Achieve Your Writing Goal in One Year (or Less)

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Have you heard this questions before? “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I’ve always hated that question in job interviews because I could never answer it without making myself look like a disorganized mess. I would hem and haw, waiting for inspiration to strike me with an appropriate answer before finally settling on a very safe one: “Working here.”

The truth is, I’ve always had difficulty setting and keeping five-year goals because I could never think that far ahead. Too much can happen between this moment and five years from now that could alter my long-term plans, so why bother making any?

These days, my goal-setting is simpler because I focus on short-term goals and I look no further than one year ahead. Instead, I ask myself, “Where do I want to be one year from now?” I figure as long as I take care of the short term goals, the long-term future will take care of itself.

The one-year plan includes several interim goals to measure your progress. I borrow this approach from publishing production schedules, which establishes the publishing date first and then works backward to the starting point of the production cycle. In between, there are deadlines for writing, proofing, artwork and so on.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your writing practice. Where do you see it one year from now? Maybe your vision is to manage a blog. Maybe you want to complete a collection of travel essays. Or maybe you want to write stories from your life to pass onto your grandchildren. Whatever that goal may be, start with your year-end vision, then break it down into smaller, achievable tasks. Those tasks become your interim deadlines. When you know you want to achieve X one year from now, it’s easier to work backward to set the interim deadlines.

I find a good time for these goal-setting sessions is the beginning of the New Year, your birthday, or the beginning of the school year. Those times signify fresh starts when goal setting can help you stay motivated. But any time of year is a good time to make goals for yourself, no matter what you want to achieve with your writing.

To help you with this goal-setting exercise, answer the following questions.

1. Name one thing you would like to achieve in your writing practice one year from now. For example, complete first drafts of 12 childhood memoir essays to be included in a published collection. (Twelve is a random number that I chose based on the calendar months of the year. That equates to one memoir essay each month.)

2. Name one thing you would like to achieve in six months. Perhaps your six-month goal is to review the essays you’ve written so far leading up to your one-year goal. How many essays have you completed toward your year-end goal? Do they need editing? Perhaps your six-month goal is to hire an editor or have someone review the work you’ve done.

3. Name one thing you would like to achieve by the end of three months. Perhaps in three months, you would like to read one or two memoir collections that other people have written to help you understand how it’s done. Or maybe your goal is to write three essays that will be included in your collection.

4. Name one thing you would like to achieve within one month. Your goal could be to write for 30 minutes at least three days a week, or it could be to complete a draft of one essay for your childhood memoir.

5. Name one thing you’d like to achieve within the next two weeks. It could be to evaluate your daily schedule to see what you can change to make room for writing. Or it could be brainstorming ideas for your collection of memoir essays.

By the end of this exercise, you will have set five goals for your writing practice at five different time periods – two weeks, one month, three months, six months, and one year. Make sure they are reasonable, measurable and realistic to achieve. Then review your goals every few months to see how much progress you have made. If you find that you haven’t achieved any of your goals, do not beat yourself up over it. Just modify your goals and start over again.

By developing a one-year plan with smaller goals at interim points, you can stay focused on the tasks at hand while letting the long-term future take care of itself.   

What kind of writing plans do you make for yourself? Are you able to stick to them?

Three Questions Every Writer Should Ask Before Starting a Writing Routine

Novice writers often ask, “How often should I write? And should I write every day?”

Browse the internet and you’ll likely find a variety of responses to these questions. Some responses suggest making time goals, such as one hour a day, while others suggest word goals, such as 500 words. For example, Stephen King in his book “On Writing,” advises new writers to aim for a lofty 1,000 words a day.

To add to the confusion, novice scribes are advised to write every day to achieve consistency with your writing. If you don’t write every day, experts argue, you might lose momentum and motivation. After missing several days, you may never get back to writing.

While their arguments are valid, they may not be practical. Not everyone has time to write every single day because of demanding schedules. Further, the thought of writing every day can be daunting, especially for novice writers who haven’t a clue how to get started. You might say to yourself, “Write every day? I can’t possibly do that! That will take up too much of my day!”

That kind of reasoning assumes that writing is time consuming. But the truth is, writing isn’t nearly as time consuming as we imagine it is. That’s because many of us have built up scenarios in our brain in which we imagine sitting in front of our computer for several hours a day. That scenario might be accurate for well-known authors and professional writers, but not for beginning writers like you and me.

How much time you devote to writing depends on several factors: what you’re schedule allows, whether you’re new to writing, and what you want to achieve with your writing. No two writers will have the same answers. Below are several questions you need to ask yourself before establishing a writing routine.

Question 1: Are you new to writing?

If you’re new to writing, it might be helpful to start with a small goal and work your way up into larger goals as you gain more confidence in your abilities. Set a word goal of 100 words, for example. If after a few days, 100 words is too easy, you can raise the goal to 250 words.

For other writers, a time goal may be a better option, say 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Even five minutes is better than none at all. As you gain more confidence, you can add more time to your sessions, moving from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, for example.

Shannon Ashley at the Post-Grad Survival Guide blog writes that it’s important to achieve consistency with your writing. But how much time and energy you put into it is up to individual writers and what they want to achieve. But it’s not necessary to write every day to achieve that success. It is important if you want to achieve consistency, especially for newer writers.

I recommend setting a small goal of 100 words per session. That is the equivalent of three or four paragraphs, something that is easy to achieve if you write every day. However, if you don’t have time to write every day, you can choose to write two or three times a week or even just weekends. You can still achieve consistency with your writing by committing to writing three days a week.

As you gain more experience, you will learn to write faster and get more writing done in less time. That’s when you can set higher goals for yourself and create more flexible writing schedules.

Question 2: Do you prefer a structured routine or write when you can?

Some writers prefer having a set schedule because they enjoy the structure that it gives them.  Writing every day for a set amount of time or specific word count provides a sense of accomplishment. Just sitting down and writing at the same time every day is an accomplishment in and of itself.

The reality is, there is no set rule that says you have to write every day, writes Ali Luke at WritetoDone blog. It’s simply a goal to work toward. Only you know what is best for you considering your schedule.

On the other hand, some writers with more demanding work schedules may not have a lot of spare time for writing. Or they may simply thrive in unstructured work environments. Sometimes it’s necessary to find time to write wherever you can squeeze it in. For example, you may jot down notes while riding on the bus to work, or cram in a half hour of writing before bedtime. Further, it may not be possible to commit to writing every day. It may be that you are weekend warriors, writing in chunks on Saturday and Sunday.

Knowing which type of person you are – structured or unstructured – can help you decide how to set up your writing routine or whether you should have one at all.

Question 3: What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

If writing is a hobby, then you can be more flexible with your schedule since you are not tied to any deadlines. You can write whenever and wherever you want, and you can make your sessions as short or as long as you want – as your schedule allows. It might be easier to squeeze in writing time before doctor’s appointments and work breaks.

But if your goals are more serious – such as writing an essay or article that you want to have published – then you might need to devote a longer work session to complete it. That’s quiet, uninterrupted time to research, contemplate and prepare your finished piece for an editor. Since it requires greater care, then you will need longer stretches of time to work on it.

The bottom line is this: the more you want to accomplish with your writing, the more time you will devote to your craft. If you love to write, the more time you will make for it. That’s the difference between those who see writing as a casual leisurely pursuit and those who view it as their life’s work.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Writer’s Conference

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Last week, I shared a list of writer’s conferences taking place in the coming months. These conferences are brimming with good, relevant information that can help you become a stronger, more proficient writer – and maybe pave the way to getting your manuscript published. You can connect with other writers who are traveling the same path as you, and you can learn from published authors, agents and editors.

While many of these conferences can be cost prohibitive for some people, there are ways to be able to finance the admission fees, such as grants and scholarships. (See my post from last week for more information.)

I recently signed up for a conference – my first one – because I wanted to immerse myself in this intensive learning experience. I want to take my writing career to the next level. Signing up for the conference was the easy part. The hard part is preparing for the event. Luckily, I have found numerous tips for getting the most out of the conference experience, which I am happy to share with you.

1. Set a goal (or two) for the event. Think about why you want to be there. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to meet an agent or an editor you may be interested in reading your manuscript? Meet a favorite author? Make new friends? Learn about self-publishing? Get inspired to write that next novel? The choice is yours.

By setting a goal beforehand, you can go into the conference with the intention to work toward that goal. For example, if your goal is to build your network for fellow writers, make a goal of meeting at least three new contacts. Make sure to follow up with them after the conference by email or phone, even if it’s just to say hello.

2. Dress appropriately. Remember you are there to conduct business and you are representing yourself. Dress as you would as if you were going to a job interview or a business meeting. Think business casual. Refrain from wearing jeans and a T-shirt because they might send the message that you don’t take your career seriously.

3. Start networking before the conference begins. This is a great suggestion by Steuben Press. Just because the conference won’t take place until June doesn’t mean you can’t engage with guest speakers until then. If there’s an author or editor that will be present, start following them on social media. Pose a question for then on Twitter or their Facebook page or comment on their blog post. Then when you see them at the conference or bump into them during a coffee break, you can refer to one of those comments to begin a dialogue. The key is to get your name and face in front of them so they will remember you.

4. Practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your manuscript that you should be able to recite to anyone you might meet anywhere – a coffee shop, on the street, or in an elevator. Keep the pitch to no more than two sentences or approximately 50 words, suggests the folks at Jericho Writers. Most editors and literary agents you meet will be pressed for time, so anything longer than two sentences might be a time drain. Besides, most elevator rides don’t last very long.

5. Be organized. Establish a system for tracking everything from who you meet to what you learn each day from each session you attend. I like to carry a notebook that contains all my notes from workshops, classes and conference sessions. Because it’s all in one place, it’s easy for me to look back at some notes from two years ago, for example, that I may need today.

Another habit I’ve developed in my career is to make notes on the back of each business card I receive from somebody. On the back, I write the date and event where I met that person. Again I have something to job my memory about how I know that individual. When I follow up with an email, I can refer to that event that took place so they know who I am.

6. Turn off your devices when you’re networking with others. Stay in the present moment. Enjoy meeting new people without distractions. Besides, when you’re constantly looking into your smart phone, you send the message that you really prefer to be somewhere else. When you show a lack of interest in the world around you, others will show a lack of interest in you.

7. Eat with new friends and business contacts. Once you’ve made some new friends, invite them to sit with you at lunch or meet over coffee. The important thing is to not eat by yourself or sit alone at a table. Sometimes the best relationships begin in one-on-one settings or in smaller groups.

8. Don’t take the conference too seriously. Don’t be all work and no play. Make sure you have fun too. Attend some of the social events, or form your own group outing like visiting an art museum or listening to live music.

9. But don’t get too comfortable. On the other hand, don’t play it so loose and fancy free that others think you aren’t serious about your writing. There’s a time to work and a time to play. Find a healthy balance between the two and you should walk away from the conference feeling excited and energized to take your writing to the next level.

Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? What was your experience like?  How did you prepare for it? What tips do you have for your fellow writers about attending conferences?

Do You Have a Holiday Writing Plan?

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The Christmas season is in full force. There is much to do – shopping, baking, decorating, attending parties, socializing with friends – you name it. This is on top of your usual obligations – work, school, housekeeping, family time, volunteer work, and self-care. There isn’t much time left for your writing practice.

Or is there?

It all depends on how you allocate your time.

If your writing is important to you or if you are currently working on a deadline, then reaching your writing goals is critical. To reach those goals, you need to have a plan. If faced with this dilemma – and most of us are – you have several options:

1. You can put your writing practice on hiatus.

Going on hiatus will obviously clear the way for you to enjoy your holiday more without worrying about what your next essay will be about. Then when you begin working again, you come with a fresh eye. On the other hand, a hiatus can take you out of your writing rhythm. You could lose momentum on the current work-in-progress. Come January when you sit back down and review your story, you might lose sight of where your story is going. Then you may have to start all over again.

2. Decrease the time you spend on your writing practice.

This approach might make the most sense for most writers. You can still make progress on your current work while still making time for your holiday activities. Here’s how it works. If you currently write for one hour a day, you might decide to write for only half an hour. Or instead of writing six days a week, perhaps you only write three days a week. The scheduling is up to you.

3. Maintain the status quo in your writing practice.

To maintain your current writing schedule will mean reassessing your holiday activities. Are there any that have lost their meaning for you? Do you really need to go to every party you’ve been invited to? Can you skip sending out holiday cards or the holiday bar crawl? The choices are yours.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to maintain your writing practice during the holidays, here are a few suggestions:

1. Set priorities. How much of a priority is your writing? If it’s important to you, you will automatically make more time for it. Other activities will go by the wayside as a result.

2. Make an appointment for your writing. Make an appointment with yourself to write just as you would make a doctor or hair appointment. When you see that you have three one-hour writing sessions in your appointment book, chances are you will be more likely to stick to that schedule.

3. Set realistic goals for your writing. What do you want to accomplish? For example, if you decide you want to write one chapter for your current novel during the month of December, you need to figure out how to make that goal. But make sure that goal is reasonable and achievable. Writing a 1000-word essay or a 3000-word chapter of a novel is probably more achievable than writing 50,000 words.

If you want to learn more about making a writing plan for the holidays, check out the Books & Such Literary Management blog.

When you maintain a consistent writing practice throughout the holidays with all its assorted pleasurable distractions, you may actually feel more joyous throughout the season. Why? Because you love to write and you know how you feel when you write. There is no other greater joy than to do what you love during the holidays.

 

Tips for Managing Your Writing Expectations

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As creative writers, it’s easy to fall prey to unrealistic expectations. Writers must strike a balance between expectations that are too low or goals that are set too high. If expectations are too low, they may be a product of fears and self-doubt that our writing is not good enough. If expectations are too high, they may reveal an overly optimistic view of talents and skills that haven’t been mastered.

Developing a healthy balance between the two can provide a more realistic vision of your writing. The more realistic your expectations are, the more easily you’ll be able to achieve your writing goals. Here’s how you can manage your expectations as a writer.

1. Assess your skill set. Make a list of all your skills. What are you especially good at doing? Are there certain skills that you need to learn? For example, do you need to learn how to edit yourself? Or do you need to develop a better ear for dialogue? When you assess your skill set, you gain a clear understanding of your strengths and limitations.

2. Assess your writing goals. Think about the types of writing you want to do. Do you want to write fiction or screenplays, or are you happy writing for businesses?  Do you want to be a published author, or do you prefer to write as a hobby? Do you want to be paid for your writing? If so, research places like Writer’s Market for information about paid writing markets. What time frame do you want to achieve these goals? Some can be achieved within a year while others may take several years. Still others may never be realized. You may need to prioritize these goals and set milestones for achieving the larger ones.

3. Check in with yourself periodically. Goals and expectations can change over time. Set aside time every quarter (ideally) or at least every six months to review your writing goals to determine if you are still on track. When you reassess your plan every few months, you can make adjustments along the way so you stay on track.

4. Seek a second opinion. If you feel stuck and you’re not sure where to go next with your writing, it might help to get the perspective of a friend or two. It may be that you aimed too high with your writing or your expectations are too low. They can provide valuable insights into your approach. For example, if you lack self-confidence, they might point out some of your strengths that you can capitalize on. Or if you are painting an overly rosy picture of your writing life, like writing an 800-page novel in the next six months, they can provide needed perspective so you can see if that is a realistic goal.

5. Challenge your inner critic. Writers are naturally born with an inner critic, a voice that tells them their writing stinks. When you notice that voice in your head, stop for a moment and challenge those thoughts. Who is really thinking them – you or someone else? Counter with a positive affirmation in return. For example, if the voice keeps telling you that no one will like your story, counter it by pointing out all the times when someone DID like your story. Keep countering that critic with success stories of your own until that voice is silenced for good.

Or put a sign on your wall: “Inner critics not allowed while creative genius is at work.” Or something similar. The sign serves as a constant reminder that what matters most is your opinion, not someone else’s.

6. Expect rejection. No matter what kind of writing you do, rejection is bound to happen. Someone somewhere will be reviewing your work, and not everyone will like what you write. Rejection is a natural part of the writing process. Rejection can help you reassess your writing project to see if it still works. It can help you look at other avenues for publishing that you might not have considered. If two editors didn’t like your piece about making your own food for cats, then maybe a third editor will. Rejection can be disarming at first, but it can also fuel your motivation to keep trying.

7. Let go of the need to be perfect. When you first begin writing, you might envision what your final piece will look like. Then as you begin writing, you realize that your piece is nothing at all like you imagined. Perhaps you write a dozen or so drafts before finally giving up. First drafts are supposed to be crap, says essayist Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Know this and accept it. First drafts help you unload the ideas from your head to the paper before you can craft them into a story. If you try to be perfect as you write, you will never accomplish much. All you will have to show for your effort is a waste basket filled with crumpled sheets of paper.

Unrealistic expectations are often the result of feelings of inferiority or idealized visions of writing success. Neither of them are satisfactory. Keep your expectations realistic by periodically assessing your skills and emotional mindset.

The Search for Motivation and Passion in Your Work

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Many years ago, I attended a professional workshop led by a woman who ran her own communications agency. During the event, she admitted to putting in some long hours for her business. Someone in the group asked, “Do you mind working longer hours? Is it worth it to have your own business?” The woman replied, “I love what I do, so I don’t mind working longer hours.”

She is one of the lucky people who found a career that they were passionate about. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all find that passion?

But not everyone is as lucky as this business owner. Most of us strive each day to find the drive to keep going, keep searching, and keep reaching for our goals. For many of us, just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning is a major achievement.

As I watched the Summer Olympics in Rio few weeks ago, I was struck by the notion of performing our best when there isn’t a whole lot expected of you. With more than 10,000 athletes participating in the Summer Games, only a handful were expected to contend for a medal. How do you compete when you know you probably won’t win? How do you motivate yourself to stay positive, to keep going, to keep driving towards the finish line?

Consider the performance of Oksana Chusovitina, the 41-year old gymnast from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, who appeared at her seventh Olympic Games. She competed  only in the vault contest and was not expected to medal, but she was thrilled to participate because she loved the sport of gymnastics so much.

Finding that one thing you love so much, that you are so passionate about, is the key to staying motivated. When you love what you do, you are more willing to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. When you love what you do, time stands still, and you find yourself living in the moment. When you love what you do, working longer hours is never an issue.

Sometimes motivation is driven by an inner goal that you set for yourself, one that is not obvious to others. It’s not necessarily about winning the race as it is about finishing it. Finishing the race is as much an accomplishment as winning. You know you’ve found your motivation, your passion when your brain is on fire with ideas and your heart is wholly engaged.

So whether you are a manager, a writer or an athlete, ask yourself today, “What is my motivation? What keeps me motivated to perform my best?”

It could be the love of your family that drives your performance. It could be the desire to one day publish a book or get a byline in a magazine. Or it could be the satisfaction of seeing others that you coach achieve their best.

More important, ask yourself “How do I perform when there isn’t a lot expected of me, when I’m not expected to win a prize or be the best? How do I perform when I don’t expect a lot from myself?”

If you don’t expect the best from yourself, how will others expect the best from you? And how will you be able to perform your best if you don’t believe in yourself? Belief in yourself is the most powerful motivation. Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you too.