Tag Archive for: focus

The end of the year is a time for reflection. For writers, that reflection often includes taking assessment of how many things we published or finished, or maybe how much progress we made in a novel—or if you’re an industrious little tracker (like someone around here), how many words, hours, or pages you wrote over the year. Inevitably that reflection turns to the future and to setting writing goals.

Writing goals for the new year should be set on your previous goals, the progress you made, and what your priorities are now. Frequently I’ll look back on goals I made and realize I didn’t even remember setting those goals, which means I did nothing about them over the year. (And ultimately means they weren’t actually that important to me and I probably should have set different goals.)

Let’s talk about how to set better writing goals that support our long-term writing hopes and short-term realities.

Setting Realistic Writing Goals

Define Your Priorities & Reality

Before you start dreaming up writing goals, you need to decide what’s important to you. While that should include what’s important to you about your writing life, it should also consider everything else about your life.

If spending more time with your kids or learning how to knit has become an important part of your life, you need make time for it. Balance your writing goals against your other goals and priorities so everything fits together.

Your writing goals don’t always have to be about doing more. Sometimes making a writing goal to write for only 1 hour per week, or to write 100,000 words fewer than last year, or to write 1 novel instead of 3 is the right call. You’ll feel more successful when your goals match your reality, and you can check them off instead of continuing to shuffle them to next year.

Limit Your Goal List

One of the mistakes I’ve made in the past is trying to tackle too much at once. A list of writing goals that is ten items long has at least six things that will be forgotten or ignored. It’s too hard to focus when there are too many goals, and it’s too easy to forget what you’re not actively working on.

Three or four focused goals that meet your priorities and reality are more powerful than ten goals you wish you could achieve in a perfect world.

Subjective & Objective

Many writing goals are objective:

  • Did you finish your novel?
  • Did you write 200,000 words?
  • Did you write every day?

Those goals all have an easy yes or no answer, and you can check your progress throughout the year and have a good idea if you’ll achieve your goal. (For example, if you need to write 100,000 words in October to meet your word count, you can probably assume you’re not going to make it.)

While it’s good to have a goal you can measure, in a creative life it can be demoralizing if you realize you won’t reach your goals. When you know your goals are out of reach, it can be harder to make any progress toward them, which defeats the whole purpose of writing goals!

Instead of basing all your goals around objective metrics, include some goals with a subjective component. These goals might include something about craft development, your mindset toward writing, or how you feel about your work in progress. What’s something you want to change about your writing life or process? What’s a goal you can set to put you on the path to the change?

Writing Goals

Taking this advice, here are my four writing goals for 2024.

  1. Write 200,000 words.
    It’s me, you knew there would be a wholly objective word count goal.
  2. Complete a novel draft.
    The planning is complete, and the draft has started! If you want to follow this journey in detail, check out the Behind the Novel tier on Patreon. I’ll be talking all about my novel writing process (successes, frustrations, and failures) over the course of the year.
  3. Clear more mental space for writing.
    I’ve been working on getting my physical space more organized in an effort to declutter my mental space. I want a physical space that lets me drop my baggage and focus entirely on my work. While there are some objective elements to this goal, how much mental space is cleared is definitely a subjective assessment.
  4. FOCUS.
    If I do nothing else, I want to focus on what’s in front of me and not let other projects or ideas distract me—even if they’re really cool! (I do have some leniency for other projects that have been sitting on the burners, but the most time and focus over the year needs to be on the novel until it’s got a full draft!)

So, that’s what I’m working on next year. What are your writing goals for 2024?

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

Saying you’re going to write a book is easy. So is deciding to write 250,000 words this year. It’s also easy to say you’re going to write 1,000 words every day or get a story published. Writers have no trouble setting goals—the difficult thing is taking actions that will actively support your writing goals.

I’m great at making goals and getting distracted. It’s not that I forget the goal I made—I’m just really good at finding other interesting projects that demanded my attention, time, and energy. In some ways it’s a form of procrastination. There could also be a little self-doubt or imposter syndrome worming their way in there if the goal I set feels bigger than what I think I can accomplish. Whatever the underlying cause of the distraction, I wind up working on things other than my intended goal.

So how do you support your writing goals instead of getting distracted?

Support Your Writing Goals

Keep Your Goal Centered

A sculpture of a hand supporting a tree that is growing lopsided, much in the way that you need to support your writing goals using whatever props you can.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

The first thing is to keep your goal centered within your writing practice. If you’re planning to write a book, set daily, weekly, or monthly targets to help you achieve that goal. Those targets can be the number of hours you work on the book, the number of words you write, or some other measurement of progress.

Give the book pride of place in your writing schedule. Devote the most time and energy to that book. If you have other writing obligations (most of us do), try to either work on your book first or devote more quality time to your book on another day.

Ignore Distracting Opportunities

Don’t take on other time- and energy-consuming projects that are unrelated to your goal. If your goal is to get a short story traditionally published in a magazine, don’t work on a novel. Devote your time and energy to reading and understanding and writing short fiction.

Becoming a slush reader for a magazine can help you with your research in that regard—it can give you an insight into what publishers are looking for in a short story within your genre. But agreeing to review novels won’t support your short story publishing goal. (And at some point, you might want to give up that slush reader job to focus on your own writing.)

Goals Take Time

Goals take time to achieve. Remember, it’s easy to list your goals, but it’s much harder to achieve them. Even the fastest novel drafters don’t show up to the page with an empty mind. They’ve spent time thinking about the story, if not writing down their planning.

Give yourself space to focus on your goal and work toward it a little at a time. If you have a deadline, set landmarks to help you get to your goal. If you don’t have a deadline, find other landmarks or ways to ensure you’re working toward your goal and making progress.

And progress does not mean 1,000 words a day, even if that’s your goal. Progress can mean writing 250 words per day for three months, and then upping that daily word count. Give yourself time to get there!

Adjust Your Behaviors or Responsibilities

If you’re able to, adjust your behaviors and responsibilities to align with your goal and focusing your time and energy on that goal. Instead of reading only fiction in your downtime, read books on novel writing or publishing. Instead of blogging those novel reviews, blog about short story reviews.

Or if you have a Patreon and are shifting your goal to writing a novel, maybe change one of your reward tiers to talk about the novel writing process. (Which is what I’ve just done—details at this link!)

If you have other writing responsibilities you normally perform, consider how they can work to support your writing goal, and then shift them so your goal is centered in your writing life.

 

Achieving your writing goals is possible, but first you have to support your writing goals! Look at the other things you do and ask, “how is this going to help me meet my goals?” Make sure you give yourself time and energy to devote to projects and tasks that will help you make progress. And while you’re doing all that—give yourself the grace to make a misstep and course correct. Adjusting your schedule, expectations, and focus is all part of the writing process!

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

It is with great joy that I announce that after a very rough end to 2022, I’m back!

There is still a bit of chaos in my home life as we wrap cancer & lung infection treatments for my mom (which will take at least through July), but life has settled enough that I can resume some of my professional efforts, including my Patreon and blogging.

The time off has been positive as it’s given me space to consider what efforts are working best for my career and energy, and which ones have been more painful than positive. I’ve also spent a lot of time assessing how I want to focus and move forward.

One thing that’s become clear to me is that I want to spend more time in and around inspiration. Working on the Story Kernels podcast made me remember why I have so many prompt resources and it let me stretch my ability to use inspiration and play more with storytelling. It was a positive experience I want to continue, so—in response to that—I’m adding a new tier to my Patreon:

Writer Prompts

Each month I’ll post a prompt from one of my many resources, and you can use that prompt to create! While I imagine most people following me are fellow writers, you don’t need to be limited to prose or even the written word. Take that inspiration and do with it what you will!

Underneath each prompt, I’ll include a response of 100–500 words—what the prompt inspired for me.

Whether you want the prompts for yourself or want to read what I’ve written, the Writer Prompts tier is where you’ll find inspiration and what I’m doing with inspiration.

You can sign up for Writer Prompts as a new patron or change your pledge to include access to the new tier.

But if you don’t have the cash to join Patreon (don’t worry, I understand), I’ll be posting a prompt to this blog roughly every other month. Most of these will be prompts previously posted on Patreon (or Story Kernels), but I might share something fresh every now and again to keep things ~interesting. (And not all prompts posted to Patreon are guaranteed to be made public—so there will absolutely be Patreon exclusives among the offerings.)

As part of the changes to my Patreon, I’m also retiring the 3-Page Editing Advice tier. The execution of that tier never matched how I envisioned its use, so I’m planning to transform it into a new offering that better matches how patrons have been redeeming banked pages, my workload, and what would best benefit writers. I’m not yet ready to launch that new effort, so look for it later this year.

I’m excited about pushing forward with more focus and am feeling positive about the changes I’m making and how they align with my long-term goals and self-care. Hope you’re also making plans that center your mental and physical health alongside your creative goals.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and the story of what the heck was up with my Christmas tree this year, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

My writing life has been very scattered of late. While I still have writing time planned daily and I haven’t broken my streak (still at least 250 words a day every day, just like the last several years), what I’ve been working on has been haphazard. After I finished my last writing project in early March, I’ve been struggling to focus on the next project.

  • I’ve started an outline and draft for another writing workshop.
  • I’ve revisited my next novel outline and taken a few notes on what threads I may need to reevaluate as I draft.
  • I’ve dawdled with a new short story.
  • And I’ve drafted the beginnings of a few new blog posts.

But I’ve had a lot of difficulty sticking with anything. (Or finishing anything, as you might have noticed how many times I said “started” or “beginning” in that list.)

The end of last year and beginning of this year has been really rough on my mental health. I’m starting to come out of the worst of it and am reassessing my schedules and routines to find better ways to ground and care for myself. (Sleep. Sleep has been a BIG problem.) But it’s difficult to focus on writing when my mental health is so out of whack. (Not to mention that the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I’m sick for the first time in two years.)

A writing life is about a lot more than ideas in the brainpan and words on the page. It encompasses a whole lot of other things—priorities, time management, mental and physical health. When one of those things is out of whack, it’s hard to have a bountiful and satisfying writing life. I mean, the mechanical side is there—I’m putting words on the page every day—but the focus to finish and the confidence to keep going through a hiccup? Those are the things I’m struggling with.

When I’m experiencing this kind of struggle, I allow myself a little grace, focusing on just 250 words per day and not pushing beyond that. I also release my grip on “what counts” as writing and am more likely to include stream-of-conscious brainstorming, notes, and questions. (Hey, all those words eventually get me to the finished story, so why not count them?) The last thing I do—and the thing that often helps the most during these times of struggle—is I follow my attention.

If I want to capture the ideas for a presentation on writing time travel fiction (slotted for May with the Orange County Public Library, register here for the virtual workshop), I work on that instead of the project I’m “supposed” to be working on. That allows me to capture some of the excess thoughts cluttering my head and reduces the number of things distracting me. Hopefully I only need to do this for a day or two, and then I can resume my regularly scheduled writing. (But sometimes it takes more time to get a brain back on track.)

These little “vacations” are what I do instead of taking a break from my words, but for anyone not chaining together a consecutive streak of thousands of days of writing—a break is probably a really good idea!

Mostly this month I’ve been working on ways to bring my physical and mental health in line, including drinking more water, making more time for mindfulness, and doing my very best to accept that some days any effort is my best effort.

What have you been doing to care for yourself in your writing life?

 

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Writer’s block is the bane of writers. And even though some people claim it doesn’t exist, it is totally real. It shows up in the wake of poor mental health, exhaustion, overwhelm, doubt, and a hundred other things that can distract and deplete our creative energies and focus.

If you’ve ever stared at a page and didn’t know how to start…

If you’ve ever been unable to decide what a character should do next (or written six versions of what could come next and still aren’t happy)…

If you’ve ever flipped through prompt after prompt with nothing inspiring you…

If you’ve ever deleted everything you wrote immediately after a writing session…

…then you’ve experienced writer’s block.

There is no one, overarching solution to writer’s block. Each kind of writer’s block needs to be treated in a different way, and each writer will respond differently to the possible solutions.

These days, though, I’ve largely been writing without a block, so perhaps I’ve discovered a shield that prevents writer’s block from moving in and taking over. For me, it’s being a daily writer.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

This shield didn’t develop overnight, but in the last six years of writing daily, I’ve gained more confidence in my ability to consistently produce. Because I practice writing every day and constantly reconnect with my creativity (and force myself to connect with my creativity), I have confidence that I know how to use those skills at the drop of a hat and that I can use those skills. A lot of the creative doubt around the question can I? has been alleviated because of that daily habit. (Do I still have doubts about success? Absolutely! Boy howdy, do I.)

The daily practice also has given me more experience figuring out what inspires me and what to do with inspiration. When I’m feeling creatively dry, I have a larger, more specialized well from which to draw new energy and more strategies for combining and developing ideas into stories.

I still experience creative blocks—an inability to decide what comes next, feeling lackluster about creation, not knowing where to start—but because I’m forming a chain of days of writing, I’m more likely to try, even if I’m feeling very meh about the creative process as a whole. Also, because I write daily, I usually have multiple projects to consider, so I can spend time away from a blocked project and make progress on something else. Being able to switch tasks means the writer’s block never takes control, and I’m able to work through the problem while it’s small rather than scrambling when it’s overwhelming.

Exhaustion is the one thing being a daily writer can’t cure—and in some cases it can create exhaustion and creative burnout more easily. But I can still take a break by writing less to maintain my habit and let myself rest and refuel. Overall, daily writing has helped my creative process and production, and I experience writer’s block much less frequently than I did when I was writing sporadically.

Is writing daily right for you? It may not be, but if you look through the list of benefits, you may figure out how to develop a writer’s block shield for yourself and be as well-equipped as I am while honoring your own creative process.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

For the first time since I started posting The Write Life, I’m struggling with what to say. July has been a particularly difficult month. I’ve been grappling with feelings of isolation and loneliness, a decrease in creativity, and generally the suffocation of being hemmed in (which would have nothing to do with quarantine, am I right?). My focus has been drifting and I’ve had to consciously capture and cultivate it to get anything done.

Which is part of the reason I’ve been drinking a lot of tea.

I’ve read much advice over the years about writing rituals and how to use those rituals to trigger a mental shift to a writing mindset. While my rituals have remained fairly sparse, in this troubling time, I have absolutely embraced the ritual of making tea.

Before I sit down to write, I make a cup of tea. Preparing it occupies my hands, and then I have a few minutes to think while it steeps. I’ve been using that time to start planning what I’m going to write. I daydream what comes next, play with dialogue exchanges, or noddle over where to fit in some description. (Sometimes I have to grab my phone to capture something, which means, hey, I already started writing!) As preparation goes, it’s been a huge help in focusing my thoughts so I’m ready to write by the time I sit down in front of the computer.*

To deepen this idea of ritual—of linking making tea to preparing to write—I’ve also started reserving teas to drink only (or at least primarily) when I’m writing certain things.

  • When writing steampunk? Of course, that means it’s time to drink Harney & Sons Victorian London Fog.
  • To balance out dark, angsty writing, I go for the soft citrusy taste found in the Luther Hargreeves fandom blend from Adagio.
  • When I’m writing something light and carefree, or more comedic, I snuggle up with the Bucky Barnes fandom blend from Adagio. (Which I keep saying tastes like pre-war coziness, pal-ing around New York City with Steve Rogers.)
  • I’ve even got a go-to tea for editorial work, specifically Adagio’s Chocolate Chip. Oh yeah, this tea making thing has extended beyond writing rituals and has become essential for any kind of focused work.

Am I still struggling with isolation, loneliness, and all those other things? Heck yeah. But at least I have tea and I can cling to this small joy while still forcing myself to get some work done.

*Most days. Some days there’s still a struggle and I have to utilize one of my other focusing activities.

 

 

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In June I took a break from my Writers Five goals so I could concentrate on getting organized.

I recently started using Trello to organize and track freelance editorial projects. And, after having success with that, I decided Trello might be just what I need to organize my writing life. I’ve had a bad habit of amassing ideas I don’t work on, or getting caught up in a detail and abandoning a project for a long time, or coming back to an idea and spending a long time sorting out where I was and what I was doing. Keeping a list of ideas or titles hasn’t been enough. I needed a resource that would allow me to organize thoughts, record information, and remind myself about progress. So far Trello seems to be fitting the bill! (More information about how I’ve done that is available in the June Writing Resources available on my Patreon.)

Part of the reason I’ve been failing my write goal of the Writers Five is that I’ve lacked the kind of structure I now have with Trello. I’m very good at working to deadlines, but if the deadlines are loosey-goosey, I ignore them and just go wherever my attention feels like drifting. Now I have my attention focused on the projects that are Ready to Go and I can make sure I’m moving forward with purpose.

Which brings me back to the Writers Five.

I have really fallen off with keeping up with my goals during the last few months. Some of that is related to the general upheaval and uncertainty that is 2020, but some of that is related to this lack of focus. I’ve been making good progress with my reading goals, but the write, release, and research goals have been… lackluster. During June I decided to give myself a break from my goals to find a little more focus. I’m not sure I feel ready to fully embrace my goals in July, but I’m going to be more honest about what I’m working on and focus on the goals I know I can achieve.

So, here are my Writers Five goals for July:

Read a specific book.
Read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley (due to the library) and Network Effect by Martha Wells. I’ve started both, so progress will be made, even if I don’t finish them both this month.

Write a specific story.
Write whatever story makes me happy. Some attention should be paid to anything with a due date! (A lot of attention will be paid to anything with a due date, but I’m still allowed to be a bit willynilly with writing this month.)

Research a specific topic.
Pass for July.

Release a piece of writing.
Pass for July.

Just relax.
Read outside once a week. Take a nap with or cuddle Boogie.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.