4 Ways to Meet Your Writing Goals

You probably know this has been a hard year for Stephanie, Shonna and me. We’ve talked about how to keep going, both personally and professionally. We’ve discussed whether we have any more to offer you or whether Routines for Writers has run its course. And all three of us have struggled to keep writing through a variety of personal and professional setbacks.

There are so many cliches we could offer each other, and you, to keep writing and not give up. But here are four solid things you can do now, or anytime you need a boost, to keep going and accomplish your writing goals.

(I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I wanted to share with you what has worked for me. Go to the end for the bullet points if you’re short on time, and come back and read the full post when you have time. 🙂 )

 

Writing Routines 

 

You can tell from the title of our blog that we strongly believe in routines in general, and writing routines in particular.  Routines are habits you are acquiring on purpose. I choose to routinely run three days a week because I have a goal of beating my best time in the half marathon I signed up for in January. My habit thus far has been to overeat and carry a lot of extra weight that is not helping me with my running. For my January race goal, I have identified one routine and one bad habit that I need to change into a positive routine.

In my writing, I have several goals regarding getting my current book into print format, getting my next book out as an ebook and in print, and submitting my superhero novel to Harper Voyager during their open submission period next month. In addition, my 2012 goals include increasing traffic to my web site/blog, creating more online classes to teach in 2013, and learning how to promote my books to increase sales.

It’s great to have goals, but you need to have a plan, too. Just like in Shonna’s post last Friday, I take my big goals and work backwards to break them down into pieces so I know what needs to be done every month to make the goals a reality at the end of the year. When I’ve got that list of monthly goal pieces written down, I can create routines that work for me that will turn the goal pieces into accomplishments. For instance, when my life was calmer, I wrote four days a week and did all my business-of-writing stuff on Fridays. It’s less important what you choose to do, perhaps, than that you create a routine that moves you toward your goal at a pace you can keep up.

Using the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor, let me tell you that the training programs for running marathons and half marathons (I only do half’s) suggests running moderately short distances several days a week, increasing your distance slowly, and doing one longer run on the weekend. So I might run four or five miles a day three days a week, then an 8-mile run on Saturday. More 5-mile runs the next week, and then 9 or 10 miles that Saturday. This is the kind of schedule that you can keep up even if you have to get to work in the morning. And it’s a good parallel for making a writing routine as well.

 

Periodic Reevaluations

 

When life is going smoothly (or monotonously, depending on your perspective), it can be difficult to remember to check your progress against your goals before the year is up. Several of my friends and I have an unhelpful tendency to wait until November or December, then freak out and try to cram all the rest of the work into the busiest time of the year. Brilliant.

When I teach my goal setting and time management class (coming again in January), I encourage people to check their goals after a month to see if they were on a “get it done” high when they wrote out their list. 🙂 Then I suggest quarterly reviews, taking 15 minutes to see how close you are to where you’d planned to be. At these checkpoints, we can decide if we think we should readjust our goals, and do so if necessary.

Remember, goal setting is about making progress toward something you want. It is not about beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished! You need to sit down and think about why you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, but only because you need to decide if you should change course or just change tactics. You also need to reward yourself for what you have accomplished. That will give you energy to keep on going. (I started a “Done” journal a year or two ago. I write down all my writing-related work that I do on any given day, bullet-point style so I can scan it easily. I haven’t done half of what I’ve set out to do, but I’ve done a LOT and the Done journal helps me stay upbeat.)

 

Willingness to Change

 

Depending on how your reevaluations go, you may decide you want to make some changes. It may be that your goals are fine, but the way you are going about trying to accomplish them needs to change. For instance, say you decide to take someone’s advice to get up an hour early to write every day, and two months into that new routine you are exhausted and cranky. You’ve got your pages, but people have started to avoid you.

You may decide that you need to write for half an hour during your lunch break, and half an hour in the car before you come home from work. That way you are getting the sleep you need, and no one feels like you’re ignoring them. I wrote part of Little Miss Lovesick that way. I find it almost impossible to ignore my husband – we’re  like little kids who just want to play when we’re together – and this way I made my goals quickly because there’s an end to my lunch break (hurry!) and the car is not an easy place to type and I’m hungry (hurry!).

This weekend, I did a periodic reevaluation for a different reason. My life has been in constant upheaval this year (and for much longer, really) and I knew I wasn’t going to make all my 2012 goals. I needed to see where I was and figure out what was most important to me to get done before the end of the year. I looked at the big picture and monthly goals for 2012 and sighed. Heavily. Then I wrote down what I most want to accomplish before the end of the year. Yikes! It’s still a lot! But I dropped several projects on my original goals list, promising myself I’d look into whether I still wanted to pursue them next year.

Due to my husband’s unemployment and our recent dedication to following through with our Financial Peace University goals, I’ve taken on some outside work. For every hour I take out of my writing week, I’ll have to make some adjustments to either personal time that will become writing time, and/or decrease my 2012 goals again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m willing to make changes now to accomplish big picture goals in my “regular” life as well as my writing life.

 

Decide Now to Keep Going Later

 

Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help you meet your writing goals is to decide now not to quit when it gets tough. Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, hard and easy. When times get tough, what is your plan?

Yes, a plan will help you not to quit.

My plan for this particular hard time was to not quit writing altogether, to not focus entirely on the areas of life calling for my attention. My plan was to let writing time decrease, but to make sure I was still making progress every week. Every baby step counts, and I have to keep reminding of myself of that.

My plan for when life gets into an easier cycle is to work on my writing career with “gazelle intensity” – a Dave Ramsey term he uses to get people totally focused on getting out of debt. As soon as I’m not juggling bills or working temp jobs, I’m going to be working 10-12 hour days to get back on track. I’m giving up some of my personal time and time with John (he supports this – yay!) and I’m focusing on making up some lost time. I did this last week for a few days before my temp job started and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. I was exhausted, but it was worth it because I was seeing progress in just a few days. (I strongly recommend you take at least one full day off from work a week if you decide to do this. You need a full battery each week to keep up this kind of pace.)

The reason I recommend a plan for what you’re going to do when life takes some (or nearly all) of your writing time, and a plan for what to do if you get a windfall of time, is that you can be prepared and make good decisions that much quicker. A few years ago I walked one step at a time into a very deep rut. I didn’t know how to get out of it and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I stopped writing, for the most part, pretending to most of my peers that I was still working away. But I bet I didn’t write 5000 words (outside this blog) that whole year.

Ouch. If only I’d had a plan for what to do when something like that happened. But because I learned from that experience, when my mom died this year, and so many other pieces of my life seemed to fall apart, I had an idea about how to survive and continue. I decided back then that I would keep going now.

 

Bullet Points

 

To meet your writing goals, you need to:

  • Create writing routines that help you to keep going, step after step after step, getting a little done at a time so that you accomplish your annual goals by the end of the year
  • Periodically reevaluate your goals and your progress, at least quarterly, deciding if you need to make any changes
  • Be willing to make changes, either to your goals and/or your tactics in trying to accomplish your goals
  • Decide now what your plan is to not quit later when times are tough, and another plan for what you’ll do with extra time

I hope you take some time to reevaluate your goals and tactics this week. What can you reasonably accomplish in the next four months? Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

Start at the End and Work Backwards

This month we are talking about taking control of our writing careers. This week, it’s about the Big Picture VS the Details.

For me, this means the old saying: plan your work and work your plan.

THE BIG PICTURE: Plan Your Work

What is your end goal?

Career? Hobby?

Do you write as a creative outlet, but not necessarily to make it your day job? Do you need to make money? Is your biggest desire to add your own work to the body of literature that you love so much?

Start here. Dream big. (The way you used to when you were young and nothing had beaten you down yet!) Write down your big dream, then above it, write an even bigger dream because your first dream was probably too small. We’re talking BIG PICUTRE, by-the-end-of-my-life type dreams.

THE DETAILS: Work Your Plan

Work backwards from your BIG PICTURE. Let me catch up to you in the middle of the backwards plan:

FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK
Celebrate! And now comes all the marketing and other authorly duties. Once you’ve signed the contract and have a publishing date, figure out your marketing plans working backwards from that date. Get it all on your calendar so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

AGENTED
Start creating your list now so when it’s time to submit you’ll be ready. Remember at this stage you will need huge doses of patience. Avoid anyone’s blog that talks about how quickly it happened for them. It’ll just make you grumpy.

This process is slow enough, so don’t do anything to make it slower. Make sure you query in batches. (Because likely you started querying before you finished polishing. If your first round comes up with no requests at all, go back to polishing.)

And say “no” to exclusives. If you do agree to an exclusive, for a Revise & Resubmit for example, set an end date. Even if the agent says these things are hard to determine, set an end date at which time you can decide whether or not to continue with the exclusive agreement. Time has a way of slipping by when there is no deadline, so put in a stop-gap and then you won’t stress out wondering what is happening.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?
Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, you have options if you want to hustle. From the easiest: affiliate links from your website all the way to teaching classes (on and offline) self-publishing ebooks, offering critiquing and editing services. Even after publications, authors need to get additional income streams to pay the bills.

POLISHED MANUSCRIPT(S)

The majority of your time will likely be spent here. More time than you think, because our manuscripts read differently in OUR heads (which know the story and how it’s supposed to read!) than what is actually on the page that other people read.

This is where critique partners can be so helpful. Try to find people who can go several rounds with you and who aren’t afraid of hurting your feelings. (Although it is nice to have someone who just loves everything you do! It’s just not helpful in making the story better.)

FIRST DRAFT
You must finish. You must finish. You must finish.

EDUCATION
You’ve got to learn how to become a writer. Being an artist doesn’t mean the work naturally comes out of you all perfect. There are techniques. Genre conventions. Accepted business practices. Learn them as you go. Never stop learning.

DESIRE
This is where it starts. You keep this desire burning and it will help carry you up through the other steps. Do all you can to encourage yourself because things will get hard and you’ll want to quit many times over. And we all know what a writer who never quits is called: published.

What Are My Options?

One of the big questions in every area of life is – what are my options? How do I want my hamburger cooked, what do I want on my pizza, how do I like my coffee – the smaller questions. What will I do for a living, how can I make ends meet until the work brings in the money, which of several directions should I take to get there – the bigger questions. (Why am I here, what is God’s plan for me, where will I go when I die – the most important questions, but not directly related to writing. 🙂 )

In writing, I’ve asked myself if I want to write fiction or nonfiction, business articles or romances, romantic comedies or superhero books with a romantic thread. While I like each of these ideas and many more, I have learned in life that you have to focus first to get started in any new endeavor. You can spread yourself thinner later. So I published a few nonfiction pieces, then focused on romance.

I went to Christian writers conferences in the early years because those were the writer friends I was hanging around. I got close enough that I was getting phone calls from an editorial assistant at Tyndale House, but I was writing just enough out of step that we could never quite get my work to run along on their track. Things never worked out.

A friend introduced me to her agent and soon I had representation. Surely my big break! It seemed the right thing to do was to continue with the romantic comedies (called chick lit at that moment, but shhh, don’t say that phrase any more). My agent and I talked about different things I could try when chick lit died. I chose not to pursue an opportunity with a Christian publisher who pays tiny advances. I was too insecure to try writing YA when my agent suggested it. I could see I had options, and – right or wrong – I made the best choices I could.

After four and a half years, I talked to my agent and decided to walk away. I was trying to do what I felt she wanted me to do, but my creativity was drying up by trying so hard. I needed a break. I’d been thinking about going to grad school for years, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. It was so beyond different from what I expected, not challenging at all, that I complained for a long time about what a waste of time it was.

But over the last couple of months, I remembered that I do have options. I can choose to live with disappointment over my grad school work, or focus on what I learned from it. For instance, I learned that I can write YA! I got some extraordinary feedback on a YA story I wrote. More excellent feedback on a spiritual dystopia/urban fantasy I wrote for my final project. And after flying to last year’s RWA National Conference the morning after my last class, and hearing a couple more editors tell me they weren’t sure they could sell my work, I knew I had another option.

I came home from that conference and decided, as an experiment, I was going to self-publish Little Miss Lovesick, the book my agent almost sold to two houses before chick lit died. When the process went a bit smoother than I expected, I considered my options again. I could keep trying to write and pitch my work to the current establishment, or I could start my own business again. The idea of running my own publishing company got my endorphins dancing.

One option that worked out for me was choosing to get involved in two self-published anthologies. The first one, Romancing the Pages, will come out in September as an ebook – see the lovely cover here. My superhero short story “Hero in Disguise” is one of nineteen short stories I hope you enjoy. In a few months, another anthology will be published with a dozen or so short stories written by my friends in my Sydney writer’s group. Another group of stories I think you’ll enjoy. My “Rescue at Loon Lake” is a fun little precursor to my novel Love at the Fluff and Fold.

It’s been a heck of a year. Several moves, several deaths, more months of unemployment than paid work between John and me, a lot of trials and testing. Career-wise, the worst part for me has been not being able to follow-through on my goals, my commitments to myself that I made end of last year. I’d planned to get Little Miss Lovesick into print by Christmas, finish and self-publish Love at the Fluff and Fold digitally and in print by March, and have the next book out in September.

Due to the weight of life this year, I’ve thought about sending my work to other publishers, let them do some of the work in return for some of the monetary rewards. I know I have options. Maybe giving myself a little break would help. It’s an awful lot of work to do all of the publishing work yourself. Several wise men in the Bible have said to count the costs before you start building so you don’t wind up broke, half-finished, and a laughingstock. I think I know the costs of continuing down my current path, and I’m willing to pay them.

I’ll continue to try to keep my options in mind at least once a year so I can adjust my course as necessary. It’s a good writing routine to have. In fact, because I love teaching and miss doing it more, I’m going to offer my Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers class again in January. We’ll start bright and early on the first Monday in January and get our ducks in a row for the coming year. I’ll remind you again when you can start signing up.

Whatever is going on in your life and your writing career, remember that you have options. Some will be better than others, but rarely is “I had no choice” true. What are some of your options?

Creative Breakthroughs – Whew!

We’ve talked about where our creativity comes from this month, how our thoughts and feelings influence it, and when procrastination helps or hurts the creative process. Now that we’ve talked about the more difficult side, let’s look at what creativity looks like when it works.

Creative breakthroughs – whew! I don’t know if I could continue trying to live a creative lifestyle and work in a creative endeavor if I didn’t have frequent breakthroughs. I think we get an endorphin rush when the breakthrough is big enough. We’re happy to the point of laughing out loud and we’re filled with sudden energy to keep going! Yay! Thank God for wiring our brains this way!

This past week I’ve been working my way through a book I found in my library, The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee. Only two chapters in, and I love this book so much it’s on my must-buy list! The web site is also spectacular, full of colorful encouragement and happiness-inducing how-to’s! You may know that I started my own publishing company to publish my books. I did not jump into it with no business sense, though. I have a bachelor degree in business administration as well as a master’s degree in creative writing. I want to work in a creative industry, but I want to do it right.

I’ve written a few business plans in my life, done a halfway decent job with them, but I don’t think I ever looked at them again once they were printed and added to the 3-ring binder of “business stuff.” But the way Jennifer suggests creating your business plan – and I’m only two chapters in, but I think I’m right – both uses common business sense and business tools and the more visual creative side of your brain to create a bona fide business plan that doesn’t get filed away and that you’ll actually use. (Guess what optional reading is being added to my January online class on goal setting?!)

One of your writing routines should be to check in with yourself to see if you’re on the road you meant to be on. When I went to the RWA National Conference in July, one thing I wanted to verify while I was attending workshops and meeting agents and other publishing professionals was – am I on the right road for me?

By the end of the last day, I was doing the Happy Kitty Dance because I knew self-publishing and being a business owner was exactly where I wanted to be! Nothing had changed to make me decide to give it up. Hearing all about what’s going on in New York and who is looking for what didn’t make me want to re-start submitting to agents and editors. Now that I’m making a more visual and creative business plan (and giving myself permission to forego the look of a traditional business plan!), I’m more excited about doing more frequent check-ins with myself. I love Jennifer’s idea of using index cards to keep track of parts of the plan so you can add new ideas when you think of them. I’m sure Jennifer is a friend I just haven’t met yet! I love the way she thinks! 🙂 I’ve been trying to make my business background fit into my creative life, and I’ve tried to get my creative life to fit into a sound business mold, but Jennifer is the one who put the two worlds together.

Am I excited enough here for you to click on those links and check out the book and the web site?! The excitement is because I had a creative breakthrough last week! Something that I’ve been trying to create finally came together and I’ve got the endorphin rush to prove it. And not just an endorphin rush – meeting your friend for coffee and talking about your works-in-progress can give you that, but does it always help you write more and better afterward? Part of knowing you’ve had a creative breakthrough is when you have lists and pages of ideas, and when normal and unrelated “stuff” in your life sparks even more ideas.

Reading the first chapter of The Right-Brain Business Plan on the elliptical machine at the gym (difficult, but it can be done – just don’t fall off when turning pages!), I had so many ideas about getting back into teaching that I was afraid I’d lose some of them. I used to put on an annual one-day writer’s workshop called Write Now! Workshops. I stopped doing them when I started traveling so much. But I have plans for a lot of online and live workshops starting in January 2013. I knew I wanted to get back into teaching, but I wasn’t sure how and where I wanted to start. Jennifer asked all the right questions to get my little brain humming!

I’ve still got most of the work ahead of me in getting my business plan down. But the other thing that excites me is that I can spend a little time “playing.” I can use that drawing class I took two years ago to make little drawings on my business plan. (Oh, how my professors at The Wharton School would faint!) I can use some of the cool programs on my Mac to get more colorful and more creative. I can take pictures of myself in PhotoBooth and record me giving myself a pep talk in GarageBand and add those to my business plan. I’ve been praying for God to help rekindle the fire in my spirit for my work and I think this is part of His answer! I’M SO EXCITED! LOL!

Check out the book and the web site. Get yourself a plan that works for you, no matter how you get it written, and then work at making it happen. You can do this!

Speaking of creative breakthroughs, my friend Mona Hodgson had a creative breakthrough recently. She’s been writing children’s books since before we met (she’s one of my first writer friends!) and has published over a dozen of them. But she wanted to write adult books, too. In 2010, her dream came true. Two Brides Too Many, the first book in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series, was released by WaterBrook Multnomah. Too Rich for a Bride followed in 2011, and The Bride Wore Blue came out in May of this year. On October 2, the fourth and final book, Twice a Bride, will be released.

Today Mona is celebrating the release of her very first book trailer! You get to be among the first people to see it! The trailer is beautifully put together. You’ll want to visit these four sisters yourself. Celebrate with us by picking up a copy of Two Brides Too Many, or finish where you left off if you’ve already started the series. I think you’ll enjoy it. Congratulations, Mona, on your wonderful series and the beautiful book trailer! I can’t wait to see what your next series will be!

You can visit Mona at her web site www.monahodgson.com/ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Author.Mona.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation – Kitty

What a quick two months it has been! Another month and summer will be over?! Holy smokes! So what have I been doing? Well…

As many of you know, my mother died in May. That was rough, and I don’t seem to remember much about June. In that respect, I’m glad that we decided to take a summer break here at Routines for Writers. I needed time. (And I thank all of you who have commented or sent me encouraging notes or hugged me when you saw me. You’re all such a great group of people!)

In July, I hit the restart button again. (We’ve talked about that before. I love that button.) I got back into my writing groove, finalizing a short story for one anthology and writing a new one for another anthology.

In August, “Hero in Disguise” will be published in Romancing the Pages, an ebook anthology of 17 short stories by writers of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. (See a picture of the cover here by Winterheart Design.) My story is the romantic meeting of the hero and heroine in my upcoming superhero romantic comedy series, The Adventures of Lewis and Clark. I love the way they meet, all dressed up on Halloween, lots of secrets between them.

Later this year, “Rescue at Loon Lake” will appear in Moonlit Encounters, an ebook anthology of 10 short stories and novellas written by my Sydney chapter-mates of the Romance Writers of Australia. Mine is the funny story of a newcomer, a lost dog, and the dog catcher. It’s part of the Strays of Loon Lake romantic comedy series about lonely men and lost dogs finding love and a good home with women who are learning to find their strength. The first book in the series, Love at the Fluff and Fold, will also be out later this year.

In addition, John and I have been taking advantage of a break in his schedule to get cracking on the print version of Little Miss Lovesick. You may remember that I signed up to attend the Self-Publishers Online Conference in May. Due to my mom’s illness, I wasn’t able to participate at the time, but I am catching up. The suggested reading (Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, and Publishize) has been extremely helpful in putting together a nice looking print edition of the book. This also will be available later this year. You can see how busy I’ve been!

Last week, I attended the RWA National Conference in Anaheim, CA. I expected to learn a lot about craft and self-publishing and spend lots of time and energy networking – and all that happened to an even greater degree than I had hoped. But before noon on the first day, I had an unexpected surprise – I won a brand new Sony Reader!

I was so excited, I was jumping up and down. Here is a picture of me moments after Stephanie Beam Warner from the Sony Reader Store announced I’d won. I haven’t figured out yet how to get Little Miss Lovesick on it without having to purchase it, but I’ve got a nice “bookshelf” full of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells already.

Because I love excellent desserts, I have to admit – I took a picture of the amazing chocolate something-or-other we had on Friday. I texted my author friend Kathleen Wright and told her I wanted to lick the plate. She texted me back to do it, but I restrained myself. Barely. Oh my gosh, it was delicious! Of course, I remembered to take a picture of the food, but I was so focused on what I was doing and learning during the conference that I forgot to take pictures of anything else. Not even a picture of me with my friend and roommate, Lauraine Snelling. Darn!

Lauraine and I had some great brainstorming sessions and great conversations with some of our other friends who were there – authors Charlotte Carter, Nancy Farrier, and DiAnn Mills especially. I also met the president of the Independent Book Publishers Association and had a great talk with her about that organization. I now have in my budget the amount of the membership dues so I can join as soon as possible. Plus, I think I know who I want to contact when my budget can support an attorney. One of the speakers was excellent and practices law in the publishing field (and in my state!).

Finally, to round out my busy July, the day after I got home from the conference, Lauraine and Kathleen and I spent another half a day brainstorming. Exhausting, but so worth it! During five hours of using Fring and Skype, we worked through some issues for the fourth book in their S.A.V.E. Squad series and the first book in my Strays of Loon Lake series. Both books are so much better for our time together.

So there you have it. That’s more or less what I did on my summer vacation. And it doesn’t even include all the non-writing things I did! Like most good vacations, I sort of wish it wasn’t over and I still had lots of extra time to work on my book instead of our blog. But like most good vacations, I’m also glad to be back.

Now tell us what you’ve been up to this summer!

Guest blog . . . Kathy Tyers and Jamie Upschulte

Kathy Tyers is one of my (Stephanie) all-time favorite authors. When I learned about her latest book, I invited her to guest blog with us.

Editing Survival Tips
Author: Kathy Tyers & Jamie Upschulte

Amongst authors, editing is sometimes a dirty word. Many of us enjoy the brainstorming, the writing, and even the feedback from peers, but editing requires hard work that can quickly become meticulous and repetitious. Especially the last round of changes that’s requested by the person who means to publish your masterpiece!

How do you survive final edits without losing your sanity—especially when pressed up against a looming deadline? As we worked on Kathy’s upcoming release of Daystar with Marcher Lord Press, there were many things that made the process far easier and bearable. Among them:

Set a reasonable schedule
—The moment Kathy received her edits, she calculated how many chapters per day she had to complete to reach her deadline, while also allowing time for a final read through and polish. For this latest project, the daily budget was 2-3 chapters daily for 23 days, then 6-7 chapters each day for the last week’s final push, including two rounds of proofreading. It was a rigorous schedule to be sure—but because she had a schedule and knew what she was up against, she could clear her calendar and plan accordingly.

Take care of yourself
—Set up a work station where you will be able to sit comfortably for hours with short breaks. Better yet, set up several stations and rotate among them. This time around, the big discovery was sliding manuscript pages into a cookbook holder on the dining room table. And those “short breaks” are vital. They can save your back, neck, and sanity. Longer breaks are vital, too. In between saving the world and crafting character development, do some gardening. Take your dog for a walk. Or borrow your neighbor and his dog and take them both for a walk (provided you have permission.) You can do absolutely anything, but do something other than stare at your computer screen or galley proofs all day. Physical activity refreshes the mind, and it will renew your mental clarity for editing well.

Plan fun things
—Much as we want to be lean, mean editing machines, all work without play makes our once-loved stories tedious. After you’ve set your daily schedule (see step 1), fit in weekly times of leisure to refresh your spirit. Just like physical activity keeps your mind sharp (see step 2), social fun with friends or loved ones will recharge that other important battery—your heart. Kathy and I made time for a weekly viewing of a popular BBC television series, Downtown Abbey, to make our time together enjoyable as well as productive. Remember, readers are reading your work for an emotional experience as well—so make sure you’re keeping your heart recharged in order to give them the very best.

Avoid listening to musi
c—Music can be a wonderful part of the writing process. It can unclog the mind to get a rough draft up and running. However, when in the midst of editing, you need to ensure that your work is standing on its own emotional merit. The best novels are an experience, so make sure that the story itself is providing the experience—not that favorite Russian romantic composer—especially as you conclude your novel.

These are just a few of the methods that Kathy and I used when evaluating her latest novel, but I’m sure there are plenty of others. What other techniques have you used under deadline? What works for you? What doesn’t work?

(Kathy Tyers has published over ten novels with the general and Christian presses, and has been listed in the New York Times for her work on Star Wars: The Truce at Bakura, and Star Wars: Balance Point. Her upcoming release, Daystar, with Marcher Lord Press will be the final novel in her Firebird series.

Jamie Upschulte is a freelance literary assistant at Jamie Words and greatly enjoys helping authors bring their works to life.)

Procrastination

          My life is getting busier and busier. The funny thing is, though, I feel more alive and motivated than I have in years. Even so, some things haven’t changed. I’m still working on my procrastination issue. 🙂 The difference now? Instead of berating myself and piling on the guilt, I’m seeing progress even in this seeming backward step. I’m choosing to see the good in this struggle. The progress. For one thing I’m finding enjoyment in things I haven’t in a long time . . . or ever. Even if those things are only an excuse to ignore other things that need to be done.

          For example, I’ve realized I often use schoolwork to procrastinate other schoolwork. I’ll spend an hour drawing on a project that is due in two weeks instead of working on a paper that is due the next day. Or I spend hours planning my summer and fall class schedule, ignoring the projects and papers due soon. In the end, though, it is all getting done.

          Maybe there is a lesson in that somewhere. 🙂 Maybe, instead of procrastination, what I’m really doing is discovering how I work. Maybe I need that seeming ignore-it-time to find direction and inspiration. Maybe. It still feels like procrastination. I can’t deny, though, that I am getting assignments and responsibilities done. On time. Maybe this procrastination monster in my life really can be tamed, harnessed and enjoyed.

          One of my procrastination activities is reading. Recently I was given the opportunity to read an ARC (advance reader copy) of “Daystar,” the newest novel written by Kathy Tyers. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. She is one of my all time favorite authors. “Daystar” is fantastic! The storyline and characterization are rich, maybe richer than any of her other books. It is the final book in the Firebird series, but can easily stand alone as its own story. Reading that story was one of the most enjoyable procrastination activities I’ve done all year.

          Kathy and her assistant co-wrote a guest blog, which we will post on Tuesday. In the meantime, you can find her book, “Daystar,” as well as the rest of the Firebird series at Amazon or from Marcher Lord Press. Be sure to check out Kathy Tyers blog for a special offer . . . a great way to get a taste of the Firebird story.

Cultivate Your Writing Energy

I can usually tell within the first hour of waking up how the rest of my day will go. If I start off the day in a great mood, it fuels my productive energy and I carry that feeling with me throughout the day, helping me plow through my to-do list and prepare my mind to write. Unfortunately, a sluggish mood will also hang around and can be harder to derail. Everything will move at a snail’s pace and even if I do finish my work in time to write, I usually don’t have the focus. I may put my butt in the chair and type a few words, but every one of them feels forced and uninspired. And, worse, on the days I don’t write at all, it feels like a day lost.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Recognizing an unproductive state of mind and being committed to stopping in it’s tracks can be a challenge but it can be done. On the days I’m feeling sluggish, only one thing can save me from a wasted day: inspiration. And, hey, a little inspiration never hurt anyone on a productive day either, did it?

Getting Out of The Rut

A few things have been known to snap me out my unproductive mood and put me in a writing state of mind.

  • Go out. I am a stay-at-home mom/author wannabe so I spend a lot of time holed up in the house. By nature, writers often live solitary lives but even those who have day jobs outside of the home can spend hours stuck behind a desk doing the same old work, day after day. Falling into this stupor is a killer of creativity. On the days when I’m feeling drained, it helps to break the mold. Taking a walk around the block, visiting a friend at work or even paying the bills is enough to give me some fresh air and a change of scenery. A half hour does wonders for me. Something as simple as walking or driving to get your lunch instead of ordering into the office could lift your mood for the rest of the day and get your creative juices flowing.
  • Talk to some writing friends. I don’t even have to talk about my own work-in-progress. Simply talking about writing and feeding off of someone else’s excited energy gets my energy for my own writing percolating. I. Love. Writing. It’s easy to forget that when I’m caught up in everyday business but talking to writing friends is a great reminder. Excitement is the best fuel for productivity.
  • Talk to my characters. When I’m doing idle things in the morning, like a taking a shower, brushing my teeth or putting on my makeup, I like to run through scenarios with my characters in my head. I ask them questions, such as why they decided to do something, how they would handle the conflict I plan on throwing at them that day, how they feel about the other characters. Many times this will lead me to aha moments. Even small ones, like a great line, prepare me for a productive writing session.
  • Throw responsibility out the window. This one can only be used sparingly and only at desperate times. Often, it’s the things I “have” to do that steal the energy I wish I could save for the thing I want to do–write. So if I have an important scene to write but cleaning the bathroom, making phone calls, or answering emails is bringing me down, sometimes I’ll give myself permission to put off my chores until tomorrow. None of those things will bring the world to an end if they don’t get done but writing that scene will make my entire day feel worthwhile. To me, it’s a fair trade.

Choose to Make Writing a Priority

No matter what we do, there will be some days where writing just isn’t going to happen. But if you wake up with your story on your mind and you do everything in your power to feed into that energy for the rest of the day, it won’t be because you didn’t try. More than making the time to write, it’s the right state of mind that it’s important. No amount of free time will make the words come but if you foster your excitement for your writing, you’ll create the time.

Photo by Alexandre Normand

Setting Weekly Writing Goals

I would be remiss if I didn’t start off my first blog post at Routines for Writers by saying how honored I feel to be blogging next to these three ladies. I have been a fan of this blog for years and now I’m really proud to be a part of it. Thank you Shonna, Kitty and Stephanie for having me.

The ladies have asked me to contribute to Routines for Writers by posting a monthly blog about productivity, something I’m always working to improve on, being the mother of a toddler and the mother-to-be of another daughter at the end of the month. No matter how busy I am, my writing is always important to me. It’s the thing I do for myself, which means that making time to write is even more important–for busy moms, people with demanding jobs and family and friends, and the million other commitments we jam onto our ever more crowded plates.

So today I’d like to talk about a productivity tip that is incredibly simple yet has been the single most effective thing in accomplishing as much as I have with my writing over the past few years. “Set a weekly writing goal” has been said a thousand times already, I’m sure, but things like outlines and goals have negative connotations to a lot of writers so I’d like tell you why I think it’s important to try to stick a plan anyway.

Weekly Writing Goals

Why weekly? Well, I do set yearly goals, monthly goals and daily goals when feasible, but I think weekly is where the productivity magic happens. Yearly goals are great for career goals and monthly goals break those down into easier to swallow chunks. Daily goals are great to have but they can often get derailed by unexpected grocery shopping trips, family emergencies, or simply not feeling well. Weekly goals create the perfect balance between focus and flexibility.

Focus

I set my weekly goals every Sunday night. To me, the productive weeks starts on Monday when the weekend is over and the world hits the refresh button. By setting them the night before, I go into the week knowing what I’d like to accomplish. This is a great time to pull out your monthly or yearly goals so you can break down your long-term goals and make them attainable by picking away a little at a time. I try to touch on each of my yearly writing goals at least once a week, even if it’s with a simple, five minute task. Keeping them fresh in my mind means they won’t be a surprise when December 26th rolls around. 😉

Flexibility

A suggestion Krissy Brady made back in January in a post entitled, “6 Small Changes to Help You Reach Your Writing Goals,” really stuck with me and is something I’ve incorporated into my goal setting. She said, “We have a tendency to create schedules that will work out fantastic… if we don’t eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, or talk to anyone. Then when we inevitably end up behind, we don’t give ourselves the time to catch up, because we’ve already packed our schedule to the hilt.” Um…yeah. That’s me. Is this you? The thing is, being behind tends to make feel like getting less done, whereas being ahead gets me pumped and makes me want to accomplish even more.

Krissy suggests creating your “perfect” list and then cut it in half. I agree. I think it’s important to be realistic. I set goals that will take me five days to accomplish, not seven, because inevitably something will always come up. And then, if nothing does (ha), I can always do a little more with my free time. Most of us aren’t full time writers so we have to be realistic about what pays the bills until we get there, the commitments we have to our family, and the time we need to make for ourselves to rejuvinate. Yes, that’s important too!

If “Goals” is a Dirty Word

Make it fun! It doesn’t have to be scary or asphyxiating. If you run from goals, start with one small goal a week and build up to more until you find your groove. I have a white board in my office and I like to write my weekly goals in colorful markers. Writers are, by nature, office supply-aholics so go crazy with whatever sticky notes, highlighters, or corkboards float your boat.

Remember, these goals are for you, no one else. No one is holding an axe over your head if you don’t reach them all. It’s just a tool to keep you focused on your priorities. There is no such things as “failing” with weekly goals because there’s always next week. As long as you keep moving forward, one week at a time, it’s impossible not to reach your ultimate productivity goals.

Jamie Raintree writes what she likes to call everyday fairytale love stories, featuring the little moments in life that are truly magical. She’s a NaNoWriMo-aholic and looks forward to that thirty days of coffee-drinking, twitter-whining, blog-ranting, life-questioning insanity each November like her life depends on it. She lives in Arizona with her husband and daughter and is currently editing her second novel. To read her web fiction, visit her website at http://jamieraintree.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Artois Bibliotheques

Author Crush Month: PJ Sharon

My guests during this Author Crush Month have all talked about some form of self-publishing. James Scott Bell talked about self-publishing his short stories and novellas. Jacqueline Diamond told us about self-publishing her backlist. And Debra Holland shared her experience in self-publishing her fiction even though she’d traditionally published her nonfiction. To finish off my part of the month, PJ Sharon is going to tell us how she ended up self-publishing all of her books. Please welcome PJ!

Thanks for having me, Kitty. It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’m very excited about the indie-pub road that’s available to writers these days. I traveled the traditional publishing route for about three years and started to feel like a hamster on a wheel chasing a withered piece of lettuce. My dream of being signed by a big six publisher was looking less and less attractive. There is something intrinsically wrong with doing ninety percent of the work and getting paid ten percent of the profits.

After being self-employed for the past six years, I knew I didn’t want to work “for” someone ever again, and the traditional publishing model did not come across as being author friendly or what I would consider a collaborative effort. I had two young adult manuscripts that no one wanted, despite the contest finals and persistent submissions. I totaled about fifty rejections before I considered the alternative. When I wrote HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, I knew I had a winner. But I also knew that on the trad-pub trajectory, it would take at least a couple of years before it would see a book shelf, if ever.

I first decided to self-publish last March. I had spent several months researching and reading everything I could get my hands on about self-publishing. My husband was all for it and basically double-dog-dared me to “just do it.” So I set up a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, and created a website with the help of my techno-genius hubby. He created my covers and agreed to do my book trailers and all my formatting, so I was halfway there. I was already working with a freelance editor, so I had a team in place.

My first book was a huge learning curve with lots of expenses that I learned later were unnecessary. I paid for editing, cover art, book trailer pics, and paid ads that didn’t amount to much. The second book, ON THIN ICE, cost me half as much, and my third release, SAVAGE CINDERELLA, has cost me one tenth of what the first book did. It’s been a wild ride with three books out in six months, but I’ve recouped my expenses and am now turning a profit, albeit not enough to pay my bills and quit my day job—yet. Each effort is less stressful than the last, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of it all. Having the three books completed ahead of time allowed me to put them out in quick succession, which I think is a good strategy for getting the ball rolling and creating a backlist.

As far as the actual process, my plan was to try to duplicate the traditional publisher’s process. I figured they’ve been publishing books successfully for about seventy years. They must know how to get the job done. Once I decided to self-publish, I set a production schedule and picked a release date about six months out so I would have all the time I needed to put everything in place. Hiring an editor, a proofreader, and having a few beta readers is crucial to putting out a finished product. I would also recommend paying for cover designs unless you can create a professional product on your own. I happen to really love my covers and have gotten very positive feedback about them.

I like having books for print since a lot of people I know still prefer paperback books to e-readers. I wanted the option of print on demand, so I used CreateSpace for hardcopies. I upload and order four copies a full month before the release date. One goes to my editor for a once over, then to the proof reader. I keep a copy and I send out the other two to reviewers. Once I have feedback, I do another round of edits before the final copy gets uploaded to CreateSpace and then to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

For my third book, I will try the KDP Select program since I sell very few books on B&N. Smashwords is great for offering free books as giveaways and review copies, but I’m hoping that the Select program and the opportunity to offer my book for free for five days during the ninety day exclusive period will impact the sales of all my books. It’s all a grand experiment at this point, but I’ve learned so much by following other indie authors through sites like WG2E and groups like Indie Romance Ink.

When I heard that most new authors never sell more than a thousand books, I set that as my short term goal. I met that goal in about four months with the first two books, and I expect to see that number grow exponentially with every new release. Having a backlist and consistently putting out new material is the way to grow your following and increase sales. I’ve seen it with many other indie authors with varying degrees of success, so I’m just following the trail that has been blazed ahead of me.

I plan to release the first book of a Dystopian Trilogy in July and I have a companion short story that will be a part of a WG2E anthology in October. If I can manage it, the second book in the trilogy will come out in December—unless a publisher wants to offer me a good deal on the series. I would still be happy to talk with an agent or publisher about working together on a project. The wide distribution opportunity that is available through traditional publishers, collaborating with a team to produce a high quality product, and the possibility of a healthy advance, appeals to me. I’m much more confident that I could work with a publisher now that I know how to actually publish a book myself. But I enjoy the freedom I have now to write what I want to write and have creative control over my covers and my career. We’ll see where it all goes.

If I had to say what my least favorite part of the process has been, I would say that promotion is by far the hardest part of this job and the most labor intensive. I’m slowly finding a balance in creating time to write, to network, and to promote, while still making time to take care of myself and nurture the people in my life who love and support me. It’s a precarious balancing act, but with each new effort, I learn ways to streamline the process. It’s not getting easier, but I’m definitely getting better at it.

 

 

PJ Sharon is author of several independently published, contemporary young adult novels, including HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES. Her stories have garnered several contest finals, including two awards for ON THIN ICE, and a place in the prestigious Valley Forge Romance Writers and the Florida Romance Writers Golden Palm contest for SAVAGE CINDERELLA.

Writing romantic fiction for the past six years, and following her destiny to write Extraordinary stories of an average teenage life, PJ is a member of  RWA, CTRWA, and YARWA. She is mother to two grown sons and lives with her husband and her dog in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA.

Follow PJ on Twitter or on Facebook, and watch her book trailers on YouTube. Read her blogs at Extraordinary Stories of an Average Teenage Life, on Tuesdays at Writing Secrets of 7 Scribes, and on Fridays she writes a Healthy Teen Tips blog at YA Beyond. Her books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and CreateSpace.