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?
It's hard to believe it's been a whole year since my first post, and just as hard to believe it's only been one year! On milestones like this, I like to look back on where I've been, and look forward to where I'm going.
On December 30th, 2009, I was a newbie blogger to the tenth power. I had no idea what I was doing. I was afraid anyone would read my posts....And, I was terrified no one would, either. In my first post, it's evident I didn't even realize there was an entire community of writers that blog.
In the past year, I've connected with so many people who, like me, love to write. Some of us aspire to publish our work, some of us have seen our work in print, some of you have already sold your novels. But the common thread weaving us all together is our shared passion.
This isn't the first community of writers I've belonged to online. I've been a member at Writing.com (WDC) since 2007. But, it's not the same. I post my short fiction there and elicit feedback from fellow members. It's all about my finished projects. WDC connects me to the writing community at a different stage in the game, I guess you could say. I love my WDC home, and it is a place where you get out of the community what you put into it. The more active you are, the more interactive you will find your experience. Yet, there are only a handful of writers from WDC who are my true friends, who I feel a connection with that goes beyond cyber-relationships. And they blog here now!! (*waves to Mara and Adriana*)
But blogging about writing is unique. In blogging about my process, about my struggles as well as my triumphs, I come to understand myself as a writer on an ever more intimate level. And being surrounded by a community of writers who are confessing the same ups and downs, and sharing their inspirational strategies for success, makes me feel less crazy and alone.
I didn't know, a year ago, the impact my decision to launch this blog would have on my writing and on my life. It's been an amazing ride, and I want to thank everyone by name -- but that would take a long time. In fact, I actually began a list, but I realized I couldn't stop adding names. I started with those of you I have met in real life, and who I often email with, and to whom I sent and received holiday cards, and who regularly visit my blog, and who's blogs I try to visit every new posting, and....by that time, I realized the insanity in trying to pick out certain stars from the universe of those who have touched me in some way. Like the heavens, those stars are too numerous to count.
Looking forward, I have plans for the blogging year to come. I've changed my blog's layout, as you can surely tell. I'm working on that white bar you see across the page. I'm always going into the coding and personalizing my templates -- computer programming is the ONLY area classified as Mathematics that I actually enjoy. This time, I pulled the template header image out and doctored it through Paint Shop Pro, since the original header says "FASHION" across the top :P
When I pasted the new image url into the template coding, the white line appeared. Hmmm...Any ideas? Anyone?
Also in 2011, I will post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be heavy WIP writing days, with blog visits/commenting during breaks. I am determined to successfully juggle my writing and blogging schedules, and to FINISH THAT FIRST DRAFT. (Please feel free to hold me accountable. *waves sheepishly at Jessica, in particular*)
Thank you, blogging friends, for contributing to the best year of my life. I look forward to another great year of reading your blogs, cheering you on during your writing projects, and celebrating our successes.
With only nine days left in the year, it's time to make a realistic evaluation of my 2010 reading goal. I made a valiant effort, but I won't have reached it. In all fairness, the goal I set -- to read 50 books in 52 weeks -- was arbitrary, because I had no idea how many books I generally average reading in a year, nor did I know how many I could read. Some bloggers were signing on to the 100 Books in a Year challenge back in January, and I knew that was too lofty a goal for me. So I set my mark at half that. The goal definitely kept my reading momentum high all year. Here's what I did read:
9. A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor- by Truman Capote (copyrights in order the short stories are listed here: 1956/1984 by Capote; 1982/1983, by Capote; 1967 by Capote, renewed 1995 by Alan U. Schwartz, Current Pub. Date 1996, Modern Library Edition, Random House, Inc. -- ISBN-0-679-60237-2)
10. Sula - by Toni Morrison (copyright 1973; Reprint Pub. Date 2004, Knopf Doubleday Publishing, ISBN-13: 9781400033430)
11. The Pearl- by John Steinbeck (copyright 1947, Reprint Pub. Date 2002, Penguin Group (USA), ISBN-13: 9780142000694)
And, I'm in the final chapters of book #32, Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner.
Fun stats from my 2010 Reading Challenge:
Novels read in my genre (literary fiction) = 9
Books by debut novelists read = 6
YA novels (I never read this genre before 2010) = 5
MG novels (I never read this genre as an adult) = 9
Novels read that are over thirty years old = 5
Books I read that I would recommend to friends = 23
Books I read that I would have quit reading if I weren't so stubborn = 3
I'm definitely planning to challenge myself with reading goals in 2011. What those will be, I haven't decided. I may set a more reasonable number so that I don't feel like I'm rushing through each selection. Perhaps I'll add reviewing to my goal sheet.
One thing's for sure: I still have a stack of To-Read books on my nightstand, to kick off the new year!
Do you set reading goals for yourself? And Must-Read recommendations for me?
November is here, and even though I'm not a ticketed passenger aboard the NaNo Crazy Train, I am inspired to set challenging goals for myself. I have Stephen King to thank, as absurd as that sounds. His book On Writing has lit a bonfire under my writer's ass. (Seriously, if you haven't read that book, you're missing out. Here's the Amazon link: To The Best Writing Book on the Craft...EVAH.)
King isn't the only successful writer to advocate a daily writing schedule, and I adopted the practice over a year ago. My problem has been considering blog post writing part of that goal. Some days, if I'm being completely honest, the only writing I accomplish is on my blog. That will change this month.
Starting this past Monday, I no longer consider writing on my blog part of my daily writing practice. Per Mr. King's advice, I pledge to write between 1000 and 2000 words a day OF MY MANUSCRIPT. In On Writing, King talks about two catagories of daily writing: "With the Door Closed" and "With the Door Open."
In November, I'll be writing with the door closed.
What he refers to by "writing with the door closed" is how (he suggests) a writer should pen the first draft. The door to your writing space is closed; the phone is unplugged/off; the Internet is closed -- no Blogger/Twitter/FaceBook/email/Writing.com. No matter what, you sit down to write and you don't stop before you've met your word count goal.
Now, some may not agree with this method. We all work differently, and there's no right or wrong way to approach your craft. But my goal for the month of November is to re-establish productive daily writing habits, and I'm riding my tidal wave of On Writing inspiration. So far, I've had success. On Monday I wrote 1467 words, and yesterday I wrote 2150. Today, I'm shooting for 2000.
Incidentally, "writing with the door open" refers to the revision/edit phase of a MS when, according to Stephen King, it's time to show some of your work to a small group of beta readers. I part company with King's philosophy on this point. (He's probably right, mind you. But I have my reasons...) I plan to continue sharing my rough, first draft work with Jessica, my awesome critique partner. At least for this, my first novel, I appreciate the feedback she gives me and the "deadlines" we stick to in exchanging our work. That, too, is keeping me on track.
I still plan to write occasional blog posts, but I won't be sticking to my regular MWF schedule. I probably won't be able to comment on your posts as often, either. I think November is the best month to relax the blog schedule, since so many of you purchased your NaNo tickets this year. I think we'll all be ready to meet back here in December, right?
So, happy writing to all of you. Best of luck meeting your daily work count goals, and remember to schedule in and enjoy your downtime with family and friends. Drink water throughout the day, especially if you're like me and slug down more than your daily recommended dose of caffeinated coffee. And write, write, write!!
Or maybe all this writing I'm doing is blurring the lines between reality and imagination. (I love when that happens!)
Anyhow, I wanted to ask anyone stopping by to help me welcome two awesome writers to the blog-o-sphere. Even though I haven't met either face-to-face (yet!), Mara, Adriana and I have been friends for the past couple years, enjoying each other's fiction and supporting each other as we hone our crafts. They are wildly talented writers and all-around great people, and I know you'll love them too!
Pop over and say hello (...and why not follow...? :D)
Hope your week is off to an inspired start! On this week's To-Do list I've got reading/critiquing Jess's chapters, working on chapter seven of my WiP, and writing a short story entry for the contest of which I'm a finalist. What are your goals this week?
The key to satisfaction in life is achieving what you set out to do. Set goals, and work hard to reach them. Sounds simple, right?
It can be, if you keep a couple things in mind:
1. Dream big, but keep your goals realistic. What can you manage to accomplish in a day, given all the responsibilities you shoulder? Set goals that will challenge you, but which can be met with hard work and motivation.
2. Track your goals. Write them down or create an electronic file where what you 'planned to do' and what you 'did do' are logged. It is amazing how concrete your progress become when it is "official" and documented.
3. Turn off FaceBook and Twitter while you work towards your goals. How can you put 100% of your effort into a task when TweetDeck is chiming a new tweet every 15 to 30 seconds? Each time your eye strays to the FaceBook tab and you see parenthesis signaling a notification, you disengage from your primary task. Cell phone and land line should be silenced too.
Working toward your goals means budgeting your time and concentrating all your effort on the task at hand. Factor in your downtime, when you will check in with your social media and visit blogs. Remember to eat and exercise -- those things are important too!
And when you achieve your goals, the sense of satisfaction is immense. You feel like you're in the driver's seat of your life, in charge, going to that place where you've always pictured yourself.
Go on. Become that person you dream about. Get those goals!
[Thanks for reading! I'd like to recommend your next blog stop: Vicki Rocho at Rambles & Randomness shared a short, must-see video about a most unexpected brilliant mind. I promise you, you won't be able to turn it off. Click here for the link --> Grab Your Tissues....AMAZING]
I sit here calmly typing away, but inside I’m bursting with excitement. An exhilaration I can’t explain has taken hold of me, a promise of big things on the horizon. It’s a thrill, a delicious sensation of anticipation, like speeding down a stretch of elevated interstate as it passes through an urban forest of skyscrapers. Where it's coming from, this current of energy pulsating through me, I don’t know.
What I do know is I have to channel the energy, or I’ll explode.
Writing has become my true passion. Prior to joining Writing.com I enjoyed journaling and poetry writing. It was when I started writing for an audience, in late 2007, that my life changed. I used to write when inspiration hit me; now I write every day. But a daily writing practice isn't enough. I need to optimize my writing time to reach my 2010 goals.
The time has also come to address a pitfall in my creativity. When I’m called away from the computer to wear another of my many hats: mother, wife, household manager, I’m still writing. For example, I can be bodily present at the dinner table while my mind drifts away, lost in the heady mist of my thoughts, disconnected from my husband and kids. I must find a balance between my creative life and my family life, because both are vital to my happiness.
So here's the plan to harness my energy and move forward in my craft. In 2010, I commit to these writing goals:
The project I choose to concentrate on this year is my novel, the rough draft of which I wrote during November’s NaNoWriMo. The novel as a genre is fascinating; the process is decidedly different than writing short stories. I realize how much I have to learn. Will the book be a publishable story one day? It doesn’t matter, at this point. I’m after the accomplishment of completing the final draft of a manuscript. In order to do that, I’ll have to make some tough decisions.
My daily WDC experience is very important to me, but I'm guilty of over-extending myself by taking on too many commitments. I belong to a long list of wonderful groups, all of which serve our community. I've decided I can only remain active in two at this time. I've chosen The Rising Stars program (I was thrilled to be promoted by Gabriella Loves RisingStars !to Group Leader last spring) and the Circle of Sisters (I was honored with an invitation to join this past autumn). I love reviewing, and my affiliation with these two groups encourages a regular review practice vital to my own progress as a writer and the continued growth of the WDC community.
In addition, I’ll continue to moderate and judge the "Young Stars Shine Your Light Contest" , a contest close to my heart because it touches the writing lives of WDC’s youngest members and supports them as they improve their craft. I wish someone had encouraged me to become a serious writer when I was a teenager!
I plan to continue publishing bi-monthly group emails to "Teen Writers Info-Sharing Team (TWIST)" members. I believe in promoting WDC contests, groups, forums, activities and fundraisers geared toward young writers and the pursuit of writing excellence.
It’s with a heavy heart, and after weeks of deliberation, that I have decided to close "Nicki D-Zigns Sig & Banner Shop ~OPEN~" . The time commitment in maintaining the shop is simply too great, and I squander precious writing time searching the Internet for images and designing eye-catching texts. I will not delete the shop, as I envision re-opening it for special occasions until a time when I can again dedicate myself to its success.
I do my best writing when the house is quiet. Therefore, my principal time blocks are 7 a.m. – 9 a.m., and 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. I'll devote the first block to WDC, when I check my emails and interact with my groups. Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. I'm in the gym, where inspiration often strikes me on the treadmill. Thank goodness for the notepad feature on my cell phone!
Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day I’ll work on the novel. There will be days when appointments and holidays interrupt the schedule, so it’s paramount that I write diligently on the days I’m able. The design wall I’ve installed behind the monitor inspires me already, and adding images cut from magazines, “idea” notes, song lyrics, postcards, and newspaper clippings will keep me visually stimulated as I write.
I’ve begun to use my blog to experiment with writing styles and descriptive voices. My posts fall into two genre categories: Creative Nonfiction and Fiction.
The Creative Nonfiction entries focus on what I call ‘captured moments’ from my daily life, usually featuring my family and an incident that stirred my soul or taught me a lesson in humanity. I concentrate on vivid descriptions, fluid brush strokes to cover the story canvas, so that the reader experiences each moment as I did.
I’ve already become more in tune with the world around me through this exciting practice. And its benefits are two-fold: I believe it will encourage me to be more present when I’m with my family. Rather than retreating into the fiction of my mind, I’ll have my author’s eyes trained outward, capturing the precious moments unfolding before me and reveling in the essence of my family life, to be archived forever.
I'm equally enthusiastic about blogging in fiction. It began with an epiphany. I realized how much better I got to know a character each time I thrust him or her into new or challenging scenario. This led to an interesting idea: Once a week I'll give my blog over to a character from my novel. First, I’ll take the featured character on a short outing, to the grocery store, the gym, the mall, or a walk around the neighborhood. Concentrating on what I already know about the character, I’ll see the world through his or her eyes, recording his or her perceptions, actions, and reactions. Then, I’ll write the blog entry as the character, not me, and describe the adventure in his or her voice.
Like everything I've written, these goals were conceived as inspired thoughts. By virtue of fingers striking keys, they are now as concrete as any living thing. 2010 is here, and my plans are underway. The energy humming through me is palpable. It’s time to get in the driver’s seat of my life, and the goals underlined in this letter are my vehicle.
There's a creative writing contest held every January at http://www.writing.com/ called "Dear Me..." The gist of the contest is simple: Compose at letter of intent to yourself, outlining your writing goals for the new year. In the two years I've been a site member, I haven't competed in the contest. This year, though, I'll take a stab at it.
The format for my letter is taking shape in my mind. That's been one of the hurdles of past years; I've never been able to articulate my goals or find the right voice. Now, that forward motion I talked about in my first blog entry, that unexplainable momentum carrying me in a destined direction, is again holding the reins.
I pulled a card today from the Crystal Tarot pack. I do this from time to time, for fun, to see what in my perception at that moment can be mirrored in the card. I pulled La Lune, the moon. The card indicates an uncertain future but one to embrace, come what may. It's a complicated card with contradictory interpretations, and I can identify with both the positive aspects of illuminating the darkened path before me with unwavering optimism, as well as the negative aspects of being consumed by unfounded self-confidence and being led astray by it. Today, with La Lune in hand, the "Dear Me..." contest seems more important than ever.
Outlining goals in a format destined for an audience's eyes goes one step beyond merely stating my resolutions. It becomes a sort of pack with myself, a binding contract signed, sealed and delivered. The excitement I feel tells me what I need to know: trusting my instincts on this point is a very good thing.
Compelled. That's how I feel these days, as if there’s something drawing me to its hiding place just over the next rise in Life's road. The attraction is strong. I’m in motion. My internal navigator, though, has closed her eyes. She trusts in the momentum she can’t understand or control. I have to follow her lead, for I know fighting it would be futile.
Here’s what I do know: When you want something very badly, so much so that you can actually see it sitting in your hands when your imagination looks down, then it will be. When I’m most in tune with the world around me, I easily perceive the signs pointing me in the right direction, toward the next goal. With that belief, that knowledge in mind, I embark on this blogging journey.
Last month during NaNoWriMo (info is below for those interested), I wrote nineteen chapters of my first novel. They are rough as a mountain river bed, but the ideas flowing through are full of energy and intrigue. My professional goals in 2010 include completing the first draft, and then working through rewrites and revisions. I may find this book won’t be marketable. But I’m compelled, (there’s that word again), to finish it. The project figures in, somehow, with the hidden thing lurking just below the horizon.
The idea for this blog came to me in the form of multiple signs woven lately into my everyday life. My good friend and next door neighbor, Miss T, blogs here. I’ve admired for a year her strong memoir-style writing and commitment to her readers, but yesterday, sitting in my kitchen, she let fly one of those signs that hit me square between the eyes. She’s decided to use the create-a-book option once a year, to archive her blog entries in book form. Brilliant! I thought. This pushed the quiet, wallflower thoughts I’d been unconsciously harboring since watching Julie&Julia over the Christmas break into the brightly lit chambers of my consciousness. Suddenly, I wanted to blog!
You wouldn’t think a creative writer would have trouble coming up with a theme for her blog, but at first I was stumped. I want this blog to have a raison d’être. Julie blogged her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I wanted to have some kind of focus as well. Since the New Year is upon us, I feel compelled, yet again, to choose a resolute direction.
Each time I add an entry, I will write about one significant moment that affected me deeply. It may be something that happened in the past, but I don’t want to look back too often. Instead, I want to be present in my life, living today with open arms, open mind, and an open heart. In 2010, I want to live each day with intent. I will indulge in random acts of kindness and write about how the experiences affected me and the others around me. Through this blog, I want to become a more joyful and positive human being, and a better writer.
And so I take a deep breath, stretch my arms open wide, and begin.
Note: NaNoWrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. www.nanowrimo.org hosts the contest every year, in which participants sign up determined to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. I learned a lot about turning off my internal editor and letting my muse run free. You can visit my NaNo profile page and read as excerpt from my book, just Click Here.
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.