Every single beautiful sexy genius one of you. What you’re doing is important and wonderful. Keep being amazing.)

Swoon. Aww…thanks so much for the encouragement! We hope all our blog readers take that advice to heart.

THANK YOU so much for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly! We can’t wait to devour your next book!

For more info and links related to Kelly Barnhill’s latest release THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, please click here.Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 9.46.28 PM

Connect with Kelly Barnhill at www.kellybarnhill.com

IMG_2370MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

 

 

Keeping the Words Flowing

Back when we were the age of the kids we write for, summer used to mean long, hot, lazy days filled with reading, outdoor fun, and friends. But for writers, summer can be a huge time of distraction.

hilarity-1349125_640Schedule changes like vacations and having kids home from school for the summer months can really eat into my writing time. So I asked my fellow Winged Pen members how they keep writing through the summer chaos – or any big schedule changes like moving, a new job, a new baby or family visiting.

Here are their creative suggestions to keep the words flowing.

Julie: After basically not getting to write a word for a couple of summers, I vowed last year that I’d make time for writing. Then I overdid it and spent too much time at the computer and not enough with my kiddos. This year, I’m hoping for a bit more balance. First, I’m going to keep up my early morning writing habit. Second, I’m going to scale back my expectations a bit. I’m lucky this summer because my son needs to do an entire school year’s worth of math so that he can enter an accelerated program in middle school next year, so I will be able to slip in writing time while he’s busy with Khan Academy, but that still leaves my daughter. I’ve got some art and writing projects lined up to keep her entertained and both are avid readers, so hopefully that will be enough time to help all make it through the summer with smiles on our faces.

Laurel: I’ve used the 15 minute plan a lot. If you have a brainstormed scene list (however sketchy!), you can pick a scene to draft, mind-map the characters until you find the conflict, set the timer for 15 minutes and write like mad. If you don’t have a scene list because life is tooooo crazy, you can try a prompt. Once you have enough “sand” you can review it and see if there’s a castle in there somewhere. My most effective book for prompts (to use with or without a current project) is Roberta Allen’s THE PLAYFUL WAY TO SERIOUS WRITING.

My kids are older so it’s more of a people suddenly need me for something and interrupting myself. I had really good luck with Joanna Penn’s calendar method earlier this year. And then we went away for a week and I’ve never quite gotten it back on track. I’m trying to get back in the groove before school gets out for my youngest.

Gita: I’ve been struggling to get my work done and the 15-minute plan (or, for me, the 500 word plan) works because it’s just enough writing to keep my head in the game. And I don’t judge the quality of the work when I’m only writing 500 words. It’s just getting words on paper until I feel better/have a longer chunk of time to work AND not letting myself get psyched out that I’m not writing. If I skip a day I’m lost and it’s twice as hard to get back into it. Timed writing also works.

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” And I think if she’d had children, she would have said that some of the money is for summer camp or babysitters.

When my son was little, I pooled resources with another friend and hired teenagers to play with him and his buddy in the mornings so I could work. Now that he’s older he sleeps in, so I force myself to be productive at that time. This year: 3-week sleep away camp, a gift from his grandparents. Really, though, it’s about finding bits of time and defending them—not letting them get used for anything but writing.

Rebecca: I know I do better with a couple big blocks of time then a lot of small ones. So Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my writing days. The benefit is not just that they are big blocks so I can make some significant progress on a revision, but also that they are easy to defend. These are always my writing days, so I might schedule a tradesman that needs access to the house (reluctantly) but I push off any guilt about bills, groceries, laundry, etc. For drafting, I switch up to shorter chunks of time over the summer because I can’t write new stuff for 8 hours straight.

Halli: I also try to fit in 15 minutes a day at the minimum. Whether the kids are home or we are on vacation. Sometimes it has to be something completely new if my current WIP is on the computer and I can’t get to it (for example screen time is shut off for the whole family) then I will write something with pen and paper. It also helps with keeping my mind active and the creative juices flowing. I find that in the summer when the kids are sleeping in and husband is at work, I get some good productive time in.

Karin: Summer camps = writing time! All four kids are going to sleep away camp this year for the first time! Okay, it’s only for a couple of weeks, but still it will be exquisite. I won’t have to worry about cleaning and cooking and entertaining them. Of course, we will do fun stuff but it will be great to have this quiet time to write. Then they have a couple of weeks of local sports or music camps. The older ones (8th and 10th grade) can bike to their friends now and even hang out at the community pool on their own.

Kristi: I wish I had a suggestion… I just end up throwing my hands in the air and passing out i-pads and typing in the password on the computer and telling them leave each other alone and give me an hour…

Sometimes life really does demand that you take a break. But if you’re struggling to stay in your writing groove this summer – or any time during the year! – try out one of these suggestions and let us know how it goes! And if you have any other ideas, comment away!

 

rm-picRICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children, mischievous beagle and long-suffering cat. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.