The following is a letter I wrote to myself, outlining my writing goals for 2011. I do this every January to kick off the new year, and to hold myself accountable as the months tick by. If you have never written a motivational letter to yourself, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't share it with anyone, it is a wonderful tool for self-organizing and prioritizing what's important to you.
It came yesterday in the mail.
Your heart banged a bongo beat and you broke a fingernail, tearing apart the cardboard box. You barely noticed. Within seconds the packaging and your nail tip lay abandoned on the kitchen table, and in your hands you held your latest book.
Okay, it wasn’t only your book. It was an anthology. But you are a proud contributing author to it, and the thrill of seeing your short story flow across the printed pages of a bound book left you momentarily speechless.
Yesterday was only the second time you’ve relished that thrill. You want to feel it again!
So, your goal for 2011 is to get more of your work in print. Published, rather: in print or online. (E-publishing is the future; embrace it. Don’t make that face.] Tech savvy though you are, you still prefer paper books. Therefore, your efforts will be most concentrated on seeking out print publication. And as long as we’re fleshing out the specifics of your goal, here’s another point: You want to SELL a story. That’s right, a paying gig. Even a Token Payment of up to 1¢ per word would do the trick, but isn't the whole point of this letter to set the bar higher? Therefore, you’ll seek out markets that offer Semi-Pro Payment (1¢-4.9¢/word) and Professional Payment (5¢+/word).
In addition to this goal, there's that little matter of your unfinished novel. You're going to finish it in 2011.
To reach these goals, let’s turn to the basics: The Three R’s.
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (*shudder*) will be the keystones of your success this year. Here’s how:
A good writer is one who reads -- a lot. When you read a good book, you perch on the edge of the creative pool, skirt hiked up over your knees, swishing your feet through its invigorating waters. And when you read a bad book, (they’re out there!), you feel equally inspired. Two thoughts swim through your mind: I could write this better! ~and~ If someone published this nonsense, maybe my nonsense has a shot!
Last year you set the lofty goal of reading 50 books in 52 weeks. Your attempt was valiant, though sometimes you resorted to speed reading just to get to the book’s end. Not altogether suprisingly, you fell short of your goal. You did complete 32 books, documented HERE You definitely deserve an 'A' for effort!
This year, to have more time to enjoy the reading experience, you pledge to read 25 books. At that pace, one book every two weeks, you’ll have time to savor every story, get your feet properly wet. Also, there is simply no better way to research the literary magazine market than reading the types of stories each magazine publishes. So you’ll purchase and read one, different literary magazine per month. This will cost you between $7 and $16 each month, so budget accordingly.
This is what it’s all about. It’s no secret: The more you write, the stronger a writer you become. You reached your 2010 goal of establishing a daily writing schedule. Now, you need to prioritize that schedule.
You really ² want to finish your first novel. You worked on it all last year. You’d get on a roll and then hit a wall. Retrace your steps; start again; hit a wall. You went back to the outline; revamped. Started again; hit a wall. Then you fired your main character (a gutsy, but most appropriate deed). You replaced her with a more vibrant, engaging, interesting character. You started again… (…which brings us to today.)
With every ounce of determination you can muster, you pledge to finish your first draft of WiP #1. To call yourself a novelist, you have to write a novel. And to write a novel, you have to let go of your fears. It’s okay if the first draft lacks polished perfection. All first drafts do! And so, with fearless resolve and with your door shut, your Google Chrome tabs closed, and your cell phone silenced, you will sit down, open your imagination and write that draft.
Many authors declare it’s best to complete the entire novel’s first draft before beginning the revision process, or you may well never finish it. As a student of that school of thought, you agree. But that means months of raw, sometimes lackluster writing, and that scares you. You’re afraid this will confirm what your insecurity incessantly whispers: that you have no real talent, after all. So you will need to produce some short fiction this year, if only to affirm to yourself that you ARE capable of polished perfection. You pledge to write a minimum of eight new short stories, with the intention of submitting them for publication.
You’re right-brained. You hate math. Number-crunching is your idea of cruel and unusual punishment. However, numbers (and lists and tracking charts) are important to your creative goals, so get over your aversion right now. Think of it this way: numbers equal word counts plus deadlines.
Of your first draft, you have penned just over 30,000 words out of 80,000. That leaves approximately 50,000 to go. To complete the draft in six months, you pledge to produce 8,300 new words before every end-of-the-month deadline. By mid-summer, you will begin revising.
As for the eight new short stories you will write in 2011, you’ll utilize several lists and charts to plot your submission progress. Use your free account at Duotrope.com to create market lists. You’ve already started, with your literary magazine A-List that includes, among others, Glimmer Train, Crazyhorse, Tin House, Writer’s Digest (Your Story), and The Paris Review. With an average acceptance rate of only .46%, Duotrope classifies these as Extremely Challenging Fiction Markets. The magazines on this list are your brass rings. Stretch! You CAN grab one, but you have to work hard for it.
You’ll need tiers of B-List and C-List markets. When you receive rejections from one tier, submit the story to the next tier down. Use these lists to systematically submit your work until it’s published.
Writing.com’s Submission Tracker is a great site feature. You’ve used it every time you submitted your short fiction, and you’ll continue this year. The tracking chart shows you at a glance where your work is being considered, what date you submitted, when the market expects to contact you with a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’, and the eventual outcome. (Ah, no shudder? You see? It doesn’t even feel like math!)
All right, NickiD89, you have your work cut out for you in 2011. It’s going to be an exciting, productive and creative year. You’ve pushed your bar clear through the stratosphere, where rough weather in the past had your muse hunkered down and sheltered. Now it’s set beyond, somewhere in the mesosphere. You may encounter the occasional meteor, but by now you know how to handle yourself.
Your place with the stars is waiting for you. Go on. Soar!
How do you organize your creative goals for the new year?
I'm a short story author, aspiring novelist, and world traveler who has penned fiction from homes on three different continents. I currently live with my husband and two children in the Atlanta area. When I find myself less inspired by my Southern locale, I have only to rifle through memories of adventures abroad until colorful characters or thrilling plots come forth. And on the rare occasion that none arise...I've been known to finagle a flight out.