Time and Project Management Class Starts Monday

j0227558Hello my friends! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s. I sure did. I’d planned since last Christmas to take two full weeks off and relax. Right up to the last minute, I was sure I wouldn’t “be able to” do it. But in the end, I did!

My workload piled up during the two weeks off, but I feel so much more relaxed and rested and ready for work! How did I manage to take so much vacation time when life has been battering me for the last couple of years? The primary reason is because last January I laid out a written plan for my year.

Granted, a LOT of things went wrong with the plan. I couldn’t have anticipated six months of unemployment for John. I made more money than I did in 2012, but it wasn’t enough to offset the costs of a few book-selling risks I took that didn’t pay off. Near the end of the year, I had to put my writing business on the back burner and work full-time at a temp job.

Calendar 2013But for the whole year, I could look at my writing plan and my calendar and I could figure out how each of my plans would be affected by the new turn life took. I could move the sticky notes on the calendar to change deadlines. I could cancel things that just couldn’t be accomplished now that the course of life had changed.

And I could do it all with more peace than usual because I had a written, changeable plan.

If you’d like to work with me over the next four weeks to get a plan in place for you this year, please sign up for my online class Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. Due to popular demand, this is the fourth year I’ve taught this class, and there’s always something new to learn and share. I hope you’ll join us!

What do you want to accomplish this year?

Frighteningly Real

Since it’s almost Halloween, John suggested I come up with a themed post. In that vein… 🙂

You may remember, I’ve been writing like mad to make two deadlines this month. I sent in the polished superhero romantic comedy, UNEXPECTED HERO, on October 14 to Harper Voyager. And last Thursday, I sent in the first chapter and synopsis of BELLA AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER to Love Inspired Suspense.

Talk about scary.

Who knew coming up with a romantic suspense would be so difficult?! Not me, obviously. It was easy to see the victim and what happened to her, and I had a fair idea of the ending. For those reasons, I gave it a shot. But figuring out the 200 pages in the middle…Sheesh.

A couple times, I nearly threw in the towel, but then friends would rally and encourage me to at least give it a try. After all, the worst thing that can happen is I’ll get rejected. Well, the worst thing would be to spend weeks and months on it and discover I stink at suspense and I wasted all that time. Actually, the worst thing would be for Love Inspired Suspense to give me a shot and then I find I am incapable of ever writing another suspense novel, and they kick me to the curb.

See? This is the frightening real life pre-Halloween I’ve been living!

ABDUCTED - On sale now!

Luckily, two great friends helped me with several plot details. My friend Dave is a deputy sheriff and he let me ask him a thousand questions over lunch. Then I called my friend Janice Cantore, novelist and retired police officer, and she took my stretched out, lumpy balloon knot and created a balloon man walking a balloon dog in a couple of deft twists. Wow. Impressive.

So now I have a month or two (I’ll write the first draft during NaNoWriMo) to see if I can write a story that feels both frighteningly real and believably romantic.

Then I’ll have to decide if I enjoyed it.

It is soooo much easier to write about superheroes! LOL!

Have you written any suspense? How’d it go for you? (If you’re good at it, give a girl some tips!) Or have you written something else that scared the crud out of you?

If you’re participating in NaNo, see you there! (I’m “Kitty Bucholtz”‘ if you want to be friends.) If not, keep writing!

And remember, I’ll be teaching my online class again on goal setting and time management for writers in January. Hope to see you there!

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.

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

Looking Forward: My 2012 Goals

One of my annual writing routines is to figure out in December or January what I want to work to accomplish in the new year. It takes me a little while to figure it out because I need to make sure I’m not just creating a big To Do list. And historically I’ve set unachievable goals or made no plan for follow through, so I was always disappointed in myself at the end of the year. Then I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals. My productivity and self-esteem have soared!

I haven’t yet taken the time to figure out the right wording to make these goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely – I’ll be working on that in the next couple of weeks. But here are my goals in a general sense for 2012:

Top 5 Goals

  • Self-publish my romantic comedy, Love at the Fluff N Fold
  • Self-publish a second novel, either another romantic comedy in the same series, my superhero book, or a YA I’ve been working on. Depending on which friend I listen to, I have strong support for any of those being the next book. LOL!
  • Self-publish a short nonfiction book on what I’m teaching in my online class next month, Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers
  • Self-publish a short nonfiction book on the business aspects of growing your writing career
  • Create and stick to a budget for my writing business, and one for my personal life

Secondary 5 Goals

  • Successfully begin and complete a change in direction in my blog topics for 2012 here at Routines for Writers, focusing on self-publishing and how I’m looking for wisdom in my spiritual life (We’ll tell you more about this next month!)
  • Update my author web site in a way that I enjoy and that readers will enjoy
  • Learn about and implement promotional activities for all of my books, including building a quarterly newsletter
  • Focus on and create an efficient office, so it works no matter what country I’m in or how often I move
  • A yet-to-be-determined mystery goal!

I’m still trying to finish a few of my 2011 goals, (see my post about those last week) specifically getting my romantic comedy, Little Miss Lovesick, into print. But I’m trying to balance my work with the fact that I’m home with family and friends for the first time in 2 1/2 years and I want to enjoy them as much as possible in case we move again.

Have you written down your 2012 goals yet? Have you tried to word them in such a way that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely? If you’d like a little help with goals and time management, tailoring a system that will work specifically for you, sign up for my online class. It’s $30 and runs January 16 – February 12.

Just for fun, since you probably don’t have any weight loss goals for December – LOL! – give yourself a Christmas cookie or a piece of fudge or pie for every goal you finalize this month. I think five main goals and five secondary goals works wonderfully. And that’s only ten cookies after all. Plenty of time to work them off with January’s health goals! 🙂

Looking Back at 2011’s Writing Goals

It’s that time of year – time to see how we all did on our 2011 writing goals. You know that we take our writing goals fairly seriously here at Routines for Writers. We may or may not accomplish what we set out to do, but we do try to keep track. That helps to hone the following year’s goals so that we’re always closer and closer to creating goals we can accomplish. Very important for self-esteem and momentum.

Last January I taught an online class on goal setting and time management (I’ll teach it again this January) and at the end of the class I posted my goal list along with all the rest of the class. Here are my goals for 2011 along with what I accomplished.

TOP 5 GOALS FOR 2011

Finish Superhero Book
To be blunt – it didn’t happen. I lost my confidence while getting critiqued by my classmates who were more on the literary side. Plus, after the RWA Conference, my goals changed significantly. See below.

Submit Superhero Book
Sort of done. I didn’t submit it officially, but I did pitch it to a couple agents and editors at the RWA Conference this summer. One agent asked me to submit it officially, but the feedback I got from the editors was that they didn’t know how to successfully sell romantic comedies (enough to make it worth their while to buy). So I made a decision not to submit it to the agent and possibly wait for a year or more to find out no editors wanted it – like I’ve done in the past. I made a career change decision. Keep reading.

Write First Draft of Angel Book for Master’s Degree
I thought I’d be able to pound out the first draft of this in my last semester of my master’s degree, but two things happened. One, we found out that John’s job was scheduled to end a few weeks before my final classes, so I had to reschedule everything so that I took nearly twice the load a semester early so I’d finish just in case John didn’t get renewed. That made it difficult to get as much done as I would have if the load had been spread over two semesters. Good thing, though, because John’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Two, I found it difficult to connect with my teacher for my final class where I was to write my book. She and I had completely different ideas about what constituted a contemporary Young Adult novel aimed at the American YA market. I felt like I was fighting her the entire way. By the time I got to the end of the class, I no longer knew what I wanted my story to be about. I’ve got some of the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had on this book. My solution – start over.

Finish Master’s Degree
I DID IT! YAY! There are pros and cons to this of course. The great part is that I did something I really wanted to do. The hard part is that I found myself second-guessing myself and my story ideas most of the time. There were a few times when I really felt encouraged, and I need to keep my mind on those moments. But it’s taken me these last five months to begin to regain my equilibrium. It’ll take me a bit more time to get ahead of the game confidence-wise.

Start My Author Web Site
DONE! YAY! Of course, there is a TON more to do that I haven’t had/taken the time to do. I’ve got a 2-page list of things that need to be done on the site in 2011. But at least I made my goal of starting the site. Next year I can make and meet some of the goals on that 2-page list of mine.

SECONDARY 5 GOALS FOR 2011

Attend RWA Conference in NYC
DONE! YAY! The morning after my last master’s degree class I got on a plane in Sydney and headed for New York. (I loved New York City!) I’d been thinking about the pros and cons of trying digital self-publishing if things didn’t go well at the conference. Doing some research, it looked like something I could do, something I might enjoy doing. So when I didn’t hear anything encouraging about the current market for romantic comedies, I went home with all the information I could gather from workshops on epublishing and self-publishing.

That’s when I altered my goals for the year. My new goal as of July 6th was to get my romantic comedy Little Miss Lovesick digitally self-published by the end of the year. Within a couple weeks, I’d altered the goal to get the book out by the end of September. On September 21, I MADE MY GOAL!

I also wanted to get my book in print before Christmas. I’d made a tentative goal of December 1st, knowing that I may or may not be moving then. Turns out I did move, so now my goal is to get it in print before the end of the year. The more I learn, the more I’m not sure if I can do it. I’ve decided to spend the time needed to do a great job rather than hurry to try to take advantage of the Christmas rush. But I still hope to get it out before Christmas.

Run 2 Half Marathons and the City2Surf Race in Sydney
There is a trio of running events in Sydney that is comprised of the Sydney Morning Herald Marathon and Half Marathon in May, the 14km City2Surf race in August, and the Blackmore’s Running Festival Marathon and Half Marathon in September. We ran the last two in 2010, and we wanted to do the trio in 2011. Unfortunately, I had nearly two semesters’ worth of classes happening at the time of the May race, so there was no way I could train for a half marathon. We ran the City2Surf in August and beat our 2010 times – yay! And John was deep into overtime on Happy Feet 2 by September so there was no way we were going to be able to run that race. Still, we kept running all year. That was a huge win for us!

Visit New Zealand
I didn’t think we’d be able to find time to take a trip between school and work, but work was the key to our trip. John wanted to see Wellington, New Zealand, where Weta Digital is located, to see if it was the kind of place we’d like to live. We only got to see Wellington, not the surrounding countryside or any other towns, but we got to be there for five days! Yay!! It was awesome!

Finish Jessica’s baby blanket (Caroline was born in 2009!)
I’ve been working on this blanket for two years! I still haven’t finished it, but I worked on it. (I tried a new crochet edging that is super cool but incredibly time intensive. Time is something I haven’t had a lot of since mid-2009 when I was halfway done with the blanket.) I have to finish my goal of getting Little Miss Lovesick in print first, then I can work on finishing the blanket. Thankfully, Jessie is happy to get it whenever I finish it.

See More of Australia Before We Move
We didn’t get nearly as much exploring done as we wanted! Very sad. But we had to keep in mind that we were doing other things that were important to us – school and work. Still, we saw a good amount due to our friends. We went to Melbourne for our anniversary in 2010 and we wanted to go back, but we didn’t have time. However, our friends took us on day trips to Hunter Valley (wine country), the Blue Mountains, and pretty drives around the area. I guess the only way to see more is to be on vacation for a while. LOL!

So there are my goals and what I accomplished. Not bad. And here is the reason I believe in both writing down your goals, and looking at them later: you see that you did more than you thought you did. At least, that’s the case with me. I was wondering if I’d accomplished much at all, but I see now I did pretty good, especially considering I was a full-time-plus student for half the year.

If you’ve been thinking that you need to get your goals not only written down, but broken down into workable chunks, take my online class next month. There are no formulas that you have to fit your life into. I’ll give you several ideas on how to proceed and you use what works for your personality and lifestyle. The goal of the class is to come away with a workable plan, and to know how to change it if your circumstances change (as mine did twice in 2011).

How about you? What goals did you accomplish in 2011? Next week I’ll show you a rough draft of my 2012 goals. Think about yours and we’ll compare notes.

What Should I Work On Next?

This time of year I’m always thinking about what I’m going to work on next. Will I sign up for NaNoWriMo? Will I write something new or edit something I need to finish? If you’re like my friend Betsy, you might be wondering if you should work on a new novel (she’s nearly finished with the latest one) or should she work on a nonfiction book idea she’s had for years?

As soon as she said “nonfiction,” I was all but jumping around in my chair. I self-published my first novel and will self-publish more over the next few months. But I’ve also got a few nonfiction book ideas that I can’t wait to write and self-publish as ebooks. If you didn’t know it already, word on the ‘Net is that you can make more money with nonfiction books right now than with fiction. You can not only sell more copies, you can set a higher price point.

One of the books I want to write is how to properly run your writing business. And from a business standpoint, it would be a good idea for me to intersperse nonfiction books in among the fiction books in my product line. So taking my own advice, I should be thinking long and hard about writing the business book during NaNo.

Yes, it’s National Novel Writing Month. But wasn’t the point to set aside time to do something we never take time to do? Something we want to do and believe we might be good at? Something we think we’d really enjoy?

Betsy hasn’t done NaNo before and she asked me how I make up my mind when deciding which project to work on. I told her about how much fun it is to get inspiring emails from famous authors every week, how much I love competing with my friends when I see they’ve only written a few hundred words more than me, and watching the little graph grow as I write more. The encouragement, and the worldwide energy, those are the reasons I love signing up for NaNo.

So I told Betsy that she should write the book that she needs the most encouragement on. Work on the book that you most need that extra energy to get you through the first draft.

Remember my am-I-or-aren’t-I-going-to-move predicament? If you have something like that in your life, another way to decide which book to work on is to ask yourself which one will be less stressful for you. I don’t know how much I’ll get done in November if I have to move across the ocean. But one way or another, I have to keep doing all the business “stuff” that small business owners have to do. Plus I’m teaching my goal setting and time management class for writers again in January, and I’m adding in information on running your small business. So making notes and writing about what I’m doing and what experts suggest will actually help keep me focused. It will help me to pull several similar strands together so that when I’m working on one thing, I’m actually getting several things done.

If I have enough time, I might just work on both books! I’ll write on my novel in the morning, and the business book in the afternoon. After all, small business owners learn how to multi-task in ways that work for their personalities as well as their businesses. Yup, the more I think about it, the more I’m considering that last option. I guess I’ll decide for sure when I know if I have to make time for packing, too!  🙂

Year-in-Review Questions

I’m getting ready to write up my goals for next year. The following are the questions I’m asking myself this week—looking back in order to plan ahead. Maybe they can help you, too. Don’t be super quick in answering these questions. Mull on them and allow your subconscious time to work.

Routines

  • Do you have any? Which ones are working the best? Which ones do you need to change?
  • How often are you writing/editing? -Hours/day? Words/day?
  • Are you consistent?
  • Are you organized?
  • Do you have a place, a time, a trigger (like after your morning coffee)?
  • Do you have accountability? (like NaNoWriMo, critique partners, contest deadline, calendar where you record your time or words?)

WIP

  • Do you have a clear idea about what you are writing?
  • What is your deadline?
  • Are you working towards a finished product?

Submissions

  • How many places did you submit to?
  • What was the response?
  • How did you respond to the feedback you received?
  • What do you think you need to change?

Platform building

  • What is your level of participation in social networking? Twitter? Facebook? Commenting on other’s blogs?
  • Are you growing as a blogger? Trying new things? Giving your best?
  • What about your brand—know what it is? Know how to find out?
  • Published authors: insert whole slew of other questions I don’t know about yet! (appearances, etc)

Education

  • What did you do to become a better writer this year? (Classes, self-education, books on writing, blogs, analysis of successful books, going to book signings to learn from other writers.)
  • What did you learn about writing this year that you didn’t know previously?
  • What was your writing strength? What was your weakness?
  • What would you really, really, really like to do better, technically?

Last Year’s Goals:

  • Did you achieve them? Why or why not?
  • Were they realistic? Measurable?
  • Do you need to carry any of them over to next year?

Emotional Inventory

  • How are you feeling about your year?
  • Do you feel rushed and need to slow down?
  • Discouraged that you’re not doing enough and want to do more?
  • Do you need a little break or some encouragement?
  • Are you enjoying what you are doing?
  • Are your feelings valid or do you need to adjust your thinking/feeling?

Final thoughts

What is the one big thing you didn’t like about your writing or writing routines this year?

What is the one best thing about your writing or writing routines this year?

Okay, your turn:

What are the questions you are asking yourself at the end of this year?

How to Get Your Focus for the New Year

Frame on eye chartFor most people writing is a long, self-directed apprenticeship. You need to be able to focus on where you are going and how you are getting there.

Publishing can be such a slow business that sometimes you can feel like years have gone by and you have only moved an inch from where you started. That’s one reason to keep up a list of accomplishments like I talked about last Friday. You may not have a book on the shelf yet with your name as the author, but knowing that you wrote 50,000 words more this year than last year will help you see that you ARE progressing.

As you think about setting your goals and routines for next year here are some items to consider:

What is your ultimate big dream? Bestseller list? Newberry award? A popular series?

Of course, we can’t expect to reach the big dream in a few months time. We have to set our expectations for the long haul so we don’t get disappointed too easily. But we still need to have the big dream, tempered with the knowledge that it’s going to take some work to get there.

Why do you write? What keeps you writing even when things get tough? Do you want to make a difference? Touch people’s lives? Do you just have fun when you write and want to share that with others?

Where are you in the process? The basic steps to publication look like this:

Write the book. Polish the book. Submit the book. Write the second book. Polish the second book. Submit the second book…rinse and repeat until you get the coveted publishing contract. (And if you are already published, toss in some marketing!)

Knowing where you are will help you plan out your year. One step at a time, get closer to finishing, polishing, and submitting your manuscript.

When are you going to write? We’ve talked about Randy Ingermanson’s theory that writing needs to become one of your “Three Big Chunks” if you are going to make it as a published author. Looking forward to next year, can you set up some routines that can help you funnel more time into writing?

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite writing books, ON BECOMING A NOVELIST, by John Gardner:

Writing a novel takes an immense amount of time, at least for most people, and can test the writer’s psyche beyond endurance. The writer asks himself day after day, year after year, if he’s fooling himself, asks why people write novels anyhow—long, careful studies of the hopes, joys, and disasters of creatures who, strictly speaking, do not exist. p.xxiv

LOL, I love it. Now let’s go write!

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