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December 30, 2011
Old calendars cluttered with appointments and scribbles come down, and new pristine calendars go up on the wall. All those blank squares! All that potential for doing the writing of our dreams in the new year!
I’ve been reminding you (“harping”) for weeks about setting goals for 2012. I’ve been working on project goals myself, along with reading about making writing more fun (one of my goals) by writing in flow.
Heading into the Home Stretch
2012 is right around the corner. If you still haven’t given much thought to specific goals for next year, I encourage you to sneak off alone sometime this weekend with pen and paper.
Does goal setting feel overwhelming to you? Don’t know where to start? Don’t know how to set good writing goals–ones that have the best chance of being fulfilled?
How to Set Writing Goals
Help is here! See these excellent articles below.
- The strategies we use to get more writing done sometimes do more harm than good. Listen to this writer of “Resolve to Write Better and Smarter.” No matter what your specific writing goals are, these three strategies will help you meet them with a confident spirit.
- While “Setting Effective Writing Goals” by Moira Allen is an older article, it’s one of the best over-all explanations of the importance of writing goals, plus how to set ones that help you move toward your dreams.
- A short “Goal-Setting Course” is found at this blog. This link gives you the first of seven steps. Just read her seven posts in order for specific step-by-step help in setting your writing goals.
December 28, 2011
It’s time to dust off some forgotten dreams, review met and unmet goals listed for 2011, and decide where we want to put our writing energies next year.
As you mull over next year’s plans, I want to challenge you with this question: ARE YOUR WRITING DREAMS BIG ENOUGH?
SHOOTING FOR THE MOON
I’ve been reading about famous inventors (like Edison), famous businessmen (like Ford), and famous entrepreneurs (like Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg). They lived in different historical periods and pursued different kinds of projects. But they all had one thing in common. They did NOT set “reasonable and achievable goals.” They dreamed bigger dreams than anyone thought they could achieve. And then they achieved them–and more.
Edison (who only had a few months of formal education) decided to try to invent a light bulb in less than three years, even though far more intelligent scientists had spent more than 50 years so far trying to do the same thing. An outlandish goal! But he ended up inventing it in two years!
When Ford started his auto company, the other 250 American automakers were turning out 12 to 300 cars per year. A reasonable goal for Ford to set would maybe be 150 cars per year. But his dream was to produce cars that the average family could afford–not just the wealthy. And he ended up producing 1,000 cars per day off his assembly lines. (That’s per DAY, not per year.)
Because Spielberg and Gates are present-day phenomenons, you’re probably already familiar with their stories. They became such huge successes for the same reasons Edison and Ford did. They dreamed of doing what others said was impossible.
IGNORE WHAT “THEY SAY”
Partly because of our struggling economy, the naysayers in the publishing industry are thicker than ever. “They say” you have to write what will sell instead of writing what you have a passion for. “They say” you can’t expect to sell your first novel to a big New York publisher–you should probably settle for a tiny publisher and no advance, or publish it yourself. “They say” you can’t get a good agent–you need to settle for someone with no experience that no editor will work with.
I’m big on goal setting. And I’m not trying to set you up for a big fall. However, I sometimes wonder if all of us achieve less simply because we start out with “reasonable, achievable” goals instead of reaching for the stars.
When you’re writing down your goals for 2012, I really encourage you to stretch and dream bigger. Go against the odds. Reach higher than you can even imagine reaching. The results a year from now may just be astounding!
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
October 12, 2011
“Life is difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his famous book The Road Less Traveled. “This … is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it… Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I’d like to amend Peck’s quote to say that “the writing life is difficult.” And once that truth is accepted, “the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
I imagine we all start out on the writing journey with a fantasy of what the writing life will be like. I know I did thirty years ago–and it’s been a fantasy that I clung to tenaciously for far too many years.
My own fantasy involved uninterrupted hours every day to write (after first journaling and then doing some creative writing exercises to ensure the writing would simply “flow”.) My fantasy included the books selling themselves without my help. I expected to reach a time when I’d never have to write anything without having a (lucrative) contract in hand. I also dreamed of writing by longhand in the fragrant garden of a thatched-roof English cottage. Sad to say, the cottage part was the only thing I recognized as pure fantasy. I figured everything else was just a matter of time.
Fast forward thirty years and forty published books later…
I love my office in Texas, but it’s a far cry from a thatched-roof cottage. And unless you write from Walden’s Pond, I don’t see how anyone manages to have uninterrupted hours every day to write. Juggling my roles as wife, mother, Nana, daughter, sister, friend, writer and ministry leader means fighting for writing time daily. Each role, at one time or another, has meant dealing with loss, conflict, disappointment, and/or illness-big time and energy eaters. And because of the changes within the publishing industry–in large part due to the economy and online social marketing demands–there’s no such thing anymore as an author who doesn’t help market their work.
It No Longer Matters
So where’s the silver lining around this black cloud? Simply this. Clinging to my fantasy life of a writer meant that every time reality intruded, I was disappointed or shocked or disillusioned–and tempted to quit. Lots of angst and wasted energy. As long as I was convinced that the writing life could be simple and require little work, I was irritated with reality. I made silent demands that this imperfect writing life go away!
- Truth #1: The writing life will always be difficult.
- Truth #2: It doesn’t really matter.
- Truth #3: All things worth having (family, good health, writing life) are difficult sometimes.
- Truth #4: We can do difficult things!
Don’t miss the key point of the blog today. This is not a “downer” message. It’s a truth message–which will set you free. For me, it’s like having kids. Raising a family was the most difficult, time-consuming, challenging thing I’ve done in the last thirty-five years. It has also been the most rewarding, most fun, most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It’s the same with the writing life. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine a career more rewarding than this. After many years, it does get easier--but I would never say it’s easy.
It’s okay to give up the fantasy that someday your writing life will be easy and smooth and not require you to grow or struggle anymore. You really don’t need the fantasy to keep you moving forward. “The fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
That being the case, what fantasy about the writing life do you suspect you need to let go of?
October 10, 2011
Today I want to share something with you that I read about dreams.
“Only dreams give birth to change,” the meditation for writers said. “Gradually, as you become curator of your own contentment, you will learn to embrace the gentle yearnings of your heart.”
Guardian of Writing Dreams
What longings about your writing life do you have tucked away somewhere? I think we all have them. Some get tucked away until that fictional future of “when I have more time.” Others are hidden because we don’t believe that we have the skill or ability to produce the kind of writing we hold dear.
“There are years that ask questions,” said Zora Neale Hurston, “and years that answer.” Right now, with the publishing industry changing so much (in both good and challenging ways) some of your writing dreams may be on hold. But this time shall pass. We are growing and adapting as writers. So don’t let “dreams on hold” become “dreams forgotten.”
Sowing Until You Reap
Don’t stop dreaming. Continue to sow the seeds of your dreams. Water them daily. Be the curator of your writing contentment. Your dreams need guarding and protecting, and you’re the only one who can do that.
Take a moment today and write down your most private writing aspirations. Name two things you can do to protect those dreams. Today, do at least one of them!
July 29, 2011
The last two posts, I talked about overload, how it happened, and the effect on writers’ lives. Although certain Type A personalities seem to thrive on overloaded lives, most writers don’t.
Our best ideas – and energy to write about them – require some peace and quiet, some “down” time. To get that, we must rebuild margin into our lives.
What exactly is margin? According to Richard Swenson M.D. author of Margin, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for unanticipated situations. It is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
You might wonder at what point you became overloaded. It’s not always easy to see when it happens. We don’t have a shut off valve that clicks like when we put gasoline into our cars. Stop! Overload! Usually we don’t know that we are overextended until we feel the pain and frustration.
We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.
A Simple Formula
What exactly is margin? The formula for margin is straightforward: power – load = margin.
Your power is made up of things like your energy, your skills, how much time you have, your training, your finances, and social support.
Your load is what you carry and is made up of things like your job, problems you have, your commitments and obligations, expectations of others, expectations of yourself, your debt, your deadlines, and personal conflicts.
If your load is greater than your power, you have overload. This is not healthy, but it is where most people in our country live. If you stay in this overloaded state for a good length of time, you get burnout. (And burned out writers don’t write. I know–I’ve been there.)
So how do we increase margin? You can do it in one of two ways. You can increase your power – or you can decrease your load. If you’re smart, you’ll do both.
Many of us feel nostalgic for the charm of a slower life. Few of us miss things like outhouses or milking cows or having no running water. Usually what we long for is margin. When there was no electricity, people played table games and went to bed early, and few suffered sleep deprivation. Few people used daily planners or had watches with alarms, let alone computers that beeped with e-mail messages and tweets. People had time to read–and to think–and to write. It happened in the margins of their lives.
Progress devoured the margin. We want it back. And I firmly believe that writers must have it back. Next week we will talk about ways to do just that.
PLEASE SHARE: What do you think so far about this week’s discussion of margin and overload? Do you identify? What does that mean to you as a writer?
July 6, 2011
When I read nonfiction books, I underline important parts. Next to very important sections, I put a star. If the passage really touched something deep in me, it gets a star within a circle.
Over the holiday weekend, I had the pleasure of a couple free hours that I spent re-reading some “star-within-a-circle” portions of The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright. I will copy some of them for you to contemplate.
Does anything below resonate with YOU?
- I was a fearful child who grew up to be a fearful adult. I said my biggest yes to creativity only after I’d gone through several life upheavals and learned that I could survive risk and change… I decided that I would write no matter what. (Page 28)
- Saying yes to your gift is a huge thing to do. It helps to remember that you are saying yes to the work itself and not to any particular outcome. You are not saying yes to a successful career as a novelist; you are merely saying yes to writing. (Page 40)
- You have the responsibility to develop practices that help your gifts. Only you can examine your creative needs and set out to provide for them. You have the ability to design rituals, habits and practices that help you engage more fully in your creative gifts. (Page 55)
- If I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work. (Page 75)
- Your creative work is in many ways your diary. It is how you process your own life. No one has the right to dictate your process. (Page 149)
- The guidance you need as a creative [person] is help with your life more than help with your craft. If your life is reasonably healthy, the craft will come with time and practice. (Page 154)
Did any of those comments from The Soul Tells a Story resonate with you? If so, leave a comment. And now that I’ve read the circled-star parts, I think I’ll go back to the beginning and read all the parts again!
June 17, 2011
If success is a journey, where are you along this continuum? As we go through the five stages of success–and learn to celebrate each stage–you’ll see each milestone for what it is: a huge victory.
As I mentioned in “The Five Stages of Success,” my first step along the way was taking the correspondence writing class from the Institute while my three kids were infants and toddlers. Choosing to throw myself into this endeavor was a successful leap of faith for me. (And my husband, as it took exactly half our food budget to pay for it!) But all success has a price, even if it entails making your own bread and homemade yogurt for a year.
If I knew I wanted to write, where did the exploration come in? In two phases actually.
In Phase One, I hadn’t known I wanted to write. I had tried four other home-based businesses before the writing course. Through those experiences, I found out I did NOT like selling vitamins or make-up, stuffing envelopes, or day care. I was successful in weeding out those careers. Until I took the writing course, I had no idea how much I would love it–a love that has lasted thirty years so far.
Phase Two of the exploration phase dealt with deciding what exactly I wanted to write. I had no idea, and the process of deciding can’t be forced or hurried. You have to take time to explore and mentally try on and investigate the many writing possibilities open to you. And when you hit your niche, you’ll know it.
Analyzing Your Explorations
I sold fiction and nonfiction to magazines, experimenting with shorter material. For two years I wrote for ages preschool through adults. The easiest to sell was middle-grade and adult nonfiction–and that was a consideration. But my highest satisfaction came from writing middle-grade fiction. [That's where I settled, and (for the most part), that's what I wrote in the coming years--but that's a different stage.]
The “Exploration Stage” of success can be such a fun time! I found it exciting. If you want more guidance or direction for this phase, you might try Finding Your Perfect Work by Paul and Sarah Edwards or Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy.
Stay tuned for “Stage Two: Preparation” on Monday!
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
May 4, 2011
Are you climbing the writer’s ladder of success, but beginning to suspect that your ladder is leaning against the wrong building?
I’d been wondering for nearly a year. I reviewed my goals for the year and saw that I was moving fairly steadily toward each one. Mostly that made me happy.
But two goals I’m moving toward make me uneasy. I realized I really didn’t want to reach those goals. They were things “the experts” said I needed to do to be a successful writer, but they appeal to me less and less, the closer I get to the goals.
Your Goals? Or Someone Else’s?
“What’s your ‘approximately perfect life’ look like? Have you made a list of the things you’d like to have or to achieve or to be that would make your life the one you want?…Nothing happens unless you take action. But you can’t take any meaningful action until you define your direction. And you’ll never have direction until you know what your ‘approximately perfect life’ would look like.”
How do you even know the kind of life/writing life you would like to have? (And by writing life, I mean to include family and other goals you have. The whole enchilada.)
There are a number of ways (books and websites) to help you define what YOUR perfect life would include. Randy recommended an online free website that he faithfully uses called Simpleology. The creator of that site promises that:
Within minutes of setting up your account, you will:
- See your day with instant clarity
- Focus instantly on what´s important
- Dump the rest (liberation is a click away)
- Clear your brain of clutter and distraction
Let’s Get Personal
What’s important to you? What would spell success for you in the writing life? Have you written down your goals? Look at each one closely. Are they truly your goals and desires? Or are they goals–like several of mine–that were dictated by others but, in your heart, you know they don’t fit who you are?
Today I have a very long walk planned to think about these issues. I suspect, that when I get home, I’ll be doing some restructuring of my goals. My life is too busy and fragmented, and something’s got to go. Why not start with those things that really don’t spell writing success to me?
If you’re willing to share, leave a comment below. Does your own goal list need simplifying? Mine does. I’d love to know which goals you’re going to keep–and which ones you’re going to let go.Newer Posts »