How to Break Your Resolutions & Live to Tell About It

It’s still January and everyone’s talking about goals. Making goals, keeping goals, how to write your goals and Blah, Blah, Blah!

Actually, I’m a very goal oriented person. I love goals. I make goals to shatter them, not just reach them. BUT 2016 was a bit of a different story.

Shortly after finalizing the edits for my first book, I hit a huge snag. A snag that ripped right through my writing mojo and into all other aspects of my life.

  • I didn’t achieve my Good Reads goal of 60 books (Holy Crap!!! I was reading 100-200 books a year for the past 5 years! In 2016 I couldn’t even manage 1 a week!!!)
  • I wasted spent 8 months trudging through drafts and scribbles of a second manuscript only to agree with my agent that we needed to put it aside and start on another.
  • I failed my NaNoWriMo attempt. I wasn’t even motivated by the chart this year! Usually that rising bar graph is what gets me out of bed in November.
  • I got 0, zip, zilch writing done from mid-November till my kids started their new year on the 3rd of January.

Sure, I could have forced in some writing, but sometimes you just know it’s going to be crap. So I threw myself into some embroidery projects and my girls got me hooked to Dance Moms (don’t judge because all those episodes actually sparked a thread in my incomplete NaNo project).

As you review the month of January or even all of 2016 in preparation for 2017, it’s really important to remember a few things as you create and/or break your resolutions:

  1. Analyze your situation: Are you lacking the motivation or desire to write? Are you being lazy or in a funk? These are important distinctions to make. Sometimes I’m too scared to sit down and write because I know I set up a bunch of question marks for the next day and I’m avoiding rolling up my sleeves and writing through it. Other times, I’m truly, truly in a funk and everything feels stupid and worthless and hopeless.
  2. Don’t make excuses: It’s okay to give yourself a break and pull back when something isn’t working or go make that 20th cup of coffee or meet that friend you haven’t seen in months for lunch, BUT be sure you’re not just giving yourself any old excuse not to get your butt in the chair.
  3. Take the kind of advice you give: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend to do in this situation?” And do that. Don’t give in to the funk!
  4. Find people who motivate you and push you: There are too many downward spiraling moments in anyone’s writing journey not to have people to share it with. Writing people are everywhere! Find them!
  5. Don’t take yourself or your goals too seriously: Part of the creative process is the down time it takes to work problems, plots, themes, etc. out. You need to have an end goal. You need to get your butt in the chair, but also: life happens.

So, as you break into 2017 and possibly break a few resolutions, remember it’s okay to fail. View your setbacks as learning opportunities. Take a break, but don’t make excuses.

Happy 2017!

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out 15th August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

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!

The Call with Julie Artz

Hi, Julie. I’m so excited that you’ve signed with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit and are on your way to publishing success! I think The Call is one of the most desired/feared/nerve-wracking/exciting/elusive steps a writer works toward. You’ve nailed your query and finally garnered some interest, but now what?

Photo credit: Gail Werner
Photo credit: Gail Werner   

 

She sent me an email. I had received a similar email from her in the spring that ended up being a Revise & Resubmit on an older manuscript, but the wording on this one was different, so I was pretty sure it was going to be an offer. She didn’t mention a time, but she called me the next morning, so there was only one day of nail-biting.

How did you prepare for The Call? Any sites or blog posts that you felt were helpful in preparing?

I emailed my amazing Pitch Wars 2015 mentor, Juliana Brandt, who shared her list of questions and gave me an awesome pep-talk. And I emailed a couple of critique partners to freak out/ask for advice. I also did a little cyber stalking internet research on the agency and its clients. I read Janet Reid’s blog religiously and she talks a lot about how to maintain good agent-writer relationships. If you’re querying and not subscribed to her blog, go subscribe NOW!

I have to ask where you did the call? Were your kids and husband home?

I was home alone, thank goodness, because I was pacing all over the house with my phone and notebook. I was so nervous and had to keep moving (and reminding myself not to talk too much)! Once I got off the call, I was getting DMs, emails, text messages, and phone calls all at once. I didn’t even text my husband until later because I was on the phone with The Winged Pen’s own Jessica Vitalis, talking her ear off as she drove out of town!

How were you feeling when the call started? How did you feel once the conversations got going?

I had already had a really positive interaction with Jennie about the R&R on my previous manuscript, so I was feeling really good from the moment the call started. Even before it started, really. I sent her The Elephant Tree instead of the revision (with her permission) because I felt it was a stronger manuscript and she was enthusiastic about the project from the moment I pitched it to her. The call blew me away. By the time we had this call, she had read all three of my middle grades, so I knew she really got me as a writer. And she said all the right things. I was floating by the end.

What was the big deciding factor on deciding that this was the agent for you? Was there a moment in the call or something she said?

When she made me cry (in a good way), I just knew that she got me 100% and was going to be the perfect fit.

How has communication been since the call and what’s the next step for you?

I have been working on revisions on The Elephant Tree since we signed in October. So in addition to discussing revisions, we’ve also had a productive back-and-forth about my next story. The one I was plotting before I signed with Jennie is a totally different genre than The Elephant Tree (dark fantasy instead of contemporary with a sprinkle of magic), so it doesn’t make a very good follow-up.

 I came up with a character and pitched Jennie a story idea that, unfortunately, has been done in an upcoming MG. That’s why I’m so glad to have an industry insider to help me navigate this—can you imagine if I’d written the whole story before I found out someone else had done something similar? I was able to take that same character, who I’m sort of falling in love with, and put her into a new story that Jennie thought would make a great follow-up to The Elephant Tree. Now if I can just get these edits done, I can start writing the shiny new story!

Are there any questions you wish you had asked that you didn’t?

We got so busy talking about edits for my current manuscript and story ideas for my next one that we completely forgot to talk about what her contract looks like! She had to email me the contract after the fact. I actually thought of a ton of questions after I got off the phone with her, so we had another round of email back and forth during my nudge week.

Any advice for querying writers working toward The Call?

Don’t give up! This was the third middle-grade manuscript I’d queried (fourth manuscript total because there was that one awful chicklit novel I wrote in my twenties and was foolish enough to query) and I racked up over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars 2015 manuscript before I shelved it to focus on The Elephant Tree. The evening before I got the email from Jennie, I got a heart-breaking pass from another agent that had me so down in the dumps that I’d actually told my critique partners I was all done with this manuscript (even though I only sent a total of 48 queries on it!). The next day, I had an offer.

Julie, thanks so much for letting me pester you with all these questions and congrats on this giant leap forward. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieartz. You can also find her at julieartz.com.

~Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Perfectionism and Pomodori

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If you suffer from writer’s block, you’re not alone. Most writers I know have faced that wall many times and surmounted it. Some people find themselves at that wall over and over again.

Sometimes this happens because you’re not sure how to move your story forward.

Sometimes this happens because you’re terrified of failing.

If it’s the latter, you may be a perfectionist. One understanding of perfectionism is that it’s a psychological mechanism by which you attempt to prevent failure by being “perfect.” And one of the symptoms of perfectionism is procrastination, a way to avoid engaging with perfectionism’s relentlessly harsh taskmaster by…not writing.

Writing and Life Coach Hillary Rettig discusses this tangled web of fear and diminished productivity in her fantastic book, 7 Secrets of the Prolific. She presents lots of ways to tackle perfectionism and become more productive, the chief among them being a mental attitude of “compassionate objectivity.” You might think of this as the voice of the loving (grand)parent, the wise mentor, the friend. It might be the voice of your writing partners or critique group (that’s certainly true for me), who say, “Don’t worry. Everyone goes through this.”  It’s very different than the nasty voice of perfectionism, which hisses, “Why did you ever think you could do this? You’re a total failure. Quit now.” One of the ways Rettig proposes writers develop the compassionate objectivity and resilience they need to become prolific is through extremely short timed writing.

I taught creative and expository writing for many years, and I often asked my students to free-write for fifteen or twenty minutes. I was inspired to do this by Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones, in which she extols the virtues of free-writing and cautions: Don’t let the hand stop moving. Rettig’s important twist on this practice is that if you are suffering from writer’s block, you have to start small. Laughably small. If you’re blocked—either by perfectionism or because you don’t know where to go with your piece—start with five minutes of writing.

FIVE minutes?

Five minutes.

If you’re blocked, you’re probably thinking: How the @&?!*%#$! is five minutes going to help me? I have a 400-page novel to write! Tell yourself Rome was not built in a day. Tell yourself, as Anne Lamott says, to just do it “bird by bird.” And then give this practical technique a try.

Get a timer. Rettig suggests using an old-fashioned kitchen timer. I tried this and it made me feel like a bomb was about to go off under my desk, but if it works for you, go for it. I like the free app called Pomodoro (more about the Pomodoro technique & other apps here). You can set up the timer for up to five intervals, each one lasting from five to twenty-five minutes. You can also create a break between your sessions, however long you wish, which are perfect for rewards (see below).

The idea is to write for a very short time. Set an interval that makes you say: I can definitely write for X minutes. Then choose any part of your story and write for X minutes. The idea is to not worry about quality at this point. And if you get stuck trying to write the story, Rettig recommends you write about the story, or about the problem you’re having with it.

Five minutes. Then stop and celebrate. Reward yourself well—you must treat yourself way better than you think you deserve for writing for five minutes—and then, when you want to write again, do so. But only for five minutes.

Short, timed writing—what I think of as micro writing—defeats the perfectionist nay-sayer and stops procrastination. It’s only five minutes, after all. And, as Rettig points out, as you use this technique you will find that your sense of accomplishment returns. And when that happens, you can lengthen your timed sessions: fifteen minutes, forty minutes, four hours.

It’s very simple and very powerful. And if the panic sets in after you get going with this, and it probably will—“Yes, yes, I was writing nothing but I’m still only writing 2,000 words a day and it’s not nearly enough to finish my 400-page book!—gently go back to timed sessions. Trust the process to get you back on track so that you are once again writing without fear.

Pomodoro by pomodoro: which is how I wrote this post.

Explore Hillary Rettig’s methods (time-management, helicopter writing, back-to-front writing and more) on her website and in her excellent book.

 

IMG_1617When GITA TRELEASE was little, she believed that if she squinted just right, she could see the glimmer of magic around certain things. She still does. As an English professor, she taught classes on Victorian criminals, monsters, and fairy tales. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and opinionated Maine Coon cat, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current YA project is a historical fantasy set during the French Revolution—with a glimmer of magic. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Feeding Your Inner Artist

Some of my earliest memories are of going to the art museum with my father. music-1311106_640Later, when I started playing violin, my parents took us to the symphony. We read widely, went to plays and art festivals and were generally immersed in the arts.

Before I started my family, I spent years attending live music, traveling to some of the world’s best museums, and grabbing a seat at every literary lecture and reading I could.

Things changed. I spent several years not availing myself of art. I had some good excuses: young children, a fixer-upper house that needed lots of fixing up, lack of money. Eventually, I stopped using excuses altogether. Experiencing art just wasn’t something I did anymore.

But then I met my friend Nancy, a dancer. She invited me to one of her performances, which was to be held at the building where we both worked, in a small studio space crammed with a few chairs and lit sparingly.

idea-1301427_640During the performance – an unfinished avant garde piece she was testing out for a choreographer friend of hers – I found that lost piece of myself, the one that is fueled by art. And I had an epiphany.

Writers are artists. I am an artist.

That’s probably a big duh for most of you. I hope it is anyway. But I have found a surprising number of writers who don’t consider themselves artists, or at least don’t refer to themselves that way.

And I think it’s important that we do. Artists create. Writers create. Writers are artists.

Sure, you should read a lot in and out of your chosen genre. But my inner artist is hungry for more. Every art meal I feed my inner artist sparks a new idea in me or gives me an interesting new direction for my work.

Feed your inner artist:

  • Get a membership to the art museum in your town. When they have a show featuring a particular school or artist, go and see how the ideas and style evolved over time.
  • Attend plays and listen to the dialogue. See where the playwright, the director and the actors savor the words, and where they rush.
  • Check out some out-of-the-box performance art. How does the artist use surprise or shock to communicate?
  • See musicians who aren’t in your musical library. How does listening to new music spark your own creativity?
  • Spend time with other artists. Talk to them about their work, learn how to discuss your work. Encourage each other!

In short, expand your artistic horizons.

I am more grateful than I can express for my writer friends and their support, advice and camaraderie. But my inner artist craves the connection with other creative types, too.

Nancy and I often set aside times to discuss art – the creative process, the ups and downs of creating, revising and polishing, the public reception, the germ of a new idea. Our work in different mediums isn’t an impediment to discussion at all. In fact, it enhances it. We often try to bring in other artist friends who can express similar ideas through the lens of photography, sculpture, ballet, architecture, or music.

I attended a concert and discussion recently where the moderator asked a songwriter about intention. The songwriter said he often started out thinking that a song was about one thing, only to find that it ended up being about something else entirely. That happens to me almost every time I write, and hearing another artist talk about that made me feel less alone.

Since that first performance of Nancy’s, I have seen her dance several times. I’ve also started to seek out art again, including going to more live music, taking my kids to art festivals, museums and theater, and generously tipping the fantastic cellist at the farmer’s market.

Each time I experience a new piece of art it feeds that creative part of my soul and reminds me that far from being frivolous or a luxury, art is essential to my well being and the well being of the world.

Art matters.

Your art matters. Feed your art — and keep on creating!

What feeds your art? Do you connect with other artists, either in person or online? Let’s meet in the comments to discuss!