Musical Accompaniment

Image by enbuscadelosdragones0 from Pixabay

“You love music. Listen to music while you write.”

So many of my writing friends have play lists for their various projects. They listen to period specific music when writing historical pieces. They listen to culturally appropriate music while working on corresponding stories. I’m sure you get the point. Music is a great way to research your story because people respond so well to music.

But for me that is part of the problem. Yes, I can select music that suits whatever I am writing. But I really like music. I sing along with rock, country, opera, gospel, celtic, and more. Even if I don’t know the language, I can usually figure out a few measures of the melody here and there. Soon I’m humming along.

Even classical instrumental pieces can be a problem. If it is too interesting, I stop and listen. Classical guitar? Pointless. I’m listening to the music, not writing. If I know it too well, I’m humming or singing along.

But I need to meet a deadline today. That means that I had to find something enjoyable but not too enjoyable. And it had to be long enough to help me avoid commercials. Then I remembered that my friend Jane White recommended YouTube because there are entire concertos on Youtube.

My feed includes Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart and Ravel. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to find a tried and true solution to the music problem — Bach cello. I grew up listening to Yo Yo Ma. I am currently listening to suite No. 1 in G. Bach it is until I meet today’s deadline.

What do you listen to when you write? Nature sounds? Music? White noise? I’m interested in hearing what works for my fellow writers as well as what doesn’t and why. I suspect that we are each wired a bit differently!


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.



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!


Goals: How are you doing with your 2014 goals?

Goals 2014Just popping in to ask you how you are doing with your 2014 writing goals.

I set three different monthly goals and one year long goal for myself —

  1. Submit a target dollar amount each month (monthy);
  2. Send out an old manuscript (monthly);
  3. Send out a new manuscript (monthly).
  4. Work on a manuscript I am passionate about.

Goal #1 was a success but just barely.  I may have to alter this goal for the summer months.  Or, by then, I might be better at targeting markets that pay well.  We will have to see how this one pans out.

For goal #2, I sent out one of the picture books that I rewrote on Picture Book Idea month.  The changes I made weren’t huge in that I replaced two spreads.  That’s it.  But my husband noticed the changes immediately.

Goal #3 was met when I submitted a batch of Valentine’s Day activities to

Goal #4 was not my greatest success.  I requested and picked up two library books.  That was it.  Blah.  I need to sit down and read them next week and reread the comments from my critique group.  Then I’ll be ready to get back to work.

I try to review my yearly goals about once a month.  If I wait much longer than that, it can be difficult to get back on track.

How are you coming with your goals for 2014?


Dealing with the Unexpected…

plans2You know that saying about well-laid plans of mice and men?  Let’s just say that last week, I had that kind of week.

It was supposed to be the week that everyone went back to work and school.  I don’t generally want to get rid of them, but I’m taking part in ReviMo 2014, a picture book revision challenge, this week. There were other things I need to get done first.


Those of you who live in the St. Louis area know what I’m going to say.  On Saturday, January 4th, we got lots of snow.  We got enough snow that on Monday, they closed Graybar Electric where my husband works.  It was the first time that had happened in the 15 years he’s worked there.  My husband was home Monday.  My son was home all week.

Needless to say, this meant that I had to rearrange my schedule a bit, but it was do-able because I had very few deadlines.

Then on Wednesday, my editor contacted me.  Would I be willing to do some Valentine’s Day activities?  Of course, I said yes, which meant I had a pitch to write.  This meant re-prioritizing yet again.

The point is that being a freelance writer means being flexible. Sometimes you have to be flexible because of your family — like when they are home for an extra week.  Other times, you have to be flexible because you are a freelancer.  Work doesn’t always come in on a predictable schedule so when it comes, you may need to re-arrange things to fit.

Either way, it means having to reevaluate your goals.  Check out my post from yesterday on the Muffin to find out the four steps I used to meet my goals with everyone home.


Writing Goals

calendarHow go your goals for 2013?

I’d love to say that I’m 100% on track, but it isn’t true.

I’m doing amazingly well with my word count goals.  I meet or exceed my goal (6000 words/week) most weeks, even weeks when everyone is at home.

Where I’m not doing as well is my dollar goal.  I have a goal to submit $1000/month.  That is a combination of both things requested by my various editors as well as slush pile submissions.  As of this moment, I’ve met my February goal.

Yep, that bad.

What exactly is my problem?  Queries don’t count.  It also doesn’t count when I pitch 20 craft and activity ideas to my editor.  It only counts when I submit the article itself.

I’m getting the queries out.  I’m pitching the ideas but one of my editors has put a freeze on freelance submissions.  That was a big hit on my total.

I’m teaching.  I haven’t been adding that into my total although I am earning income through my class.

I’m also working on more book length projects.  Astonishingly enough, it takes long to write a book, even a picture book, than it does to write an article.  I can put a lot of hours into a book project and it may boost my word count but it does nothing for the second goal.

That said, I do have 2 finished books and one series proposal ready to go out the door.  And I pulled some work (five devotionals) from an anthology.  The acquiring editor originally offered us a very low payment but when the publisher decided not to give him any advance at all, he told us that there would be no money.  Ummmm.  No.  I can’t pay the light bill with a warm fuzzy feeling so I’ll be selling first rights to someone else as soon as I find them.    I just need to find time to do it.

5 devotionals + 2 books + 1 series proposal.  I think I can . . . I think I can.


What Types of Writing Goals Do You Set?

Over time, my writing goals have changed.

When I started writing, I needed encouragement to get things out the door.  So I set a goal of submitting two pieces a month.  This worked well for a long time because it got my work into the hands of editors.

But then our son was born.  More expenses.  The same income.

I queried new markets and raised the numbers of submissions that I got out the door each month.  That helped a lot.

Then we moved.  Our expenses went up but our income didn’t.  I added a word count goal, sure this would help me be more productive.  In my head, I had linked productivity with income.

And it helped a little.

Somewhere along the line I noticed that I avoided high paying markets.  Now I have a dollar goal — submitting X dollars worth of material each month.  This makes me pay more attention to what a market pays vs the effort that goes into producing the work.

To read more about my goals as well as the pros and cons of various types of goals, check out Saturday’s blog post over on the Muffin.

What types of goals do you set?


Goal Setting

My bulletin board for scheduling my weekly goals is still working well although I do need to reevaluate how much I can expect to accomplish on a weekly basis right now.

The problem isn’t so much that my son is off school — he’s very good at letting me work.  The problem is that he’s on swim team.  Can you say “daily practice” and “weekly swim meets”?

Not that I’m giving up on my writing.  I just need to get a realistic idea about what I can accomplish.

My word count for last week was something over 9000 words.

But I no longer consider only word count in meeting my goals.  I also have to get a certain dollar amount in submission each month.  Yes, yes.  I have to love what I do.  But I also have to pay the electricity bill.

Some people may function best with one clear cut goal whether it is words written, submissions out or time spent writing.  I seem to work best with these dual goals.

The word count goal keeps me writing — even when school is out.  The dollar goal means that I get a certain amount of work submitted each month.  I’m not just writing things that never cross an editor’s desk.  I have to submit it for it to count toward this last goal.

For some people, this would be too complicated.  For me, at least for now, it is functioning well.

What kinds of goals do you set?




Goal Setting

As you can see, I blog quite a bit about writing goals.  Why?  Because writing is hard work and, if we don’t set goals, it is often easier to sit around and eat bon bons than it is to write.

Last week was my first week with my new goals chart.  My husband claims it is ridiculously complex.  To me, it seems fairly simple.

At the top of the board are the days of the week.  Goals are color coded — red (you’re getting paid so get busy), yellow (no deadline, fun stuff), and green (nonpaying promotional).

This is more visual than the lists that I had previously posted here and a great deal harder to ignore.  On Monday, I finished most of Monday’s work and all of Tuesday’s.  By Tuesday, I had finished what remained of Monday’s work and part of Wednesday’s.  Of course, I also realized that I needed to get going on to more assigned articles so I had to add four more items to the latter part of the week.

All in all, I’m really happy with this system and plan to keep using it.  I think it will work really well with my recurring jobs (blog posts, etc) and also the big jobs that need to be broken down over the course of several weeks.

Between my office calendar (due dates) and this, I feel much more on top of things.

Does this mean this is the perfect system for you?  Not at all.

My friend Jennifer J. loves the app she has on her I-thing-a-ma-bob (I suspect it is an I-phone but am not sure).  Me?  In spite of my love of wii games and the fact that I have more video memory and the best monitor in the house, I’m still pretty low-tech about some things.  My phone is a phone.  My camera is a camera.  And my calendar has pages.

Either kind of system would work whether or not you have signed contracts.  Set your own deadlines.  Tell your critique group.  Get them to nag you as needed (hi Stephanie!).

Other people work better with a simple word count goal.  This is especially helpful if you are a one project at a time kind of writer.  A novel takes months, or at the very least weeks, so a goal of 10,000 words a week might be best in that case.

Other people prefer a time goal. I will write for 2 hours a week.

Play around with your goals.  Find something that works for you.   But do find something.  Otherwise you may forget to write.