When Opportunity Knocks, Should You Say Yes?

Should your answer be yes or no?
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

Recently the opportunity to enter a contest fell into my lap. To enter, you have to be an unpublished novelist. All that is required is 10 manuscript pages. There isn’t even an entry fee.

My first response was “I should enter this.” After all, I think I’d stand a pretty good chance of winning. I may be an unpublished novelist but I’m a solid writer. And the first few chapters of my work-in-progress are really good. It isn’t until about the half way point that the story wanders into the weeds.

Irritatingly enough, my husband is Prince of the Practical. “What’s the prize?” Admittedly it isn’t something I especially want. What I do want is the pat on the back and the ability to say, “Look at me! I’m a winner!”

The problem with taking the hour or so it would take to apply is that this is an hour or so that I couldn’t spend working on one of my four ongoing projects. That’s right. Four. Two picture books. My middle grade novel. A younger middle grade nonfiction project. Bringing any or all of these things to completion would be a really good thing.

Entering the contest? Meh. It’s a thing but not really an essential thing.

I am all about saying yes to opportunities. That’s why I’m generally willing to attempt a requested rewrite or to try a new format with a project. But entering this contest won’t move me closer to having an agent. It won’t be a step toward publication. As far as I can tell, winning wouldn’t move me toward either of these goals either.

As writers, we are often hungry for recognition or a pat on the back. Money is also tempting. Because of all of these desires, we often jump at every opportunity. The key is recognizing the opportunities that will actually move you toward your goals. This means that you have to know what your goals are.

So as you consider the various opportunities that come your way, give it a little thought. What are your goals this week? This month? This quarter? This year? Does this opportunity further any of these goals? If not, try to figure out why it is tempting and then you will know whether or not it is worth your valuable time and creative energy.


Setting Goals

Many writers that I know set annual goals. I tried it and I have to say that my results are unimpressive. A year is just too long for me to wonder.

Monthly goals? Now they seem to work. This year several members of my accountability group are setting monthly goals. In addition to setting goals each month, I’m limiting them to four. I also print them out and post them on my calendar. See – that’s them circled in pink. I see them every time and enter and exit my office which means I’m reminded what I should be doing every time I get coffee, bring in a package or use the bathroom.

This system seems to be working well. In January my goals were:

  • Start graphic novel class.
  • Storystorm: 30 ideas
  • Come up with idea for series for Kane Press.
  • Airstream. Act 3.

I’m loving the graphic novel class and have an idea for a single pane comic series. You know me. I’m an idea person. So I have several stand alone ideas as well.

Remember what I said about being an idea person. I didn’t come up with 30 ideas but 41.

I came up with a series idea and drafted most of chapter 1 yesterday. I also have an idea for graphic sidebars to go in the book.

And I have a complete draft of Airstream done. Phew!

My February goals are:

  • Finish the graphic novel class and keep working on that comic idea.
  • Nonfiction Fest: come up with another 28 ideas focusing on nonfiction.
  • Draft the first book in the series and work on the proposal.
  • Reoutline Airstream to help me evaluate what I’ve got before I start rewriting.

I’m really looking forward to drafting that nonfiction title. But I think it is important to have an Airstream goal as well. I’m sure many of you know how it is. The new project is always more enticing than the old.

With that in mind, I’ve got some work to do on both old projects and new.


Keeping Track of Your Goals

I’ve got an alpaca keeping an eye on my goals.

For 3 years, I have belonged to an accountability group. We write. We talk about writing. We post our goals. And we ask each other about those goals. “How are you doing on…”

I have to admit that I’m not super good at meeting these goals. I always get a lot done so I don’t feel too bad about the fact that I’m not accomplishing my posted goals. After all, I always have a reason for switching things up.

This year, I decided to try something new. Posting a twelve month goal means that I can drift pretty far from my original goals by the end of the year. To prevent this, I’m creating monthly goals. Instead of grand sweeping goals, I’m writing up four smaller goals for each month.

This month they are:

  1. I’m writing Act 3 of Airstream.
  2. I’m generating 30 ideas as part of Storystorm. 
  3. I’m working on a series pitch for an educational publisher.
  4. I’m taking a class on writing graphic novels. You can find out about this class here.

Half way through week 1, I realized that I wasn’t sure how I was doing. My goals were only written down on the post I did for the Muffin here. That’s a problem because I’m not going to go to my post every day.

I printed them out and posted them on my calendar. See the photo above.

So, how am I doing? I’ve only worked on two of these goals. That’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m generating story ideas and I’m working on Airstream. The class doesn’t start for another week.

But the proposal? I have no excuse for not working on that except that it has been out of sight. And you know what they say – out of sight, out of mind. Every time I enter or leave my office, I walk past my calendar. That means that every time I enter or leave my office, I will see these goals posted at eye level.

I’m a visual person so I think that this will work much better for me. When I get one of them done, I can strike through it with a sharpie. Hot pink should get my attention. Or orange. Or lime green. Fortunately, I’ve got a fair collection of sharpies and brush markers waiting to note my progress.


Don’t Sweat It: We Each Need to Find our own Definition of Success

If sucess for you doesn’t look like success for me, don’t sweat it.
Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

If I write about something here on my blog, such as writing work-for-hire, but it isn’t what you want to do? Don’t sweat it.

The reality is that there is no one way to succeed as a writer. You can write popular fiction and be a success. You can publish one poem and be a success. You can self-publish a book of short stories and be a success.

Success doesn’t look the same to each of us. I have a friend who self-publishes self-help and works the speakers circut. Her specialty? The Working Woman’s Survival Show and businesses.

I have another friend who self publishes sweet romances while her mysteries are through a small press. She and her brother self publish young adult mysteries together. She also writes for the school and education market. These books are work-for-hire meaning that she sells all rights.

Other writers write essays and creative nonfiction for literary journals. These journals don’t demand all rights but very few of them pay.

But all of these writers are successful. Why? Because there is no one way to be a successful writer. Each of these writers has different goals. If you want to publish essays in literary journals, you have to accept that literary journals seldom pay. If you want your writing in the hands of school children, you can sell your manuscript to an educational pubilsher. Or you can write for a packager like I do. Yes, it means I sell all rights but I’ve got 30 books in school libraries around the US. That’s one of my goals.

To meet your own goals, do these three things.

  1. Think about what success looks like to you. I love writing nonfiction. Work-for-hire for the school and library market is a great fit for me. I have friends who only want to write picture books or novels. Getting them published is their dream.
  2. Read up on the type of writing you want to do. Where are people publishing poetry? Essays? Creative nonfiction? Find out what the publishing conventions are. Learn what accepted practice is NOW, not ten years ago.
  3. Once you’ve learned about this, consider what is acceptable to you. It might make the difference between traditional publishing and self publishing. You may not care if you publish. You just want to finish that manuscript! Whatever. They’re your goals.

Once you know what your goal is and what success looks like to you, you are on your way to find your own path to writing success. If your path isn’t the same as mine, don’t sweat it! We each have our own definition of success.


One Word for 2021: A Theme vs a Goal

I don’t know about you, but I hate setting long term writing goals. I know, I know. How can you get there without a goal? I do understand that but in my experience, long term goals tempt fate. What do I mean? Did 2020 teach you nothing? How many things did you plan to do that you never got around to doing? Part of the issue is that I do contract work.

My word for 2021 – Genuine.

I planned to work on my novel but the packager I work for offered me a contract. Am I going to say, “Thanks, but no. I’m writing a novel.” Or, because I like electricity and food, am I going to take the job? Let’s be real. Writing is my bread and butter. I’m taking the job.

But I really like the idea of selecting a word for the year. My friend Margo first did this in 2016 when she set the word ORGANIZATION as her word for the year. The word is a mindset or theme that you want to adopt for the year.

I thought of this again when someone in an online community I frequent asked, “If you could choose just ONE word to set as your guiding principle for 2021, what would it be?”

I didn’t have to think about it for very long. I chose the word GENUINE.

For me, this is part of thinking of my writing as a brand. Whether I am doing contract work or writing my own book, I want to be genuine. I want to write the book that no one else would or could write. I want to find those uncomfortable truths that make you squirm.

My plan is to be the writer that only I can be. My plan is to be me, the one and only SueBE.

What word would you choose?


#1 Job for Any Writer

So what is your number 1 writing goal for the month of November? In all reality, it shouldn’t matter if we are in November, March or June, your writing goals should focus on one thing.


A lot of us tend to forget this as Debbie Ridpath Ohi points out in this, one of my favorite of her comics. We writers get busy tweeting, on Facebook and writing on our blogs. Like this one. Sometimes we forget to write.

That’s why I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo this month. That’s National Novel Writing Month if you aren’t familiar. The goal is to write 50,000 words in November. That’s roughly 1670 words a day. The idea is that you will draft a new book, more or less, in a month. I say more or less because most books are longer than 50,000 words. A cozy, which tends to be shorter than a lot of fiction, is about 80,000 words.

Anyway, that’s the goal of NaNoWriMo. Me? I’m a NaNo-rogue. I’ve got my own goal independent of the challenge. I want to FINALLY finish the draft of my cozy. It should take about 25,000 words.

How am I doing? As of yesterday (Monday), I had about 18,000 words which means that I’m a little bit ahead of where I need to be. Whew.

As a working writer, there’s a lot that I need to do in addition to writing. I rewrite. I market. I’m redesigning my site. There’s Facebook and Twitter. And blogging. Which is writing of a sorts but it is not the writing I sell. I do manage to squeeze writing in but it can also be far too easy to put it off. That’s why I take part in NaNo. My way.

So what are your writing goals for the month? I hope they include writing.


3 Reasons to Take Part in Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo - Writer - BadgeFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Camp NaNoWriMo, this is a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge that takes place twice a year, in April and July.  What’s the challenge?  You get to decide.

Maybe you need to finish drafting your novel.  Maybe you need to send out queries.  Whatever.  You set the goal.

Why bother?  Here are three reasons.


That’s right.  Reason number one is this year.  This incredible, over-whelming year.  I have to say, March and April I wrote and wrote.  Pandemic?  Pfft.  I had deadlines.  Now I’ve met my deadlines and gotten two rejections in three days. I need some encouragement and a . . .


I make my best progress when I have a deadline.  And I don’t mean my own deadline.  External deadlines are superior.  If it is just my deadline, I can find a reason to blow it off.  See, there’s this new opportunity that is only available for two months.  I signed up for a class.  My shower floor really needs to be scrubbed.  Nope, I need an external deadline to keep me moving.  And I am seriously Type A so this works even better because I am part of a . . .


Post your goal at NaNoWriMo.org and become part of the community.  There are events and motivationsl bits, but even if you don’t spend a lot of time interacting with your fellow writers, you have publicly announced your goal.  This means that other people can see whether I succeed or fail.  In truth, 99.9% of them probably don’t care but that’s not keeps me moving.  It is the fact that they could notice.  And more importantly, I notice.

I know, I know.  There are drawbacks to being goal driven.  I get that.  But I also know myself well enough to know that if I want to get this done . . . I’ve been fiddling around for months . . . I need to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo.  You can find me on their site as Nonfiction Writer! Is anyone with me?


Goals: Making Them Real

About a week ago, I read a blog post by one of my writing pals, “Write Your Dreams into Existence.”  In her post, Renee talks about how to make your goals more real by journaling as if you’ve achieved them.  These are present realities, not pie-in-the-sky dreams for tomorrow.

I have to admit that the idea didn’t immediately grab me.  It felt just a little too woo-woo.  But it didn’t let go either.  At odd times throughout the week, I’d catch myself thinking about it.  What are my big goals?

Part of what makes this technique a little tricky is that you note not one goal or even three goals but TEN goals.  What are your ten goals?

That takes a bit more thought that is immediately obvious.  For one thing, you are supposed to be specific.  So I am a succcess just doesn’t cut it.  You want to be a success as . . . a parent?  A poet?  A novelist?  Once you’ve answered this question, it is time to get even more specific.

What does it mean to be a success as a novelist?  You want to have a trilogy?  Ten novels?  Something in hardback?  Something that has been translated?

Once you have all ten goals, you note which one you will first achieve.  And then you list them, day after day, in your journal.  It may seem woo-woo but I’m starting to understand the appeal.  You write it in present tense as if it has happened.

I am represented by an agent.   

Do this each and every day and these goals are going to be everpresent.  As you make choices about your writing – what will I work on, where will I submit, what topics/markets will I select – you will balance them according to whether they move you toward these goals or not.

On the one hand it seems a bit mercenary.  On the other, we all spend a lot of time doing things that don’t feed into our goals.  Why not focus instead on what is important to us?

As I see it, either we will begin to make progress or we will realize that although we say we want something it really isn’t all that important to us.  Care to join me and see what happens?


Setting Goals: 5 Steps to Getting the Writing Done

When you write full-time, people have no problem telling you how lucky you are.  “You get to do what you want every day?”  While that isn’t quite true, I am far too easy for people to find, I do acknowledge that this is pretty awesome.  But it can still be tricky to squeeze the writing in.

Squeeze it in?  You bet.

When you have an eight-hour day and you are working on something tricky, it can be really had to put the writing off.  And then put it off some more.  And then it’s bed time and look how clean the windows are!

With that in mind, here are five steps to help you meet your writing goals.

  1.  Set concrete goals.  Yes, that’s right.  Oddly enough, to meet goals you have to set goals.  Strange but true.  Your goals also have to be concrete.  Not “I am going to write this week” but I am going to write 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.”  Make it straightforward so that you know you have been successful.
  2. Know what works.  This may take some time. Write down the goals that you set.  Write down what you managed to accomplish.  Then take a look at what worked.  Some people do better with word count goals.  “Write 200 words a day.”  Others need a time frame.  “Write for 15 minutes.”  Others need what I call writing specific goals.  “Finish a draft of my new picture book.”  “Write 2 chapters of my novel.”
  3. Evaluate.  Once you’ve worked toward your goals for a week or two, review them.  Are they working?  If not, try something different.  I can’t coffee shop write.  It is too distracting.  A friend can’t write at home.  The quiet is annoying.  If things are working, that’s good.  If not, try something new.
  4. Look for positives.  As you work to set your goals, look for the things that work well.  If you are a morning writing, set a goal to write in the morning.  If you need an outline before you write, include this in your goals.  Work with your strengths.
  5. Adjust upward.  As you develop a writing habit, nudge your goals upward.  Try to write for a longer period.  Try to write one more day a week.

Just remember to be realistic.  I remember reading that an author I idolized wrote 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. As a new writer, I found this very discouraging.  I was doing good to write for 20 minutes!  That was before I developed a solid writing habit.

Find what works for you.  Adjust it as you go.  Soon you’ll be adding words and pages to your count and making progress.



Goals and Progress: When What You Have Isn’t Working

“This week I’m going to finish outlining my mystery.”

I’m part of an accountability group and each week we set goals. Truthfully, I lost track of have often this was my weekly goal.  But week after week I made no progress whatsoever.  What to do?

Admittedly, my to-do list tends to be way too long.  No one could accomplish it.  But when one thing gets carried over for about two months, then I know I have a problem.  Step 1 in solving said problem is figuring out why it was a problem.

Yes, I’ve been busy but I’m always busy.  So that really wasn’t the answer.  I didn’t want to keep messing with the outline. I wanted to write.  Even after I figured this much out, I didn’t make progress.  I was stuck on the thought that I absolutely had to finish that outline.

Finally I realized that I was noodling over individual scenes in detail.  Those scenes revolved around one particular plotline.  What if I try writing it one plot line at a time?

  • I have the mystery plot in which a dead body is found and suspects are investigated.
  • I have the church choir subplot.  The church choir is what my main character and her sidekicks have in common.
  • I have the romance subplot.  One sidekick’s older brother is the romantic interest.  Unless of course he turns out to be the murderer.
  • Then I have a sub plot for each suspect – romantic interest, one sidekick, victim’s wife, the choir director, and a mysterious man spied arguing with the victim.

What if I try working on these one at a time?  That’s where I am now.  Ultimately, it may not work out.  But I have to say that for the first time in two months, I’ve made progress – 750 words on a new chapter.  I say new vs first because I know it is not my first chapter.  And that’s 750 words in two days.  Not too bad given 2 months of nothing.

When you have a project that you truly want to work on but you aren’t making any progress, it’s time to take a look at your goals.  Is it your approach that is wrong?  The goals themselves?  Trying the same thing week after week just isn’t a good idea if you are getting no where fast.  Try to figure out what is behind the project and see if you can find a new set of goals to get you moving.