Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Happy New Year! Have You Planned Your 2017 Yet?

Happy New Year!

I wish you peace, joy, prosperity and health in 2017!

Also: I wish you fulfillment of all your goals.

Did I mention resolutions? Nope.

I don’t believe in resolutions. Resolutions are something most people make between the countdown to the new year and the champagne they drink at 12:01. Almost no one sticks to their resolutions. I gave up making them more than a decade ago.

Instead, I make goals for the new year. I plan — which is not to say that things never hit the fan and life is golden. Things do happen, and I miss goals, but I generally get more accomplished than if I’d not planned to begin with.

I’ve been planning 2017 for a few months now, both personally and professionally, and made a few decisions about what I’ll be concentrating on in 2016. If you haven’t done any planning yet, use January as your planning month and move forward from there. It’s not too late.

Begin by Reviewing Your 2016
Always review last year (last month, last week) to see what you accomplished and what you could do better. Here are some questions to think about:

– What major events happened in 2016?
     – Finish a book? Publish a book? Attend a convention or writing retreat?
– What big and small goals did you accomplish?
     – Learn how to self publish? Write cover copy? Use a new social media venue?
– What challenges did you overcome?
     – Speak in public? Submit a story to an agent? Finish a short story?
– What could you have done better?
     – Spent more time in the writing chair? Listened to your critique group or editor about something? Concentrate on area of writing: dialogue, grammar, scene setting?
– Have you become a better writer in any way?
     – Finished more scenes? Wrote more words? Took a grammar or spelling class? Studied dialogue?

Even if you’re not a writer, you can use these questions to plan, just consider them outside the writing angle.

If you’re not a writer, consider:

– What big things happened in 2016?
– What large and small things did you accomplish?
– What did you overcome?
– What could you have done better?
– Have you become a better (husband/wife/co-worker/fill-in-the-blank) in any way?

Next, Decide What You Want to Do

Now, consider what you want to be. I know that’s a bit vague, but planning your goals will depend on what you want to be at the end of the year.

– Do you want to be a better writer? If so, what is your definition of “better?” Find your voice? Improve your grammar? Write more words? Accomplish more chapters? Finish more books?
– For non-writers (or, even for writers who want to tackle both professional and personal goals: do you want to spend more time with your family? Lose weight? Improve a particular skill? Etc.

Be specific here. You can’t plan effectively if you don’t have a specific goal.

For example: “Lose weight” is not a specific goal. Instead, consider, “Lose 10 pounds by March.” For writers, instead of “Write more,” try, “Write 10,000 words per month.”

Once you have a specific goal, you can break it down into smaller steps. Work on those steps daily, and you can accomplish great things.

Are you like me? There are too many goals on your list for this year? That’s where prioritizing comes in. I’ll write about that next week…

I hope you’ll plan with me this year. Some of my goals include:

– Increasing my word-count production by 10%
– Writing a non-fiction book (as well as the fiction and short stories!)
– Taking a class on marketing

What do you hope to accomplish this year? Leave me a note in the comments! =)

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Back from Retreat – A Few Takeaways

Cacapon Retreat GoalsBefore I left for my writer’s retreat I set some pretty ambitious goals. When I got there, I wrote them down on a wall poster and hung it in the room where I did most of my writing.

(You’re seeing an early version of it here in the pic to the left. By the end of the retreat, I’d finished many more items than indicated in the photo.)

When I completed a task, I made an “X” in the box to the left of the task and moved on.

Other members of the group also wrote their goals on the easel pad and hung it, and as we worked, we were surrounded by these wall posters of what we wanted to accomplish. (It was gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d listed projects that should have been done months — if not years — ago.)

It was interesting to see the different styles by which we all worked. My list had no priority order, and I chose the easiest/quickest items to complete first and cross of my list. For me, it was motivating to see items checked off, and I built momentum as we went along.

Another member prioritized his list, then started from the top, working on each item in 30 minute intervals. Once 30 minutes passed, he added a tick mark to the item and moved on to the next: his method for avoiding writer’s block or getting discouraged by the length of time one item might take.

Another member just started from the top of her list and worked her way down.

When we rented the cabin earlier this year, we’d planned to work on card tables in our own rooms, but the “great room” of the cabin was so spacious (and contained a fire place!) that we decided to work together at the large dining table.

I wasn’t certain how that was going to work at first, and it felt a little bit like being stuck in “study hall” in high school, but it worked splendidly. We were quiet and industrious, with the occasional question tossed out to the group. I liked it better — and got more work done — than our previous retreat (though I enjoyed that retreat very much, too).

During the previous retreat, we lived and worked in separate rooms, dormitory style, and only saw each other for meals (at which time we weren’t allowed speak to each other).

I found this retreat much more enjoyable, even if we tended to spend too much time (IMO) socializing at meals. As a group, we’ve already decided to rent again at this location next year.

I find the benefits of “communal” retreating to be:

  • Having the camaraderie of like-minded, motivated people who are on hand immediately to bounce an idea off of or ask for a quick critique
     
  • The “immediate” presence of other writers encouraged me to write, even when I didn’t feel like it.
     
  • By the same token, the presence of other writers discouraged web surfing, excessive solitaire playing and general cat waxing. (In fact, I didn’t goof off AT ALL…and didn’t feel deprived, either.)
     

Another thing I learned: Don’t take too much stuff.

All of us over packed, including on food. “Starving Writer” would certainly have been a misnomer for us.

Beyond food, we brought a printer, extra cartridges and reams of paper which we never touched, as well as office supplies, some writing prompt books, and other things we never used. I brought two novels to read. Although I read voraciously at home, I found when I tumbled into bed after writing all day I was too tired to read more than a page or two. I’ll leave those at home next time.

We did coordinate supplies: a “you bring this and I’ll bring that” kind of coordinating, but I think we’ll do more of that next time.

On the last day, I packed up my goals poster and brought it home. It’s now hanging on the wall over my desk. There’s nothing like staring at a list of “unfinished projects” to keep you moving. When I’m done with it, I’ll likely grab a new easel sheet and start another. And although I’ve got a ton more things to do than what’s on the list, I like the “finite” feel of the limited size of the wall poster.

Along with the poster, I’ve got an electronic “to do” list of things I need to accomplish now that I’ve returned. Many items on that list take the form of: “Send suchandsuch project to suchandsuch venue.” I’ve done a few of those tasks already, but I’ve more to do: all related to manuscripts completed on retreat (which might not have gotten done if I hadn’t gone away).

All in all: A huge success. It was a blast, and I’m ready to go again.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Check Your Morgue or Trunked Files

Virginia Pilot Ledger Newspaper MorgueMy background is journalism, so naturally I have my own morgue.

The “morgue” in newspaper parlance are the file cabinets holding all the research materials, notes and photos that went into producing a news story. All the pieces are usually filed together in a single folder by year or story. Sometimes the photos have their own morgue. Depends on the newspaper.

Pretty inefficient, really. While a lot of those records are filed electronically now, most of it still goes down the same way because who has the time to turn scribbled notes and library research into electronic documents when you’ve got to write the next news story?

And really, that stuff almost never gets looked at again unless it’s a really big story that has repercussions years later and needs to be referenced again. Or, the newspaper runs one of those “Five years ago, Ten years ago, etc. columns.

Writers tend to have ideas folders (stuff where they put ideas they’ve had, but aren’t ready to be written yet, snippets of overhead conversations, inspiring photos, etc.) and “trunked” files: a place for those stories that were written, but never got sold for whatever reason.

I have another file I keep, my “Culled from ‘XX Manuscript'” file: this is the place where I copy and paste the stuff edited out of my manuscripts. It contains idle scenes, verbose paragraphs, misplaced character thoughts in long and short phrases.

It’s a file that makes me feel better when I’m editing: I can take all that “hard work” which should never see the light of day, and keep a record of having written it. I tell myself I’ll go back there one day and make use of it.

I’ve never, ever done so (unlike my morgue or ideas folders…)

But this past week while I was doing some major edits, I realized that that file contains a lot of good stuff even if it wasn’t polished enough — or well thought out enough — to use in the current manuscript.

It’s plenty good for inspiring ideas when you need a kick.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Raid your ideas folder or junked stories for a snippet, phrase, paragraph, description, etc. to get your juices flowing: we’re not looking for an old idea to use here, we’re reading until you find a phrase that sparks a new idea. Find it and write.
     
  • Kill two birds with one stone: edit something that needs to be polished. Take all those words and phrases you cut away and save them into another file. Likely, they won’t be ‘sparkers’ this early: they’re too fresh in your mind. Set them aside for a few weeks and then revisit. In the meantime: you’ve polished up some writing. Send it out!
     
  • If you don’t have ideas folders, trunked files, or writing that needs some editing (Welcome, beginner!) pick a book off your shelf — something you haven’t read in a long time, or something you’ve never read — and open it to a random page. Read until an idea is sparked.
     
  • If none of these ideas appeal, here area a few very short phrases from my latest edits. Feel free to use them for your own stories:
     
    • “I’m damn tired of not getting my money’s worth.”
       
    • So, what did he want me to do about this?
       
    • It didn’t matter why the old man told him the story: he didn’t want to hear it.
       
    • …stiff and away from the window…
       
    • Chasing women was something he’d never had to do
       
    • Convinced he could do no more for the creature than make her comfortable, he…
       
    • The priestesses had long controlled the northern parts of the continent because of…
       

Good luck!

 
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Photo Credit: A story about the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch newspaper morgue.

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

2012 Writing Goals

Goal!I still need to post the results of my 2011 Goals, but that’s going to take some effort to get together. Things sort of fell apart toward the end of the year, and while I kept paper-based records, I didn’t enter anything into my spreadsheets.

I’ll get those together soon.

Even without punching the numbers, I realize I haven’t met many of last year’s goals. I might have been able to do so, but I didn’t anticipate the writing funk I fell into after losing a manuscript, as well as the time-sink The Great Roof Debacle turned out to be.

But instead of scaling back most of the number-based goals, I’m going to re-target them toward fiction. That aligns nicely with my overall plan.

Here are the goals:

1 – Write 250 days in 2012

Last year I tried to write 302 days out of the year, and I found it nearly impossible to reach. Working full time with a long commute just doesn’t allow for it. But I’m hoping that by cutting other “writerly” commitments (like no longer serving as the Secretary for my county’s writer’s association) – I’ll be able to manage a few more days.

2 – Double last year’s fiction output.

3 – Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress.

4 – Write stories for three separate anthologies I’ve been invited to write for – before March 30.

5 – Write an average of 3 blog posts per week (at least 156) for 2012.

6 – Fifty-two (52) of the 156 must be Writing Prompts.

7 – Clean out my office, and clean off my virtual desktop.

Those of you who have seen my computer’s desktop know what a jungle of files it is. I want to organize all that. Likewise, I want to re-organize my office. Things are still in boxes due to the roof issues, and living out of boxes is really annoying.

I think that’s going to take a whole separate “project plan” to accomplish, but it will be worth it.

How about you? Posted your goals yet?

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

What do You Think of This Bookcase?

Expedit Bookcase from IkeaI’m thinking about buying this ‘Expedit’ bookcase from Ikea.

(Since I had to take everything out of my office and do it over, I thought I’d treat myself to some new bookshelves.)

It won’t quite fit in my space, so I’ll probably wind up buying three of the single stacks which are five cubes high, and create a 3 x 5 cubed shelf by smooshing them together.

I have a short bookcase on another wall that I might replace with a taller bookcase from Ikea in the same line.

I like the cubes because I can use some of the space for things other than books, like photos or art.

On the box-opening front, I’ve opened about 20 boxes and put the items back in the closets they came out of. I’ve weeded out nearly four boxes of items to get rid of. (That’s 20% of my junk, for you statistics-minded people.)

I’m happy with 20% at this stage of the game. I knew it would be difficult to toss out a lot of the items in the closet because the bookcase in there contains mostly genealogical materials: binders full of census data, photos, city directories, cemetery and military information. There’s not much “junk” that could have been tossed.

Unfortunately, a few of the boxes for the closet area were my own…full of old family photos and letters which haven’t gotten into binders. I’m putting going through those boxes on my “to do” list for next year.

(Next year’s to-do list is starting to look REALLY ambitious.)

The big disappointment today is that when I was filing some of those boxed papers back into the file cabinet, I realized that the movers dented up my file cabinet. It’s really bad, too. I can’t open the third drawer…. I hope they’ll replace it.

So…what do you think of the shelves? Yea or nay?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Reclaiming My Office!

The Fire and Flood Company brought my furniture back today!

I’ve found the boxes with the laptop docking station, keyboard and large-screen monitor, as well as a few other desk items: speakers, telephone, electric pencil sharpener.

::: EXCITED!! :::

I can’t wait to get back to working in my space. Working at the kitchen table since September has been a real bummer. Distracting, too. I’m hoping that getting back to my own space will be freeing, creatively.

This is what the front half of my office looks like right now:

Boxes in the Front of the Office

The thing I’m amazed at: the last box I looked at was numbered “70.”

Really?

And I packed 12 additional boxes from my doll cabinet. (I wouldn’t let them take those away for fear of something getting damaged or lost.)

So that means I’ve got at least 82 boxes of junk in just two rooms of my house.

I’m hoping that a great many of these boxes are books…because if they’re not, I’ve got a ton of stuff that has no place being here.

I’ve already told the Husband of Awesome™ that I anticipate that at least a third (I hope more) of what’s in these boxes is not going back on the shelves.

I believe this means parting with a great many books, and possibly some (published) manuscripts that have been lying around. I’ve been advised to scan them and toss the originals.

Closets and Boxes in the back half of the room.Here’s a picture of my double closets. Note the filing cabinet in one. I have a bookshelf in the other closet. I love the option of putting furniture in closets. It makes the space so much more useable.

Notice the non-brown boxes, devoid of pink labels? Those are my own. They’re numbered, too, but not in any scheme I can figure out. And, now that I’m looking, they don’t appear to be counted in the 70 (82).

Now, there’s a mystery I’m going to have to solve. The Secret Math Junkie™ inside of me is starting to wonder: How many total boxes? How many brown ones? How many are the 3 cubic feet version? How many are the smaller? How many contain books? How many contain paper? Etc.

It might take me a few weeks to get through it all, but in the end, you’ll have your report. 🙂

In the meantime, I find myself already with a plethora of packing supplies on hand. Anyone need any bubble wrap?

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

On a Mission to Edit Out the Paper…

Wrecked OfficeRemember this, way back in the beginning of September?

My office (and the rest of the damaged house) is starting to look liveable again.

Fresh paint has been applied, and (even though insurance didn’t cover it*) we opted to put in new carpet. I am just too paranoid about mold.

The carpet folks laid most of the carpet yesterday–a charcoal grey, smooth piled loveliness–and will be back this morning to finish up. I can’t wait!

But our furniture and things — which were boxed up and taken away by the Fire and Flood Company, won’t be back until early next week. That’s when the fun begins:

I’m on a mission to “edit out” a third to a half of the items that were in my office originally. It’s true that the company carefully wrapped and boxed my stuff, making it appear more bulky. But the sheer number of boxes they removed from my office astounded me.

And while many of them came from the double closets (yeah, that’s one thing I really like about my office space) and didn’t clutter up the room, even with the doors closed behind me as I wrote, I often felt the stuff “mentally” clutter my mind.

It’s hard to write in that environment!

Things I need to clear out:

  • some abandoned crafty items I’ll probably never get back to
     
  • tear sheets (and in some instances) entire copies of newspapers with my stories printed in them
     
  • empty binders I’ve been hoarding to put all my genealogy paperwork in
     
  • boxes of photos from high school, containing pics of (some) people whose names I can’t remember
     
  • probably some other stuff I’ll be surprised to find when I open up the boxes!

The big issue for me, since I’m:

  1. a writer
     
  2. a genealogy buff, and,
     
  3. a former journalist with hundreds (a thousand or more?) clips

… I’ve got a terrible paper problem, especially since I so often want to keep things for “posterity.”

But the paper is starting to weigh me down.

At a minimum, I’m toying with scanning all the old manuscripts and tossing the paper. Ditto on the newspaper clips.

But what I really need is a paper-flow system to get things under control. Most days, I’ve got more paper funneling in than out, and it’s taking a toll: hence the three boxes of collected papers I need to weed through before I even get to the closet items.

How do you handle the influx of paper? What do you do with critiqued papers and clips and tear sheets that may or may not be looked at again? Where do you draw the line on what to keep?
 
 

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* The insurance company was AWESOME, but they didn’t pay for new carpet. Understandable, really, since it was able to be dried. But they’ve done more for us regarding everything else. I have no complaints, and have actually been impressed with their service.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Starting Over and Getting Organized: Time to Focus

There’s been a lot of upheaval in my writing life lately, some of it spilling over from my personal and work life.

There’s the lost manuscript.

The mismanaged roofing job which resulted in water damage in the house.

The fact that because of said water damage I’ve been working out of my kitchen. (These high stools are killer on your back muscles when you’ve been sitting for a while…)

More stress at the day job than I can adequately describe in one sentence. (Trust me, it’s the stuff of a novel-length tell-all…)

There’s been some good stuff, too — I just had a wedding anniversary — but if the state of the kitchen table is any indicator of what’s going on: things are out of control.

It’s time to reign in and re-boot.

It also means focus.

I’ve been concentrating on the new stuff while I’ve got a pile of perfectly good finished stuff just sitting around. I’ve had some rejections come in (fact of life, folks, if you plan to be a writer) and I haven’t sent them back out to new markets yet.

They need to be sent off to new homes in hope of fosterage!

I haven’t decided if this current morass means I need to re-examine the goals I made in January. I need to dig out of the muck and see what’s left before I determine that.

So last night I updated my calendar from all the multiple input sources and printed it out through December 2012. (Just for fun, I stopped printing at December 21 and marked the end of the world. Remember: life is WORTHLESS without humor.) Then, I updated all my tickler files and writing deadlines.

Tomorrow… I have a class, so I’ll have to wait until Thursday to go through the finished projects and make plans for their distribution.

Then: I’m going to attack the unfinished writing projects like paying off debt: the projects which are closest to completion get written down first, thereby knocking out as many as possible, in as little time as possible.

And, damn the muse! I’m not starting anything new until all these are off my plate. (She’ll get me for that, I’m certain.)

How do you approach a re-organization?

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Are You More Productive During the Day or During the Evening?

Lighted Pen to Write at NightI got to thinking of writing productivity cycles when I got to work this morning.

I left the house at 5:30 a.m. in total darkness.

An hour later, I arrived at work: Pink skies lighting up the day, the sun finally cresting the horizon. Fairly soon, it will be dark when I leave and still dark when I arrive.

Inside, I did a little happy dance: fall means more writing for me. More time at the computer, more time with my butt in the chair, more time with my hands poised above the keyboard…because there are more hours of darkness than light.

(I caught myself thinking this morning: It shouldn’t be so dark in the morning, yet! Doesn’t this normally occur in October or November? I’m a firm believer that a.m. darkness should be accompanied by cool weather, a windy chill, and maybe some dry leaves tumbling by.)

Fall is my favorite season, but I’m never quite prepared for it.

Nonetheless, I’m tickled: not only do I love all those wonderful Fall things to embrace (orange and yellow mums, cool sweater days, crisp evenings on the deck, Halloween!), but I can look forward to putting more words on paper.

It’s not that summer has me playing hooky (though it’s true: I blew off more than a day or two of writing this summer to do something else.)

It’s that I find myself more productive — itchy to write, even — once the sun goes down. And with fall bringing shorter days and longer nights…well, it’s a no-brainer: I’m going to be racking up the word count. (And along with it, more completed projects, I hope.)

I enjoy writing at night. There’s something about the enveloping darkness that allows me to concentrate better.
What about you? Fall: love it or hate it? Do the changing seasons affect your writing? Are you a daytime or nightime writer?

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Half the Year’s Over – How Are Those Resolutions?

I have an ambitious list of resolutions for 2011, if you recall.

So how am I doing? As usual, I’m happy with my progress on some goals and not so happy with my progress on others.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about epublishing and the state of ‘the writing business’ in general, and some of the goals I had in January don’t line up with where my current thinking is. I’m beginning to steer myself toward longer works, rather than shorter, and doggedly pursuing some of these items will take me further away from where I currently want to be.

With that in mind, I’ll probably strike a few of these goals off the list.

Here’s the nitty gritty:

  • Write 302 out of 365 days in 2011.
      Fail! Even if I write every single day for the rest of the year, I won’t hit this mark. Something tells me I should have aimed a little lower with this one. I haven’t updated my spreadsheet for the last week or so, so my numbers are a bit off. However, it looks like I might make about 80% if I write nearly every day for the rest of the year.
       
  • Triple last year’s fiction output.
    • On target. Even with not hitting the daily writing mark I’ve set, I’ve managed to double last year’s fiction goal. This irritates me a bit because if I were writing nearly every day like I want to, I’d really see the numbers climbing.
       
  • Finish the two short stories that have plagued me since the beginning of 2010….or trunk them.
      Fail! Or maybe, Complete!! I wrote this goal poorly. Can you tell? I haven’t even looked at these two stories, so I will probably trunk them. That means Complete! Right? (This is the first goal I’m going to discard.)
       
  • Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress novel.
    • On Target. I’ve written 25,000 additional words since January.
       
  • Write and submit 6 non-fiction articles.
    • Fail! I’ve written 0 articles this year, although three I wrote last year were finally published. (I could probably still meet this goal, but it doesn’t line up with my “longer works” goals. So, I’ll probably abandon this goal, too, before the year is out.)
       
  • Write at least three blog posts per week for a total of 156 blog posts for 2011.
    • On target.
       
  • Fifty-two of the above mentioned blog posts must be writing prompts.
      On Target: I’ve created a Writing Prompt every Friday since the beginning of the year.
       
  • Make 30 fiction submissions this year, only 1/3 (or less!) of which can be flash or micro-fiction.
      Fail! (But not by much.) I’ve only submitted 10 stories this year. I can probably make this up by the end of the year, provided I have some additional short fiction finished…and, well, we know where my goals lie, so I’m not sure I can do this.
       
  • Finish reading Sol Stein’s ‘How to Grow a Novel.’
    • COMPLETE!! Finally! Excellent book, though a tad dated for today’s market. Expect a full review sometime “soon.”
       
  • Send 25 query letters to agents.
    • I’m not hopeful about this. Early on I decided that the anticipated novel I was going to shop needed one more ‘read through’ and I found a section I want to completely re-write, so I haven’t moved on this. It’s late in the novel, so there’s an opportunity for me to send out the queries and fix the section before some agent (or editor) asks for a full, but I really want it “all done” before I send anything out.

So…that’s it for me. How about you? If you’re over-exceeding your goals, will you be raising them? Are you abandoning any ill-made resolutions, like I am? Inquiring minds want to know!