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

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 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.



5 Minutes a Day: First You Have to Believe

5 Minutes a DayIn September 2017, one of my fellow Muffin bloggers challenged everyone who reads the blog to state a big, hairy, audacious goal.  I decided that I wanted to finish a draft of my new chapter book.  If I could just squeeze in 5 Minutes a Day.

The problem was that shortly after decided this I landed a contract for two more teen nonfiction books.  Writing one of these books in just under two months is tough. Writing two in just over three was going to be brutal.  But I didn’t want to give up on finishing my chapter book.

When I set the 5 Minutes a Day goal, I had two chapters or 1000 words.   I hadn’t made noteworthy progress in 2 weeks.  But even working on the other two books, I managed 5 Minutes a Day.  Doing this for one month resulted in a finished draft. At 6,400 words, I knew it was short but it was a draft.  I blogged about this on the Muffin.

Reader response to this blog post surprised me.  People were absolutely floored that i had managed to do so much in five minutes a day.  I must have had an extensive outline.  I must have known exactly what to write. I must have some special trick because this just wouldn’t work for them.

Sure, I had a sketchy outline.  Ten chapters.  Two or three sentences per chapter.

The most important thing that I had?  Belief.  I believed that I could accomplish something worthwhile in 5 Minutes a Day. Without that belief, I wouldn’t have tried.  Without actually trying, I would not have finished my draft.

I hope you are ready to join me in making strides in your writing career throughout 2018.  But the first thing you must have is the Belief that it is possible.  You must believe that 5 Minutes a Day can help you achieve something worthwhile.  Why?

Because without that belief you won’t even try.

Click here to read another 5 Minutes a Day post.



Tension: Make It Count

mixed-climbing-1204218_1920When we start a new piece of fiction, one of the things that we need to figure out is how to add tension.  One of the best ways to do this is to give your character a goal but have something stand in her way.

This something can be external. Perhaps two young characters want to win the grand prize but only one can be the big winner.  Not only will the two characters be in competition, they might also throw extra road blocks in each others way.

But the roadblock can also be internal.  The competition involves a spelling be.  Your character spells like a champ but has horrible stage fright. How will she ever compete in front of the entire school?

Tension is a tricky thing.  Give your reader a little tension and they turn to the next page.  Good, you’ve got them hooked.  But to keep the pages turning, you need to increase the tension.  One of the best ways to do this is to have some decision made by your character make things worse.

In the first example, your POV character might attempt to sabotage her competitor only to have it earn her a detention or time out.  Unfortunately, the rules say that only good student citizens will be allowed to compete.  The POV character has put her own eligibility in jeopardy.

In the second example, the character is given advice on how to control stage fright.  Unfortunately, in round 1 when she speaks to the back wall vs making eye contact, she stumbles and nearly falls of the stage.  Now she’s really scared to be up there.  Will she be able to keep going?

These are the steps that I’m working through in my current WIP.  I know more or less what will launch the adventure.  I know how it will end.  Right now I’m working out how to keep the tension up and within acceptable limits given that my characters are eight years-old.  It isn’t like I can leave them hanging from a cliff – or can I?




Writing Plans

I had a plan for the week.  In fact, I posted about it yesterday.  I even updated my to-do list and printed it out.

Then I checked my e-mail.  From: My publisher.  Topic:  DAPL, at last.

One month after she told me she would send me the rewrite request, one week before I have another book due, it arrives in my in-box.  Sigh.  No, I’m not complaining about her.  She and I have been chatting back and forth.  This wasn’t her delay.  She was also waiting . . . and waiting . . . I’m just fussy because a perfectly good to-do list was just blown out of the water.

That said, it is important to have a writing plan.  I have a tendency to work with both monthly goals and weekly goals.  The monthly goals cover big picture things like “submit to X agents/month” and also contracted projects.  The weekly goals help me meet the monthly goals. The weekly goals also remind me to do things that have to be done on a weekly rotation (what goes up when, when I have to have X done for my students,  etc.)

Without goals I tend to drift about aimlessly.  I know people who are okay with this but I’m a goal oriented person.  I find it unsettling in the extreme and I don’t mean unsettling in a freeing, creativity inducing kind of way.  It just feels off.

With goals, I get things done.  That said, I clearly need to be flexible.  And with that in mind, I had better get to work.  I have two books due next week!