Tag Archives: writing goals

2013 – Day One: Reflections, Goals… and a Challenge

c. Elissa Field - request written permission for use

c. Elissa Field – request written permission for use

You can’t look anywhere among your social media friends without being left with the question: Do I have resolutions for 2013?

Reading a few friends’ blogs had me feeling need to reflect on the state of my own goals — and to-do lists.

2012 was a great year for me, one of successes.  Goals met and some not yet tackled — but a renewed sense of my own abilities, a great sense of perspective and freedom to move forward.  I feel an odd affection for the idea of it being 2013 — not necessarily declaring “resolutions,” but feeling good about the possibilities ahead.

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Reflecting on 2012:

A year ago, around when I took that picture of my sons, I was entering a new year with a lot of old baggage and a lot of opportunities I had created for releasing them.  I was married for more than 15 years, and we had spent the last two years deciding if he was just having a midlife crisis or if he wanted a divorce. I’d been hanging on for my sons’ sake, and also clinging to some other things that weren’t really working.

But I’d finished certification to teach and was hired for a third year at the same fabulous school my boys go to.  I had bones to a novel down.  I had ideas of stories flowing. I’d hit a point where I was (mostly) able to balance writing hours and bringing in income and keeping up with the boys. (Mostly.) And, most interesting for this loyal, sentimental girl: I was ready for whatever changes came into my life to make things work.  Including divorce, job changes, moving — whatever.

You can’t help love a year where you opened your hands to release what didn’t work, willing to catch what does.  And I might not make resolutions, but I’d entered 2012 with a decent plan.

2012 Goals:

  • Daily life: For my boys, I needed income, stability, all that.  I’d finished 2 years completing credentials and started my third year teaching.  I kept the boys together in the same, fabulous school they’ve gone to since preschool. I had quality time with them. We spent a month of summer at my parents’ house in Connecticut. All around, this was a success for the year.  As someone who liked being married, it was a little moment of pride to realize I’d made it two years on my own with the boys and we were doing just fine.  Having fun, actually.
  • Writing hours: Without setting specific word or hour or daily goals, I needed to carve clear, productive writing hours in the face of demands on my time.  During the school year, waves of essay grading can bury me — made worse last fall as I took on another grade and science fair.  Still, I have been astounded how much more easily I can compartmentalize my focus and claim time to write than in other years.  Often, it means stopping whatever I was about to do and saying: write 30 minutes, right now, before you do anything else.  I teach afternoons, so claim undistracted morning hours while the boys are at school.  But I’ve also gotten better at writing with them in the room, so I could work near them while they watched tv or in bed as they did their homework beside me.  Somedays it would only be the 30 minutes, or just in the margins of a book I was reading as I fell asleep or on scratch paper in the car. But I also claimed whole mornings or nights, or whole days.  There’s never enough time. But the success was this: part of teaching is that I have holidays and summer off to write. When I worked freelance in the past, I sometimes had gaps like that but was so preoccupied with marketing or other distractions that writing didn’t happen, so this was my big fear: to have time off, but I’d waste it or ideas would fall flat.  “Success” for 2012 was that every minute I’ve had free time (and even when I didn’t) the ideas were right there, and the writing worked.  Little of it was garbage; most of it went into finished drafts.  Other than having my laptop crash midyear, 2012 was really productive.
  • Short stories: Goal was to finish 2 nearly-done stories, revise an older one with feedback, and submit until published.  Heh heh. Yeah, no.  Not a lick of work on short stories since about January last year. Sorry, half-drafted story. Sorry to the one ready for final rewrite. I’ve written before about not wanting to just be Running on Grass.  I like to keep a couple stories circulating — something done and out the door — while I’m working on a novel. It’s hard to accept zero submissions for the year — but not necessarily a failure, considering other successes.
  • Novel draft: Altogether, I have 3 novel drafts, and the goal for summer was to have one draft revised and first queries submitted by September. It’s supposed to be that I am finishing the first WIP, and only jotted out the bones of the other 2 to get them out of my head while I finish the first. But the newest one (Wake) did not sleep at all in 2012, and has completely taken over.  It developed really fully throughout the year, which is what you most hope for — that resonance that comes when the story lives inside your chest and picks up depth even when you’re not actively writing on it.  That would be useless if the story hadn’t made it to the page, but I had butt-in-chair enough to have finished the first draft in June, with second and third revisions over the summer. The setback of my laptop crash prevented having a draft ready to submit and queries out to agents.  But I’m more sure of Wake now than I was a year ago. It’s hard to resent the delay, as I used the time to finish research and the book has grown from it. My novel projects grew in other ways as well: downloading Scrivener turned out to be a great new tool for revising and, on a very different note, I’ve been debating whether one of the other WIPs might work best as a young adult series, which is an exciting possibility.
  • Reading: Twice during the year I took time to set down my targeted reading list.  I learned a lot from a few of the books I read, and enjoyed the intentional process of blogging about my reading and connecting with other readers.  That was new.
  • Connection: I could have called this goal “social media” or “platform,” but it didn’t start out that way. I started 2012 knowing I missed the old writing group I’d lost touch with during years I wanted to write without feedback.  And, as someone who has worked in PR, I was exploring new marketing avenues — for clients, or for online business ideas my mom and I were weighing. In April, I participated in a platform-building challenge with poet Robert Lee Brewer, which led to a clearer understanding of social media, and several successes developed on the heels of that. Numerically measurable successes included expanding readership on my website by over 400% and connection on Twitter by 1,000% — which well exceeded the growth numbers I set for myself for the year. From a freelancing standpoint, I understand how to help clients use social media in a way I did not previously. But the immeasurable successes are the greatest win. The best intangible has been some of the amazing friendships and professional connections I’ve shared. Anyone in Wordsmith Studio reading this should blush, knowing I count our group as a success for the year.  It’s a great group of generous and talented writers.  Despite the social media impact, as many gains were also in the real world, including participating in a great workshop, local friends, family and travel as well.

2013 – the year ahead:

There’s lots of messy stuff left from 2012’s list. I intended to apply for grad school by November, but turned deer-in-the-headlights mid-October and will likely soon regret not having gotten that done. I need to file for divorce (does the attorney not know the irony that his fee is equal to what I want to spend on grad school?).  In teaching, I tripled my salary (which speaks more of how little I was paid the year before), was given more classes and am leading the literary magazine now, although this still leaves me up in the air about where I’ll work next year.  A move is possible, as our house is our last remnant of 2008-bad-economy.

But mostly, there are new beginnings to look forward to.

  • I have a litmag to assemble by April.
  • Finish the novel and get queries out by summer.
  • Short stories. Repeat 2012 intention. Don’t cry if it doesn’t happen, as long as the novel does.  No.  Take that back.  Get your butt in gear and get these submitted.  Mom says.
  • Grad school.  Apply.  While waiting, take a course.
  • Write more for online.  Respond to requests for submissions and guest blogging.  Move forward with more additions to my own editorial calendar, here.  Submit proposals for paid articles. Part of teaching is having the credentials for some of the articles I’ve been jotting for parenting and other how-to sites.
  • Another workshop or maybe Grub Street in May.
  • Summer.  There’s always summer off to write.
  • And connections.  People like my friends at Wordsmith Studios, writing friends, visitors to this blog.

Thanks for being part of what made 2012 great, and 2013 great to look forward to!

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Want a challenge?

Picture 6In tomorrow’s post (January Challenge: Finish, Begin, Improve, Plan), I introduce my January Write Start Challenge, in which I kick off my goals for 2013.  The first week of the challenge was inspired by YA author Christa Desir, who posted 2013 the JanPlan on her site — a lovely, unstructured challenge to complete one thing in January.

My short stories eye me accusingly.  My grad school apps.  Or…?

I would love for you to join me in the January Write Start Challenge — or just tackle one unfinished thing!

Are you up for the challenge?  I’ll post more about it later (or click the link to read it on Christa’s site)… but for now, let’s get targeting: what one thing would you take on?

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Writing Life: What I’m Looking for Isn’t Here (& 5 Tips for Managing Writing Time)

Northwest 200 1993 – R. Dunlop

Have you ever had days you moved through furtively restless, with the certain impatience there was something you needed to do?  A pressure that meant you could not go outside to trim the bougainvillea that nearly clotheslined the UPS man (in all its bloody thorniness), could not (as you had promised) take the boys to the movies, could not spare the hour to catch up with your dear friend in LA (even though, for once, the time diff was in your favor), could not do laundry or dishes or even think of writing…but couldn’t name source of the urge?

I spent today in the tufted leather chair my boys expect me to sit in when I work (I work better sitting on my bed, but look so much lazier there, so that the leather chair claims me).  I had the laptop in my lap.  I had lists of things to do, and those that had been accomplished to check off.  I’d written three blogs this week, which needed proofing before posting.  I’d gathered more pictures for another Living with Books.  I’d traded notes with staff at a TT race in Ireland, that gave me just the detail to write an inner monologue for Wake‘s mose elusive character (where he dreamed himself the race marshall responsible for warning approaching racers of a hazard in the road, but somehow failed, as the character does ultimately, in preventing a family member’s death).  I had 14 brief manuscripts to read and comment on for a workshop with Ann Hood starting Wednesday, and three more litmag submissions to read and respond to.

More urgently, 69 student essays and 17 preliminary research packets await comments for classes this week, with mid-period grades due tomorrow.

I assumed that was source of the restlessness: resentment at spending my Sunday grading, guilt not to be with the boys.  I love teaching writing but have to confess myself worse than the students this year in having early-onset of summer fever.  As much as I’ll miss this fabulous year when it ends, right this moment I want nothing more than hours alone to myself to read and write and play with my boys and maybe, if I have to, get the house clean.  Or go on a date.  Student papers drag their toes in self-conscious awareness there’s no competing with all that. Together, the weighty bag of papers and I went through the day watching guilty marathon episodes of Miami Towing on tru.tv (yeah, that bad) knowing I was clearly in a state of avoidance.

The boys went out to let me work but the urgent impatience continued.  With the irritable absentmindedness of a nervous tick, I flicked back and forth through software on my computer and online.  Metaphorically pacing.  Searching.  Waiting for something.  Every twenty minutes or so, a tweet would come through, an email would come through, friendly comments and connections from my friends in the ether.  A good article to read, an interesting piece of news.  I’d be sated, momentarily, like easing a junkie’s craving, so that yes, it seemed, maybe that was it: just boredom.  Avoiding the essays.  Loving the connection of fellow writers.  Avoiding the essays.

Just as quickly, the craving would be back, the pacing, the constant flickering hunt through the buttons on screen.

But, whatever I was looking for, it wasn’t here.

The boys came home, breaking my trance.  I broke free of the leather chair (who may find itself summarily dismissed for its continued failure to aid in productivity), went upstairs to where the beginning of twilight lit the bay window of my room like a treehouse.

Sitting here reminded me of the hour stolen before teaching last Thursday: writing the scene where this elusive character revealed himself, pulling the long unused key to his parents’ house from his wallet, his men turning away in denial of how his hand shook, scraping the brass face of the lock before he could turn the key.  The house of the death he’d caused, the main character still thinking him a victim while the shear act of turning away had revealed to him that his closest friends had thought him at fault all along.

Where all day there had been restlessness, I am now there in that novel — in the scene just written, in the race getting ready to be underway in Northern Ireland (in the real world) which the elusive character’s father was famed for winning before his death (in the novel).  In the scene still in my head, wanting my attention.  Awareness fills me, as it does, with the engulfing physical and emotional presence a work in progress can have.

I realize with a mix of frustration and relief this is the answer I looked for all day.  The novel.  I want everything else — the grading, the cleaning, the movie, the duties — to fall away and leave me dozens of hours to disappear into finishing this story.  It’s frustrating because the timing is off.  I budget time for fiction, but today’s hours were allotted to getting grades entered and I’m being bratty to complain about it.  I’m lucky enough to be working only part-time this year, to have 3 days off for a workshop this week, to have 2 months home this summer between teaching.  Wait, impatient novel.  Your turn is coming.

But, even with the limited time, I pause to enter this post to say one thing: what a relief it is, and a joy, to know the writing I am doing has this powerful a pull on me.  To know that, even when it has to wait its turn, it is strong enough to leave me pacing and craving the work.  Relentless: that’s the nickname of the motorcycle race coming up in Northern Ireland this month.  I like that, as it fits the relentlessness of this urge I have to get this story down.

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5 Things I Could Have Done to Make Today More Successful:

Yeah, I know better.

1.  Write first.  What relief I would have felt, had I given myself an hour, even, to get that one scene down before trying to work on other things.

2. Not let interruptions begin, in the first placeBad, leather chair, bad.   Sounds like I’m kidding, but fact is, this chair is aimed at the tv, in a room crowded with the boys’ toys, causing stifling chi even when the tv is off.  I know this to be true.  The trick is to know yourself and not invite the disaster in to begin with.  I should have begun the day in the room where I knew I worked more productively.

3. Don’t worry what other people think.  I started my day in the family room because I was waiting for the boys’ dad to pick them up. He would have taunted me for “sitting in bed all day” if I’d been working in my room when he got there.  So what?  I should have done what I knew to be best, regardless.

4. When you get in a rut, break it right away. Okay, so yeah, it was hysterical seeing the crazed big man stuck in the passenger window of his car, fighting to keep the tow truck driver from pulling away.  But, yo.  As I procrastinated into the third episode of Miami Towing?  Take a hint.  Break the trance.  Go for a run.  Go to that movie with the boys.  Do anything — but don’t let the procrastination take over.

5.  In avoidance mode? Use a timer and break work into 15 or 30 minute increments. Grade 30 minutes, then give 10 to something rewarding, whether that be a break with friends online or reading for the workshop later in the week, or a turn with fiction, getting that new scene down.  Several 30 minute increments would have left me much more productive than the day turned out.

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Worth Reading:  For friends who have been participating in Robert Lee Brewer’s Social Media Platform challenge this month (#mninb on twitter), I’ll end with a link to a great article by Jane Friedman: read this for the great checklist, providing an interesting approach for deciding how to balance time between writing and building platform. Comments following the article are just as insightful.

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Best to all of you, who struggle with the ongoing need to balance writing with the other demands of life.  If you have similar challenges, or insights for what works well for you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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