Cages

A pig face looking frankly at you and telling you that you don’t belong in a cage!

How often have you experienced the kind of overwhelm that comes from feeling that there are so many things you “should” be doing, and that list is so long, you end up paralyzed and end up doing nothing?

I recently finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. She talks about how the cages that society creates for us leave us trapped and stifled, often trying to live definitions of ourselves that come from outside of ourselves. (This is definitely paraphrasing. Go read the book yourself to see what I’m trying to get at. )

Anyway, today after reading something from a friend who’s definitely feeling that overwhelm, it made me think: how many of those cages, especially as writers, are we creating for ourselves?

I mean, yes, there are definitely things that we have to do as writers – write books or write something for other people to read being, likely, the number one thing. But other than that, it feels like so many of the definitions of things we “must” and “should” do is a proscribed list that if we actually obeyed it, we’d have no time whatsoever for a life outside of work… and probably no time to write either.

I do wonder if this is perhaps worse among female author-preneurs, or if it’s prevalent everywhere, but if you’re a writer looking to publish and sell your books, you’ve probably heard of some of the things I mean.

  • You have to be on every social media account that has and will ever be (come on, aren’t you signed up yet for the one that won’t exist until 2023??)
  • You should be active on all of those social media accounts too (but be fresh! Just be you! Keep it real… as you force yourself to follow all of this advice.)
  • You must be constantly building relationships with every person out there (forget actual relationships … or, like, family. Nope. No time for that if you’re doing what you “should” be doing.)
  • Make sure you’re making ads for all of those social media accounts, sell, sell, sell, … but gentle sell, not spam sell.
  • Plus make sure you’ve got ads running on all the platforms (because if you’re making less than $2k a month, you’re a failure!)
  • Have you spent thousands of dollars on classes that promise you THIS is the right answer to make you a millionaire and selling millions of a books a day? (Come on, you didn’t think you actually had time to do things, like, write, did you? And wave to your family through your office doors… if you still have one.)

On and on it goes, and you know what? I’m going to stop, because it’s stressing me out.

And it’s driving me nuts. All of it. And I know it’s driving lots of other authors nuts too.

You want to know the real secret?

There is NO secret.

Nope. Sad, isn’t it? Yep, I was looking for it too… along with possibly the drafting or editing fairies that help get books done when things aren’t going well. But, they don’t exist any more than the perfect formula to sell all those books – no matter how much that workshop costs. Game the system? Sure, you can follow those examples, buy up case loads of your own book and “buy” your way onto the lists. You CAN do a lot of things. But what works for Lizzy P. Author may not work the same for you.

You’re not her.

You’re YOU.

And yes, let me pause and insert here that not all advice is bad advice. Do I take workshops, try to keep learning, try to keep improving in both my writing craft and the business side of my career? Absolutely. Is there lots of great advice and information out there? Yep. That too. Are there many things we can do to tweak our marketing / get better at the business / get better at our craft? Yes, indeed, and there are a few specific ones on my list all the time.

My objection comes when all that advice, when all the things you “should do” stretch into the bars of a cage. When you’re so hemmed in by all those “shoulds” that you feel like you can’t breathe, let alone write the next word, the next sentence, or hardest of all, the next book.

I’ve been there. I fall into that cage every so often. Was there yesterday, as a matter a fact, when all my emails seemed to be screaming at me to “just do this to double your sales” or “just keep up this to guarantee search engine results” and so on. These were legit blogs I follow too, because I usually appreciate their advice. It got me so depressed, I did the bare minimum of words, but tried nothing else, too exhausted by all the “shoulds” that I had to focus on the “could.”

That’s what I usually come back to. What could or CAN I do? What do I WANT to do? And what do I really NEED?

Yesterday, I needed to recharge so I don’t get burned out. I needed to remember there is more to my life than writing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes we get terrific advice, but we need to be wise enough to recognize when it isn’t the right advice for us. Perhaps it won’t ever be right, perhaps it just isn’t right because of where we are financially / personally / emotionally / whatever. But it’s up to you to stand up for YOU. To recognize that feeling when your chest tightens, your shoulders tense, and the whole world is demanding more and more, or something is telling you that it just isn’t right for you… just tell that advice “no.” (You’re welcome to use stronger language and swears. Swears are fun. 🙂 I’m just trying to be polite.) 😉

Sometimes maybe you’ll need to sit with that feeling for a little while, think about where that resistance to the advice or next “should” is coming from. Maybe it’s child-you deep inside that’s stubbornly insisting “No, I don’t wanna!” And sometimes you need to tell child-you inside that it’s okay, we can still do scary things that will just make us stronger. So sometimes you try some of those things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But you pick and choose which of those things you try. Ignore the others. Cut down on the blogs and other input you take in that feeds into that stress and fills your head with Shoulds. Connect with people in your field and outside of it, people who care about you, that can help pull you back from the madness of trying to do all the things all the time. You don’t let the Should-Army flatten you down and stop you from doing what you need to do.

And if you’re a writer, you need to write.

You’ll do that too at your own pace, in your own way. You’ll find ways to reclaim and hold tight to the joy of pure creation that is the work, that is writing, because there are days when it won’t feel that way. But you, you will write.

Because you are a writer. And you are free.

Failure, Shame, and Faith

I’ve been thinking quite a bit failure. And shame. And the confidence to have the faith that your path is the right one for you.

Why do we sometimes feel ashamed of our accomplishments (or perhaps lack thereof) and not want to share them? This makes me sad, for anyone feeling that way, and frankly for myself too, since I have felt (and do feel) that way.

First, I would never, ever want anyone to feel they somehow weren’t measuring up – or indeed, that they had to in the first place. Because that’s often how I feel. And I confess I probably wouldn’t always recap my weeks accomplishments to my writers’ group if I wasn’t the one collecting said recaps. 😉

Second, why do we do that to ourselves? Measure ourselves against one another – even when we KNOW our journey is our own, our path isn’t the same as anyone else’s, etc, etc. And I say the etc, etc, because sometimes that’s how I hear the words too. Yes, I might know-but it doesn’t mean I don’t still compare myself anyway, despite my best intentions and efforts not to.

And finally, what do failure and shame mean, and are they necessarily a bad thing? Sure, I might not have gotten as many words as someone else. Maybe it was a crappy week. Maybe it’s been a crappy month. Maybe it’s a crappy book. But where is the line? Where does a failure become something we learn from and move forward, whereas other things / events shame us, holding us back? Why is it some failures / mistakes are easy to classify as “a learning experience” while others seem more like signs we’re doing the wrong thing / on the wrong path / making yet another mistake?

The short answer is that I don’t know. Although I suspect it has to do with how some so-called “truths” are easier to accept or buy-into because they somehow fit some inner narrative we’ve created, whether it’s a false narrative or not. Therefore, it’s easier for me to be ashamed of the fact that I’ve written a heck of a lot of books (10 at last count, I think) and I’m still un-agented and unpublished. Since I’m a Gemini, I simultaneously get to think of some of those books as the learning experiences (aka failures) they were.

It’s where one draws the line that gets me. Is it just time that helps me shift some experiences and creations into that “learning experience” category whereas others –rightly or wrongly–remain in the “still worth trying or I’m a failure if I give this up” category? I’m not sure. But I’m always trying to move forward and understand. And hopefully understanding failure doesn’t have to mean shame. Nor, I hope, does it have to mean comparison.

I am me. I’m doing the best that I can. Sometimes that’s better, sometimes that’s worse, but I’m still me.

What do you think?

Wishing you a great week of writing, and remembering (and valuing) who and what you are, no matter who or what anyone else is. 🙂

 

Tangible Productivity Markers for a New Year

Do you have a new calendar yet? Have you written out goals and plans on it? Or do you let the days pass as they will?

As we begin a new year, I’ve been thinking more about using time instead of chasing after it all the time. Instead of having a bit of a loosey-goosey idea of when I want to achieve things, I think I’m going to try for more tangible dates and times. Why would this work for me? Because I work well with a deadline.

I’ve heard of others who write everything down on a calendar. I’m far from that place now. My desk calendar is usually too small to write anything more than a few letters beside each date. But, I do like my log book, where I write down how many words I’ve achieved each day, what I’ve accomplished.

Taking it one step further would be placing a date more firmly on those objectives. This year, I want to write at least two complete novels. That means it takes me usually about two months for the first draft, and pushing hard, I can do the next draft(s) in four months using my new plan. If I switch back and forth between two novels, giving each time to rest, that means I should be able to achieve my goal, right?

That’s the first part. So I can write that down in my goals, on a calendar. I think the second part is perhaps assessment at various points throughout the year. It’s June, the halfway point: what have you achieved thus far? Word count? Novels? Plans? Goals checked off? Where do you still need to go?

The next part that I’ve been considering is watching the calendar not only for what I need to achieve, but for what I have all ready achieved. Essentially, how can I reward myself? Pat myself on the back – even if I haven’t completed as much as I need to? Because here’s the thing: especially while you work for yourself, who else is going to tell you you’re doing a good job? I think the next part of the plan would be to insert rewards for some of the achievements. Have I met my goals by June? I can specify which goals or what number, and that means I’ve earned a reward, like buying myself a new outfit, or dinner out, something like that (seeing as fun isn’t actually against the law … so far as I know).

Yes, fine, it may sound a bit Pavlovian, but those dogs still hoped for the treat when the bell rang, didn’t they? Why shouldn’t I work just as hard and hope for a treat myself? If it helps me reach my goals, I’m all for it. What about you?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, and happy writing!

Time to Reflect on the Past Year: Or, Where the heck did 2012 go?!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I swear, someone stole at least a month out from under me in the past year. It seemed like it was just June, and now suddenly we’re saying farewell to another year. Yikes!

However, not to worry. Because looking back at the year that was is a pretty wonderful thing. Oh, I heard that – the rolling of the eyes, the gnashing of the teeth. Seriously: looking back at the year and what you’ve accomplished IS a great thing, because it will help set you on the path for the coming year.

Okay. So, the first thing you need to do is get all the disappointment and fretting out of your system. Get rid of the “but I didn’t …” and “I was supposed to …” and “I still keep [insert bad habit here]” statements. Trust me, they echo pretty loudly in my head too at this time of the year, but they’re just distracting little devils who don’t want you to see the bigger picture – and that’s what you need to focus on.

If it helps, write them down. Keep it quick, no brooding. All you want to do is get it out of your head, and out of the way.

For me, I still remain unpublished, and un-agented. Time is always at a premium, I’m more out of shape than I care to mention, and I never accomplish as much as I think I should.

Okay. Done. Onto the next step. The important step.

What HAVE you accomplished? Remember at the beginning of the year when you dutifully wrote down all your goals and broke them down into manageable portions that could be easily identified as achieved or not?

Actually, I don’t remember that either. Last year, I didn’t really want to set goals, and only did it kind of accidentally since it appears to be stuck in my system. If you were a good boy or girl, and you have your written goals for 2012, go get them and start checking them off – see all you accomplished?

For the rest of us, I’ll have more on goal-setting for us in the next post. But for now, start writing down what you have accomplished. A few items will probably stand out in your head. Some may start out as negative devils again, so work on turning them around. I’ll offer one of my own examples.

– With the help of my CP and my own research, I discovered at least one massive flaw in my writing and particularly plotting. This led to self-doubt, and lots of teeth gnashing.

Okay, see the negativity? Here’s what I gained out of that negative experience this year.

-Finally found a CP worth their salt (possibly two of them!).

-Discovered and fixed a hole in my writing and plotting, improving overall quality.

-Continued to write despite set-backs, and have put into place new methods for productivity measurement, self-encouragement, and affirmation for the low points.

See? Easy. Now it’s your turn. I’ll wait.

Now how’s it looking? Hopefully, pretty positive. I know you accomplished a lot more than you think you have. And if you haven’t accomplished as much as you wanted, well, look at that! There’s a new year on the horizon, ripe with possibility, and it’s yours, if you have the courage to reach out and grab it.

Thanks for reading, and Happy 2013 to you all. See you in the new year!

Strength Training for Writers (post originally posted March 2010)

Hey there! I’m really sorry, but with a Christmas party to host, and gifts to make for the guests still (yikes! am I ever behind!) I don’t have time to write a new post. But, here’s one of my first posts, and still one I really enjoy. Ironically, I think I was writing the first draft of the book I’m currently fighting to rewrite.  Hope it’s informative and helpful to if you haven’t seen it before. Otherwise, hope you’ll forgive me and I’ll have a new post next week. Take care!

Like lifting weights or exercise and accomplishing particular goals, pushing yourself to write and create more and better all the time can make you a stronger writer.

I write fast. There, I’ve said it, and I don’t consider this a bad thing. Just this month, I completed two first drafts, and although the first was started in February, the other was a complete first draft completed, from world-rule establishment and plotting, complete with 100k. Last week, I wrote 37,000 words in five days.

For some writers, this is unheard of. Especially when it comes to that many words in a week, let alone a month, and that’s fine. As with every other aspect of personality, we all have our own timing, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. This was a big deal for me too, but a challenge I wanted to rise to. My goal used to be 1000 words a day (meaning total of 5k a week). Then, sometimes I’d have a great day, and the high of writing that much, exceeding my goals … just like when you’ve been able to run further or faster, or lift a heavier weight, you want to see what else you can do.

Do you want to write 37k words a week? Here’s how.

First, set goals. I started off with 1000 words a day. Then up to 2000. Then 2000 minimum, but trying to reach for 5000. It’s all about increments, and what you think you can reasonably accomplish in the time you have. I know it takes me, on average, an hour and a half to write those 2000 words. Some days, it’s much slower, others, much faster. But if you limit yourself by thinking you can’t write, create, or accomplish it, you can’t. For me, I had a fantastic day of writing 11,000 words in one day, and decided, wait, what if I did this every day? So, I changed my goal to 5000 words a day minimum, always reaching for 10,000. Now, I’m rarely satisfied if I don’t get 10k done a day.

Second, do not expect to accomplish this instantly, either in one setting, or overnight. Be kind to yourself. If you only write, say, 500 words a week now, 10,000 tomorrow may not be realistic, but next month, why not? I also don’t just sit there and pound on the keyboard that long. It’s not healthy, and I don’t have the patience. What works best for me, for body and mind, is to try and work in sessions. If word count doesn’t work, try timing it. Some days when I hate facing the computer screen, I promise myself I have to sit there only an hour for the first session before I get to run off somewhere else. You take a break, do something else, then come back, and it’s back to work. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not, but either way, by holding yourself to this, you will accomplish getting pages written, and will get closer to your goals.

Third, be accountable to yourself. There is no one sitting over your shoulder with a whip insisting you be productive and how much you need to do to count as “productive”. The very idea, in fact, makes me kind of nervous. (For those of you who find the whip-master behind you is the best thing ever, hey, whatever works for you). You are the only one who can push yourself as hard as you need to go, whatever that is. Keep track of your productivity. Some writers use a calendar, there are programs out there which demand certain word counts before the program will save, there are probably other applications which I’m not technically savvy enough to know about. I use an old fashioned logbook, where I keep track of how much I wrote, and when, for each of the sessions per day, then with a total word count for each day. Some weeks this will mean you can see you didn’t get what you wanted done, but that’s okay, there’s next week. Other weeks, you can do a happy dance when you have something to look back at and do a happy dance to think wow! This was one week. What could be done in two?

Fourth, find a reason why you want to accomplish this, or need to. For me, I almost always get hit by the negativity gremlins about mid-book. Though all had gone well up until then, I’m getting bored (possibly because of a short attention span), I think everything is terrible, I need to go back to square one, etc, etc. First off, as an artist, you have to push past all that (more on that later). For me, my solution was to write so fast, by the time I hit that point, I was too far into the book, there was no way I was turning back. Fixes will come with rewrites. Best of all, it means I get to start on a fresh, new manuscript sooner! Whatever your reasons, having a reason for your goals makes it easier to keep them (even if it’s an experiment, like for me this month).

Finally, have a reward at the end of the tunnel and your journey. If you’re working so hard, you do deserve a reward. Is this getting to read a new book you’ve been waiting for? Going out with friends? A tasty treat? Whatever it is, use short-term rewards, like getting to do something fun or even time-wasting during breaks between sessions, and a long term reward, like maybe shopping therapy or sitting on your butt and doing nothing. The real reward will be, of course, that you have been productive, you have accomplished something great, and better yet, you can go back and do it all over again, accomplish even more.

May you be productive and happy, and may this article have been inspiration and set into action plans. Happy writing!

Word Splurge: Measuring Productivity Tool and Tips

Hey there. Fairly short post today, since I need to get writing. I’m past my hour allotted for the day for the internet.

Part of why I’m excited to get writing is because progress has been good. It’s been a long time since I broke the 10k mark in a week, let alone in one day’s worth of writing, but last week I did just that. And I think I owe part of it to a) remembering part of the method that usually works for me but which for some reason I seem to randomly forget, and b) my nifty new word count tracking sheet.

This is something I learned about at the latest conference, and with the hubby’s help, created my own. The original purpose is to track how long it takes you to complete a book by tracking your progress consistently. But, as a side benefit, it also helps you see how you’re meeting your daily and weekly goals, and your progress along the book. I’m not sure why, but seeing that you’ve only completed 35% of the day’s goals rather than just knowing that you haven’t met the daily goal does seem to make a difference.

I’ve included a little picture of it; not sure how it will turn out. Sorry – for some reason, it wants to appear incredibly blurry and tiny. If you click on it, it opens in a new window and is easier to see.

Okay, so the headings you want are: your dates, your starting word count, the end word count for the date, total word count for the day, and then it breaks this down into percentages complete. At the top, you enter the WIP title, along with your goals: daily and “stretch” goals – the “stretch” is, if you’re having a great day, what can you keep pushing for? Then you have the weekly and total goals (the total goal equaling the completed manuscript size).  If you prefer counting pages rather than words, than just change word count to beginning page count, end word count, etc, etc.

What else did I forget to do that I had been doing in previous manuscripts?

  1. slightly more detailed plotting (I can’t just start writing with no direction; it only creates a mess in the end for me.)
  2. music – listening to some favorite music helps speed through the time, I think, as well as distract my brain from … well, distractions. I know I can’t listen to anything with words, but maybe it isn’t a problem for you.
  3. push harder and demand focus. “Good enough” will only get you so far; you have to keep demanding more of yourself, because who else will?

Anyway, sorry again it’s so blurry. If you’re interested in seeing it closer, the file is here for you to check out: Wordcount

Enjoy, and may your word counts be prodigious!

Impatience and Run-away Days

Do you ever have one of those days when all you want to do is run away?

Flowers in my garden – a good place to run away to.

For my birthday a few weeks back, my husband bought me a brand new laptop. It was unexpected, sweet, and quite lovely – it’s so much faster than the old one. It also came with sample games pre-installed, which were surprisingly addictive. I don’t like computer games. I am generally quite disciplined … except for, it would seem, last week.

Or today. When I’d actually reduced my word count with some light editing as I re-read what I’d written, but then stubbornly continued to bounce up from the seat to do everything BUT just write, like I was supposed to be doing, like I’ve actually reserved time to do since my parents take the kidlet to give me some peace and quiet.

Eventually, I did get some writing done (some 4151 words, though I think it would have been more if I hadn’t deleted so many before I actually started the count).

So, back to you: do you ever have one of those days where you just want to run away from work, responsibility, everything? Disappear into meaninglessness?

Today was one of those days, so I thought I’d give you five tips on how to defeat them – and actually still get work done – without making yourself crazy. It worked for me today, so maybe it will work for you too.

1. Offer yourself a future award that is only to be enjoyed after the work is done. (Yes, it’s childish, but it still works.)

2. Place said-reward where you can see it when you’re working. I put my tiny chocolate bar on the corner of my desk – beware not to put chocolate too close to the computer as they have sometimes been known to melt when the laptop exhausts it’s fan.

3. Take note of the time you have begun. Promise yourself you will remain in the chair for at least an hour. It can be exactly an hour to the second – but an hour (or whatever length of time works best for you.)

4. Open your work, and force yourself to start typing. Especially on a day like this, no deleting – this will simply become a new excuse not to create new work. JUST KEEP TYPING (or whatever else it is you’re working at).

5. Follow the path of the story and your inclination today. Remind yourself that editing, rewrites, additions and deletions are for another day; today you are just getting new words written without judgment. Continue in this process until either your allotted time runs out (if you still want to run away, allow yourself to do so after this time, and reward yourself for actually working – yes, it’s just one of those days.)

What I discovered was that although a part of me certainly still wanted to run away, another part of me hadn’t noticed that my allotted hour had run out about an hour before, and I was still working – and things were going well. Was the writing as great as some days? As easy? No. But that’s okay, because at least I did my writing.

So, try out my five steps, see if they work for you. Any others work for you? How do you get yourself working and keep yourself motivated on the run-away  kind of days?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Resistance is Futile! : Breaking Through Internal Resistance

As I’ve been getting back into the writing groove this year, I’ve found myself floundering a bit when I found I was unable to focus on any one thing or any one project. I think most of us can recognize that this is a kind of resistance we all face in our creativity, a resistance to create, to try something new, and sometimes, to continue on with work that we’ve already begun.

For me, I know that I’ve still been having quite mixed feelings about the new year, and about where it is I want to go, and where I think I’m headed (unfortunately, not the same place). And it’s also these sorts of thoughts that keep me from doing what’s the most important: writing. Because whether I’m the most successful at why I do, or still struggling to find my place, at all stages I’m useless unless I’m actually producing my product, which in this case is a new manuscript, new writing, new words.

So, I’m back to work, and deciding resistance is futile, because I won’t let it stop me. And you know what? Today, it really hasn’t been. Last night I forced myself to ignore all the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t writing the right thing, perhaps I should just abandon the projects I’m working on, nothing is what I want, it’s all too much work, etc, etc, etc. Instead, I thought of just one project and tried to identify: what is it that’s stopping me? Why have I been struggling with getting work done?

I realized that it was fear. Indeed, fear usually prevents us from doing what we want to do. And sure, it can be great when some part of our brain says “jump off the cliff” – since jumping off the cliff is risky, and so our fear protects us. Unfortunately, it also likes protecting us from things we need to do, and need to accept into our lives, like change, evolution. In my particular case, I decided that what I wanted to do was embrace my fear, and in fact, incorporate it into my writing, use it as a central theme and idea – and indeed, prove that it can and will be overcome.

So, how are you projects coming this year? Is fear trying to hold you back? What fears do you have? How do you plan to combat them?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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!

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.