Tag Archive for: planning

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?

 

 

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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.

If you’ve been following along for the past year, you already know I’ve been taking a long break from novel writing to take care of my parents. With the major illnesses under control, and adjustments and new routines established, I can finally inch back into novel writing. This means refamiliarizing myself with plans, getting back into the characters’ voices, and figuring out what’s been percolating in my head while I’ve been away. In short, it’s a novel writing return!

I know I’m not the only one who’s been in this situation—coming back to a novel after a long (sometimes years long) break—so I wanted to share what I did this month to reconnect with my novel.

Take Stock Before Writing

The first step is all about taking stock and figuring out where you left off. For this novel, it included reading over the outline and making notes where the plot seemed a little draggy. (Turns out in the two years away, the outline did not magically fix itself.)

I have many different parts of this story drafted, but since I’m working from a new outline, I decided to not bother rereading any drafts. I will be incorporating things from previous drafts, but I think I’d prefer to revisit those as I get to each scene since my outline is so detailed.

I also discovered I created a writing schedule, which will help with the next step….

Update the Novel Plan

Updating the novel plan starts with updating the outline. I only had a few notes to address in the opening chapters, but they required shifting scenes and chapter breaks, which also created a need to update the story map. (The story map is a document that tells me who is in each scene, where it takes place, and which plot threads it involves.)

The novel plan also includes plans for how to write the novel, specifically what my writing schedule will be. The schedule I previously devised had me writing 3–4 scenes per week, and while I aspire to that level of productivity, it’s just not realistic with my other obligations.

Instead, I looked at the estimated word count of each scene and then doubled that number (because I know the chaotic, word-heavy way I draft). Keeping a realistic goal in mind, I decided I am unlikely to write more than 4,000 words per week, so that base schedule has me writing 1–2 scenes per week.

Renewing Voice

Reconnecting to a novel includes reconnecting to the characters. Because it’s been a hot minute since I wrote anything substantial for these characters, I wanted to reacclimate myself to their voices. I picked a few moments and various character combinations to write about and went at it!

Making my novel writing return by starting with some odd moments let me approach the writing at a slower pace while I was still finishing plan adaptations. It also meant I could test some of my plans to see how much I can actually write on a busy day with my new routines and schedules.

Novel Writing Return!

The hardest part of the return is to stop dawdling and get writing. That means officially writing a scene that will—gulp—go into the novel.

So that’s for next month! 😅

(Seriously, updating the outline and story map took longer than I originally thought it would—but no regrets about that time spent! For me, the planning stage is important to keeping my brain on track and untangled as I draft. Other writers struggle with the planning and revision; my writing struggle is drafting.)

I am coincidentally starting my draft in November, though not doing NaNoWriMo. Anyone else setting ambitious writing goals outside of a challenge structure?

 

 

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.

While writing is never an easy undertaking, I’ve been struggling more this year. Focus has been difficult, as has maintaining priorities. “Eyes on the prize” is a mantra I’ve been repeating as I continue to become distracted by other responsibilities and projects and things that Sound Cool but have been stealing my attention and energy. It’s been frustrating to be forced into choosing and being unable to do everything when I’m used to being an ace at my juggling act. But it’s time I accept a truth: when I keep dropping a ball, it’s time to leave the ball on the floor.

Dropping an activity—or even deprioritizing it for a limited time—is difficult for me. I feel the pressure from other people (someone was expecting or looking forward to my contributions!), the pressure from consistency (doing something regularly is more likely to draw and maintain an audience), and the pressure from myself.

Screaming woman with multi-colored balls falling around her.

Photo by Zak Neilson on Unsplash

Admittedly the pressure from myself is the dumbest reason and the one I should be able to let go of easily, and yet…

I have a lot of expectations regarding what I should be able to do. While that usually matches reality, it sometimes comes with a steep cost (especially when I’m looking at a year of increased mental and emotional burden). I was talking to a friend about a deadline recently and said, “Can I make it? Of course. Because I will literally kill myself before missing deadlines.” Friends, that is not a healthy way to be. Especially if what I’m striving to meet doesn’t have a career, mental, or emotional payoff that will support refueling the inevitable burnout.

One of the reasons I need to step away from some of the things I’ve been doing is because they don’t support my career path and goals. (This is a good starting place if you need to reassess your own responsibilities, by the way.) As I was making a list of what I need to work on for the second half of this year, I realized how many of the things on that list weren’t writing a novel or writing articles for pay or writing workshops. When I started fitting those things in around the other responsibilities, it became obvious what was choking my goals and where I needed to step back.

I’ve already trimmed some responsibilities and am taking a hard look at the other jobs on my to-do list. It’s difficult to say “no” when something sounds cool or fun, or when I can see how it might fit into Alli’s Puzzle of Freelancing & Writing. But I can’t let Cool and Fun outweigh Time, Energy, and Mental Health. It hurts to let go of opportunities in the short term, but in the long term, my future (and my writing life) will thank me for leaving the dropped ball on the floor.

 

 

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The idea of a solo writing retreat has always intrigued me. I excel at self-directed work, and I’m fairly productive while working independently, but stripping away all my distractions and responsibilities to focus on creativity felt indulgent. Or more specifically, like something other creatives were allowed to have, and I wasn’t. (Spoilers: that is a lie, creatives are allowed time and space to create.) I also wasn’t entirely convinced I wouldn’t veg out a little too much away from the pressures of my daily life. Given no other responsibilities, would I really choose to buckle down and write?

The answer to that last question is unequivocally yes, but not without a little work.

The trick to making a solo writing retreat a success is absolutely in the preparation.

In early December, as part of UCF’s MFA winter retreat, I headed to the Atlantic Center for the Arts. As I explained previously, the ACA is an artist retreat with creative studios for many different disciplines, including writing. While I was there, I had access to the Writing Studio and Library (pictured), as well as my private room and a cottage with a kitchen and dining area. It turned out that due to the retreat dates conflicting with school schedules, I was the only writer in residence the few days I was there (also pictured). Which worked out well for me! (I enjoy a dollop of solitude and writing in the quiet.)

Anything self-directed needs some, y’know, direction. So, to ensure my solo writing retreat was more than me sitting alone in a room with full autonomy and no one to blame if I didn’t do anything, I made a list of the projects I needed to work on, the projects I wanted to work on, and the status on each project.

I narrowed my focus to three projects: one I needed to work on and that required some research, one that I wanted to work on and was at the planning stage, and another that I wanted to work on and was at the drafting stage. I quickly decided to spend most of my time on the project I needed to work on, but to warm-up or cool-down on the other projects.

Once I had my focus figured out, I made a schedule for each day to determine—realistically—how much time I would have to write. I included everything on my schedule from when I would eat and shower to when I would take a break to read or walk around the campus. Because while this was a writing retreat, it was also meant to give myself time to unwind and refuel, which meant ensuring I had time each day to eat decent meals, get to bed at a reasonable hour, and read a large chunk of a book.

Creating a schedule prevented me from wasting valuable retreat time figuring out when I needed to do something. I’d already made the plan, which meant all I had to do was look at my phone to figure out what to do next. And if a writing session was going great, it was easy for me to extend a half hour and adjust my schedule to accommodate inspiration and motivation. But I never had the stress of feeling like I was running out of time to do everything I wanted because I’d already accounted for my needs and my work time.

Writing sessions were similarly easy because I’d already planned what projects I would work on during each session. It turned out that I wound up mostly working on the needed project—because once I got started, my brain latched on to it and it was easy to work on—but during my morning and evening sessions, I had the option to check in with myself and see if I felt up to the more grueling task or if I wanted to relax with something easier.

Whether you’re heading off for a writing retreat outside the home, or just planning a long weekend focused on your work, I highly recommend taking the time to prioritize and make a schedule beforehand to get the most of your specially focused creative time.

 

 

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Unsurprisingly, I spent the majority of my writing time and thoughts in October looking ahead to National Novel Writing Month. As a municipal liaison (that’s one of the volunteers responsible for creating events at the local level), my focus tends to be on others, rather than on myself. I spend my time scrounging up volunteers, scheduling write-ins and other motivational content for the month, promoting our events and NaNoWriMo as a whole, and encouraging everyone to prep their novels so they can put their best foot forward on November 1st!

But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for my own preparations.

Those responsibilities are collectively one reason I tend to take the rebel route during NaNoWriMo and rarely work on a single project, and never work on a new project. All the projects I tackle during the month of November tend to be an already in-progress novel or a collection of smaller works.

This year I’ll be spending time drafting new scenes and revising old ones in Gay Airship Pirates, continuing to draft a course I’m teaching in February on punk subgenres (links for that as soon as they’re live!), and bouncing around between fanfic, blog posts, and whatever other topics happen to catch my heart strings.

I have been having a lot of difficulty clearing the mental clutter of late, so I’m also going to be working on a semi-daily project where I take a prompt and write for 15 minutes. The prompts I’ll be using will be gathered from a range of places, including some resources I’ve mentioned in Writer Resources posts on Patreon (and a few I will be sharing soon). I’m hoping that engaging creativity in a multitude of ways will keep the prompting fresh and shake loose any mental blocks I’m having around creativity so that when I hit my designated noveling time, I’ll be ready to get to work.

What do you do to get yourself ready to write? Do you have any tips you want to share for anyone tackling NaNoWriMo this year?

 

 

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July began with a desperate plea for help reprioritizing my life. Thankfully, my friend Jennie Jarvis stepped in to provide some structure to my internal flailing and give me a very simple method to prioritize my time and projects: does it make money or not?

I have a generous, but ultimately unhealthy habit of volunteering my time and energy in many unpaid ways. I love helping other writers—and some volunteer opportunities just sound like so much fun—so I’m not surprised I volunteer over and over and over. But when I’ve done that too often, or overlapped projects too much, I end up stretched thin, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even though I’ve been working to say “yes” less and to only volunteer when I honestly have extra time and energy, I’m still spending more time on unpaid activities than on paid activities and badly bungling my time.

Which, uh, is a problem.

So, Jennie’s earth-shattering reprioritization system is as simple as categorizing projects as to whether or not I’m getting paid for my work, and then making sure I schedule my day to spend more time on paid projects than unpaid projects. Her strategy also allows for projects that are not currently making money but should in the future, such as developing websites, podcasts, workshops, and writer tools.

Writing time on personal projects (which would be projects unrelated to paid work) is kind of a third category, since all short stories, novels, and anything else we write for traditional publication is kind of a question mark as to whether or not (or when) it will sell. I’ve been regularly dedicating an hour and a half daily to writing, so I kept that time set aside (and still sneak in five-minute chunks here and there as time and ideas allow).

Honestly, this whole process is so easy to figure out I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. (I mean, I do. It’s something about missing the forest for the trees.)

I’ve been using this new system to restructure my time and reprioritize my projects for the last month, and while I had some difficulty adjusting (and had to make some tweaks for real-world application), I’d say overall I feel more confident in my ability to keep up with my workload and more balanced in the choices I’m making. For someone who struggles so much with mental health, getting my schedule under control has been a HUGE help. So, thanks, Jennie!

If you are struggling with your projects, responsibilities, and how to prioritize your time, I recommend taking a look at your list to see if anything I’ve described here might help get your life under control.

 

 

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Normally at this time of year I do an end-of-year assessment on the goals I set in January, or do some kind of wrap up to talk about what I achieved. But 2020 was so wildly unpredictable that most goals I set for myself quickly morphed, and I came to accept that writing things that made me happy was more important than anything else.

Even so, in this last month, I finally started a project I’ve been putting off all year.

The last time I re-submitted revisions on my agent pursuit, I came up with the wild idea to split my finished novel into a novella trilogy. I decided to wait through one last round for agents to respond, then a publisher’s open call, before dedicating myself to dividing the novel for self-publishing.

…And then I waited two more months because who wants to do all that extra work if you can just keep waiting???

But as I waited, I thought more about what the revision from novel to novella series would look like, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it (even if I kept procrastinating on making a mess out of something that was “done”).

In December, I finally bit the bullet, split my Scrivener file, and started outlining each part as a separate novella. The original novel structure with three distinct acts means making the initial split was easy, but work still needs to be done to establish inciting incidents for each part and ensure each book resolves a major conflict. (Also, increasing the word count overall, or else I’ll have a short story and two short novellas.)

So far, the first novella is fully mapped out, and the existing parts from the other two have been structured so I have some idea of what’s missing. I still have some planning to go before I start writing, but I’m expecting these revisions (and prepping the series for self-publishing) to be my major project through most of 2021. I’ll be launching some new tiers and rewards on Patreon to support this project, so if you’re interested in reading more about the self-publishing process or seeing previews of the work-in-progress, keep an eye out for that announcement, likely in February or early March.

 

 

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.