Staying Positive and Persevering: Goal-setting for a New Year (Part 2)

Last week we looked over last year’s goals, and there was plenty of rehashing the past and reflection. Hopefully, you remembered to stay positive and focus on what you HAVE achieved rather than what might still need a bit more time or effort. But, enough of all that. It’s a new year, a blank slate, and today, we’re setting new writing career goals which you WILL achieve.

So, goal setting for the new year. Yes, some of those unaccomplished goals may still be fresh in your mind, and if they’re still important enough to you, then they belong on this new list. But, let’s consider them a bit more closely. Say something like “get published this year.” That’s a big goal, especially dependent on where you are in your career (have you completed a manuscript? Do you have an agent? Have you been querying? Etc).  For something like “getting published” there are also factors you can’t control (trends, the subjectivity of the publishing world, the economy or cutting back in new books and authors, etc). So, break the large goal down into smaller chunks you CAN control. I love sub-lists, so perhaps have something like:

Goal #1: Finally get published this year.

A)  Send out 3 new queries to potential agents a month this year.

a.   Research and continue to update a list of at least 25 agents so new submissions can continue to go out with each rejection.

B)  Research potential publishers and editors.

C)  Send out at least 4 queries or pitches to publishing houses which best suit my manuscript.

D) Attend at least one conference and pitch my writing to agents and editors.

E)   ….

Get the idea? That means next year, even if you can’t check off the big goal “get published” you might be able to check off lots of what you’ve done which has brought you closer to what you want to achieve. Putting items on the list which are relatively easy to achieve isn’t cheating: they are necessary steps. But, they’re often what you do but don’t consider “worthy” enough to write down or list. Why not? They’ll help you achieve larger goals, plus it will make you feel better when looking back next year and remind you of what you have done. Think small, break things down into steps or stages, manageable chunks. The above fictional goal setting is relatively random, but could you use and customize it for your needs? This method of goal setting not only provides you with more easily achievable mini-goals to check off as accomplishments later, but it’s also a kind of plan which can lead you towards accomplishing the bigger goals. How do you complete a manuscript? One word at a time. Remember, a 100K manuscript is 100 days of 100 words, shorter still if you demand higher word counts per day.

Next, consider what you were able to do in the year previous, and don’t be afraid to push yourself. Last year did you have a daily word count you had to achieve? What about upping it by 1000 words or whatever seems reasonable to you? How many manuscripts did you complete? Could you complete at least one more in the same time period? How do you measure productivity or achievements? How can this kind of measurement be incorporated into your goal-setting? You might not be able to control the economy, an editor having a bad day the day your query comes across their desk, whatever: but you can control what and how much you’re writing, and how much and how you’re trying to get your work out into the marketplace. Even better, now you not only have goals, but the smaller goals necessary to achieve the bigger one also give you the start of a plan of action: you’re on your way to success.

Finally, after you’ve reflected on last year’s goals and set some new ones, there’s just one step left: start off the year with a positive attitude. Keep in mind what you have accomplished, how far you’ve come, how you’ve changed and what new adventures and opportunities await in the new year. Sure, there are things you didn’t achieve, but it’s a new year, a clean slate, and this year will be THE year. This year will be YOUR year.

Okay, so to make this all the easier for you, I’ve broken things down into three easy-to-remember steps.

Step 1 – Reflect what you accomplished the past year. What did you achieve? What can you be proud of? For the things you haven’t achieved quite yet, are these goals still important to you? Have you taken positive steps towards achieving larger goals? (See the earlier blog post for further detail).

Step 2 – Set goals for the new year. Be specific with your goals, and break large goals down into achievable elements you can control.

Step 3 – Leave last year behind, good or bad, since it’s done with now. This is a new year, a new start, which could be completely different. Start the new year off with a positive, hopeful attitude and the thirst for success. You’ll find it.

Was this helpful to you? I wish you all the best in the new year – and achieving success with your goals. Please, share how this helped, how you set goals, or even your goals themselves below in the comments section. Happy 2011!

Staying Positive and Persevering: Goal-setting for a New Year (Part 1)

Another year has come and gone, which happens faster and faster all the time it seems. As you reflect back on 2010, on what you’ve accomplished and what goals you want to set for 2011, it can be easy to get mired in what you haven’t done / seen / accomplished rather than on what you have.

I’m here to help avoid all that nonsense in a two-part blog on reflecting back on the past year, and getting ready for the new one.

All right. First off, where are those resolutions you set way back last January? Did you write them down? Here’s a basic in any kind of goal-setting: write your goals down. Sure, some folks suggest you need to share your goals with others, be open about it, perhaps post publically, etc, etc. I don’t go that far. I just figure it helps if you write them down (more reliable than your memory too – and far less selective).  That way, you have something you can actually look back on. So, look back at those old resolutions / goals. Gleefully check off any you have achieved – yay for you! Here’s the dangerous part: it can be really easy to see lots you haven’t achieved just yet. There are some which quite possibly still can’t be checked off, even if they’ve been there more than one year. Let those pass for the moment, and try not to let it eat you up – we’ll get back to them, I promise.

Okay, so you’ve checked off all that you’ve achieved, had a bit of a celebration if you’ve checked off plenty. Congrats! Now it’s time to test your memory – and your positive attitude. Now you need to consider: what have I accomplished this year which isn’t on the list? For example, did you set the goal to complete one entirely new manuscript this year, but you actually wrote two? Just because they weren’t on the original list doesn’t mean they’re not important. Look over those additional accomplishments and add them onto your list, giving yourself a few more “checkmarks” for achievement (and a bit more celebration – yay!).

I know. Staying positive at this point can be hard (just like thinking of what you’ve achieved when you can only see what you haven’t). There are still those special goals which remain unattained. Take heart. Have you made steps towards them? Was it possibly too big of a goal for just this year, or dependent on many more factors than you can control yourself? If this is still an important goal for you, can you think of what possibly held you back? And in just the same objective light, what has brought you forward from where you were last year? What steps towards achieving the larger goal have you achieved? How many new words have you written this year? Have you made contacts which will help you next year? Have you learned new marketing or writing strategies which could help you market your writing and your author brand? What do you know and have you done that brings you closer to your end or larger goals than you were last year?

Finally, pull back and consider the year and your goals objectively – as though you were someone else, either stranger or friend. Did you achieve every goal? Maybe not. But were there some great achievements? Have you made progress towards long-term goals? If it’s not good enough, why? Who says? How could things have been different? It’s very easy to say “I should have done this, this, and this” but at the time, were there other more pressing concerns? Are there legitimate reasons for why goals weren’t achieved? How will things be different next year? What different steps can you take? What goals could you set and achieve?

Enough reflection on the past year. It’s over, it’s done. Accept “it is as it is” without rancor or guilt, be proud of what you have accomplished, and move on. It’s a new year already – a new year full of possibility. Next week: setting goals for next year.

Should You Follow or Try to Set the Trend?: Following a trend in writing

Zombies are supposed to be an up-and-coming trend. Add dinosaurs to the mix (as my husband assures me would be a fantastic idea) and you have two of my most despised entities together.

At writers’ conferences, in related news articles, the publishing industry, like other industries, is always trying to keep up with and predict the next trend in the hopes of making the most money by having the product consumers want when it’s hot. Writers, likewise wanting in on the deal, sometimes pay a great deal of attention to talk of trends, sometimes jumping on board with whatever they believe best suits the trend. Think of the craze for magical-related books following the start of the Harry Potter phenomenon, or the current popularity of paranormals, especially when they involve vampires.

So, should you chase the trend too? Is that where success awaits?

In a discussion with one of my favorite authors, Kelley Armstrong, her suggestion was: how could you? Say you identify the trend now. It may be a year before you’ve completed the book. Then it’s at least another year before you sell the book, possibly two depending on publishing schedules before it would ever show up on store shelves. Is the same trend still hot? Or has something new taken over?

The very idea of trends hints at their impermanence. Just because bellbottoms were hot in the seventies doesn’t mean everyone’s still wearing them now.

The other question is: why did you choose to chase the trend? Was it because you thought you too could cash in on the popularity of, say, rockstar ghosts? If so, your chances have just become that much slimmer. What do you know about rockstar ghosts? Are they truly a passion, or do you just want to make a quick buck? Don’t forget the importance of readers, who can usually tell the difference between a well-written, passionate book and one shoved out for money and little more. Potentially you could cheapen your entire writer brand as a trend-chaser rather than a serious, passionate writer.

The example I always think about is when I heard about the zombies showing up as “hot trendsetters” even in romance. Way too many loose or rotting body parts, I figure, even if the trend isn’t that the hero or heroine actually be zombies (I think they’re supposed to be zombie hunters or victims trying to survive or something – otherwise, sex scenes are definitely a no-go!). As I said up front, I despise zombies: zombie movies, zombie plotlines, whatever. They’re really not my thing. So even if someone approached me with a fantastic sure-sell zombie romance, should I write it? Probably not. Because that’s not where my passion lies, it’s not the story I want to tell, nor therefore could best tell. If I was writing it only for the money, it’s not really my story, but just a bunch of empty dollar-signs, isn’t it?

Of course, this is not to say never write with or for trends. What if what you write – inspired by a current trend or not – is somehow suddenly trendy? That’s not a bad thing- that may be the universe cosmically turning in your favor (or we’ll say as such, and you can feel better, okay?). If one of the trends inspires something in you, if a story comes to you and happens to be trendy or in danger of becoming trendy, so long as you write it as your story, with passion and dedication, and the desire to make it the best YOUR story you can, write away! Your honest appreciation for the topic, or unique edge, or whatever it is that makes you a unique and quality writer will be evident to editors and perhaps more importantly readers, and the topic – trendy or not – becomes a secondary factor.

Bottom line: write what you love, what you’re passionate about. If it happens to be trendy right now, or maybe you were inspired by the trend, fine; what’s relevant is only that you’re truly passionate about it, that you’re telling YOUR story(s) whatever that may be.

Disagree with me? Should I be writing about those zombies now? Have you successfully chased a trend? Please, comment below.

Getting Over Productivity Guilt: Why Sometimes Not Writing Is A Good Thing

I haven’t been writing in as dedicated a fashion as I planned, and likewise feeling guilty for not writing as much as I should. As we enter the busy Christmas season, I know I’m not alone. Are you feeling guilty about not writing, or not producing as much as you feel you should be? At this time of year – and indeed, perhaps at all times of the year – there may be reason to feel better.

All right, first, let’s get something clear: if you’re a writer, you write. You need to write. (Just like a painter paints, etc.) That’s the situation, and knowing this, obviously you feel guilty when you’re not doing whatever it is that defines you, or is such a big part of your life. However, here’s the catch: creative work doesn’t necessarily work in the same way other kinds of work do. Sometimes, perhaps creativity needs room to breathe, stumble around, or whatever it is that it does which later allows you, the creator, to get more creative work done.

Confused?

Put simply, sometimes taking a break isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, a break or thinking time could give your creative self both time to recover and reflect, and then make a plan on how to next act or express itself. Some may consider this a kind of “soothing or caring for the muse,” and while I’m not sure I believe in a muse entity or not, a creative self does need some care.

If you’re producing around the clock, working very hard all the time, where do you get your inspiration? Is it possible that the well of creativity, of ideas can dry up or empty out? Every so often, you need to refill this well of creativity. What inspires you? Art? Pop culture? Being out amongst people? Whatever it is, indulge, and indulge deeply, allowing new ideas to swell up, for the well of creativity to fill brimming to the top.

Working hard all the time can also be very tiring, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Muse or not, what have you been doing to take care of yourself and those needs? Have you been getting enough sleep, or physically taking care of yourself (exercise, posture, etc)? When some parts of creativity wear you out emotionally, how do you deal with it? Do you keep a journal? Take a long bath? Talk it out with someone else? What keeps you mentally balanced and where you need to be? Perhaps this means a better balance between work and play – has play gotten cut out of your schedule entirely?

Perhaps you haven’t been adding to your word count, but have you been thinking about writing? Has a character been talking in your head? Have you been seeking out settings for the next scene, or mulling a new plotline? Sometimes this kind of work is much more difficult to classify or characterize as writing and producing, but it doesn’t mean you’ve been doing nothing. Sometimes tossing an idea around in your head until it’s ready to be born on paper or the computer screen is part of your process, or necessary for the particular plot / idea / character / whatever. Rather than simply chastise yourself for not writing, consider: have I been making progress on this next book during this break? Am I working it out in my head a bit more before I can get it down in definite words? Is it possibly just not ready for a physical form yet?

Then there’s the question: if you haven’t been writing, what have you been doing? Often creative people have different outlets for their creativity. Have you been creating in other ways? Painting, sculpting, designing, etc? Does one type of creativity possibly inspire the other, or does one supersede the other? I personally find writing to be my top creative choice, as it fulfills me most completely, but other outlets (crochet, sculpting, painting, sewing, etc.) are also things I sometimes feel the need to do, perhaps because it’s a change from the usual, and because working in different ways (sometimes expressing myself in a more physical way) is helpful.

Finally: give up the guilt. Feeling guilty about not writing, or not writing enough, or whatever it is you’re feeling guilty about can often become yet another barrier which prevents you from being as creative and productive as you can be. After all, if your head and thoughts are half-filled up with guilt, it means there’s only half the capacity left over for whatever you want to create or really think about. Cut yourself a bit of slack. Should you be writing? Yes. But a break every now and then isn’t the end of the world – provided there is a definite end-point for said break. For me, I know I’ll be back to working hard come the new year, but honestly doubt I’ll get too much done between now and the end of the holiday season that isn’t holiday related. I’m not thrilled about it, but at least I feel less guilty about it, which makes the possibility of sneaking in some writing days a lot easier. I know I’m a writer, and I have to write. But I also adore Christmas holidays, making all the gifts for family and friends, and generally enjoying the season. What’s so wrong with that?

What about you: can you take a break from writing and not feel guilty? How do you get yourself back to work when the break is over? How do you know when the break is over? Please, I welcome comments below.