Gazelle Intensity

I almost can’t believe it, but I met four deadlines last month! I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my writing life. Maybe the only time I’ve accomplished so much in such a short space of time is for school/college. But the point is – I did it.

What I learned from that experience is that I can do more than I think I can. Past experience may tell me that I can’t – until I make an experience that tells me I can. What I have to be careful of is thinking I can always get this much work done. It would be foolish of me to think I can work 10-16 hours a day, six days a week, for an infinite amount of time. For one thing, there is no time for friends or family, little time for exercise or healthy habits, and almost no time for fun.

However, last month I reminded myself that I can work very intensely and accomplish a lot in short bursts. Life is a marathon, and the writing life is a marathon, but sprints are useful and appropriate. (In my half marathon training, I use short sprints in training.)

John and I are participating in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, a money management course designed to get you out of debt and keep you out forever. In one of the lessons, Dave shows a video of a leopard chasing a gazelle. Even though the leopard can run faster than the gazelle, the gazelle got away! Why? Because the gazelle could make quick leaps out of the leopard’s path faster than he could move to intercept. The gazelle only has to keep this up for a short intense period until the leopard gives up and looks for easier prey.

Dave suggests we use this method to get out of debt. A short, intense burst of effort to pay off everything from credit cards to student loans to the balance on your mortgage. I listen to his radio podcast and people call in saying they’ve just paid off their last debt. Dave asks them how much they paid off and how long it took, then they give their debt free scream. It’s very inspiring! People are getting out of debt to the tune of $20,000 to $158,000 (that I’ve heard) in 12-48 months. John and I will be right in that range, and it’s exciting to know it can be done.

That’s what I learned last month with my writing deadlines. I focused like I have rarely focused before on one project, then another, then another, then another. And I got them all done, on time. I had hoped that on November 2, I would be able to sleep in, read a little, take a deep breath, and go back to a more relaxed lifestyle. But I still have four more time-sensitive projects to finish. At first, that made me feel super tired just thinking about it. Then I remembered the gazelle intensity speech.

I can’t keep up this pace forever, but I can do it for four more weeks. As one friend reminded me on November 2 when I was trying to figure out if I could do all this, I can’t “catch up” on everything that didn’t get done over the last year. But I can pick the most important things to finish now, and re-schedule my other goals for 2013.

National Novel Writing Month is about gazelle intensity. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are finding it can work for their writing life. But it works in every area of life. What do you really need to get done? Not just urgent things, but important things. Piles of paperwork? Haphazard, overcrowded home? Behind in something you could finish if you just really applied yourself for a few weeks?

Think about it and decide what you’re going to do about it. In the end, you’ll not only have accomplished something wonderful, and maybe done something about those monkeys on your back, but you’ll find pleasure in your own personal growth as self-discipline blooms in your life.

I’m nervous about failure, about exhaustion, about missing out on fun things other people are doing, but last month I proved that it can be done! So I’m going to keep it up for another month. See you at the finish line!

[Note: If you want more encouragement and direction in planning your goals for 2013, join me for my online class Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. Here’s to a fabulous and productive new year!]

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!

Ten Minutes To . . .

          This past week, I stumbled across this ebook written by Susan Meier. Or, more accurately, I stumbled across a chapter in this ebook. I haven’t had time to read the other chapters, yet, but what I have read is powerful.

          In the first chapter, Susan shares how she revolutionized her life. Such a simple change. Just grab ten minutes here and ten minutes there. Instead of waiting until there is enough filing to warrant the time spent, do it for a few minutes each day. Instead of trying to find a few hours to curl up with a book, set aside a few minutes each day. Instead of waiting for a sinkful of dishes, clean the few that are there and shine up the sink. (That sounds like FlyLady, doesn’t it?) Just ten minutes.

          This is actually something I learned many years ago . . . and apparently forgot. I used to make use of those little bits of time. Especially those times I was forced to wait. Wait for a child at soccer practice or wait for the doctor at an appointment or wait in a long bank line. I read or planned lessons or wrote emails or made shopping lists. When my life was busier, I knew how to redeem those little bits of time.

          What happened? Why does this 10 minute idea suddenly seem so revolutionary? (And how could I forget something so basic?)

          I have no idea, but today I start ten minuting my life! Ten minutes. Ten minutes at a time will get me closer to my goals and ten minutes at a time will whittle away at irksome and dreaded tasks. I can do anything for 10 minutes. (And I’m going to start by spending the next ten minutes reading another chapter in Susan’s book. 🙂 )

          What will you ten minute?

Becoming A Writer

My awesome husband gave me several books for Christmas. Yay! One of them is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I can’t remember who turned me on to this book (something I read online in the last six months), but I am so glad. Normally, I wouldn’t be interested in a how-to book on writing that was published in 1934. I have the modern tendency to believe we have better ideas “now” than “then.”

But this book is great! The chapters on “Harnessing the Unconscious” and “Writing on Schedule” made me feel like an undisciplined child being scolded by an auntie. I started the two exercises in those chapters today. Tomorrow’s reading is the chapter “The Source of Originality.” I’m very excited about this because of my work in my master’s degree. I’ve found that some of my work appears to be exciting and interesting and original, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to expand it enough to make an entire novel of exciting, interesting, original characters and ideas.

That sort of (normal) fear is part of the reason I love mornings, the first of the month, and January: they are all opportunities to start again. Or – to better express what I want to do with my writing – to start fresh.

What do you want to do this year that is new or fresh? What do you want to do that you’ve been wanting to do every year but still haven’t managed yet? Do you have a fresh approach you want to try?

Since this is a time to think about what’s working and what’s not working, I’ve been thinking about myself at other ages. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a “wait till the last minute” person with homework and things that were required of me, like chores. But things that I loved, that seemed more like fun than work, those things I did quickly, easily, eagerly. (I spent countless hours playing my saxophone in high school, usually without being told to go practice by my mother.)

I used to think I waited till the last minute to do homework because I was so smart that I could still get an A without spending more time. Now that I’m older I tend to believe that if I can do a good or great job quickly and easily, how much better can I do if I spend some time at it? But in my past experience, I only spend time on things I think are fun.

So you can see my conundrum if I tell myself that writing is my job and I must do it or go back to accounting. My writing tends to be more sporadic rather than disciplined – if I have to write, I don’t want to, but if I’m having fun, I think I should be doing something more important. This uneven approach yields writing quality that’s good, sometimes very good, but it’s not brilliant as often as I want it to be for a career novelist.

That is why I decided to read this book, Becoming a Writer. I know the technical aspects to writing, and I know the craft. What I don’t seem to know as well as I’d like is – me. What is going on in my unconscious? How can I relax and trust myself and find both self-discipline and self-confidence? I don’t know if Dorothea has the answers, but the chapters I have left to read suggest in their titles that there are some awesome “ah-ha” moments ahead. I’ll let you know what I find out. Or go buy or borrow the book yourself. (It’s got a $12.95 cover price, and is currently $5.95 on Amazon.)

I decided that I wanted to see if there are some things I can learn about myself that will help me in creating goals and plans that work better for me this year than in years past. With my usual optimism, I believe 2011 is going to be the best writing year yet! And I believe that believing it is half the battle. But I need to see if there are better ways to go about the work, ways that work better for me personally, ways to work with my natural self and not against myself. It’s a combination of faith and works together that will see me reach my goals.

If you’re interested in some new ways to plan out your work and your year, check out the online class I’m teaching starting next week – Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers. We’ll be working through our own personal lists of what we want to get done and what needs to be done, and writing out a schedule of sorts to accomplish it with more peace and less stress. I’m so convinced this class can help other writers that I’m offering it for free to one person who signs up for it and makes a comment here. If you think this could help you start your new year off right, sign up now. Class starts Monday.

However you decide to make plans for 2011, make them now. You’ll accomplish more if you get even half of your goals accomplished than if you give yourself no goals at all.

Gratitude and Goals – and a Free Class

I’ve been so focused on Christmas and making my 2011 writing goals that I totally forgot about my post! LOL! So sorry! Let me share with you a little about what’s been going on in my head lately.

Many of you know that I’m halfway through my master degree in creative writing. This time last year, going back to school was still only a hope and I made my writing goals with the idea that I probably wouldn’t be in school. Unexpectedly over ten days in February/March, my life changed and I was suddenly a full-time student again. These were my initial 2010 goals last December:

* write 115,000 words or two category romance books
* submit two books to agents/editors
* work on my superhero book in school if I went

The only part that I accomplished was the last part. I had also told myself I’d submit more of other things in 2010, and that goal I achieved. I haven’t created a good system yet (or at least, I’m not following through with the system I have!) so I’m not sure how many things I submitted in 2010. I know it was at least four items, which is three or four more than I submitted in 2009. Yay for me!

I could look at – and too often in the past have looked at – what I accomplished in comparison to the previous year as proof that I’m totally undisciplined and not trying hard enough. But I’m determined to be grateful for every bit of my life that I can. Working again on a habit of gratitude this past year has netted results. Though not tangible – I can’t prove to you that I’m more grateful – I can feel it inside. And I can feel how the inside change has changed the outside. School pushed me to find a writing routine that worked, and I think I finally have. For that, I’m immensely grateful!

Because I always knew what my deadlines were every week, and because I’m such a school geek that it would literally make me sick to show up unprepared for class, I made myself get my homework done every week. After eight months of continuous good habits, I told myself that I needed to keep up with it when school was out for the summer (remember I’m in Australia right now). It’s worked! I work on my book every morning Monday through Friday. I planned to take time off at Christmas, so I don’t feel guilty for not writing during vacation. And I’m getting a lot of my not-writing life organized during the next two weeks so that I can jump into writing again on January 4 when John goes back to work. Then I can write flat-out until school starts again in March.

Tuesday night, my writer’s group had our Christmas party and wrote down our 2011 goals. Knowing I’ll be in school again this year, my goals are nonetheless pretty intense. But now I know I can be disciplined and work hard if I set my mind to it. This is what I plan to accomplish in 2011:

  • Finish and submit my superhero book
  • Finish the full first draft of the book I’ll work on in my final university class
  • Finish and submit the category romance that is in first draft
  • Re-work and submit the humorous women’s fiction that had two “we almost bought it” replies from major publishers

I’ll be more than a little shocked if I can tell you in a year that I made all my goals! But this last year has shown me that I can do more than I think I can. I wish I could give you the exact formula for how my choosing to be grateful for what I wrote/accomplished every day helped me to get even more done the next day. It’s a divine mystery. But I thank God that I figured it out enough to keep on being grateful! And keep on writing!

Since over time I’ve become more convinced that goal setting and time management are keys to success in business, including our business of writing, I am teaching an online class on these topics in January. I want to help and encourage as many people as I can so I’ve decided to give the class as a late Christmas gift to one person. Sign up for the class and then come back here and tell me in a comment that you signed up. I’ll draw one person from the group to have their $30 class fee refunded. I’m grateful for all that has happened in 2010, but I’m eager to see what more can be accomplished in 2011!

The Cost of Writing

When I was in business school, I learned about opportunity cost. In general, if you have $20 and you want to see a movie, eat lunch out, and buy a new blouse, all the things you don’t do with the $20 is part of the cost of what you do choose to do. So if you buy a new blouse, it cost you $20 plus eating a sack lunch plus not seeing a movie this week. If you go to a movie and have lunch out, it cost you $20 plus foregoing movie snacks plus foregoing a sit-down lunch and eating fast food instead plus waiting to buy a new blouse.

When you choose what to do with your time, what you don’t do is the cost of what you chose to do. Every time I choose to watch an hour of TV with my husband, it costs me an hour of writing (or anything else I might have done with that hour). Conversely, every time I spend an hour writing or working in the evening, it costs me an hour with my husband. How many of us have gone to see a movie that we expected to be fun and came out complaining, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back again!” No matter what you do with your time, it’s time you won’t get back again. That might be what someone was thinking when they came up with the slogan, “Work hard, play hard.”

Instead of focusing on all the things we aren’t getting done (this is me, every day),  we need to focus on what is the best use of our time now. In an hour, we might want to stop for a second and ask the question again. Perhaps again in four hours, or in another 30 minutes. If we can tap into a kind of moment-by-moment wisdom and allow ourselves to accept that we likely won’t accomplish everything we want to do – or perhaps even need to do – we can find greater peace and deeper joy in every moment, no matter what we’re doing.

Next week, I’m going to participate in a Book-in-a-Week challenge with my Sydney RWA group. To do that, it will cost me a great deal. I won’t be able to work on my taxes (the Australian tax year ends June 30); I won’t be able to clean my office; I won’t be able to do any but the most basic housecleaning; I won’t be able to hang out with friends, etc. But I’ve decided the cost is worth the benefit. I want to get my book out in August, and this is what it’s going to take.

The following week, one of the first things I’m going to do is clean my office. While this can be a procrastination technique, sometimes not doing it has too high a price. The time it took me to complete my U.S. taxes earlier this year was nearly double because I couldn’t find all my files after I moved. In the last ten months that we’ve been in this apartment, I have spent 20-30 hours (conservative estimate) looking for things that I couldn’t find because I never finished organizing my office (nor the office stuff that never made it into the office). The cost of organizing will probably be 10-15 hours of writing time. But the benefit will be 20-40 extra hours of writing time in the next six months because I won’t have to spend time digging through piles and boxes again.

Opportunity cost can feel double-edged – no matter what good you do with your time (writing, helping a friend), there is some other good you are not doing (spending time with family, doing taxes). And I feel a hundred times worse when I look back and realize I’ve made a poor choice, not even a halfway decent choice. (Because I watched two hours of TV on my lunch break, I now have to write or do taxes when John is home so I can’t spend time with him.) What is a person to do?

I find one of the best sources of wisdom to be the book of James in the Bible. James says trials and testing develop perseverance, which develops character. He says if anyone lacks wisdom, she should ask God who gives it generously to all. If we have faith, but don’t follow it up with work, our faith is pointless. So if I believe I’m good enough to be published but I don’t finish my manuscripts and send them out, my faith in my gifts is useless to me.

But James also encourages us to take a deep breath and remember we’re only human and we all stumble in many ways. He reminds us that bitter envy and selfish ambition do not help us succeed in any goal. He says wisdom that comes from heaven is pure, peace-loving, considerate and more. (You’ll find these in a good writer’s group.) He reminds us that we don’t even know how long our lives are or what will happen in them, so not to get hung up on set-in-concrete goals. We should just say, if God and life allow it, I will do this or that. He also encourages us to have patience, to remember that a farmer does a lot of work, and then does a lot of waiting while the crop grows.

And that is the rounded view of opportunity cost – we make goals, we count the cost, we ask for wisdom, we make decisions, we work hard, we remember we’re only human, and we accept that life may change our goals over time. When I keep this mind, I find my life more peaceful, joyful and productive. I hope it helps you, too.

The First Step to Writing

          Breaks from writing are great, but there comes a moment when it is time to GET BACK TO WORK.

          I’ve past that point. 🙂

          I have written very little other than this blog the past two weeks home from my extended road trip. The first week was understandable. A relative passed away and I had family in my house. There were additional demands on my time, too. Still are, in fact. But it is at least a week past the time when I should have resumed my writing routines.

          The problem? Simple. I don’t have a clear idea of what to write next. I need to take about 30 minutes to evaluate which projects to work on and in what order. Once that is decided, it will be so much easier to sit down for whatever short times I have in my day and write. I’ve demonstrated this year just how much I can accomplish with those little bits of time. I just need a road map.

          Historically, this step is the hardest for me. Not because I can’t do it, but because it is so easy to procrastinate. “Thinking time” feels unproductive to me. I mentally know that a plan, goals and routines make me more productive and that it takes thinking time to develop those plans, goals and routines. Emotionally and intuitively, though, I feel as though that time is useless, unimportant, and unneeded. Because of that, my default reaction (which is how I’ve been operating the past few weeks) is to put off the planning time until there is nothing else pressing to do.

          There is ALWAYS something else to do.

          My goal this week? To (again!) stop procrastinating, carve out at least 20 minutes each weekday, plan my next few weeks (or more) of writing . . . then WRITE! What about you?

Balancing Your 2010 Goals

My husband and I were talking about our 2010 joint goals and individual goals this week, and I remembered a little booklet I found on the Internet a few weeks ago. I was sure I’d shared it with you all, but I just looked over all of my December posts and I haven’t!

booklet-goal-setting-2010The web site is called I Set My Goals and they have a one-sheet printable, foldable booklet for writing down all of your goals for the year. The great part is that there are six sections – Health & Fitness, Family & Relationship, Education & Training, Financial, Recreation & Leisure, and a blank section for you to choose the topic. I wrote “Writing” in that blank.

In each section there are five lines so you can write down five goals for each area. Now I could write down what John and I said two of our Health goals are – “eat less” and “exercise more” – but the web site reminds you to use the SMART technique for goal setting. Make each goal Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

The single page printout can then be folded into a little booklet that you can put in your purse or wallet. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to cut and fold it just right, but it worked. I’ve been carrying it around in my purse the last week or two trying to decide exactly what to write in it. (Yes, remember me? Afraid to mess up the pretty blank page! LOL! I’ve decided to write in pencil in case I think of better goals than those that first come to mind!)

I wanted to tell you about this web site because when John and I were talking about our goals, there were so many and they were all over the map! But with this goal booklet, I can keep them organized in my mind and see how they can intersect, support each other, or conflict with each other. For instance, I need to eat healthier and exercise more to increase my creativity and productivity, so I can write those goals in such a way that I really want to follow through on them.

On the other hand, we said we want to travel around Australia next year, but we had no plan for when or where or how. Looking at the “Leisure” goals along with my “Writing/Work” goals and as compared to the calendar for my “Education” goals, I can see that I must plan our vacation for the first week in May because it’s my school break. That means I have to start looking into locations and prices in the next month or two. Without being forced to think this through, we would have gotten to the end of the year without any idea why we hadn’t traveled except to blame it on being “busy.”

I can see how all my goals are going to work together to make 2010 a better planned-out year. I hope this booklet helps you to do the same! Happy New Year!

Plan for Success, Part 2

Last week I told you how I start planning out my new year with a calendar. I figure out how many days I think I can write out of the 365, mark off the ones I don’t expect to write, and figure out how to meet my goals with the remaining days.

There are two ways to look at your goals – 1) how much can you get done at a nice easy pace, or 2) what do you really want to get done and what pace will you need to set to get there? The second option is the somewhat necessary way of looking at your next year if you already have deadlines you have to meet. It also happens to be the way I used to plan my year when I had no other ideas for planning. “I’m going to write and polish and send out a book this year!” Or “I’m going to write two books and twelve articles this year!”

That’s all well and good, but how are you going to accomplish that? (The question I never asked myself.) And for me, one of the more important questions – how are you going to feel if you don’t meet your goals?

For me, the answer is “awful!” So after hearing lots of other writers talk about their goals and their planning methods, I decided to start making goals I really could reach. (Duh! LOL!)

STEP 4 – Calculate how much you can write next year.

So after I finished the first three steps I mentioned last week, I took the number of days left times the number of words per day to get a total. When I did my calendar, I had 238 open days for writing. But I told you I want to offer myself 1 sick day per month, so that gives me 226 days. I decided I wanted to do some writing on a new book every day, and editing on the previous book every day to try to create a schedule that will continue to work after I start selling, so I’m setting 500 words a day as my goal. That’s a total of 113,000 words for the year.

STEP 5 – Figure out what to write.

Now that I have an idea of what I can write if I stick to my routines and schedule, I can plan what to do with my time. For 2010, I am going to try to write two more first drafts of category romance books. At 50,000 to 60,000 words per book, that should be an achievable goal. If I change my mind part-way through the year, I can still re-evaluate at that time and figure out how much of a single title book I can write before the end of the year. So even though I’m giving myself some solid goals now, there is enough flexibility in the system to change my mind.

That means I can also make changes after grad school starts in March. If focusing on a single project every six months is too difficult, I can change my goals to write articles and one book, or whatever seems to work for me at the time. I do believe there is a certain amount of consistency that will be necessary to keep up the discipline, so I will continue with my current goal (two category romances) until something happens that really shows me my goals aren’t workable. Like anything else, I believe goals should be a balance of choosing not to quit and knowing when to make a change for the better. That being said…

STEP 6 – You’ve planned your work, now work your plan.

If you’ve taken the time to work this out, and if you have been honest with yourself about what you can really achieve without stressing out, the new year should be looking bright and shiny to you right now! Be sure to keep balance in mind where possible. Balance focusing on your work with regular time with other writers. Both will help you to succeed.

I hope this helps you figure out how you want to plan your writing for 2010. Tweak and change and ignore anything that isn’t working for you, and combine it with other things that do work for you. And let us know how it’s going!

NOTE: When I bought my 2010 laminated calendar, it came with sheets of little round stickers in 6 different colors. I really want to find a way to use the colors to stay organized, or to track progress, or… but I don’t know what would be a good way to use them. What do you think? What would you use them for?

Plan for Success, Part 1

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I am thinking about the year ahead. I’ve gotten back into a routine, and now I need to keep up with it. An occasional polishing or revising of routines won’t hurt either. So how do I begin? Since NaNo is so close to January, post-NaNo usually begins my annual planning. I buy a new calendar (either paper or laminated) and start marking it up. (You can print monthly and annual calendars for any year, with or without holidays for various countries, here.) This is how I proceed.

STEP 1 – Cross off all the days I don’t expect to work.

I only work Monday through Friday, so I could X out the weekends, but it makes the calendar too messy, so I don’t. I cross off birthdays, our wedding anniversary, holidays, vacation time (as soon as I know it), etc. As soon as I make a doctor appointment or anything else that must be done during the work day, I write it on this calendar so I can plan around potentially fewer words that day.

If you only have Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, for instance, you might want to cross off all the other days so you are focusing on just those two columns. If you have children, you may be crossing off days with school events. Think about your own life and schedule and decide how you want to do this step.

Though you still may get a bit of writing done on days you originally crossed off, they will be “extra” days and the words will be in addition to your planned writing. This is better than having a goal and not meeting it or feeling guilty because you didn’t write in a corner at your daughter’s birthday party. (We need to have days we relax and have fun without guilt!) This also gives you a cushion for days that you didn’t hit your goal.

STEP 2 – Count how many days are left.

Now I go back through the year and count the number of days that are left, the days I plan to write. Say I have 224 days not crossed off. Then I give myself 1 mental health/sick day each month (I’m a generous employer!), so I subtract 12 days from the 224 – but since I don’t know when I’ll take my sick days, I don’t cross anything off on the calendar.

Think about your past year, or what you think to be your average month and see if there is any other number of days you should subtract. I will often subtract an additional 5-10 days (1 to 2 weeks) to make sure I have room for things I forgot. (In my initial planning for 2010, I forgot to subtract the days I’ll be at my RWA writers conference.) The reason I try to make the number as accurate as possible, but on the low/conservative side, is that I want to meet or exceed my goals!!

If you prefer, you can subtract fewer days and give yourself a high-reaching goal. Many people work better when pushed. I can be one of those people, but only if I’ve been meeting goals lately and need a push. Right now, I want to make some goals I believe I can achieve because I haven’t hit my goals for the last 2-3 years.

STEP 3 – Estimate how much you can write on an average day.

If you just finished NaNo, you may have an idea of how much you can write on average. I went through my chart and saw I had one day that I wrote 0 words, and the other days I wrote between 105 and 4104 words. I know I can write about 1000 words per day if I’m pushing myself a bit without neglecting the rest of my life.

However, after reading Jim’s blog yesterday, I decided to schedule my writing a little differently for 2010. I’m going to schedule 500 words a day on new work. Then I’m going to use the rest of the time to edit the previous book. This is closer to how many professional writers work. So I’ll work on a new book in the morning, then edit the book I just finished in the afternoon. I’m really excited about this because now I have my NaNo novel to begin editing! I hope 2010 becomes for me The Year of Writing Professionally!

If you don’t know what your average output is or can be, use December and January to figure it out. On a calendar or in your journal, write the number of words you wrote and the time it took you to write them on each day. In the next six weeks, you’ll have holidays, vacations, kids out of school, kids in school, “normal” days – by the end of January, you’ll know about what you can do in most any situation.

Work on these three steps this week, and next week I’ll tell you what I do next. In the next few days, think about what your goal is for 2010. Write a polished book and send it out? Or two books? Get all the way through a first draft and finish a book for the first time? Meet the deadlines for the contracts you have because in the past you’ve been late?

Nearly every morning I get myself out of bed by reciting a sentence from the Bible – “His mercy is new every morning.” It gives me energy because today is a new day, with new opportunities to accomplish great things. No matter how yesterday went, today I have a fresh start. I feel that way about new years, too, but to a greater degree.  🙂

Get ready for a great new year!