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Writer's First Aid: a Medicine Chest of Hope--to ease the pains of the writing life and help make your writing dreams come true.
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1. I’ve Moved! Come Join Me!

As I announced in last Friday’s blog post, the address of the blog has moved.

 

I don’t want to lose you.

 

Please join me here for future posts (and get your free writing e-book): http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/

 

See you there!

 

 

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2. How to Take Charge of Your Writing Life

As promised, starting today I’m giving away a free e-book for frustrated writers.

Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:

1. following through on our goals
2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits

While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.

Why give away a free e-book now? Because I want to ask you a favor! 

I’ve moved!

The Writer’s First Aid blog has a new home. When you come to visit, you’ll see a familiar face (mine). You’ll find some new pages, plus blog posts from the last two years. [I'm still in the process of moving posts.]

I’ll now be hosting the blog on my own website, so the URL will change. I don’t want to lose any of you in the transition!

After You Download the E-Book…

Here’s the favor. After you download your free e-book, please update the URL (address http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/) in any location you have the current blog address.

  • your RSS feed (wherever you read blogs…I read mine through my Gmail Reader)
  • your Favorites folder
  • your blog (if you have Writer’s First Aid listed in your links)
  • any other places you may have linked to my blog

Posting Schedule

I still plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jan Fields will still give you the “What’s New at Kristi’s” in the Institute newsletter.

Getting Your E-Book

When you go to the new blog site, you’ll find the form to get your e-book on the right-hand side. After you sign up, it will send a confirmation email to your Inbox.

After you confirm, you’ll be taken to where you’ll get Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.

NOTE: I’m not starting a newsletter at this time, nor do I send out sales letters. I won’t abuse your email addresses. Very occasionally, when I post a new report in my Resource area, I will let you know that. And, of course, you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.

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3. Three Reasons Your Writing Life Isn’t Working–and What To Do

What's the problem?

What’s wrong with me? you wonder. Why doesn’t this writing advice work?

A third worrisome thought nibbles at the back of your brain: Maybe I’m not a writer after all. 

Not to worry.

I’ve identified three of the most common reasons why writers don’t get their writing done. And I’ve put together an overall solution for you.

Reason #1: No Overall Strategy

You dream of being a novelist. You’ve taken a writing course. You read writing blogs.

And you write. Daily!

But you’re no closer to writing that novel than you were a year ago. Why?

It’s true that you write every day, using exercises and prompts. And you faithfully journal.

But there’s no overall plan or strategy for writing the novel, no measurable goals and sub-goals.

Reason #2: Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes

Maybe you diligently follow writing advice found in magazines or tips you hear from published writers.

You set your alarm to write at 5 a.m. but fall asleep on your keyboard because you’re a night owl.

You join a weekly critique group, but their need to socialize irritates you because you came there to work.

You set up your laptop to work in a coffee shop with a writing friend. She gets to work and churns out ten pages! You can’t focus, even with ear plugs in.

The problem? You don’t match writing advice to your personality.

Reason #3: Writing Habits That Don’t Help

You have less than two hours of time alone while your child is in preschool. You use that time to do a low-energy job instead of writing on your novel (a high energy job).

You’re on a roll, half way to making your writing quota for the day. Your sister calls. You could let the answering machine or voice mail get it…but you answer instead. When she asks, “Are you busy?” you say, “Not really.”

You have alerts turned on so when you’re on the computer or near your phone, you hear beeps and buzzes every five minutes. New email! A new text! A new “have to see this” YouTube video!

The problem? Sometimes we develop writing habits that are detrimental to our ability to concentrate and thus to our productivity.

Help is Here for Your Writing Life: Free E-Book

As I said above, I’ve put together an e-book dealing with these very issues.

It’s called “Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Writing Time.”

I’ll be giving it away this Friday as a kick-off to some changes that are coming.

See you back here on Friday. And if you know any writers with these issues, please pass the word. I’d love to have them check in here on Friday for their free e-book.

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4. What’s Hindering You?

Are you dragging around excess baggage?

 

Is there “stuff” taking up space that you need to dump overboard so you can pick up some speed?

Chasing Dreams

I’ve been struggling with this issue lately, and it reminded me of a period in our country’s history.

Each spring from 1841-1861 Independence, Missouri, was crowded with thousands of emigrants preparing for the 2170-mile trek we now call the Oregon Trail.

Here merchants competed for the opportunity to furnish emigrants with supplies and equipment for their journey west.

A family of four would need over a thousand pounds of food to sustain them on the five-month trip to Oregon.

Loaded Down or Overloaded?

Most emigrants loaded their covered wagons to the brim with food, farm implements, and furniture.

The journey began, but within a few miles most emigrants realized they had overloaded their wagons. Unless their loads were lightened, they would never be able to make the arduous journey across the plains.

Their only choice–if they wanted to go the distance and attain their dream destination–was to start throwing things out.

What’s Hindering You?

Do you identify with these emigrants? Have you overloaded YOUR wagon?

Are there things (activities, hobbies, interests, bad habits) that you need to dump if you’re going to make a successful journey as a writer in 2013?

Remember, those pioneers weren’t throwing out things that didn’t matter. They were giving up precious possessions in order to fulfill their dreams.

What have you given up for your writing? Fulfilling our dreams usually requires sacrifice.

  • What have you “tossed overboard” in order to devote some time to your writing?
  • What was the easiest to let go of?
  • What was hardest?
  • What is still hindering you that needs to go?

Take a moment and share!

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5. Putting Your Writing First by Using Accountability

Do your writing first!

Leave the dishes and your exercise routine and everything else–and just write. Haven’t we all heard that advice a hundred times?

I have–but it’s something I still struggle with after thirty years of writing.

Don’t feel like less of a writer if this describes you too. Just admit it–and find a way to deal with it.

Here’s my own plan…

The First 2013 Challenge

Along with a good number of you, I joined the “31 Minutes for 31 Days: the Challenge” at the beginning of January. So far, I’ve written 19 out of the 21 days. While not a perfect score, it’s much better than I’ve done for months!

Accountability, thy name is Sherryl!

What happens when the 31-Day Challenge is over? I’ll be ready!

My writer friend, Sherryl Clark, will be my accountability person as we encourage each other to pursue our goals. On January 28, we are beginning a 28-day challenge that includes (1) writing first and (2) staying off-line until the day’s writing is done. And we’re supposed to confront (nicely) when our partner isn’t keeping her commitment.

Why the need for such accountability?

At first glance, it wouldn’t seem necessary. We both have detailed written goals, put in lots of work hours, and truly LOVE to write. Even so, we weren’t getting enough writing done on our own projects. (We wrote for others, critiqued, reviewed, taught, and blogged–but by the time we got around to our own books, we were too tired.)

Ready, Set, Go!

So, we made a deal, Sherryl and I. We have committed to writing first thing each morning on our own projects.

I’m aiming for a minimum of an hour daily. If I can do more, great, but however much I get written, I’ve promised to spend time on my book writing first.

When we’re done, we’ll email each other to say how long we wrote. It won’t take us long to send that email, but since I’ll know Sherryl is waiting for my report, I bet I get the writing done.

Plan Ahead!

It’s on my schedule first now. And I’m planning ahead for success.

I take time before I quit each day to set up my desk with all the materials I’ll need to get started right away in the morning.

One iron-clad rule I plan to stick to: absolutely NO Internet until the writing is done.

Do YOU write first thing each morning, before you get caught up in the day’s demands? If so, what are the tricks YOU use to make it work?

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6. Internet-Based ADD: Do You Have It?

Yesterday, I was so antsy I couldn’t sit still to write. Nor could I read.

I couldn’t pinpoint a reason. As far as I knew, all my kids were fine. All my grandkids were fine. I was fine.

But goodness. I couldn’t sit still for love nor money.

What’s Wrong?

I don’t think I have ADD–or I didn’t used to. I am beginning to wonder lately. But why?

Then it dawned on me. I had been on the Internet nearly all morning.

It started out for some legitimate research. It expanded into email chatting, Facebook, blog reading, more email, posting comments, seeing if anyone responded to any of my comments, arranging a neighborhood meeting, checking weather for Saturday to see what to plan for my granddaughter’s visit…and much more.

Times Have Changed

Really and truly, I never used to be this way. I was the Queen of Concentration. Even with small children underfoot. Even when sick or in the hospital.

I just can’t concentrate like I used to. And according to research and a recent book, many of us don’t. Why? Either Internet addiction or how our brains have been rewired in recent years through Internet use.

I don’t know about you, but I want my concentration back. NOW.

Internet ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)

I found a good number of articles on Internet ADD, and most of them recommended abstaining from media for a day or two, or limiting your Internet use in various ways.

If you have trouble concentrating these days, read on…

The Internet Causes A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) has a good post. Among other things, it says:

With feed readers passing hundreds or thousands of blog posts by us a day, with Twitter and Facebook updates flowing like water, with email screaming for attention every few minutes, we have no more attention to give. We can’t pay attention to anything because we really give our full attention to very little any more.

Whenever I’m having any kind of problem, I assume I’m not the only one. I also assume that someone has written a book about it. They have. It’s by Nicholas Carr and called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Briefly, interaction with the Web changes how we think, in part by rewiring how we consume information. Attention spans are shorter and tasks like reading a long magazine article or book are harder.

Do You Identify?

Nicholas writes:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy.

Nicholas writes that, based on quantifiable research, “Internet use reroutes people’s neural pathways”—and quickly, too. Hyperlinks within an article are more detrimental than beneficial: “Jumping between digital documents impedes understanding” and “research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”

Think of Yourself–and Your Children

Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

The Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming very skilled at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. As writers, that ought to scare us.

What are you doing–if anything–to monitor or limit the destructive side of the Internet? Please share tips that work for you.

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7. Habits: Anchors for the Writer’s Life

anchor“Habits are the little anchors that keep us from straying very far from the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, whether that lifestyle makes us happy or miserable.” 

~~from Karen Scalf Linamen’s book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight.

Habits: Help or Hindrance?

We all have habits that either support or hinder our writing lives. [NOTE: I'm working on a f.r.e.e report right now on organization, time management, and writing habits for you.] Habits are simply the ways we repeatedly do some things.

Positive writing habits include daily writing practice, telling ourselves positive things about our abilities, and keeping current with publishers’ requirements.

Negative writing habits run the gamut from playing computer games and surfing the Internet during our writing time, to not keeping track of submissions and not studying to improve our craft.

Do you see any consistent patterns in your writing life? Which positive habits help you? Which habits detract from your ability to pursue your writing dreams consistently?

Habits from Scratch

If you could redesign your writing life from scratch, which patterns would you reestablish? Which habits would you drop, if you could break them? Can you even identify the habits that are getting in your way? Do you wonder where your time is going, why you can’t seem to get around to working on the project that is so dear to your heart? Try journaling about it.

“Keeping a journal can help you identify hidden habits that are nunsinterfering with your life,” says Linamen. “You can embrace the changes you want to embrace–and getting a handle on what’s really going on is a great way to begin!”

The Art of Change

A good writing life–a productive writing life–is built on good writing habits.  They keep you anchored to the writing life you want to have, both now and in the future. Building good writing habits may not sound very exciting, but discipline now will give you a lot of freedom later on–and a writing life worth having!

If you have time, share with others one GOOD writing habit you’ve developed (any kind) and one BAD one you’d like to break before the end of the year.

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8. What’s Holding You Back?

reinsI’ve been reading a book on how fear affects writing (and art-making of all kinds). Fear is what holds many (even most) of us back from being the writers we dream of being–and probably could be.

Art & Fear suggests that these fears fall into two main categories: (1) fears about yourself, and (2) fears of how others will receive your work.

The fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work. Fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

The Great Pretender (or fears about self)

When you doubt your own abilities, you feel like a fake, an impostor. You feel like your best work was an accident, a happy fluke that you can’t seem to duplicate. It feels as if you’re going through the motions of being a writer–typing, reading how-to books and magazines, attending conferences–but you suspect that you don’t really know what you’re doing. (And we wrongly assume that all those other writers DO know what they’re doing.)

You also suspect you don’t have any real talent. After all, talented people perform their art with ease. Writers might start out that way, but inevitably you reach a point (if you’re truly working) where it definitely is NOT easy! You take that as a sign that you don’t really have enough talent to be a writer after all. (Truth: talent is a gift, and most people have enough talent. Probably 95% of success is what you do with it–and for writers, that means showing up at the page consistently.)

These fears WILL keep you from doing your best work.

Whose Priorities Count? (or fears about others)

The best writing is not produced by committee. It’s produced when a writer who is passionate about an idea is left alone to create. At these times we aren’t even thinking about others.

Problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities with our own. In our heads, we hear these critical voices. (Some come from our pasts, some from current writing friends, some from what we read in magazines and publishing journals.) Since published writers depend on reviews for sales, what others think has to matter at some point. However, when others’ opinions–how they think we should write–influences you too much and too soon in the process, you stop writing what you truly love and start writing what “they” have said is better or more salable.

Wanting to be understood is a basic need, and writers want others to understand their stories. They don’t want to be booed off the stage for being too different. (We all learned at an early age the dangers of being considered different or weird.) So the inner war continues with writers: can I find the courage to be true to what I need to write, or will I buckle to others’ opinions so I have a better chance of being received well? Buckling to fears of being misunderstood makes you dependent on your readers or audience.

These fears WILL keep you from doing your own work.

Ponder This…

This coming week, when you’re out scooping snow or taking a walk, give these two questions some thought:

What fears do you have about yourself that prevent you from doing your BEST work?

What fears about your reception by others prevents you from doing your OWN work?

And if you’re REALLY brave, leave a comment about one (or both). It will give me ideas for future topics!

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9. What Fear is Holding You Back?

reinsI’ve been reading a book on how fear affects writing (and art-making of all kinds). Fear is what holds many (even most) of us back from being the writers we dream of being–and probably could be.

Art & Fear suggests that these fears fall into two main categories: (1) fears about yourself, and (2) fears of how others will receive your work.

The fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work. Fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

The Great Pretender (or fears about self)

When you doubt your own abilities, you feel like a fake, an impostor. You feel like your best work was an accident, a happy fluke that you can’t seem to duplicate. It feels as if you’re going through the motions of being a writer–typing, reading how-to books and magazines, attending conferences–but you suspect that you don’t really know what you’re doing. (And we wrongly assume that all those other writers DO know what they’re doing.)

You also suspect you don’t have any real talent. After all, talented people perform their art with ease. Writers might start out that way, but inevitably you reach a point (if you’re truly working) where it definitely is NOT easy! You take that as a sign that you don’t really have enough talent to be a writer after all. (Truth: talent is a gift, and most people have enough talent. Probably 95% of success is what you do with it–and for writers, that means showing up at the page consistently.)

These fears WILL keep you from doing your best work.

Whose Priorities Count? (or fears about others)

The best writing is not produced by committee. It’s produced when a writer who is passionate about an idea is left alone to create. At these times we aren’t even thinking about others.

Problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities with our own. In our heads, we hear these critical voices. (Some come from our pasts, some from current writing friends, some from what we read in magazines and publishing journals.) Since published writers depend on reviews for sales, what others think has to matter at some point. However, when others’ opinions–how they think we should write–influences you too much and too soon in the process, you stop writing what you truly love and start writing what “they” have said is better or more salable.

Wanting to be understood is a basic need, and writers want others to understand their stories. They don’t want to be booed off the stage for being too different. (We all learned at an early age the dangers of being considered different or weird.) So the inner war continues with writers: can I find the courage to be true to what I need to write, or will I buckle to others’ opinions so I have a better chance of being received well? Buckling to fears of being misunderstood makes you dependent on your readers or audience.

These fears WILL keep you from doing your own work.

Ponder This…

This coming week, when you’re out scooping snow or taking a walk, give these two questions some thought:

What fears do you have about yourself that prevent you from doing your BEST work?

What fears about your reception by others prevents you from doing your OWN work?

And if you’re REALLY brave, leave a comment about one (or both). It will give me ideas for future topics!

Add a Comment
10. Ask About the Numbers

While discussing goals with several writer friends, I found myself becoming depressed. We were analyzing how 2012 had gone. Each person shared their goals for the past year and how they had succeeded or failed.

Until I heard the other reports, I had been happy with most of my year. While I hadn’t yet completed a couple of novels I’d started, I had written a couple of proposals, and one of them got the “nod” from an editor. (Proposals take me a while, with their sample chapters and market plans.) A revision for a book I sold in 2011, which I expected to take about two weeks, took the last three months of 2012 to complete instead.

Check the Numbers

Here’s where the depression part came in. Several friends said something like this: “In 2012 I wrote a six-book series for X Publisher, plus three books in another ongoing series for Publisher Y.”

After hearing that, I didn’t want to share that my completed projects were so meager. And yet, I had put in more writing hours this year than in many years (and I’m not counting the blogging or critique letters for private critiques.) Was I getting slower? Was I burning out? I didn’t feel like it, but I sure wasn’t producing books at the speed these other writers had.

For me—and for many of you—it’s all in the numbers.

Then I remembered something. Several years ago I had what looked like my most productive year. I wrote three books in a series for an educational publisher, then two mysteries for a different educational publisher. A five-book year!

But the whole truth was that the three books were all written in a week and totaled only about 750 words each. The mysteries were early chapter books that were less than 2,000 words each. That’s only about 6,000 words altogether! And it was less than two months’ writing time. Still, I could truthfully say I wrote and sold five books that year.

In Comparison…

In 2012, though, I wrote two proposals. One got nixed fairly early, and one got the go-ahead. I’ve been working on that novel, and each revision has changed it substantially. It will still take months to finish it. And the revision I did this fall and just turned in (for the book sold in 2011) grew into a longer book when I added the additional material my editor wanted. (It’s a much better book now.) But the numbers? The “revision” included major changes to the 36,000 words I had written, plus an additional 21,000 words of original material. This 57,000-word revision took me much longer—and was more challenging—than the five books I wrote several years ago.

Am I knocking educational writing or short books? NO! Not in the slightest. The value of the writing is NOT in the length. I’m just suggesting that you ask about the numbers. Before your writer’s ego shrinks any further when someone talks about their multiple book successes, ask them how long the books were. (While there are a few full-time writers who produce long books several times per year, they are few and far between.)

Part of the Writing Life

And if you like to write long books, get used to this. It will happen throughout your career. I generally sell one or two books per year, depending on length. But except for that one year, I don’t write short material other than this blog.

Writers aren’t telling you they wrote and sold six books last year to put you down or make you feel small. They are telling the truth. (It wasn’t until someone commented to me that I must not have seen my family that whole year that I realized the misperception on their part.)  But if it makes your writer’s self-esteem take a plunge, ask (nicely) how long the books were. Add up the numbers. (Some middle-grade novels are 50,000 words, but many middle-grade series books are 15,000 words or less.) You may realize that despite appearances, you’ve written much more than that last year. So don’t compare apples and oranges.

Better Yet, Don’t Compare At All

We were each given stories and material to write, either fiction or nonfiction. We each have a unique voice and a unique “take” on the world. No one else can write your stories—or my stories. And if the stories you are given to write are longer or take more thought, your “production” quotas will look lower to others. Find a way to be okay with this, or it will plague you throughout your career.

I hope your 2012 was a successful writing year, but be careful how you measure success.

Just curious: how will you measure success in 2013? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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11. Organizing: Targets vs. Goals

[This article is reprinted by permission. See credits at the end.]

*******************

It’s traditional at the beginning of the year to define what you’d like to achieve in the coming twelve months.

That’s a good thing and I highly recommend it. This week I’ll be writing my own annual plan for the coming year.

However, I’d like to point out an area where just about everybody uses fuzzy thinking in their planning.

We don’t control our future entirely.

Some things we can control, of course. But some we just can’t. It’s crucial to know the difference.

If you’re looking for an agent, you have complete control over how many queries you send out. But you can’t force an agent to agree to represent you. All you can do is make yourself an attractive client, send out those pesky queries, and hope that one of the agents sees how brilliant you are.

What we need are two different words, one for goals that we can control, and one for goals that we can’t. As far as I know, we don’t have those words. We could make some up, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

Instead, let’s just define a “Goal” (with a capital letter) to be something we have control over, and let’s define a “Target” to be something we only have partial control over.

  • “I will write 10,000 words every week” is a Goal.
  • “I will become the best writer in my critique group” is a Target.
  • “I will attend one major writing conference this year” is a Goal.
  • “I will get two editors at conferences to request manuscripts” is a Target.
  • “I will send out 20 queries to agents in March” is a Goal.
  • “I will sign with an agent by July” is a Target.

Goals are good. Targets are also good. But they’re not the same thing.

You can make a list of Goals for the year that is 100% achievable. At the end of the year, if you haven’t reached all those Goals, then you have a right to hold yourself accountable.

You can make a list of Targets for the year, but you just can’t assume they’re achievable. It’s OK if they’re a bit of a stretch. It’s OK to aim for a spectacular year and end up with a merely great year. (For some people, the only way to achieve their best is to shoot for the impossible.)

But it’s a mistake to confuse Goals with Targets. That only sets you up for self-flagellation at the end of the year, if you don’t reach all your Targets.

An important point is that Targets usually depend on Goals. So set your Targets first. Then figure out what Goals you must meet in order to make your Targets as likely as possible.

Steps to Make This Work

Let’s see how that works out in practice. Suppose one of your Targets is “I want to sign with a major agent this year.”

If you’re a first-time novelist, then you probably can’t get an agent unless your manuscript is complete and polished. You also can’t get an agent unless you pitch to at least one (and probably several).

So here are five reasonable Goals you can set in support of your Target:

  • I will complete my manuscript by the end of March.
  • I will hire a professional freelance editor to evaluate my manuscript, with a deadline to get the evaluation back to me by the end of June.
  • I will polish my manuscript to the best of my ability by the end of August.
  • I will send out a minimum of 10 queries to suitable agents in September.
  • I will attend a writing conference in September or October and pitch my work to two suitable agents.

Now if you hit all five of these Goals, there is no guarantee that you’ll sign with an agent. But the odds of signing with an agent are vastly higher if you achieve all five of these Goals than if you achieve none of them.

Targets depend on Goals. But Goals don’t guarantee Targets.

Here is a five-minute exercise that you can do right now to create a reasonable set of Targets and Goals:

What are your Targets for the coming year? A good Target is concrete, objective, and difficult. But it’s not necessarily achievable. There is a part that depends on other people.

For each Target, set one or more Goals that depend on you alone. Goals should be concrete, objective, difficult, and ACHIEVABLE.

Do you have any other Goals for the coming year (besides the ones you need to reach your Targets)?

Write down all your Targets and your Goals and post them above your workspace. Make it clear which Targets depend on which Goals.

Look at your Targets and Goals every day before you start work. If you need to revise your Goals throughout the year, that’s OK. It’s fine to be flexible. If a great opportunity comes up during the year, change your Targets and Goals to include it.

A year from now, review your Goals first and then your Targets:

  1. Did you hit all of your Goals? If not, then figure out why. You may not have given yourself enough time. Or you may need to improve your work habits. Or it may be that your writing has a lower priority than other things in your life.
  2. Did you hit any of your Targets? If not, was it because you failed to achieve the required Goals, or was it outside of your control?

Planning your year doesn’t need to be complicated. But it does need to be clear. You control your destiny with your Goals. You don’t completely control it with your Targets.

Knowing that can help you keep your head straight on the long, long road to publication.

 

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

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12. Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success

successHAPPY NEW YEAR! 

 

Remember that our “31 Minutes for 31 Days” challenge starts today! Get the new year off to a great start.

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And now, Stage 4 for making dynamic changes in your writing life! (First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, Stage 2: Committing to Change, and Stage 3: Taking Action)

 

You’re well on your way to achieving your major 2013 goals at this point, and you’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!

You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.

Until now.

Change and Maintain

In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:

  • Learn to recover from setbacks
  • Get mentally tough for the long haul

First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.

However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.

Pre-emptive Strike

Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)

Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.

Maintaining: A Better Way

I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day, I would begin again on Day #6.

I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.

Coping Plans

In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)

Coping plans have this basic structure (according to Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self):

“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”

When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.

When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.

Retrain Your Brain

Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.

Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:

  • I am equal to any writing challenge.
  • I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
  • I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
  • I take breaks every 90 minutes or so, using the break to refresh.
  • I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
  • I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
  • My writing gift is unique and the expression of that gift is unique.
  • I don’t need to be like any other writer.
  • I never give up on my dreams.

I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. (And yes, I use them myself, broken down into several categories: spiritual life, health, writing, children/grandchildren, and my marriage.) I guess I have a lot of areas where I want to rewire brain patterns!

Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place. It’s time we stopped yo-yoing up and down and created stable, permanent writing habits.

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13. Writer’s Guide to 2013

Writers, get ready for the new year!

One good way is with a copy of the Writer’s Guide to 2013.

If you want insider information for what’s important to writers in the coming year, this is your book. Over 200 editors, publishers, agents, and industry professionals review what’s coming in 2013.

There are five sections of articles (39 total), plus a sixth section on contests and conferences. The book is divided into:

  • Markets
  • Style
  • Business & Career
  • Research
  • Ideas
  • Contests & Conferences
  • Index

A Taste Treat

To whet your appetite, let me quote from one article in each of the five sections.

From “Markets”–”Big Fish, Little Pond: The Saga of the Midlist Writer”: This article deals with most writers, those of us who haven’t won a Newbery or hit the NY Times bestseller list, but are good writers (often with substantial sales records). As the author of the article notes, these midlist writers are “being abandoned by the ship and left to fend for [themselves]. As a result, midlisters either pursue self-publishing routes or seek out the harbor of smaller houses that welcome their talents.” The article goes on to detail some excellent ideas and goals for midlisters in this fluctuating publishing time.

From “Style”–”Characters in Conflict”: This article takes the average advice on conflict several steps deeper so that your conflict will be both meaningful and gripping to the reader. The conflict needs to be important and difficult, complex and challenging. “If you typically start with a plot concept, ask yourself what kind of person would have the most trouble in that situation while still being able–just barely–to succeed. If you typically start with character, focus on the characters’ primary needs and how they would define themselves. Then figure out which situations would most challenge them.” The author takes you step by step through this process, with good examples, so you can create your character/conflict combination that really works.

From “Business & Career”–”Maximize Your Writing Productivity”: I wish I could quote the whole article for you here! It is full of very useful tips and ideas. I liked how the premise of the article points out a vital truth. One writer is quoted as saying, “Create a vision of what ongoing success would look like for you, and then go for that. Don’t dwell on or pursue other people’s glory.” Depending on what success means to you, you will find certain productivity tips helpful and others useless. Decide where you want to go first. “Goals that do not fit your individual personality and vision…may fade away.” The author gives practical ways to deal with things like email, Facebook, etc. “Internet activities, games on your smartphone, or Downton Abbey are not the only time pirates. People, yes, even those we love, can undermine productivity.”

From “Research”–”Nostalgia: Getting It Right”: Because I’m at the age that I remember with longing some simpler, quieter times, this article caught my attention. What is nostalgia, and why are there so many markets for it? (I was astounded at the market listings in this article–nearly 25 of them.) “The song ‘Remember’ that is so poignantly offered in the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail strikes at the heart of what it means to experience nostalgia. It is a deep pining for something long ago and far away.” If you have those pinings, check out what editors say they want most in the nostalgia market.

From “Ideas”–”Creativity: Where Does It Come From & How Do I Get Some?”: This lengthy article does a good job of simplifying the right brain/left brain information using recent brain research, talks about how your individual personality affects how you create and what tips you will find helpful, and then gives many good ideas for what the author calls putting your creative self “on a strength-training regiment that you have the discipline to commit to on a consistent basis.” I know my own creative muscles get under-used and flabby, and I found the suggestions very useful.

FREE 30-DAY EXAMINATION

Order the Guide here and use it for 30 days. If you don’t find the Writer’s Guide to 2013 as valuable as I think you will during your free examination period, simply return the book, and they will promptly refund the full purchase price you paid.

I love no-risk deals!

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14. Stage 3: Taking Action

First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

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Ready for Stage 3? It’s about taking action.

(First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, and Stage 2: Committing to Change.)

If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.

Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.

You’re primed for success.

Action Steps

As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:

  • You must decide when, where and how to start.
  • You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
  • You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.

This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.

Create Action Plans

An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.

Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.

To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:

  • When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
  • Where will you start? (time and place)
  • What specific action step will you take at this time?
  • How will you keep this commitment?

Time to Show Up

Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause.

There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed dealing with fears.

  1. What’s Holding You Back?
  2. Pitch It To Yourself!
  3. Voices of Self-Sabotage

I also keep several books on my shelf such Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.

Focus on the Present Step

Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!

The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”

Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.

One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.

Small Steps

Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.

NOTE: Don’t stop here. On New Year’s Day we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.

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15. Standing Out in a Flooded Marketplace

Now more than ever, writers must focus on the quality of their writing over the speed of turning out their work. Due to ebooks and self-publishing, the market is flooded.

Your book–if it is to get noticed–must stand out.

Quantity or Quality?

I read a great article this week called “The Importance of a WOW Book in an Overcrowded Marketplace”  by M.J. Rose.

It starts with this quote by Lou Aronica from Fiction Studio:

I want to implore you to remember to dedicate at least as much effort, if not more, to craft than you did before you started taking on so many of the business functions in the industry. Simply never lose sight of the fact that readers expect you to bring your A-game consistently, and they have more incentive than ever to walk away if you disappoint them.

I will quote enough of the article to whet your appetite, and I hope you’ll click on over there and read the whole thing.

Estimates are that in 2012 over 1.5 million books will have been published (About 20% of them coming from traditional houses)…It means that now more than ever we can’t be writing just another book. We can’t be rushing through a draft.

There are those who say the way to win the game is to write fast and furious, and fill up the virtual shelves with as many books carrying your name on the spine as possible. In the past there’s been some proof that it was a viable strategy. But there’s more proof that the future isn’t about endless quantity.

With so many millions of titles available, the books that will get talked about are the books that make readers talk about them. Now is not the time to try and write two okay books a year as opposed to one really gangbuster book in the next 12 or 18 or 24 months.

In her comments section was something by Donald Maass (author of Writing 21st Century Fiction) worth repeating here. Read all the way to the bottom, and focus on his last paragraph. In my opinion, that’s where the hope for each us lies:

I’m not sure I agree, though, with the comments that say WOW is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, some readers will never enjoy dinosaurs on the rampage or the latest wounded daughter. Light farce or heavy drama will always turn off some readers.

But my studies of successful fiction show that the elements and techniques that create high impact in a story have nothing to do with category, style, subject matter or message. What we glibly call great writing is a set of techniques (a large set) that are the same across the board.

WOW isn’t luck, timing or a shrewd choice of story. It’s sweat, fire, and a commitment to dig deeper, work harder and say more than the other 1.5 million. The methods aren’t secret, it’s just their application that’s rare. 

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16. Stage 2: Committing to Change

decision(First read The Dynamics of Change and Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind)

Okay, we’re ready for Stage 2: Committing to Change. This is not taking action yet. Instead, this stage involves:

1) Planning the necessary steps
2) Building up your motivation
3) Considering possible distractions and/or discouraging things that might cause a setback

The change you make at this point is to shift from “passively wishing to achieve your goal to actively committing to make it happen.” (Neil Fiore in Awaken Your Strongest Self.) If you did the work in Stage 1 (thinking through the risks and benefits, plus evaluating your personal abilities), you should have fairly realistic expectations of what does–and doesn’t–work for you at your particular stage of life.

Time to Experiment

Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.

  • Try writing for 15 minutes upon awakening or right after your morning coffee.
  • Stay offline until 10:00 a.m. for three days.
  • Try writing at the library during two lunch hours this week.
  • Read a writing blog before you get on Facebook or Twitter.

Record your thoughts and feelings when you introduce these writing changes. How do you feel? What works and what doesn’t? You can’t fail at this stage. You are only gathering information.

Some of these changes you’ll love and find so easy! Others you won’t find helpful at all. But as you succeed with certain writing changes (writing 15 minutes each evening while supper cooks, reading 5 pages per day of a writing book), your motivation will rise. You’ll feel more like a writer automatically.

Mental Rehearsals

During this stage you also need to think through strategies for dealing with obstacles, distractions and setbacks. One of the most effective (and fun!) ways to do this is using what athletes call “mental rehearsals.” They imagine how they’ll handle challenges at each step along the way. [NOTE: This is not just wishful thinking. Current books on brain chemistry show incredible studies and brain x-rays, revealing changes made in the brain after "mental rehearsals."]

Envisioning how you will handle writing distractions (toddlers wanting to be entertained, friends calling to chat, school vacations) and setbacks (an editor rejects your novel after two revisions, computer crashes) helps you build stamina or mental toughness.

Use mental movies to confront each setback or distraction. Instead of your usual reaction (chocolate, TV, surfing the ‘Net), clearly envision yourself sitting tight, working methodically through your writing problem, piling up a stack of new pages, and keeping to your deadline with ease.

Not all interruptions and distractions happen to us. Be aware that you often seek out distractions as well. In order to escape writing blocks or manuscripts that just aren’t working well, we often attempt to escape the anxiety or boredom or agitation by looking for distractions.

Are You Ready?

The final part of Stage 2 is actually committing to the change. Take time to think and journal about the strength of your commitment. If you want to succeed–and make the success permanent–it needs to be more than a wish. It needs to be a strong intention.

So, what do you intend to do? What change(s) in your writing life do you intend to make? Now is the time to commit.

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17. Motivation Plus

As the late Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” 

 

Kick Back & Be Inspired

With that in mind, enjoy some motivation this weekend. Bookmark your favorites and come back to them regularly.

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18. Stage 1 of Change: Making Up Your Mind

mind(If you haven’t already, read the overview, The Dynamics of Change.)

You want to make changes in your writing life that will last?

Let’s start at the beginning, with Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind. As I said last time, this stage involves several things, including the following:

  • feeling the pain that prompts you to change
  • evaluating the risks and benefits of the goals you have in mind
  • evaluating your current ability

Not Yet!

In this stage, you do not make any changes. Not yet. As tempting as it is, do not jump in and “just do it!” Remember how far your willpower has taken you in the past–and wait.

Resist the temptation to cycle through another try–>fail–>try harder–>fail–>discouragement episode. Instead, lay the necessary groundwork to make permanent changes.

The Pain of Not Changing

Wanting to make a change–but never making it–is exhausting. It hangs over our heads, constantly reminding us of some incompleted task. When you really feel the pain of not changing, you’re on your way to making up your mind. (And if you’re willing to live with the pain of not realizing your writing dreams, that’s your choice as well.)

Actively and colorfully imagine staying the same the next five years. Imagine that it’s 2018. You’re still trying to implement the “write daily” habit, you’re still trying to finish that novel, you’re still too afraid to talk to agents or editors at writer’s conferences, and you’re still unpublished. When writers’ block hits–or simply a normal writer’s frustration–you still reach for doughnuts or a cigarette or settle in for an hour of mindless TV.

It’s 2018, and nothing has changed–except you have gained fifteen pounds, you’re still stuck in a day job you hate, your baby is in kindergarten, (and you never did get to work from home), or your military spouse has moved the family again (and you still don’t have a career that can move with you.)

Write out the “future” scenario in vivid color based on nothing changing. A clear image of future pain strengthens our determination to face our current fears about changing.

Risks and Benefits of the Change

Explore (either on your own or with a friend/counselor) the benefits of making the short- and long-term writing changes you are considering. Follow the changes five years into your future and see the benefits of having written steadily for five years, submitting steadily for five years, getting five years’ worth of critiques, etc.

The risks? Most of them have to do with facing your writing fears. For a week (two is better) observe yourself and your thoughts when you sit down to write (or when you avoid it.) You’re not trying to change here–just observe your reactions when trying to write.

Do you feel anxiety? What do you think? (“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this!”) What do you do? (Write half a paragraph, then reach for chocolate?) The risk is being honest with yourself, which is necessary if you’re going to honestly evaluate your current ability…

Current State of Affairs

After spending a couple of weeks observing your writing habits, you may have uncovered a few issues to address (procrastination, feeling isolated, self-doubt, self-sabotage, fears of failure or success, etc.) Maybe you just lack motivation; whatever the issue(s), this is the time to work on them.

How you deal with them (and a combination of solutions usually works best) will vary from writer to writer. Some ways to motivate yourself and work on various writing fears include:

Remember, all this thinking and journaling and dreaming is still Stage One. You haven’t committed to making any changes yet. You’re still making up your mind. You’re thinking things through thoroughly.

And you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed–permanently.

I’m curious. Do you find this thinking stage comforting? Threatening? Discouraging? Encouraging? Share your thoughts!

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19. Back to Basics: It Works!

As you could probably tell by Tuesday’s article “Simplified Writing Goals  for 2013,” I think it’s time to get back to basics. I tend to read a lot, then take what I learn and complicate things.

Learning is good. Making my writing life complicated, however, does NOT help.

With that in mind, today’s Friday offering is a time management coach’s article to help you simplify your day and move forward on your goals. Here are five things to do in the first five minutes of your day. [Read to the end for a free gift offer by the author.]

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THE 5 MINUTES THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE 

BY MARCIA FRANCOIS

How would you like to start every day off on the right foot?

Wouldn’t you like to feel a sense of excitement as you start your day?

You can have exactly that if you do something different for just 5 minutes a day.

If you spend 5 minutes every evening (or at the end of your work day) planning the following day, your life will dramatically change.

So what do you need to do?

1. Grab a notebook and pen.

You could also use the eat the frog form in the pack offered on my website.

The point is to have something to capture your thoughts.

2. Ask yourself one of these important questions.

* Which 3 – 5 things, when accomplished, will move me towards my goals?

* What is the best use of my time tomorrow?

3. Think effective, not busy.

Busy means you’re doing lots of things. Effective means you’re doing the right things.

E.g. Yesterday, after I downloaded email, I had two choices – keep busy by reading newsletters and replying to all my blog comments & personal emails, or be effective by responding to a journalist who wants to interview me.

Guess which one I chose to do?

Effective tasks will move you towards your goals while busy tasks will make you feel productive but may not necessarily yield results.

4. Write down no more than 6 tasks.

Mary Kay, one of the world’s most successful businesswomen, said that the secret of her success was to only tackle 6 tasks a day. If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.

I showed a client my own planner a few weeks ago. When I think I’m Superwoman and put down more than 6 tasks, I never get them all done. But when I put 5 or 6 tasks on my list, I get them all done.

If, after a few days, you find that you’re feeling overwhelmed with 6 tasks, lower your expectations and start with 3. You’ll soon settle on your comfort number.

5. Number the items in order of priority.

Only now (in step 5) do you prioritize them. Don’t try and do this step before you get them down – you might get stuck in analysis paralysis.

You’ll hit the ground running the next day when you start on number 1 and move through your list until you complete number 6.

Marcia Francois is a time management coach and speaker who inspires busy women to break out of overwhelm, make the most of their time and take purposeful and focused action so they have the time and freedom to live life to the full. Visit  http://purposefultimemanagement.com  for your free Time Management Purpose Pack.

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20. Simplified Writing Goals for 2013

20436344-945x750With only a month before the new year, writing goals are on my mind. Yesterday I reviewed my 2012 list of goals to see if I’d accomplished what I set out to do last year.

 

I’d finished a few projects on my list–like revisions of books sold the year before and some marketing things.

 

Still…my “first loves”–the three unfinished novels–hadn’t progressed much at all.

 

Why Not?

What were my downfalls? I could identify two big ones that plagued me probably four days out of five: (1) most days I didn’t do my novel writing first, and (2) I spent way too much time on the Internet.

 

First, what pre-empted my novel writing? A variety of things: email, blogging, paid critiques, dishes, studying, babysitting sweet grandkids, work-for-hire writing, and exercising.

 

Second, how did I use up my precious writing time on the Internet? In a variety of ways: junk email, reading newsletters and blogs, checking weather, studying vacation sites in England, reading Facebook posts, checking my bank balances, paying bills, reading too many horror stories on CNN, and tweaking my website.

 

Every one of those things was a not-very-cleverly-disguised way of not working on my novels.

 

Different Writing Goals in 2013

So…I’m thinking seriously of trying something new for my 2013 goal setting. I will make a short list of fiction book projects I want to finish. And then I will give myself only two “must do” things for each day in 2013: (1) work on my current novel first, and (2) stay off the Internet till noon.

 

If I can do these two things consistently, I suspect it will make a huge impact on accomplishing next year’s writing goals.

 

I think I will start NOW and do it for the remainder of 2012 and see how it impacts

  • my writing output
  • my enjoyment of writing
  • and my overall emotional satisfaction with life.

I’m guessing that the impact will be huge.

 

How about you? What do you see as your biggest stumbling blocks to actually getting the writing done?

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21. Writing Irresistible Kidlit Goes on Your Christmas List!

I didn’t think the world needed one more writing book—but I was wrong. The book that changed my mind is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole.

 

This book answers so many of our questions about:

 

  • the current writing market (and all the changes)
  • what sells best and why
  • how to target today’s major traditional book markets
  • getting inside the minds of middle-grade and YA readers
  • crafting characters and plots that grip a reader
  • and what makes a winning query or proposal for an agent or editor.

 

[NOTE: The book is an in-depth treatment of middle-grade and young adult fiction. It does not cover fiction for kids under age 8 or nonfiction. This is not just a “beginner’s book.” While the book is understandable for someone just starting out, it is challenging enough for a more experienced writer, and especially helpful to anyone wanting to bring their novel up several levels so it can compete much better in the current marketplace.]

 

Why should you listen to Mary Kole? Well, she has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and now spends her days as a Senior Literary Manager at Movable Type. She holds her MFA in creative writing from the Universityof San Francisco. Mary blogs at Kidlit.com, named one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” by Writer’s Digest Magazine for three years running. The book is a bit like having the opportunity to sit down with an agent for a heart to heart about why some books sell and some don’t.

 

Mary Kole’s encouragement to slow down and really focus on the writing, the theme, and the passion in your story is very welcome. In Mary’s own words:

“That’s why I’m so excited to share this book with you. It’s about craft, first and foremost, and, I hope, it forces you to focus on what’s really important. The publishing game will always be there when you’re ready, and when you finally hit upon that amazing idea and execute it with finesse, you will have a much easier time landing an agent and progressing to a book deal.”

 

One big change Kole talks about is the current “blockbuster mentality” (that came about after the mega hits of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games) and why novels need to be so well crafted in order to sell today:

“The blockbuster mentality that is rampant in Hollywood and in adult and nonfiction publishing has finally come to the kidlit market. We now know that children’s books can make money, so we (agents, editors, and the finance guys upstairs who are signing off on book offers) expect them to.”

 

Many students have told me they love middle-grade writing, but have no interest in writing about vampires or wizards. Mary’s thoughts:

“If you want to avoid genre, though, there’s still definitely room for stories that deal with the real world of school, friends, romance, and family. In fact, some editors and agents are clamoring for strong contemporary stories where nobody has any magic powers and nothing falls out of the sky or crawls out of the ground. They (and readers) want real life, because that’s fascinating, too.”

 

The same holds true for YA writers who don’t want to write books with edgy violence and sex scenes. Mary’s advice is:

“Before you start writing smut and gore, though, here’s a very important point to remember: You don’t have to be edgy to write YA. In fact, that’s a huge trap that most aspiring writers of YA fall into. They try on a snarky voice, shoehorn in a paranormal element, and put their character in dangerous situations—all because they think that’s what’s selling right now. But all it does is come off as forced.”

 

Editors and agents are looking for “high concept” novels today. Here are some clues to what that means—and ways to get your novel this designation. Mary says:

“There are certain things that seem to get the high-concept designation more than others. Basically, it’s anything Hollywood might like: twists; surprise endings; secrets; betrayals in friendship; family ties; romantic relationships; big events like birth, death, and transformation; life-threatening danger; glamour; fantasy and superpower elements, hidden identities; big crime; conspiracy; love triangles—anything that’s larger than life.”

 

Writing Irresistible Kidlit has sections called “From the Shelves” throughout the book that highlight examples from current published books. A full list of these books is at the end under “Novels Cited,” and I intend to print off the list and start reading. That will be an education all by itself!

 

I read this book as a PDF sample review copy. Even though I highlighted throughout, I’m going to buy a hard copy. If you can’t buy it right now, put it on your Christmas list. (Or earmark one of those Amazon gift cards you’ll receive from someone this year.) It will make a great Christmas present to yourself! I recommend this new writing book very highly.

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22. We All Need Encouragement

Fellow writers, we’re all in this together. And we all need encouragement from time to time.

Even if you’re not participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I thought you might enjoy snippets of the pep talks that are emailed to writers to help them keep going.

Be Encouraged!

A Pep Talk from Kate DiCamillo was about a guy at her day job who ridiculed her early writing efforts, but she fought back–by writing. (I really identified with her, having written to prove I could to everyone who told me to get a “real job.”) Her letter included:

It is a truly excellent to have someone to believe in you and your ability to write.

But I think it is just as helpful to have people who don’t believe in you, people who mock you, people who doubt you, people who enrage you. Fortunately, there is never a shortage of this type of person in the world.

So as you enter this month of writing, write for yourself. Write for the story. And write, also, for all of the people who doubt you. Write for all of those people who are not brave enough to try to do this grand and wondrous thing themselves. Let them motivate you.

The following is part of a Pep Talk from Lindsey, who ran into an emergency situation at the beginning of the month and was tempted to quit. It applies to any writer who has run into a life situation that has derailed them.

For those of you who have contemplated abandoning your novel—or already have—I invite you to sit down, look at your novel-in-progress, and envision a November without the rest of the story you’ve started. Imagine your laundry is folded, your pillow creased from adequate use, dinner is cooked, socks are matching, your shoes are shined… but no novel.

Here’s part of a message from Lani Diane Rich on “Having a Dream vs. Realizing a Dream”–and it might encourage you to try NaNoWriMo next year!

National Novel Writing Month changed my life. Because of NaNoWriMo, I became the first previously unpublished writer to get a book deal with a major New York publisher. Because of NaNoWriMo, I started taking myself seriously as a writer, and now I get to live my passion. I write, I teach writing, and I talk about writing—that’s my day job. But I honestly don’t know if I’d be where I am now if not for NaNoWriMo.

Do you have a really mean internal editor and critic? Then you’ll like what Karen Russell had to say about that…

Perhaps you, too, have a coach of the interior like mine—bald and cruel, shaking his sweaty pate at your sloth, ridiculing your sentences, professionally contemptuous. Extremely foul-mouthed. A definite misogynist. A voice that reads over your shoulder and snorts with derision at your characters’ dialogue. A voice in cahoots with every other voice that has ever criticized your efforts and ambitions and haircut. He pretends to be all kinds of things: the Voice of Reason, the Voice of Tough Love. But he is a tyrant. He is the enemy of fiction writing. His “pep talks” are actually spells of paralysis, designed to rob you of all confidence and happiness. In order to write your novel, you must get rid of this sadist. Do whatever it takes to shut him up. Chloroform him; drag him by his white Reebox behind the dugout; bury his shrill, censorious whistle. Then return to your green, blank, mercifully silent playing field, and write.

Time to Write!

Try to remember, when you hit periods of distress and discouragement with your writing, that it’s only part of being a working writer. Take the advice above and push on. You’ll be glad that you did!

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23. Writing for the Christian Market

Because half of my 42 published books have been in the Christian market, I get a good number of questions about writing for this specialized group.

 

In addition to a few excellent books (Christian Writers’ Market Guide  and Sowing Seeds: Writing for the Christian Children’s Market), a variety of websites and blogs offer you information on the writing craft, markets, conferences, finding a critique group, and more.

 

If you want to write for the Christian market, take a moment now and bookmark each of these websites.

Check These Out

American Christian Fiction Writers is the monthly group I attend. They have conferences, critique groups, a Facebook page, and many ways to stay in touch.

 

The Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild will help you grow as a writer. They offer online courses for adults, children, and teens. They have a blog, conferences, articles, and do critiques.

 

Christian Writers is an online group offering discussion forums, critique groups, articles, contests and blogs.

 

You can find some great articles at Christian Writers Downunder (Australia).

 

Write His Answer offers conferences, editing, many resources, and a great Bible study by the same name.

 

American Christian Writers has a fairly plain website, but don’t let it fool you. There is a wealth of information (plus conferences, an excellent bookstore, magazines, critiques, seminar CDs, etc.) for the aspiring Christian writer.

 

Godly Writers: the Beginning Guide for Christian Writers is loaded with articles, information, and encouragement.

 

If sharing your Christian faith in your writing is important to you, you’ll find it helpful to connect with other writers doing the same thing. I hope these websites help you!

 

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24. The Dynamics of Change

changeAre you thinking about your 2013 writing goals yet?

Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? There’s a reason for that.

I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help as we head into a new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.

How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of those 25% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?

Change in Stages

One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed, you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.

Most writers won’t be able to do it.

Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.

Making Change Doable

All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.

However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.

Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.

Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.

Stages of Change

  • Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
  • Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps, building up your motivation, and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
  • Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
  • Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.

(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)

The Blueprint

So…that’s the plan for the next few Tuesday blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way.

The “Stage 4″ article will be posted on New Year’s Day–just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions!

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25. 31 Minutes for 31 Days: the Challenge

Time to dust off those dreams! Join me in a kick-start challenge for the new year!

It may seem early for this–after all, we haven’t had Christmas yet–but now is the time to think about your goals and dreams.

Time to Re-Boot

After the hustle-bustle of the holidays and kids home for vacation, getting back into a writing routine is often the first challenge of the new year.

If that’s your usual post-holiday situation, then check out Katia Raina’s “Gimme 31 for Your Dreams: A Challenge and A Giveaway.” The help you need could be right here.

Call to Action

Who qualifies for Katia’s challenge? In her own words:

It’s really for anyone who has a serious dream but has been frustrated by lack of time and energy, assaulted by procrastination, tortured by doubts into apathy.

No matter how young — or how old you are – no matter how big your dream (or how small, I suppose), my goal with this challenge is to get you back upon your feet, or get you started, or just let you give yourself a chance.

You’ll want to read the entire post about resurrecting your writing dreams, but here is Katia’s challenge in a nutshell:

During those 31 days, I want each one of you busy dreamers to give me 31 minutes of your precious time. Pick the time of the day that works best for you. Think in advance about your dream. Put a timer on. Seriously, do it. Use a timer. And once it’s on, rush to the computer (or your studio, or whatever), and do the work. No breaks. Thirty-one minutes. Write. Paint. Meditate (if that’s your dream). Thirty-one measly minutes. Don’t be stingy with me. That’s not much, I’m asking.

Little kids? Demanding full-time jobs? I don’t care. If you have time to be reading this blog, you have 31 minutes to spare to your dream.

I’m joining the “31 minutes for 31 days” challenge in January, and I hope you will sign up too. I am particularly pleased to do this because Katia is a former student of mine. I love seeing a nurtured writer who is now nurturing other writers’ dreams.

 

 

 

 

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