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.


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!


Ten Minutes a Day: When You Don’t Have Time to Write

ten-minutesIt may seem like a strange thing to hear a full-time writer say but it is truly embarrassing just how often I don’t have time to write.  At least I don’t have time to write something new. I’d been 50% of the way through my scene outline for Iron Mountain since early December.  But it all came to a halt when I landed the contract with Redline.  Gotta finish that paying work.

But I couldn’t find time to squeeze it in after I met that deadline.  I had Christmas to prepare!   And then New Years.  And the boys were home.  I’d get my blog posts done.  I’d get a tweet put up.  My two daily Spanish lessons on Duolingo?  Check.  I’d even spend 5 minutes picking up in my office.  But actually working on something new?

Nope.  There just wasn’t enough time in my work day.

Fortunately my writing buddies Cindy and Kris reminded me how a third friend works in a new project.  She works on it ten minutes a day.  Unless she is in the final crunch on a contracted book, she works on that new project for 10 minutes.  She might be doing research.  Or creating an outline.  Or working on chapter 1.  She might also be sending out queries to agents, preparing a pitch for an editor or getting ready to travel.  No matters.  She fits in that new project for 10 minutes a day.

Ten minutes a day.  That’s how long I spend on Duolingo and that’s not how I make my living.  Certainly I could find 10 minutes (20 minutes total) for two new projects — Iron Mountain (YA science fiction) and a new nonfiction project that involves a cave.

And you know what?  Once I decided that it was possible and that I was going to do it — no excuses — I’ve managed to do it for most of a week.  I’m almost 3/4 of the way through my scene outline now and I’ve done a chunk of the research on my new nonfiction.  I even shook loose two experts that I don’t even need yet.

Ten minutes a day.  It may not seem like much but its moving my projects forward.  It can work for you too.


Goals: Setting Them Isn’t Enough

setting goalsI’ve been playing around with goal setting lately.  Yes, I get my work out there on a regular basis.  I have three books waiting for their ABDO publication dates and a fourth in the final rewrite process.  Blog posts appear on the Muffin and I’m writing articles for CBI.

But I’d like to break into some new markets.  Let’s just say that I’ve learned over the years about the hazards of putting all of my eggs in one basket and most of my good-sized eggs are currently in the ABDO basket.  I should get some more work and some queries out there.  I should query some agents.

Should-a, could-a, would-a.

So I decided to set a new type of goal.  I wrote about it at the Muffin. My goal for July through December is to earn 50 rejections.  I’m going to count as “don’t hear = no” as a rejection for the sake of this exercise.  But the problem is that another week into July and I haven’t contacted a single agent.  I haven’t sent out any queries.  And the manuscript that an editor wants to see by the end of August?  Not one word has been added.

What happened?  A bit of it is work related but 90% of it is life.  I’m speaking at the All Write Now conference in Cape Girardeau this Saturday.  Oddly enough, that meant that I had to write my talk.  Check.  Got that done.  I also had to critique two manuscripts.

Due to an illness in the family, I’ve been at the hospital a lot (I’m okay, Dad less so but he should be discharged in a day or so).

I set the goal but it may be another week or so before I have the time and energy needed to make any progress and that’s just the way it is.


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.


New Year’s Resolutions: Writing Goals

GoalsDid you attain the writing goals that you set for 2013?  I did and, because of it, I’ve got some good things coming along in 2014.  I’ll report on those as soon as I can.

Over the years, my goals have changed.  At one point, my goal was to submit a query, proposal or manuscript/month.  Then that increased to two/month.   Unfortunately, queries are easier to send out than completed manuscripts (especially if you don’t need to have the manuscript done).  That means that when I was feeling lazy, I learned to send out queries vs. completing manuscripts.  Bad writer!

You can’t finish manuscripts without writing so then I set word count goals.  I’m really good at first drafts — I can pound out text without stopping to edit or tinker with things until they’re perfect.  Write, write, write.  But than doesn’t mean that things are going out the door.

This lead to me to my goals for 2013.  I had to submit a specific dollar amount/month.  Yes, it sounds mercenary.  But is also makes sense if you are trying to make a living with your writing.  If you set a goal of two manuscripts out/month, they can just as easily go to markets that pay only in copies vs those that pay a really good rate.  You may get credits and build a resume but you aren’t going to earn a living.

Since this type of goal worked for me in 2013, I am going to more-or-less repeat it with a few modifications.  I am going to increase my dollar amount by 50%.  I’m also going to set a goal of getting one old manuscript back out each month as well as one new manuscript.  Obviously, these won’t all be book manuscripts but they also won’t all be short materials.

To read more about resolutions in your writing life, check out my post today on the Muffin.


Do You Have the Guts to Try Something New in 2013?

We’re about to head into a new writing year.  How you play it is your choice.  Are you going to do things the same way that you did in 2012 and, most likely, 2011?  Or are you going to shake up your writing life and try something new?

I’m not going to lie to you.  Convincing yourself to strike out in a new direction probably won’t be easy.  After all, writing is pretty darn challenging as it is.  As writers we face constantly changing markets, editors moving from one house to another and new technologies.   With so much change you can’t control, forcing yourself to seek out even more change probably doesn’t sound like the best possible idea.

But think about it.  At one time, Simone Elkeles was a writer of adult romances.  She had never, ever penned a word for teens.   Now, she has 8 novels for teens.  What if she had never tried writing for young adults?

Last year I set a new kind of goal for myself.  I usually avoid monetary goals since you can’t guarantee that you will earn a certain amount of money in a set time.  This year I set a monetary goal that I could achieve.  In addition to writing 6000 words a week, I was going to submit $1000 worth of material each month.

I’m on track to hit $11,379 for the year.  If I manage one more submission, I’ll be up to $11,879.  No, that isn’t how much I’ve earned this year but I have earned more than in the last five years, recession or no.

I also wanted to teach again and I found a new host for my nonfiction for children class.  I will be teaching Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults  starting in February of 2013.

If I hadn’t set new goals for myself, I wouldn’t have achieved these things.

So, what can you do in 2013?  I’m going to be working on some book manuscripts but I’m also going to seriously start looking at agents.  Not that that search is proving easy.  There are simply too many variables.  Alas, this will probably mean a spread sheet (insert heart-felt shudder).    But if I set a goal for myself, I know I’ll make progress that otherwise would never happen.

So, what about you?  Take  a deep breath and consider the possibilities.  And remember — at one time books were the new scary thing on the block (see the video below).