How to Survive Your Toughest Draft

For the last couple of years, every time one of my writer pals would ask me what I was working on, the answer was the same breezy, “Oh, I’m still plugging away on that rockstar mom book I told you about ages ago.”

I’m pretty sure that more than a few of them wondered if I shouldn’t just give it up and move on to something else. Something that would actually get written. And if they didn’t, they were stronger, better writers than me because that was something I wondered every time I sat down with my laptop.

But I persisted, mostly out of sheer stubbornness, and I completed a very, very messy first draft in April of last year. In November, I finally had it shaped into something resembling a novel.

FINALLY!

I’m not sure why this draft took so much longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I could cite a busier-than-ever family life, or a robust year of paid freelance work. Maybe it was because most days, I can be best described as a “ball of anxiety with fingers.”

But I can tell you how I got through an interminable draft (and managed to avoid quitting writing entirely!).

I Was Selfish. My mantra this past year has been “eyes on your own paper.” I withdrew from social media, avoided contests, and spent a lot less time engaging with other writers. It was difficult, and I felt like a jerk, but I knew that my top priority needed to be getting my work done. I am thrilled for my friends who have been out in the world this past year, but I knew I would not be with them. Not right now. Right now, my entire focus had to be a bit selfish. Eyes on my own work.

But Not Too Selfish. Instead of focusing on what *I* wanted – to finish the draft, to write a great book, to get an agent, to get a publishing contract – I made a choice instead to focus on service. We’re writing books for people, specifically children and/or teens, to read. So while I wanted to tell the story of my heart, I kept in mind that, ultimately, that heart-story needed to be in service of the teenage reader. That guiding star helped me re-focus when my way wandered and kept me writing when it seemed I would never get done.

I lowered my expectations. For years, I wrote 1,000 words a day, five days a week. I had reasonable expectations of finishing a draft in a couple of months, of being able to query a book every year, of catching the attention of an agent in the near future. But this year, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I spent some time looking over those expectations in a bright light, and I realized that they weren’t doing me any good. I’m a goal-setter and a rule-follower, but that doesn’t matter much in the wider world. No one is lining up to give me a cookie because I did things in the right order, in the right way, at the right time. So I made 2017 the year of NO expectations, other than that I would keep my head down and keep writing.

I used a timer. In order to take some pressure off but still keep getting words down, I started writing for 15 timed minutes each day. That was it. When the timer went off, I stopped. If it was the middle of a sentence, so much the better! That way I had a starting point for the next day. There were days when I only logged 5-10 words on a tricky scene. But I counted those as writing sessions and just kept going.

I relinquished control. Years ago, a colleague of mine listened to me rant about how other people were failing to do their jobs and it was ruining what I was doing. She said, “Well, you can’t control the outcome. You can only control what you put in to it.” That rattled through my head this year. I can’t control what happens with this or any piece of writing. All I can do is control what I put into it. So that is all I worried about.

I reached out. A few times over the course of the year, I did reach out to other writers to share what was going on with me and to reconnect with their work. Getting out of my head was important, but even better was the chance to share in others’ creative processes, successes and challenges. I went out and saw art and live music, too, feeding my own creativity. Writing is so solitary that it’s nice to remember there are other artists out there traveling a similar path.

I looked for joy, not results. I won’t sugarcoat it: for months I was pretty sure I was going to quit writing entirely. Writing for me is a singular joy. Word counts and pursuing publication and developing platform are not joyful. Letting go of the results side of writing for goal-oriented me was painful for my ego, but it was manna for the creative part of my soul, the part that just wants to play with words and stories and doesn’t actually care if anyone reads them. That play without pressure was revitalizing in a way that I desperately needed this year.

Some might call what I experienced this past year Writer’s Block. But I don’t think that’s what it was, even after taking two years to draft a novel. After all, I wrote all the time, and the words flowed fine, when I could find the time to let them flow.

But something happened with this year, with this manuscript that tested me – and I was reminded again that writing fiction is not for the faint-hearted!

If you find yourself facing a similar time of slow production mixed with a bit of despair and a burning desire to quit the game entirely, I have some advice:

Take a deep breath.

Then: Head down, do the work however you can, don’t worry about the mess, keep your eyes on your own paper.

Find your joy.

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. 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.

What Did I Do in 2017?

The end of the year is close. When I changed the calendar from October to November, I felt as if I wasted the entire year. Of course I spent too much time on social media, binge-watched several TV shows, and stood for what seemed like hours in front of the coffee machine waiting for the cup to fill, but as far as writing, what exactly did I do this year?

Photo: Estee Janssens

I didn’t want to dwell on my procrastination, but I thought if I took a good look at what I did – or didn’t do – this year, maybe I would learn something about myself as a writer and as a person that could help when making my goals for next year.

I know it’s scary, but play along with me. (Don’t make me do this alone!) Take out a pen and paper and start your list. First, what did you do and second, what did you learn.

Here’s mine:

  1. The first five months of this year I revised my YA contemporary novel. Every time you revise and open yourself up to critiques, you develop your craft. With this particular novel, I learned about dialogue, specifically what’s boring or repetitive, and how to make dialogue fun.
  2. I spent several months this year forcing myself to write a novel that clearly didn’t want to be written. A friend suggested now wasn’t the time to write it, but how could that be? You have an idea, you write. If I’d looked at the novel objectively, as she did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time forcing it.
  3. I wrote three rough synopses and four rough outlines for new books. I don’t just write for The Winged Pen, I read and cherish the writing tips. This year I took those tips and changed the way I start manuscripts. This helped me see the complete idea and the direction it needed to go.
  4. I wrote sixteen posts for The Winged Pen. The key here is writing. Some write for their jobs, some do fifteen minute writing warmups. The fact is, the more we write, the better we get.
  5. I critiqued six manuscripts and short stories (including my first paid editing job!) Critiquing is one of the best ways to grow as a writer. When we read and critique others, we identify mistakes we make in our own writing. And personally, reading good work from others pushes me to become a better writer.
  6. I wrote and revised one short story. Just like reading different genres, experimenting with different writing styles, genres, and lengths can open up new strengths and passions.I had attempted to write several short stories in the past, but finishing one gave me a new level of confidence.
  7. I read novels, short stories, and craft articles. Reading is necessary for all writers because it helps you grow as you learn new tips and develop new ideas. Reading also supports other writers, and for me, it is therapy.

As this year ends and we set goals for 2018, forget the times of procrastination and focus on what you learned this year. The Winged Pen wrote many posts to help and entertain you on your journey. Below are a few of my favorites.

The Winged Pen took writers from the big idea to the final product in the novel writing Master Your Craft series.

Need help finding critique partners? Here are a few tips. Another Magic Formula and How to Give a Good Critique.

The Pennies are big readers. Check out a few of our favorite books. Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.

Have trouble navigating social media? These posts can help. Creating Your Social Media Platform and Twitter 101 For Writers.

The Winged Pen looked at diversity this year. Writing Other with Sensitivity and Writing About Native Americans – A Diversity Conversation.

And don’t forget our monthly Four on 400  contest. Four critiques on your first 400 words.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

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Hiding in the Closet (and other tricks to find writing time in the summer)

Shhh. I’m in the closet with my laptop. Should I mention there’s no air conditioning in this closet. And it’s at least 90 degrees outside. I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna. And the air smells like teen boy sneakers.

Why am I torturing myself? I just want uninterrupted writing time. My kids have been out of school for a whole week already. Every three minutes I’m bombarded with a steady stream of questions.

Does mollusks have one “l” or two?

What color are prison uniforms in Japan?

Did you buy banana peppers?

What time will Dad be home?

Where’s my bathing suit?

Who ate all the ice cream?

Why is there a lion in the front yard?!!!

Yeah, that last one got me moving because believe it or not stranger things have happened in our neighborhood and who’d give up the chance to see a lion prancing through their yard. This time, it was a trick just to swipe some of my chocolate stash. Rrrrroooaaarrr!

The point here is that I’m desperate to be ignored. Is that too much to ask? I’ve EVEN TRIED GETTING UP EARLY. My kids have been waking up before 8am.

“You’re teenagers. GO BACK TO BED!”

I have no choice. I’m running away with my laptop AND ALL THE CHOCOLATE in our house (because I am EVIL). But first, I decided to ask my resourceful friends at The Winged Pen for their best advice on squeezing in writing time.

Jenny (5 and 8): Buy out the entire supply of water balloons at Walmart. Bribe them with food. Lock them in their play room (mostly kidding). Discover that the PS4 game they’ve been fighting over weeks has a multi-player option. Ship them off to grandparents because really that’s the only answer!

Kate (8 and 11): Wear them out! A long walk in the woods or a visit to the pool, water park, or trampoline park in the morning guarantees a few blissful hours of writing in the afternoon while they rest and draw, play with Legos, or read.

Karin (9, 12, 14, and 15): Child labor: Give them jobs/chores and pay them, such as weeding (all four), painting the fireplace bricks with white wash (artsy 15 yr old), walking dog (all four), older ones entertaining wild 9 yr old.

Gabby (9 and 13):  Start their own crafty business. Jewelry making, beading, sewing, bake sales/lemonade stands.Write and illustrate their own book! Could offer to have it bound at the end of the summer.

Julie (11 and 12): Early morning was my only opportunity last summer. I can usually get the two of them going on a board game, a craft project, or some outdoor time and sneak in a little writing time. The good news is that they’re both big readers, so I often write during their reading time too!

Halli (11 and 14): This year I am sending them to a one-week drone day camp. Now that they are older they don’t want to be campers. They are counselors at karate camp, but I’m there too. So it looks like I’ll get one decent week of writing done this summer. Sigh….

Kristi (8, 9, 10 and 12): We just got new beds for the kids and even my 10 and 12 yo have been pitching in creating stuff with the boxes– For us, taking away electronics and giving them challenges like build the tallest thing, etc, has been key this break (it’s only one month for us, so maybe after a few weeks the chaos will break out?)

Rebecca (12 and 14): I don’t need to entertain them. In fact, I’d like to do days at the lake or a museum or the shore, but I already know I’ll just get, “School’s finally done! We just want to relax!” My challenge is that I’ll start writing and need to remember to get my son off the computer, get my daughter to put down the book, and push them out the door for some fresh air and exercise.

Richelle (10, 12,  and 14): We are instituting non-screen hobby time at our house this summer. I told them they need to cultivate interests and I will get them supplies. My oldest is going to teach herself to sew, the 12-year-old is going to paint, and the 10-year-old is baking. My main purpose was to get them off their devices, but I’m hoping it leads to them having their own practices that they enjoy enough to leave me alone for a while!

Gita (15): Sleep-away theater camp. For three weeks.

*All our jaws drop. We turn green with envy and frantically google last-minute sleep-away camps for all our kids.

Sussu (9 and 13): My teenager and my tweenager are learning Autodesk. It’s easy and free and there are lots of tutorials online. They get to model their own Lego kits. The reward? We’ll 3D print the kits when they’re done.

Gita wins for best summer plan, and Sussu wins for most industrious kids. And now I’m feeling even more like a slacker. Thanks to the inspiration from my friends, I’ve figured out where I went wrong. We don’t have a routine. Instead of running away, I’m putting together a plan. On the weekends, we’ll make a schedule for the week and buy any supplies we need. So here’s my routine for the rest of the summer:

  • Get an hour of writing time before they get up. See this post for details!
  • Take them on a short hike or walk
  • Lunch together
  • Reading time/Personal activity time (another hour of writing time for me)
  • Bonding (kid-kid) activity/challenge each day, like a major chore that takes two, or making dessert, helping a neighbor, etc
  • Afternoon game time (me plus the kids), followed by dinner and family time in the evening

Hopefully something in this post will spark you with an idea for how to wrangle some writing time and keep your little darlings busy, and maybe even inspired.

Leave any suggestions you have for keeping kids busy in the summer in the comments, PLEASE!!!!! (Just in case, you know.)

MICHELLE 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.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

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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.

Book Marketing Part 2: Your Mailing List

Last month, I talked about how to build your platform: http://thewingedpen.com/book-marketing-p…re-your-best-bet/. This month, I will talk about how you can bait your readership further.

A sale funnel will turn an indifferent audience into a warm audience. Your audience is made out of readers and writers like you. Think of your future audience not as potential buyers, but as a group of people who love the same things as you, as people from your tribe and your community.

Be of service to them before you push a price tag into their hands.

Your readers are waiting to discover you. They are! They would love to discover the next best writer. They are waiting to read amazing novels. They are ready to invest in the series they love.

Your funnel sale will help readers not only discover your books,.but also know more about you and ultimately develop a trust.  

 

Think about it. Free books get downloaded 100 more than $0.99 books. You want your first book to be downloaded as many times as you can. The more downloads, the more chances people will read your stories and become your fans. 

Free books: You can give away a “reader magnet” that will be only 30 pages long. It could be a short story that will only take one day to write. It could be a prequel that will explain a lot about the series you are trying to sell.

It’s your hook.

Set their expectations.

Introduce them to your world.

You can also offer a permafree (permanently free) book, the first book in the series, or a novella in order to get people to subscribe to your mailing list and to give them a taste of what you write. It is a good idea to have a trilogy to start with.  You will leverage the free book by developing your fan club. But make sure you collect email addresses while doing so.

 

You need to collect email addresses in exchange for any free book.

Give one book for free to get people to buy the rest. Thousands of books are given for free every day, so readers do not expect to buy blindly or take chances.

They expect to sample.  

It might be hard to admit or hurtful, but it’s true. Readers want to sample your writing. They want to know if you’re a good fit.

Building your email pool is very important because it will tell people who you are and what you have to offer as well as what series you are planning to write in the future. Remember, shoot for the 1,000 true fans.

What to put in your emails:

First, register to an automatic delivery email service so that you do not have to keep track of your emails. Over a period of several weeks, you should have a series of emails with actionable steps.

This is what author, teacher, and coach  Bryan Cohen advise to do:

#1 email: Deliver your audience their freebie.

#2 email: Check-in about the freebie a week later, saying something like, “Did you have a chance to read my book?” Reintroduce your book.

#3 email: Ask to connect on social media.

#4 email: Pitch your next book/series.

#5: Finally, you can invite them to your VIP site or your Beta readers program. Tell them they will get your books for free. They will post reviews for you and cheer you on.

When talking to your audience, tell them about something interesting about you. Some writers show pictures of their families and how their families influenced their book. Some writers tell a story about the conception of their novel. Some authors include freebies from programs they have joined. Think of something new readers (not yet fans) would be interested in. Discuss what you care about, your values, and what part of yourself they will find in your books. Think of it as a first impression. Open a two-way communication route. Let them ask questions and answer them, let them be part of your tribe. And good luck.

 

Resources:

Buroker, Lindsay. “Newsletters 101: Email marketing for authors.” <http://lindsayburoker.com/book-marketing/newsletters-101-email-marketing-for-authors/>

Tim Grahl’s Book Marketing Resources.<https://booklaunch.com/resources/>

 BM075: How to Build a Powerful Author Platform to Be More Visible with Alinka Rutkowska. <http://bookmarketingmentors.com/author-platform/>

Bryan Cohen’s Selling For Authors (Bryan is an incredible and generous mentor). <http://bryancohen.com/>

 Kirsten Oliphant’s Create If Writing. <http://createifwriting.com/podcast-and-show-notes/>

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If you liked this article, consider reading Sussu’s articles: “Writers Get organized” at Novel Without Further ado: http://novelwithoutfurtherado.weebly.com/

Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

Bullet Journals for Writers

Life has gotten really full. There are emails to answer, phone calls to make, and have you signed the kids up for summer camp yet? Enter the bullet journal. It’s basically a notebook into which you pour all of your appointments, tasks, plans, goals, lists, musings, and memories. And once you have it written down, you’ve captured it. That little thing that you’re afraid you’ll forget? You can let it go, because it’s in the book.

Bullet journals are completely customizable. You set it up exactly as you need to for your own quirky mind and habits. If you need two pages for a single day, go for it. If you want to see an entire month at a time, in vertical list form, it’s all you. You need a special column for your mom’s doctor appointments? No problem.

Bullet journals are especially appealing for writers, because they involve all the things writers love—paper, pens, stickers, penmanship, obsessing over minutia. The downside is that the journal can be time-consuming to establish and maintain, especially if you fall deep into the rabbit hole of perfecting the pages. DO NOT OBSESS OVER HOW PRETTY THE PAGES ARE.[1]

Here is a rough overview of how to get started (for the full story, see the video here).

The Book

First, you need to pick a notebook. Here’s my preferred bullet journal. It has thick numbered pages, two ribbon bookmarks, a pocket in back, and isn’t it so lovely? I am devoted to mine, but I must admit that a multiple-notebook binder like this one has some appeal, as you could choose to have one notebook for appointments, another for sketches, or your work in progress, or your many lists. You can also go for something cheap and easy to start and see if you like it, and there are websites where you can have a custom journal set up for you, if you don’t like filling in the pages yourself.

The Index

What bullet journalers call an index is really a table of contents,[2] and it’s crucial. This part really blew my mind. How many notebooks have I filled in my life? And why did it never occur to me to include a table of contents? I now use them for all of my notebooks. For instance, if I’m going to a writing conference, I’ll use one notebook for my class notes, follow-ups, and critique notes, and leave a few blank pages at the front for my table of contents. Then, three months later when I’m trying to remember Wendy Mass’s incredible talk on blueprinting your novel, I pull out my New England SCBWI Conference journal and flip right to the correct page. So satisfying.

The Schedule

It takes a little while to perfect your system. I have monthly and weekly calendars, all in the front half of the book, and the back half blank for my lists. My advice is to look around at the endless bullet journal boards for ideas, and try a few things out before you commit to filling in an entire year’s schedule.

The Lists

This is where the bullet journals really shine. You can use your blank pages for all the things that you need to pour out of your brain, and you can also use them for inspiration, to help you reach your goals, and to amuse you. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few types of lists that are particularly useful for writers.

Productivity

There are a million ways to track your productivity through a list. I do a little chart in the corner of my weekly calendar where I track writing days, as well as exercise and overall steps toward world domination. Specific pages for word count, scenes or chapters written or edited, pomodori completed, or blog posts written, can also be useful, as can a submissions tracker or chart of your various works in progress. It is so satisfying to fill in those little boxes, let me tell you.

Brainstorming

Corral your ideas for stories, snippets of dialogue overheard (I can’t be the only one eavesdropping during field trips), character traits or habits, inspiring books or movies, found images and metaphors, and great names.

Work in Progress

I actually do this in a separate notebook (with a table of contents!), but you can do it in your bullet journal, if you’d rather have it handy. I include my outline, themes and story questions, titles, character sketches, scene planning, and anything else that strikes me. Some other ideas that might be fun are sketching out your dream cover, or drafting a dedication and acknowledgements page for your work in progress.

Reading

If you’re like me, you have a towering to be read pile and are constantly encountering more books that you want to add. You can track what you’re reading or want to read, as well as your impressions as you’re reading, and reviews written.

Fun

Make some room for delight, as well. Consider including a spot for words you love,[3] writing prompts, six-word stories, doodles, and inspiring quotes. I have my favorite poems, for easy perusing when I’m in the mood.

Good luck! In the comments, I’d love to hear how you use your bullet journal, or your ideas for lists that writers would appreciate.

For more inspiration on productivity, check out Richelle’s post on Writing Goals, and we have a fantastic start to your to-be-read craft books list here.

Subscribe to THE Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

Katharine Manning may never master calligraphy, but she makes a darn good cake. She is a middle grade writer and mom who lives in Washington, DC, home of the uber-productive. She blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files…Of Middle Grade Authors and is thrilled to be a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Please note that I am currently trying to learn calligraphy so I can make my pages prettier. I am terrible at calligraphy.

[2] Don’t mind me, just obsessing over minutia.

[3] Isn’t “hush” wonderful? I love that word.

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Want to Make More Progress in 2017? Write Down Your Writing Goals

It’s the New Year – new calendars, new notebooks, a new start!

I am a New Year junkie. I love the reminders to reflect on the previous year and lay out plans for the year to come. But as a staunch list-maker, I don’t just noodle on my goals for the year, I write them down.

At the end of each year, I pull up my 12-months-old list, x-ing out the goals I’ve accomplished, and mulling over the ones I haven’t. Some goals surprise me – did I really think that was a priority in 2016? And some are oddly outdated, reflections of circumstances that no longer exist in my life, like the year I insisted I was going to get back into shape, only to discover I was pregnant before I could even make the appointment to tour the gym.

I have a friend who writes herself a letter every New Year’s Day, telling her future self about the things she hopes to accomplish, the problems she’s currently facing and the hopes and fears she holds for the coming twelve months. The next New Year’s Eve, she opens the letter and reads the time capsule from exactly a year ago.

It turns out, my friend and I both practice a key strategy for success: writing down your goals.

New research reported here in NYMag.com, appears to show that the simple act of writing down your goals makes you much more likely to achieve them.

Of course, a big section of my 2017 Goal List is devoted to writing. Every year, I think about where I am now – what am I working on? What do I have waiting in the wings? How much time/energy will each of these projects take? Where do I want to go with each? And then I formulate a plan.

Are you ready to set your writing goals for 2017? Grab your coffee, your notebook and some chocolate and follow these tips:

DO be specific: Write a best-seller is not a great goal. Not only is the sales status of your book almost entirely out of your control, but the goal itself is too vague to be of use. Instead try to hone in on what you’ve already got going on. Finish first draft of my dog in space book or Query Yellowstone Adventure YA are more realistic.

DO set deadlines: I love to give myself a rough timeline. On my list this year is Finish first draft of YA WIP by March. Knowing how much I have to go and my current pace, this feels like a reasonable, achievable goal – and it serves as motivation if I start to slow down or slack off.

DO be flexible: Sometimes we can’t or don’t accomplish our goals for reasons out of our control. Sometimes our goals change completely. You can be determined to query your picture book about fairies, but if you hear fairies are done, or you suddenly realize you were meant to write adult true crime, that’s OK. Adjust mid-year.

DON’T beat yourself up: All too often, I’ll check in on my goals halfway through the year and zero in on how much I haven’t accomplished, instead of seeing how much I have. If you need to course-correct, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad or lazy person. It means you have a life! And you still have another six months to get back on track.

For me, the act of writing down my writing goals also becomes an affirmation that this endeavor is important, worthy of my time and attention. And in a business where progress can be achingly slow, it is heartening to see that I really have moved forward as the months have rolled past.

Do you write out your writing goals? How does it work for you? And if you’re trying it this year for the first time, let me know how it goes! Maybe we can do a check-in in June and see how much progress we’ve all made.

Write on!

Ready… Set… WRITE!

running-498257_640If you read Julie’s post, you know it’s National Novel Writing Month again, which means a whole bunch of us are sweating through each day trying to write 50,000-ish words by the end of November.

While I’m not participating this year, I am still trying to keep up my own momentum on my current WIP.

But time has been so very tight for me this fall, and my normal writing routine wasn’t working for me. Instead of getting frustrated, though, I decided to try something new: sprinting.

Here’s how it works for me: I set my timer (generally for 15 minutes, though you can aim for more time if you have it), shut down the Internet, put my document in “focus mode” and start typing. I do not stop until the timer dings.

When I first started sprinting, I would get 250-400 words down each session. But as I got more used to it, I started hitting well over 500. Two fifteen minute sprints a day gets me back to my old goal of 1,000 words a day – all in a lot less time.

Of course, sprinting can be a little scary. I still sometimes have a moment of panic before I start my timer: what if I can’t find the words? But that fear is offset by the freewheeling joy of writing without second-guessing, without going back to edit, without stopping to ponder this word or that one.

There are a couple of different ways to approach sprinting. I like to keep working from where I left off – I find that sprinting forces me to be more focused about where I’m going with each scene. I have to know what’s going to happen each time I sit down to sprint, which means I have had to plot out each scene – and know what its purpose is in the overall story – beforehand.

If that’s too daunting or you’re worried about getting stuck, you can also plan out sprints for specific scenes. Some writers like to sprint through difficult-to-write scenes, knowing that sometimes getting something down is better than getting it down perfectly. Others sprint through character sketches or other important background writing.

I’ve always done my sprints solo, but there is a whole writing subculture devoted to social sprinting. This month, the NaNoWriMo Word Sprint feed (@NaNoWordSprints) will run periodic group sprints, some of which might include prompts or challenges to help you get unstuck.

There are even apps you can download, like WriteOrDie!, which rewards (or punishes!) you for reaching (or not reaching) your goals.

I think my favorite thing about sprinting is that it doesn’t allow me time to go back. I could easily spend half my writing time re-reading and tinkering with the words I’ve already written instead of writing new ones. With sprinting, I’m saving that word-shining for revisions.

I don’t know that I’d want to write an entire novel in sprints. But I’m enjoying the sense of accomplishment I have each day after my sprint is done. And I know that as I race one kid to volleyball practice and my husband shuttles another to soccer while I text instructions to my oldest on how to put the rice on without burning down the house, that even if there’s chaos all around me, my writing is still getting done.

I’d love to hear about your sprinting techniques – please share them in the comments!

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Going Dark: How Do You Tune Out Online “Noise”?

focusAfter being almost completely disconnected for ten days this summer, I found it a bit jarring once I returned to my normal online-heavy life. I’m deep into drafting at the moment, and all that “noise” has been wreaking havoc with my ability to focus. Hearing about others’ progress, chasing the link to yet another craft article or agent’s wishlist, or just keeping up with the daily lives of friends can be distracting. When I’m drafting, I need to keep my head down and my eyes on my own work.

I’m thinking about ways to keep myself wrapped in that vacation quiet by going “dark” (or at least darker!) on social media and the Internet, but I’m not sure how to do that while still maintaining my connections and taking care of business.

So, of course, I turned to my fellow Pennies for their wisdom. Here’s what they said about drafting and the need to go dark on some front:

Sussu: I go deep down in my cave when I draft. I need to retrieve authentic feelings, feelings I have experienced before I can lay them down on the page. At home, we have unplugging periods of time. No one in the house is allowed to plug in any way. No movie, no tweeting, no phone. These periods of complete silence help me go deep down inside myself. That doesn’t mean we are not communicating, because we are, but the communication is different. I also can use these moments to discuss a story and what my family would like to see in my next book. At the end of the day, I’m all fueled up.

Kristi: I don’t go dark on the technological front, but I do on the reading front. Having said that, I do disconnect during the day and “reward” myself with internet connection for a bit after the kids are sorted and in bed. I even try to keep my research down to a minimum and instead create a list of things I want to research so I don’t get too distracted. But I’ve found that reading during my drafting tends to really distract me. If I go dark on social media, I find that I just never catch up.

Rebecca: Like Kristi, I go dark on reading. (Okay, maybe brown out, not pitch black.) I find if I write a lot or a particularly difficult chapter that my brain is literally tired and I don’t want to pick up a book, but just veg in front of the TV or even just “be” to relax. I also feel like I need more blank space to process where I am in the story, and what needs to come next, and what the characters are feeling. I create very long lists of things to research or deepen. I’m 19 chapters into a story right now and still using [nightmare] for a bully I haven’t fully developed and [bg1] for the first bad guy. That way I can concentrate on the two main characters and the plot for the moment, then go back and search and replace once I’m ready to get serious about those characters.

Gita: I find being online incredibly distracting, whether I’m drafting or revising. I really prefer to start a writing day—any day, in fact—without checking my phone or anything else, like I did today. While I’m working, I use an app called Self Control that blocks internet access. I need that quiet to think, reflect: to work from the depths rather from the surface. I personally love to read alongside my writing, but what I read has to be excellent: I only want good words in my head. 🙂 When researching for my (future) Writer’s Desk post, I came across Austin Kleon’s great post on just this topic—he includes Joseph Campbell, Edward Tufte, and Francis Ford Coppola’s take on what Campbell calls “the bliss station.”

Mark: I do stop reading MG books because the voice does tend to get in the way. I like reading adult fiction while I’m writing MG though. There might be some phrase or beautiful passage that helps me sprinkle some new ideas into my project. I’m finding it hard to get going on my next revision, but I’m trying to be patient with myself and use the time to think and reorganizing in my mind. I think it’s actually probably a good thing that I’m forced to think before diving back in. I can reflect on how to approach my fixes this way. Plus I use the opportunity to distract myself with shorter projects and problem solve on those for a time. I liked what Jeff Zentner said in Gabrielle’s interview. That he sits with it for weeks, even months, before writing. I like that idea. Daydreaming about your story is part of the process.

Julie: I’m terrible at this! This winter, I started getting up and drafting for 60-90 minutes BEFORE I was allowed to check Twitter/Facebook/email. This has given me a big productivity boost. And I know some people who are even more rigorous about it–one of my husband’s colleagues, who is a designer, only checks email twice a day at 10 and 2 so that he has three big chunks of creative time during the work day. I may try that in the school year because I spend way too much time stalking email and hanging out with you guys on Twitter/Facebook.

How do you increase your focus and tune out the “noise” of online life — or life in general? Do you need tunnel vision while you draft? We’d love to hear your tips — sound off in the comments!

How I had a Productive Summer

Or as I like to say, how I made the most of interrupted time.

Think back to June. Was this you?

“I have an incredible writing project planned for this summer. I’ll write a first draft. Complete revisions. Write, query, get the book published, and go on a worldwide book tour. All before school starts in September.”

Well, that did sound a bit like me (minus the book tour. Do you think I’m delusional?) I set a deadline of August 30th. to finish revisions on my WIP. The timing was perfect. It had been resting for weeks (per Stephen King), I was dreaming about the characters and plot holes, and I gave myself almost three months to complete them. What could go wrong?

Duh, summer!

Picture this:

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Monday, the second week of June, CBS This Morning just finished. I skipped to my writing desk and opened my laptop. Aaahhh. #amwriting.

Duh, summer!

Son#2 stomped downstairs.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Smshidhgehisld,” he said. I translated it as good morning, and since I was in such a deliriously happy mood, I may have imagined he said I love you. Unfortunately, it was most likely “why is it so bright outside?”

But to be honest, I was too excited to get to work to make sense of it.

I sipped coffee, ignored Teen Titans Go on TV in the family room, and opened chapter one. I reworded the first paragraph.

Duh, summer!

Son#1 shuffled downstairs. He’s not a morning person.

“We have no milk!”

As a kid lit writer, no milk was something my main character would complain about, but duh, summer! I sipped more coffee, took a deep breath, and turned the computer off. There were more important issues to tackle. Really, the thought of cereal without milk, or having to eat waffles for breakfast, was inconceivable. Right?

Between taking care of every day needs, vacations, hanging out with the kids until they remembered I was an adult and therefore boring, and the unexpected houseguests (which came in the form of a copperhead snake that sent my son to the hospital), I realized revisions would not be possible. But that didn’t stop me from trying, getting frustrated, and trying again.

Then sometime toward the end of June, a light bulb went off. I actually saw stars and it was not from being hit in the head sparring. I realized there was writing time during the summer. It was just in five or ten minute intervals.

Instead of saying what the hecks, packing up my writing materials, and being completely unproductive this summer, I learned how to make the most of those cherished minutes I found during the day.

Here are a few activities I did during those times:

  1. Writing exercises. Fifteen minutes, or five. There was no rule. I found writing for even a few minutes energized my creativity and brought out the joy in writing.image
  1. Catching up on writing articles. I read and took notes on the dozens of saved newsletters, links to blog posts (like the amazing ones from The Winged Pen), and Facebook posts about writing.
  1. Making notes for future stories. Just because I was deeply involved in one story didn’t mean ideas for future ones dried up. I wrote them down as fast as they came and expanded on a few when I had extra time.
  1. Research. I scanned the Internet, books, and watched TV. I talked to people about subjects, places, and names. All of which will help me dive deeper into my WIP as well as future stories. How else would I have learned about phillumenists. I had no clue there was a name for a person who collected matchbooks. What a unique character quirk.
  1. Read. Of course that goes without saying.

So this summer, instead of being unproductive, which to me meant cranky, I did a little bit of everything. And all those tips will make the revision of my WIP even better.

I would love to hear what you did this summer and how you found ways to be productive. Please leave them in the comments below.

IMG_2142 - Version 2 A third degree black belt in taekwondo, HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.