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deadlines

5 Simple Things to Help You Reach Your Writing Goals This Year

Writing

Writing goals. They can be hard to reach, especially if the goal is a novel. Finishing can take so long that we easily lose our way or get distracted by the new shiny idea rattling around in our head. But if you have a publishing goal, whether self-publishing or traditional publishing, you *must* finish. Writing goals should always include finishing the project.

But as we already agreed, it can be hard to get there. I want to share some tips that I’ve learned over the years. Not about setting writing goals. I mean, I think we’re all just fine at setting the goals. But these are things I think will help in actually getting to those goals.

Set Yourself up to win with your writing goals

The work we do on the front end can really impact how (and when) we get to the finish line. And I’m not talking about outlining or anything like that. I’m talking about processes. If you want writing as a career, you should treat it like a business, and that means creating efficient processes for yourself that will help you get things done.

Create time in your schedule

Yes, I know. You can’t create time but you can create space in the time you already have. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, create a space in your schedule that is dedicated solely to your writing. Think about it. You dedicate time to sleep. You dedicate time for meals. If you’re working in a company, there is dedicated time where you’re expected to be working. If you have kids, you likely have dedicated kid-time. All the important things in your life have room in your schedule. The least you can do for your writing is to dedicate a portion of your time for it.

Get important folks on board

If you co-habitate, with parents, significant other, children, roommates, whoever, get them on board with what you’re doing. Let them know how excited you are to be able to dedicate X amount of time to writing your story. Get them excited too. Keep them updated on your progress. And then they will be less likely to interrupt you during your dedicated time. They’ll be more understanding when your brain is a little fried from a productive writing session. And they’ll be ready to celebrate with you when you write The End.

Track your words or pages

Writing a story, especially a novel, can be long, hard work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the process, because you don’t have any quick gratification. Keeping track of your progress via some sort of tracking system will give you visual gratification for how far you’ve come. And if you don’t usually keep running track of how much you accomplish, you might be surprised at how motivating it is. Success breeds motivation.

Create deadlines

There’s a reason newspapers and magazines get to print on time. Deadlines keep people in gear and motivated to get finished. I know that I work my hardest when I know a deadline is looming. And I think most people are the same. A couple things to note:

  • Create a big deadline, like the end of the project, but also create smaller deadlines: chapter 4, due by X date; chapter 5, due by Y date. As noted earlier, success breed motivation, so if you can check things off a list, you’ll be more enthusiastic about remaining on track, because you’ll want to check off those other things on the list

  • Make your deadlines short — and by that, I mean to allow for the least amount of time you will need to achieve the goal. Don’t build in extra time “just in case something happens to throw my schedule off.” If something happens to throw your schedule off, deal with it when it happens. Don’t build in time for something that doesn’t exist.Why? Because of Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Meaning if you set yourself a goal for two weeks, even though you could really finish that thing in six days, it will take you two weeks because that’s the expectation you create for yourself.
    So no long deadlines!

Don’t cater to the muse

I know. You’re probably all O.O at that. Of course, I don’t mean that you should banish the muse. But the muse is capricious sometimes, isn’t she? Be honest. How often have you been in the middle of a project, slogging along, and the muse entices you to start another project? “It’s new! It’s shiny! It will be SO much more fun to write than what you’re working on!” I know you know what I’m talking about 🙂

So when I say not to cater to the muse, I mean: don’t bounce from project to project throughout your writing time. The muse gets to be capricious. She’s a muse. Writers don’t. Well, not writers who want to actually finish anything. And, yknow, reach their writing goals.

When you decide on which project to work with that day, focus on it. If the muse tries to entice you away, jot down her new, shiny idea, but stay on task. You can devote a little bit of writing time another day to sorting out the new project. But for now, you decided on this project, so work on it.

And the other question I know is brewing is: But what about if I’m not feeling that project that day?

To which I answer: I don’t feel like cleaning out my cats’ litter boxes, but guess what?

Writing isn’t always going to be a walk in the park. Sometime it’s going to be hard and sometimes the muse is going to desert you (or, worse, try to drag you away). But if you want to do this as a career, or even just a serious hobby, you need to finish things. And that means slogging through the crappy parts.

Do a review every 2 weeks

Huh? What? Yeah, this isn’t something I see suggested to writers very often. But it’s important. We’ve already talked about success breeding motivation. But sometimes you can’t see the success very easily. We need to close that feedback loop so we can see what we really accomplished.

At the end of a two week stretch, go back and look at your word/page tracker (here’s a handy-dandy one!). Look at the number of words you wrote. Think about the things that happened this week. Did something set you behind? Did you lose momentum? Did something motivate you more than normal? What was good? Bad? How much closer are you to your next small goal? To your big goal? Write all that stuff down.

Knowing where you are makes knowing where you’re going much easier!

Don’t get bogged down in defeat

 

Listen, life happens to all of us. Sometimes we don’t get everything done we wanted to get done when we wanted to get it done by. That’s okay. And I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to ignore the successes and beat myself up for the perceived failures. Don’t do that.

We’re going to talk more about this particular piece in next week’s post.

What things do you struggle with in achieving your writing goals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 

 

 

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How to Cope With a Substantial Story Critique

Writing

What I’m Listening To: The space heater on the floor under my desk. It’s a chilly day today! Maybe it’s because I’m talking about story critique today? 😉

Something Cool: I’m putting together an accountability program for authors! If you need help with motivation to write, stay tuned. Details coming!

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Okay, so you’ve gotten your manuscript back from your editor or critique partner and now you want to curl up with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and cry into your Chunky Monkey.

Go ahead and do that. Wallow if you need to wallow. Getting critiqued is hard. It can hurt. And that’s okay. You can be sad about all that red ink (font) for a little while. But give yourself a time limit. And once you hit the end of that limit, pull yourself up by your inkwells and get to work.

I’ve been a pro editor since 2008. I’ve contracted with a couple publishing companies and I do freelance fiction editing. I’m a hard editor, but a good one. My authors all say that my first pass on a manuscript is the hardest and that’s true. It’s because I hit everything that I see on that first pass, whether it’s a misplaced comma or a plot hole.

Every…single…thing.

Even if it’s multiple instances of the same issue. I do this for a couple reasons. First, because it makes later edits a complete breeze. And second, if we, as writers, keep doing something over and over again it’s because we can’t see that we’re making the mistake. Having to fix it eleventy billion times makes us see it, and so in the future, when we’re writing so that we don’t make the mistake in the first place. (I learned that first-hand from a mentor in my MFA program!) This also makes both our jobs easier for story critique of future work.

So with these terrible, fiery edits (I promise, I’m also nice in my edits 😉 ), I give new-to-me authors some advice on how to handle the manuscript. Keep in mind that the following assumes the story critique is done with Track Changes.

Three steps to working through your story critique

1. Get your Ben & Jerry’s and your spoon. Sit down at the computer and read all of the story critique comments in the ms. Go through all of them without making any changes. You might want tissues and something soft to throw. You’ll get angry; you’ll get sad; you’ll laugh; you’ll yell at the screen. Most of all, you should make sure you’re eating your Chunky Monkey (or preferred flavor) as you go. Ice cream has been proven to help deal with emotional edits. (via the Institute of Venessa nods)

2. Now, put your Ben and Jerry’s back in the freezer (or in the garbage can, if you’re more like me) and jump into the meat of things. The first thing you’re going to do is go through the story critique and fix all the easy stuff. Review and accept (if applicable) the punctuation changes and the pronoun recommendations, the quick-fix suggestions, etc. If it will take you a minute or less, fix it during this pass. Make sure you delete the comment(s) associated with the changes you make. Consider it like checking off a to do list!

3. Once you’ve got those things done, your ms should look a lot less scary. You will likely have
fewer notes, but the work will be more in depth now. These will be things like plot holes, story inconsistencies, characterization issues. These will be a lot easier to deal with when you don’t have a bunch of minor changes all around them. You’ll have a clearer view of how you need to make changes.

Once you’re done with the three steps, make sure you do another full read of the ms. Though you may want to set it aside for a week or so to allow yourself some distance before you read through it.

Something to keep in mind: Just because the editor suggests a change, doesn’t mean you have to make it. It’s your book, after all. But do look at the suggestion objectively and not through the lens of, “But this is my *baby* and that idea couldn’t possibly ever work for my baby!” Because no matter what you might think, that statement is wrong. 🙂

If the idea really doesn’t work for your story, that’s one thing. But just make sure you’re not so emotionally involved with your story that a suggestion for change becomes an insult to your soul mate.

How about you? Have you had a rough edit? A difficult story critique?How did you cope and work through the suggestions? Chime in below!

Stay awesome! :)

 

 

 

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Get More Writing Time: Find It in the Margins

Writing

What I’m Listening To: Paper Gods by Duran Duran — because, yknow Duran Duran

Something Cool: The new Broadchurch season starts next week! Squeee!

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What’s your biggest writing struggle?

One of the most common things I hear from writers about why they’re not writing is that there isn’t enough time. We’re all so busy these days with professional, family, and social commitments. It’s understandable that sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough time to write. So let’s talk about how we can write more with the time we have.

If you’re anything like I was, you feel like you need a certain amount of time that is dedicated to writing in order to get anything accomplished. I’d suggest that this is the first thing that needs to be addressed in getting writing done. And here’s how we’re going to do it!

Figure out how much writing you can do in 15 minutes

You can time yourself with a digital or analog timer, but I recommend using Write or Die 2, either the free version which can be used on the web, or the paid version, which can live on your desktop. WoD2 is better than a traditional timer, because it encourages you not to dawdle, not to sit and stare at the screen for the limited amount of time you have to write. It keeps you writing.

Set the timer for 15 minutes and get going. No pausing to ponder your next word. Just write. Once the time expires, see how many words you’ve gotten down. You might be surprised. I discovered that I can easily write 400 words in 15 minutes. I can write 500 words if I’m really in the zone, but usually 400 is my average. That shocked me when I discovered it! I’d always thought myself a slow writer. But, apparently, I was wrong.

So figure out how much you can write in 15 minutes. I’ll bet it’ll be more than 250 words. And 250 words is a whole page.

Do a little planning ahead

Plotters won’t have a problem with this, but pantsers might. If you’re a “write by the seat of your pants” type, the idea of outlining might make you nauseated. Luckily, I’m not asking you to do that 🙂

Even those who are pantsers usually have some idea of what’s going to happen in the next scene, likely in the next couple scenes. Keep a writingsingle document where you just jot down a few words about what’s going to happen next. I’d suggest adding to it after each scene you complete. Just note a sentence or two — nothing more detailed than you want to write — about the main point or plot point of the next scene. This is especially important if you’re done with your writing for the day.

Create a mobile system for your writing

So often, we’re stuck in a doctor’s office or God forbid, at the DMV. We’re all rushrushrush and then w…a…i…t. So work out a way to access information about your story from your phone or tablet. Keep your work on Dropbox or another cloud service. At the very least, keep the list we just talked about — your “Next Scene” list — in this place, so you can get to it via your mobile device.

Pull it all together

You’re pretty smart; you’ve probably already figured this out by now. Or at least have an idea of what I’m about to say.

Professional writers — the ones who live off their writing — got there because they didn’t let a little thing like not having enough time keep them from writing. You shouldn’t either.

With the things we’ve put in place, you can write anywhere, with anything. Even if you only have your phone. If you’re waiting for an appointment, you can pull out your phone, look at your “Next Scene” list, open a new document and write. Or pull out a small notebook.

If you’re driving, instead, you can open a voice recorder on your phone and record the story. When you have 20 minutes before the kids come home from school, you can open the “Next Scene” list, then start writing. And if you know that you can get 300 words in 15 minutes, you know you can write a page right then.

Are these ideal? Of course not. But they’re doable. Workable. And that’s what we’re looking for. A way to get stuff done, even if the situation isn’t ideal.

Our lives are very busy, but we also have a lot of margin — time in between obligations that is often wasted because we’re waiting for someone or something. You can use this time for yourself, to further your goals as an author. And if you can manage to squeeze just 15 minutes of writing in a day, you’ll be doing awesome! Remember:

One page per day = one novel at the end of the year.

That year is going to go by anyway. If you can find 15 minutes in the margins of each day, you’ll reach your goal. You can do it!

Do you have writing hacks that give you more time to write? Drop a note in the comments and share with your fellow writers!

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Deadlines: Latest Epic Challenges Taking Up My Time – 3/7/16

Deadlines, Writing

So, you might have noticed that I’m revamping my website! I’m also dedicating myself to updating it a bit more often than before. (I decided that every four years really wasn’t enough!)

The plan so far is to do a quick update on Mondays as to what I did last week and what I’m going to be working on this upcoming week. I’ll be calling this update Deadlines. Clever, right? 🙂

I’m still deciding the exact focus of the website, but trust that we’ll be talking a lot about the craft and business of writing. I’m kicking around the idea of doing a podcast, but haven’t decided on that either. But, regardless, there will be a future post that hashes through my ideas.

One big thing I do want to note though, is that my hubby has come onboard to help manage my writing career! Woo! I’m so excited that we’re doing this as a team. Right now, he’s the one behind doing the actual revamp of the website (with input from me), which takes a lot of pressure off me and frees up a lot more time to write and work on other stuff. So yay!

Okay, so for the week ending 3/6/16:

Writing: I write smut under a pen name and I’m working on the second novel for that line. I’m almost done, but got stuck, so last week, between that and doctor appointments, I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d planned, sadly. But I did hit the 50k mark. I anticipate the final being between 60k and 65k.

Revising: n/a

Work Stuff: I did some light editorial work for Loose Id, read and commented on a submitted manuscript.

On Deck: n/a

Other Stuff: I finished a third printable (Setting Sketch) that I added to the download bundle offered via my newsletter sign up page. I’ve obviously been working on stuff for the website. Overall, though, this week wasn’t as productive as previous weeks.

Goals and plans for the week beginning 3/7/16:

Writing: I want to get at least 7k words written on the pen name’s story. Stretch goal is 10k. I don’t think either will be a problem once I jump this hurdle I’m having.

Revising: I need to get back to revising Soul Cavern, which is over halfway done. So I want to get at least 50 pages of that done this week too.

Work Stuff: I have a manuscript to read and comment on and I imagine I’ll be starting edits on the one I commented on last week. I also have a freelance e-mail request I need to respond to, so that may or may not also happen.

On Deck: I have a non-fiction book I’m going to be writing — about authenticity — and I’d like to get a start on that this week too. No hard and fast deadlines about it though.

Other Stuff: I need to do some e-mail newsletter posts for both this name and my pen name’s mailing list. And I have some admin things to do on the back ends of both of those. And, finally, I have some organizational stuff I need to do for a couple conventions I’m part of. So whee! 🙂

See you next week!

Venessa G.